Saturday, March 22, 2008

at least I didn't drink it

"Hey, guess what I did?"
"Um... something stupid?"
Disappointed pause.
"How did you guess?"

So... do you remember yesterday? The day I was going to spend all day baking, when there was nothing I had to do but buy groceries, tidy up a bit and bake up a storm?

Well, somehow I didn't start until 3:30.

I know! I don't know how I managed it, either! Well... my alarm went off at 6 (oh yes, I had big goals) and I thought about getting up. Really I did! And... then I didn't.

And then when I did, I had to make a grocery list. And I didn't really want to, so I put it off. And I read through the french bread essay again (can't call it a recipe -- no recipe should ever be that long) and decided, alas, that I was not brave enough on that particular morning.

So it was 11 by the time William finally talked me into making a real list. And then I had to go shopping, and stop by the library, and since I wasn't making french bread I had to find another recipe, so I wandered happily around the cooking aisle 'til I found The Bread Bible. And then I came home, at lunch, put away the food... started reading the bread bible... kept reading the bread bible...

I didn't end up putting anything in the oven until 9 p.m. Pretty pathetic, huh?

The bread turned out okay, though -- basic hearth bread, from The Bible. The crust scared me with how dark it was, but it was fine. I think, though, that I'll take a break from the artisan breads and work on basic sandwich breads for a while -- the cinnamon-raisin bread that I made was definitely the best I've done so far, and it was distinctly non-artisan.

I also baked cookies. Sigh.

Sigh, sigh, sigh. I baked these cookies -- they came with multiple recommendations, so I trusted them, even if the recipe did come from Martha Stewart. I glanced over the recipe, thought, "well, this looks easy enough!" and dove right in.

Speaking of which, I used Dove chocolates -- with my coupons, it was cheaper than buying even the cheapest baking chocolate. I melted half the bag, and chopped the other half. In the process, I got way more sappy advice than I've really ever wanted. "Smile... everyone will wonder what you've been up to." "Be mischievous." "Listen to your heartbeat and dance."

I placed the chocolate for melting in my double boiler and watched the steam do its wonderful, wonderful work. I love my double boiler so incredibly much -- but that's a story for another day. Because right now, we should all be focusing on the fact that it was only chocolate that I put into that gleaming thing of beauty, despite the fact that the recipe clearly states, "melt the chocolate WITH THE BUTTER."

I actually got all the way to the end of the recipe, and was breaking off bits of the dough and putting them on the cookie sheet, before it occurred to me. "Wow," I thought. "This is the thickest cookie dough I've ever worked with." Literally -- breaking pieces off.

Sudden pause. Mental revisiting of all the ingredients. "Does it really not call for any butter?"

I kind of wanted to just try it cooking it as it was, and seeing how it worked -- an experiment! But there was a whole bag of delicious chocolate in there, and if it came out dreadful, it would have been so tragic... and besides, it was the BUTTER that I left out, not something silly and minor like, well, anything else! What would cookies be without butter? It would be like a day without sunshine, or a life without love, or ice cream with the fat and sugar taken out. Blasphemy!

So, I melted a stick of butter and poured it over my bowlful of thick, stubborn, fudgy dough.

Have you ever tried to add butter at the END of a cookie recipe? It's freaking hard! I ended up kneading that cookie dough in the bowl -- it was the only thing that seemed to work. And the result was distinctly greasy.

I cooked them anyway, and they turned out okay. Pretty good, even, mostly because of how much chocolate there was... but I think they could have been better.

oh well. Live and learn.

(p.s. -- Paula Deen really did)


Friday, March 21, 2008

somebody should study this

I'm usually pretty hard on myself. Not ripping-my-hair-out, weeping-at-my-inadequacies hard on myself, but I do have high standards. "Good enough" is only good enough if it's four in the morning and I haven't slept in 24 hours -- that's throw-in-the-towel time. Any other time of day, good enough is a problem that needs to be solved.

So it comes as no surprise to me that I am never satisfied with anything I cook. First of all, I have been cooking for all of 6 months. I'm not so presumptious as to believe that I could put on an apron, read a few books, and BOOM, be a kitchen master. In fact, I plan on spending the rest of my life learning how to make food, getting better and better and better. I'm a beginner. I'm clueless. I was expecting a lot of mediocre meals at first, and since I'll never be satisfied with mediocre, I was expecting to not be satisfied. I was prepared.

I enjoy my food. I get excited about my food. I want to make a disclaimer right now: everything that I gush about, everything that I declare absolutely delicious and amazing, everything I'm really proud of? It's not great yet. It needs work. It isn't perfect. I'm not satisfied with it -- but I that doesn't mean I'm not happy.

I remember a few hours in my existentialism course where we discussed whether happiness was to be found through accepting what you have, or through striving to make it better. I think the answer is somewhere in between. My happiest times are when I'm working to improve something, when I experience "flow," when I'm totally immersed in fixing a problem or making good things better. The key is to not make the goal your source of happiness, but the process. There's always room for improvement, so if you need to reach perfection to be happy, you are screwed -- but if you just want to work towards perfection, then you'll always have something to do.

The point is, I judge my food harshly. When I make food that's pretty good, I am delighted with myself, but not with it -- I'm making mental notes (the green peppers are a little overcooked, flavor just a bit off, maybe a little chewier, needs more spice, burnt on that corner, too much sauce, different vegetables) so that next time I can make it better. When I cook food that doesn't turn out, I declare it to be the atrocious trash it is -- no ego-fluffing -- and move on with my life. I know that I have an awfully long way to go, and I'm okay with that. I'm harsh -- but not TOO harsh.

But now... now I am questioning this. Am I too harsh? There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I have a pretty accurate assessment of the foods that I liked, which is almost always, "Pretty good. Could be much better." It's my 'atrocious' foods that have me wondering.

Here's why. Last night, I cooked garbanzo beans and sweet potatoes curried in coconut milk. I knew that I could just use any of my curry pastes, and it would be pretty good -- I can make a decent curry. But I decided to see what it would be like with a different combination of spices, so I heated lots of cumin seeds, ginger and garlic, and used that, curry powder and red pepper as my flavoring. I also read some recipes that suggested cooking the sweet potatoes in the microwave, so I did that with the potatoes and carrots. (I don't think I'll do it again -- stovetop is just easier for me.)

I sat down for dinner and took my first bite, and felt like standing up and throwing the pot into the trash. It was DREADFUL. First of all, the sweet potatoes and carrots were undercooked, hardcore. Worse than that, though, the whole flavor was off. It wasn't spicy enough, it wasn't complex enough, it wasn't interesting, but it also wasn't subdued enough to let the natural flavor of the sweet potato and coconut milk to shine. I sighed, and mentally moved on. It was a dud. What can you do? I simmered what was left for a while, so at least the leftovers wouldn't be undercooked, but was not looking forward to having to eat them again.

And yet... I stabbed my fork into my lunch today, a heaping bowl of sweet potato curry, took my first bite and -- and I was totally surprised! It was overcooked this time (I overdid the simmering, whoops!), but it tasted... fine! It certainly wasn't anything spectacular, but I wouldn't have been ashamed to serve it to somebody else -- and that's pretty much my standard for acceptability right now. (William doesn't count. Eating mediocre food, if that's what I wind up with, is part of the deal.)

It was spicy! The sweetness of the coconut milk pretty perfectly matched the spiciness, and the other spices really did round it out to an overall nice flavor. The sweet potatoes were flavorful, and they totally matched everything else in the dish... there weren't any fireworks, it could have used more spices, it still would have been better if I'd used curry paste, it needed some more flavorful rice (probably brown) and, of course, the vegetables were too soft, but... but I enjoyed it.


And then -- this is crazy! -- remember the grapefruit stir-fry I mentioned? The one that wasn't very good? Well, I'm eating it right now. And I have changed my mind. You probably should try adding grapefruit to your stir-fry. Not by itself -- the recipe I used had pineapple juice, soy sauce and corn starch as the base for the sauce, and pretty much equal parts pineapple chunks and grapefruit. And it's pretty good.

The pineapple is sweet, the grapefruit is bitter-tart, and they match really well. It was a decent stir-fry to begin with -- the vegetables were the right amount of done, which is the most important thing, in my mind -- and you know what? I don't think that it would have been better without the grapefruit. I think it does add a little something. I think -- I think it's okay.

Are my leftovers really improving in the fridge? Maybe a little -- but I don't think that would be enough to change my mind so drastically.

Here, then, is my explanation: When I eat my dinner, I have just finished spending, one to two hours deciding what to cook, thinking about what to cook, and chopping sauteing simmering stirring tasting spicing so on and so forth. I have put a lot of thought and effort into my food. With each new ingredient, I think about what it will add to the dish, I add spices very carefully and with thought, I surround myself with the smells and sounds and general delights of the kitchen. I build anticipation. I spend two whole hours looking forward to eating that food.

And I sit down, and of course it doesn't meet my expectations! With naturally high standards and two freaking hours of build-up, it would be crazy if it could. So the letdown, the disappointment, makes me lay an even more vindictive judgment down on my food. "I like it," William says, and I glare at him. "Well, you shouldn't. It's not any good," I huff.

But maybe it is. Not really good, but at least a little bit good. And when it's leftovers, once I've gained some distance from it, once I can judge it like somebody else cooked it, I can appreciate that.

This is Camila's theory explaining the phenomenon of greater enjoyment of leftovers. Does this happen to anybody else? I'll devise a theory and write up a paper.

The obvious conclusion -- that I should always have a day between when I cook food and when I eat it. Straight from the stovetop to the tupperware, that's the solution.

(Or maybe I should just chill out? Dunno.)


Thursday, March 20, 2008

afternoon tea

So perhaps I have mentioned how much I love afternoon tea. No? Well, let me fix that. I really, really love afternoon tea. Do you know why? Because afternoon tea is one of the best ideas ever.

Because, let's face it, 7 hours is a long time between meals. I eat breakfast at 7 and lunch at noon and life is good. But then it's 7 again and time to cook dinner and I am starving, which always serves as an incentive for shortcutting and skipping steps and settling for mediocre food. And if I had my way, I would never eat mediocre food again. Hey, I can dream.

The point is, afternoon tea is 1) well-timed, 2) delicious, 3) adorable, and 4) oh so civilized. I adore it. I wish I had cucumber sandwiches today, but lacking that, here was my afternoon tea:

I know. I peeled my grapefruit and separated the slices and arranged my plate all pretty. I know. I have way too much time. In my defense, we aren't building this Saturday, and since 80% of my job is scheduling things for Saturday... well, I wasn't very busy.

Isn't it cute? It was delicious. It made me happy. I was warm all the way down to my toes and my tongue was delighted and I sipped my stolen green tea with the deepest satisfaction. (Yes. It was somebody else's tea and I stole it. But -- I keep forgetting to bring my own into the office! But -- it's been in the cabinet for ages! But -- but -- I've brought everybody cookies so many times that I think it evens out. Yes? Yes.)

It needed some carby goodness -- little sandwiches or crackers or cookies or mini muffins or cakelets or tartlets or scones, or oh my goodness, now I am starting to think about it. But I worked with what I had.

Incidentally, last night I tried a new recipe -- grapefruit stir fry. A word of advice? Don't put grapefruit in your stir-fry.

It wasn't dreadful, quite. It just... wasn't very good. At all. Without the grapefruit, it would have been a little boring, but better. William hated it -- of course, he can't stand grapefruit, which I totally forgot about, I swear, until after I'd started cooking!

So we have a milk crate full of grapefruit that I guess I'll have to find something else to do with. Main course options are slim, so fruit salads and grapefruit juice it is, I guess. And roasted grapefruit. I'll try that, too.

Heck, I'll try anything. I read that you can grow a grapefruit in its own skin. I want to try that, too.

Also: I have ordered yeast. I bought a pound of yeast online from King Arthur's Flour because I just could not bear to pay $8.50 for a little four-ounce bottle. So I paid $12 to have a pound shipped to me.

And now I am worried about it. You see, the round table baking folks did a cruel, cruel thing. They let me track my shipment. Normally, I order things online and then forget about them (I do things like that) and then it is like a delightful surprise when it arrives.

but now? Now I am checking it online every few hours, and saying things like, "West Virginia? West Virginia? What do you MEAN it's still in West Virginia??" and, "it's been in that sortation center for 8 HOURS already, hurry up! Come on! What's the holdup?"

And that's just silly.

You know what's sillier? It's not going to be here by tomorrow, I can tell. Because it just left West Virginia at 9:36 a.m. It's not happening. But I have a whole day off tomorrow, and I have PLANS. I have plans for BAKING.

I am going to make french bread. And cookies. And maybe little cakes. And hot cross buns. And a pie.

And I won't really make all of them, but I WANT to. And I definitely am baking bread. But without yeast? No can do! So I am going to suck it up and buy a hideously overpriced little packet of yeast.

To tide me over 'til my ship(ment) comes in.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I am frugal in my food-shopping. frugalicious, even. So you have to understand that I don't usually buy things because I want them. I buy bananas for 33 cents a pound, pick the cheapest kind of apples, don't buy berries or melons or pineapples or kiwis even if they look delicious.

But this week, I made an exception. A one-dollar splurge. At Lee Lee's, I bought a single Manila mango, even though it was about three times as expensive as the apples. (Shh... don't tell my budget!) I had vague plans of cutting it up and making a fruit salad to share that night, but never did get around to it. Never did get around to sharing.

Today, I ate that mango. I ate it all by myself, my little not-frugal slip, after my super-frugal soup and bread and water. I didn't share at all. I didn't worry about stretching it or maximizing it at all, except that I did pick off every scrap of flesh from the stone because, oh god, it was so delicious. It was mine, all mine, no matter what it cost because life's not long enough to count pennies and let mangoes sit stacked to the sky and uneaten. It was all mine, and I loved it.

Best damn mango ever. The flesh was sweet, tender, it was perfectly ripe -- smooth and soft, without that roughness on the tongue that most mangoes have. I've had my share of Mexican mangoes since we've been here -- they're popular to bring and share at lunch break -- but this was a different mango all together. None of the fiber, the bite, the stringiness -- smaller, sweeter, more perfect. It made my entire day. It just about made my year.

God. I can't even express how amazing it was for me, huddled up in my little gray cubicle holding this gleaming golden secret to my chest. William called to report that he had locked the keys in the van. "That's cool," I said. "I am having a really excellent mango right now." He said that I could take the bus to Guadalupe and unlock the van and drive to Andrew's, or drive home and they'd drive from Andrew's home, or take the bus home and they'd meet me there and drive to Guadalupe with my keys, or -- "Sure, whatever you think would be best," I said. "It's all good. Have I mentioned how amazing this mango is?"

I love mangoes. I love mangoes so, so much. The flavor, some strange child of sweet and tart that's all it's own, the tender bite of them, the softness under their skin, their lovely colors, the smell... everything. And that mango was so sublime, so damn perfect... Just thinking about it is making me happy all over again.

I like to fancy, sometimes, that it's a bit of my heritage shining through -- that little Filipino slice of me letting itself out as I revel, absolutely rejoice, in the juice dripping between my fingers and down my chin, in the smooth slice of my knife through its skin and the slight rasp as it scrapes along the stone, in the perfect little squares spreading out as I flip the skin into itself. There must be a little brown Camila inside me wiggling her fingers in the tropical humus, picking sweet ripe mangoes straight from the tree and huddling up in her little green island, holding a gleaming golden secret to her chest. It's the only explanation for this unholy passion, I like to tell myself.

I think that can't quite be true, because last time I checked, my sister didn't like mangoes... but maybe she missed that gene. I don't know. I can't express this to you. That little indulgence of mine, those twenty minutes biting off slick cubes of fruit, brought me so much joy that it just isn't fair. It just isn't fair that I got to be that happy all by myself, without sharing it with you. I'm sorry. Next time, I will try to share my mango.

However, that will be next time. Today, I am just going to say that my day was pretty much perfect. Because I had the best mango ever, and it was all mine.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Gnocchi with thyme vinaigrette and lemon-cashew cream at vegan yum yum

I think I'd avoid the eggless gnocchi route, since this post suggests it is more finicky, but I do like the idea of the simple, complementary sauces. If I manage to make pasta myself, the pasta will be the STAR of the meal, so I'll need not-overpowering sauces. At least the first time, while I'm still all proud of myself.

Monkey bread at the knead for bread

Monkey Bread! What a great invention. I think I linked to a monkey bread post last time, too... whatever. Let's all celebrate the joy that is monkey bread.

Apple bundt cake at cafe chocolada

Add to the list of things I need: a bundt pan. Incidentally, I had a fantastic apple muffin this morning. I bet this would be like that... but better.

Red curry at cookbook catchall

Oh, just look at that picture... what a beautiful photo! I usually make green curry, but I really should branch out. Whatever. I don't care about the recipe that much. It's the photography that really caught my eye. Damn.

Espresso chocolate chunk cookies at eggs on sunday

If you love me, you will make me these cookies. Or let me make them for us to savor together. Click! Click, I say! More beautiful pictures and a recipe that is definitely going to be sticking around. Mmmf.

Tiramisushi at dessert first

These seem... strange. Not something I would want to make or even, really, eat -- but they certainly are creative. All the same, I think some things just don't really need to be messed with. Tiramisu is pretty damn perfect as it is. Why try to merge it with sushi?

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar at cheap healthy good

Such a strange idea.. I have got to try this. That's all there is to it.

Blackberry hand pies at gourmet girl

Blackberry hand pies. Hand pies? Like little miniature calzones, apparently -- one-handed, one-person, and, I'm willing to bet, entirely delicious. We have established through experimentation that a whole pie is too darn big for just William and myself -- we actually have half a pie in the house right now, left over from pi day, and I worry that we won't get through it before it goes bad. William has such a fondness for pies, and they are so simply delicious, that I hate to not make them... little bitty pies are pretty much the best compromise ever. And these look fantastic.

Homesick Texan has a lovely post about her grandfather's special pancakes -- very touching.

Orangette writes about her time in Paris -- and shares, among many other things, a chocolate granola recipe!

Pasta with cauliflower, walnuts and feta at smitten kitchen

I don't like cauliflower... but damned if this doesn't sound good!

And th-th-that's all for today, folks.


Monday, March 17, 2008


My dearest darlingest mother came into town last night, and I invited over a couple of friends (do you like how I say that like I have more than two friends out here? Hint: I don't.) And I made Indian food!

It was almost a disaster. But more importantly, it wasn't a disaster. Let's all look on the bright side!

Why was it so nearly catastrophic? Well, I didn't decide what I was going to make until about 3 p.m., and we hadn't gone grocery shopping for the week, so we had to do that first. Since it's just not cool to take your mom to freaking Fry's or something when she's kind enough to visit you and she lives all the way across the country and you haven't seen her in months, we went to Lee Lee's instead. Because Lee Lee's isn't just a store -- it is a destination.

If you are ever in Phoenix, you should pay a visit to Lee Lee's Oriental Supermart, at the corner of Dobson and Warner in Chandler. It is pretty much my culinary Mecca. Even my mother, who is a great cook who has lived all over the world and shopped in all kinds of places, said that she had never seen anything like it. Lee Lee's -- the biggest little ethnic shop you've ever seen.

In Lee Lee's, they have aisles designated: Soy Sauce and Fish Sauces, Pakistan, India, Korea, Thailand, The Philippine, Holland Food, Rice Cookers, China, Vietnam, Beers, Caribbean, Cookies and Biscuits. They don't discriminate: is your food of choice from Britain, or Greece, or Sri Lanka? No matter. You'll find your preferred import here. I believe I have failed to express how huge this place is. It's really freaking big.

Meat is in the back, a long butcher's station with busy men in white coats carrying giant cleavers and answering your questions in broken English. Rice is in the front, between the checkout stations and the door, stacked 5 feet high on wooden pallets, 10- and 25- and 50-pound bags of more varieties of rice than I knew existed.

Produce is dirt cheap -- apples for 39 cents a pound, when I have to search to find it for under a dollar elsewhere -- Indian Eggplant, Thai Eggplant, eggplants from all sorts of different countries, all different shapes and sizes and colors... 15 varieties of cabbage, with bok choy the only one I recognize, 5 kinds of bananas and plantains, fresh ginger in a massive pile and scoop-it-yourself bean sprouts crisp and fresh. Fresh herbs, a third of the price and three times the quality I have managed to find anywhere else. From potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions to yucca root, tamarind and edamame... I could go on.

The point is, they have almost everything. I was disappointed this Saturday by a lack of flour and yeast, but that was really it. There were lots of kinds of flour I didn't recognize at all, but I just wanted a huge sack of plain white, and a small bag of wheat. No can do, kiddo. But aside from those Western staples, they really do have everything I could ever want. And an amazing number of things I could never, ever want -- did I mention that their selection of imported foods is really incredible? I truly think they should advertise themselves as a tourist destination -- wandering around for an hour, laughing and being amazed by the diversity of things people eat, and finishing off by buying a snack food that will push your culinary boundaries -- really, I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

I digress. We went to Lee Lee's and then it was 5 and my mother had to leave by 7. And I decided to make naan and samosas and dal and curried vegetables and garbanzo beans and rice pilaf and tamarind chutney and raita and mango lassis. I had an hour, and four burners.

As you can imagine, that didn't work so well. Fortunately, my mom and Steph were around to help me out, so I managed to pull off everything except for the lassis (easiest of all, kind of ironic, but by the time I should have started them I was just worn out). It was a lot of hectic-ness and mess-making and shuffling of pots and catching things on fire and setting off TWO different fire alarms -- I didn't even know we had two fire alarms! -- and we ended up eating off a flour-covered table, because there just wasn't TIME to clean it off.

Next time I have an Indian feast, I am planning ahead. I am starting the day before, and making things in advance, and it's all going to go very smoothly and we're going to be very civilized and we will eat off a tablecloth and I will be able to talk to my guests instead of running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

The food? Oh, the food was fine. It's just the preparation of it that was a nightmare. Well, that and the mess. It was such a nightmare. I wish I could plan ahead, I wish I was more organized, I wish I didn't set off fire alarms every time I try to cook, why can't I cut things without getting them all over the floor? Really! It just seems downright unreasonable.

The food? Right. The food. The dal didn't turn out to be dal -- I was all ready to start pureeing it when I decided that I was really just too busy, and they were just going to be lentils, okay? Okay. They were all right, I guess, if you like lentils. They would have been better if I'd gone the full mile and made them into real dal, but I didn't. So sue me! I don't even like lentils! (They were also really unappetizing-looking. So I won't make you look at them.) Anyway, nobody complained, so they weren't a failure... just dull and uninspired.

The samosas were pretty good. Everybody liked them, at any rate. I had to make some of them without onions for the picky-faces, but I think even those turned out okay. They were the right combinations of crispy and tender, flavorful even if they weren't quite spicy enough... pretty darn good.

Steph and Dolores did a good job shaping them, didn't they? I don't think I should even say that I made these. I made the dough and the filling, but the true credit should go to the people who rolled out the dough, shaped and filled the samosas, and deep-fried them. Thanks, ladies!

These are all pictures of leftovers, by the way. I didn't have time to breathe when they were fresh, let alone take pictures. These actually look a little bland in the pictures... more paprika and pepper needed, methinks.

William ate so many of these he made himself sick. That's not a particularly unusual occurance, so I guess it doesn't count as a terribly high compliment, but when he's rolling around clutching his stomach I have to either feel complimented or guilty... and guess what I usually choose.

The rice pilaf was pretty great. I've actually made this before, from a recipe in The New Vegetarian Epicure, and it's been tasty every time. Definitely good enough to eat by itself. I left out the onions and used raisins instead of currants, leaving a recipe somewhat like this (adapted from The New Vegetarian Epicure)

1 T oil
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 T ginger, finely diced
1 T cumin seed
1/2 t red cayenne pepper, or 1 t curry powder, or somthing like that. I don't quite remember.
1 cup rice
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup water
1/4 cup raisins
1 2-inch cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces

Sauté the garlic, ginger and cumin seed in your oil of choice until it smells delicious. Add the spices, then the rice, and stir until the rice is well coated. Add the broth and water, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and add the raisins, cinnamon stick and salt. Stir well, then cover and simmer that sucker for 25 minutes. Let sit for another 5 minutes, or until the rest of dinner is done. Lift lid. Fluff. Enhale. Enjoy.

The cinnamon sticks soften up and aren't obnoxious to eat at all. They add a bit of texture, but aren't noticably crunchy or stick-like or overpowering... thank goodness.
The tamarind chutney became a tamarind dipping sauce. I was trying to reduce it, but then I got distracted and it boiled over, and then I needed that burner, so I just renamed it, took it off the heat and served it like it was. It had a nice flavor, anyway, and I'm sure it would have been a great chutney if I'd had 2 more burners and an extra thirty minutes.

The raita was my standard yogurt sauce -- cucumber, cilantro, yogurt, lime juice, coriander. It was the only dish that didn't, at some point, make me feel like hyperventilating.

The naan were pretty good -- I'd never made them before, so it was certainly fun. I'd also never made a bread that called for yogurt, so that was new and interesting. The cooking method was different, too -- I followed the New Vegetarian Epicure recipe that called for cooking them on a hot griddle 'til they were brown on the top and had puffy bubbles, then transferring them to the oven. Straight onto the rack, broil at 500 degrees until just browned on top, too -- serve.

I did manage to burn about half of them, and get melted, burnt plastic on more of them than I'd like to admit... but let's not talk about that. Let's focus on the fact that they were recognizably naan. At this point in my baking career, "recognizable" is pretty much what I am going for. "Identifiable" is pretty good, too. And these were both, as well as being pliable and rippable and fun.

Next time, I will make garlic naan. And maybe it will be both recognizable and really good. That would be awesome.

Finally, the curried vegetables and garbanzo beans, which I actually really liked. A success! Stop the presses! I think one of my favorite things about them is how colorful they are... green, red, orange, white, yellow, the brown curry paste... and they get the Andrew-the-nutritionist "Healthy" stamp of approval! Even better!

Best of all, they were stupid-easy to make. I love things that are stupid-easy... should I not say "stupid-easy?" I feel like it might offend somebody, somehow. The other day, I called myself dyslexic and then thought, "what if somebody listening right now actually is dyslexic, or knows somebody who is, and they're really offended?" I felt dreadfully guilty and apologetic for a while, even though nobody had reacted at all. Then, the next day, I transposed two numbers in a phone number for the 15th time and did it again... oh well.

Camila's Stupid-easy (and not at all authentic) Curried Vegetables and Garbanzo Beans

1 T oil
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 half-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely diced
(1 large onion, diced... I couldn't use it last night, but I bet it would be even BETTER with onions.)
1 generous tablespoon of your favorite curry paste
2 carrots, diced
Half a green bell pepper, diced
Half a red bell pepper, diced
2 zucchini/squash, diced
(You know what else would probably be good? Sweet potato, boiled 'til not quite tender and diced... yeah!)
1 can garbanzo beans, undrained.

Sauté the garlic, ginger and onions in the oil until the onions are getting translucent, or until the garlic and ginger smell awesome if you aren't using onions. Add the curry paste -- I used some tasty stuff bought at Lee Lee's, of course -- and stir around until everything is coated in yumminess. Add the carrots, and sauté for another couple of minutes. Add the bell pepper and squash, and continue to cook until the squash is just barely tender. Dump in the garbanzo beans, including the liquid, and stir well. Keep over medium heat until the garbanzos are heated through, then serve. Accept enthusiastic praise: say, "Yes, it was very difficult -- took me all day, in fact -- but that's okay, because you're worth it!"

It was so fast, so yummy... definitely a keeper. Serve it over plain white rice with some raisins and yogurt on top, and you've pretty much got the meal that took me an hour and a half of panicking to make. Wow. That's pretty depressing.

Ah well. The samosas were worth the effort, and the naan was a fun adventure. I do wish I'd made the lassis, though... they are just so delicious.

That was our Indian feastlet. Bollyfood... get it? Speaking of which, I will now leave you with my two favorite Indian things. My apologies to the grand country of India for choosing such silly things to represent it -- I respect you. Really I do.

With the utmost respect to the subcontinent, then, I offer you: No Life Without Wife (from Bride and Prejudice -- rent it!) and the Dancing Bollywood Condoms, which defy description.

You are welcome.


Thursday, March 13, 2008


man. this is hard.

Last night I made tomato, corn and garbanzo bean soup. It was... not good. It had a peculiar and very unpleasant flavor to it. I also made irish soda bread, but messed up the recipe by leaving out the oats. Can you say oops?

William's comment: "Weeeell, the garbanzo beans are good. And the bread is delicious!" (It wasn't. It is okay, but it is not delicious.)

As for the soup, I blame the stuff from the cans. I kept it simple and quick, grabbing and adapting a random quick soup recipe from Joy of Cooking. I sauteed onions and garlic, then added condensed tomato soup, milk, cream-style corn and garbanzo beans. Why did I have tomato soup? Annie bought it. Why did I have cream-style corn? Well, it was on sale. What can I say.

So my theory is that the soup, having unpleasantries like corn syrup and too much salt, and the corn, having corn starch and other seemingly unnecessary ingredients, introduced a not-delicious-ness to the soup. Because I know there was nothing wrong with the onions, garlic, and garbanzo beans, and the only spices I added were a little bit of curry powder. I really don't know how even I could mess that up so badly. The wrongness lay somewhere in a strange sweetness... yeah. I've thought about it. I blame the tomato soup. Unfair of me? Perhaps. But there you go.

Wow. It was really not good, though. Ugh. I don't want to talk about it.

All the same, it seemed like it might have been trying for something positive. I might try the same thing again, except making my own tomato soup and using frozen, un-creamed, un-canned, un-additivized corn. Additivized. That's right. Anyway. Maybe I'll try again a long time from now, when this trauma is gone from my memory.

Tonight? Tonight I made tempura. I was going to make beer-battered vegetables, but the beer I grabbed from Andrew's house turned out to be barbecue sauce. In a seemingly-unopened beer bottle. WTF? I called him to complain, and he just shrugged it off and said he can't explain his roommates. Whatever.

So I ended up making tempura with water instead, and it was profoundly uninspiring. Squash, zucchini, onions and tofu, deep-fried and pretty much tasteless. Also: not crunchy. Is tempura supposed to be crunchy? I don't know. I can't remember ever having it. I sort of expected it to be, but it was almost limp, instead. And did I mention flavorless? I put curry powder and ginger in the batter, but believe me. You couldn't tell.

And I tried to make a dipping sauce, using soy sauce, red crushed peppers, lime juice, honey... I was doing okay until I added some vinegar. Have I mentioned that I don't know what the hell I'm doing? It was DREADFUL. I had to stop and start over again -- soy sauce, red crushed peppers, lime juice, STOP. It was uninspiring, too, but at least it wasn't dreadful. (And we are apparently out of fresh ginger, or I would have used that -- I couldn't find it in the fridge).

In short? NOT a success.

William's comment: "Well, it's better than last night's dinner."

It makes me want to cry. Well, not really. It makes me want to throw my hands up in despair and look angrily at something. Also? I have a splatter burn on my forehead. I hope it doesn't turn into an angry red mark. I have three zits that are just starting to go away. Come on. Cut me some slack, face.

Anyway. I want to throw up my hands in despair. How does one get good at cooking, anyway? I know how you become a chef -- culinary school. But I don't want to be a chef right now. I just want to be a kick-ass cook. And so I read about cooking and think about cooking and I try new things, and I try really hard, and... and it makes me want to throw my hands up in despair. Because there are people who seem like they just excel effortlessly at this. Like everything they touch magically responds to the meal in their mind, while I'm left with a big and active imagination, with a perfect plate in my head and mediocrity on the table.

Maybe this is the world balancing out my test-taking skills, gently teaching me a lesson. Right at this moment I am frustrated enough that I would rather be a killer cook with a C-average. I have priorities. And I am hungry.

I really, really want to be good at this. I want to cook foods that make eyes widen, smiles erupt, hearts feel warmer. I want to cook food that can adequately express my love for my favorite people. I want my food to fill bellies and warm hearts and comfort souls and blow minds. I want to make dishes people talk about for years, request again and again, remember fondly. Food is, in my mind, one of the best parts about living, and I want my food to be as good as the rest of my fantastic life is.

Mantra: It takes time. Keep trying. It takes practice. Keep going.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. "It takes time, keep trying..."

But I feel like it doesn't, not for everybody. I know people who are younger than me who are fantastic cooks. I know. I have eaten their food. So I don't even have my youth on my side, really. And I'm not lazy, and I'm not too busy, and I don't not care, and dammit, I am really trying here.

Maybe I am just doomed to make edible food (because I've been managing that, so far) and I will have to pay other people to make me the lovely and delightful things I really want to eat. This whole cooking-really-fantastic-food thing might just be a bad idea. Maybe I'm aiming too high. Maybe I should just give up.

Stop. Enter William:

"Camila, you can't expect to make things perfectly the first time. But I have every faith that you can make them perfectly the second or third time. So try again later!"

Breath deeply. Rinse. Repeat.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

gettin' fresh

Things I love about living in Arizona: a short list.

  • Lots of sunlight
  • A winter that I blinked and missed

My entire understanding of the nature of citrus has been inverted. Seriously. It's like the difference between OJ from concentrate and genuinely fresh-squeezed orange juice -- a totally different beast, right? My first fresh orange was like tasting single-estate Valrhona after a lifetime on Hershey's kisses. I'm only exaggerating a little. And the grapefruit? I feel wealthy. My breakfasts seem so incredibly indulgent when I get to slice open a pink-filled little miracle and eat it, every morning. I must be rich, to be able to afford a luxury like that...

I'm in love -- I can't believe that I ever felt otherwise. I never understood! I was absolutely astonished a few weeks ago when suddenly there was fruit everywhere -- I had no idea that citrus season was in February. Suddenly, I was over for dinner at Steph's house and before I knew it I was plucking grapefruit and tangelos straight from the tree. (It's a big deal -- get it?) Roadside markets were popping up with bags and bags of fresh-picked fruit, super-cheap. People were bringing shopping bags full of oranges and lemons to the work site, to the office, and just giving them away -- "Please," they'd say, "Take them! I have so many!"

They didn't have to ask twice. These are oranges that are sweet, grapefruits that are flavorful without a hint of acrid harshness, tangelos whose rinds practically fall off as they beg to be eaten. Have you ever eaten an orange that was hard inside, a little bit dessicated, a little bit sour? I never will again. I couldn't bear to. I never even knew that oranges could be so sweet, and yet still tart.

My free supply of citrus is dwindling -- the season must be wrapping up. So now I have to buy my grapefruit, at 12.5 cents a pop. It's kind of dreadful. But I can't help it -- I can't stop eating them. Oranges and grapefruits and little juicy, tart tangelos, oh my! There's this ad campaign -- "Eat fruit. Devour oranges." And I laughed the first time I saw it, and then tried an orange plucked straight from the tree and I was hooked. I was devouring.

Mm. Look at that grapefruit.

Let's talk about localvores. Not about politics or money or practicality or health or any of that nonsense -- let's talk about peeling open an orange from your backyard, about really, really fresh produce, let's talk about the color and flavor of fruit that is still alive. Kitchen gardens, farmer's markets, beat-up trucks with the bounty of the earth piled in the back, a huge and rusty cornucopia... let's talk about food that wasn't bred for its shelf life or ease of transport, not designed to be bruiseless, not coated in wax and refrigerated and packaged and stored. Let's talk about fresh.

It's like a whole different kind of food.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

gearing up

When we first moved out here, I was totally prepared for this house-playing venture of ours. I brought three whole milk crates of kitchen supplies, in anticipation of my own, tiny, adorable, utterly-my-own kitchen.

Some of that consisted of starter food, but I also had:

  • Two mixing bowls, one large and one small
  • One large skillet, and one small cast-iron skillet
  • One big, one medium, and one small pot -- plus my beloved double boiler
  • A wok
  • A steamer
  • Wooden spoons, a soup ladle, a plastic spatula and a slotted spoon
  • Two large, shitty knives, a decent serrated knife, and a small shitty knife
  • A knife sharpener -- I figured if I had shitty knives, I might as well keep them sharp. You can probably guess how well that worked
  • A cutting board
  • A cheese grater
  • A peeler
  • A can opener
  • A colander
  • A very small collection of baking equipment -- a baking sheet, a pie pan, a 9x12 pan
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • A toaster
  • plates, cups, mugs utensils.

And that was about it. I was all set. Totally. Everything I needed -- I knew we'd buy a microwave, but that was about it. Yup. I had it all.

Until I actually started cooking, and realized that I was living in an abandoned wasteland when it came to kitchen equipment. I had nothing!

You have to understand that I am totally cheap. I am not about buying fancy, unnecessary things. I don't go shopping for fun. But something has happened. Something has changed. Now, I go to Home Depot and ogle the appliances for fun. (Oh my goodness. They have this oven with two convection ovens, a little one and a big one, and the bottom drawer can be storage OR a broiler, and the gas stovetop has one of those griddles in the middle that can be flat or grill-like and it has five burners, I can't find it online but it is BEAUTIFUL.)

And I check all the thrift stores for baking equipment, and if they don't have any? I buy it new. Really! I don't just sigh and do without, I actually spring for new stuff. It is cah-razy.

So I have already -- despite my best self-controlling efforts! -- purchased, or else requested and been given:

  • an ice cream scoop
  • a corkscrew
  • another can opener. For a good reason, I swear. It had more features!
  • a whisk
  • rubber spatulas
  • another cheese grater. For a good reason, I swear. It had more features!
  • a potato masher
  • a pastry knife
  • a blender
  • a mini food processor
  • a mixer
  • tongs
  • a metal spatula
  • a good set of knives -- two big, two medium, lots of little ones and another sharpener
  • A marinade injector. I bought it to inject stuff into strawberries -- didn't work. I'm sure it will come in handy again sometime... really!
  • 2 more mixing bowls
  • A large cast-iron skillet
  • A smaller skillet-y thing
  • A very large pot
  • A muffin pan
  • Another pie pan
  • A cheese slicer
  • Two loaf pans
  • Another baking sheet
  • Mini pie pans
  • A little mortar and pestle
  • A kettle
  • A garlic press
  • A rolling pin
  • And even more bowls, glasses and utensils.

That is a lot for a short period of time. Written out like that, it looks a little excessive. At the same time, I know it's hardly anything at all... I am still dying out here! For starters, I broke my garlic press ! Helpful hint: Ginger is harder than garlic. Don't try to press a great big chunk of it in your garlic press.

So I absolutely need another garlic press. Also? I'm pretty sure I need a pizza stone. And one of those cool baker's wooden paddle thingies. Okay, I only want one of those because they're awesome, so I guess that doesn't count. But I do definitely need some springform pans. How can I be expected to make cheesecake without them? And how can I be expected to live without making cheesecake?

Also? I really want some ramekins. I didn't even know what ramekins were until I saw a recipe for molten chocolate that made me want to die just by looking at the pictures. And I could make creme brulee in it! I definitely need some ramekins.

And, of course, one of those cool bench knives JoyTheBaker was raving about. I saw a picture of a dude making bread in the newspaper yesterday, and he had one, and I thought, "Dude! I know what that is!" and then I thought, "And I need one!"

I don't think I can be expected to live much longer without a stand mixer. I never understood the attraction until I went home for Christmas, and my parents had suddenly acquired one, and I used it and it pretty much changed my life. That thing is a beast. It isn't just an appliance: it is a TOOL. It was miraculous. I want it.

I want an ice cream maker. We live in the desert! It will be very hot! We will need much ice cream. My parents have an ice cream maker, and it is only now that I do not have one that I am realizing how much better my life was with that appliance within arm's reach.

Also on the needed list: a ravioli cutter, cookie cutters, food-prep bags, a dutch oven, a potato ricer (thanks, Katie!), an even BIGGER skillet, a sprouter, a bundt pan, cheesecloth, a sifter, a pastry brush, a squirt bottle, a sieve, a candy/frying thermometer, a baking thermometer, a gnocchi board, a juicer, a zester, an icing spatula, a waffle maker...

I understand that I am blurring the line between needs and wants here. Home Economics 101, thanks very much, but all the same... there are some things that I just can't fake. I know that I need better cooking skills before I need better cooking equipment, just like how in dancing, I need to improve my technique before I work on a flashier style, but all the same. It would be so nice to have fun toys to play with.

Truthfully, I think my first list of essentials was pretty accurate. Good knives were vital -- one good butcher's knive and one good paring knife are really all that I need, but it is fantastic to have a solid, heavy, reliable butcher's knife. For butchering all my vegetables, of course. I brought with me everything I needed... but nowhere near everything I discovered I want.

With a few exceptions, the things I have bought have helped make my life easier, but they haven't enabled me to make anything I couldn't make before. On the other hand, having the right tool for the job does make that job much more enjoyable. Ah well. Really, I've been relatively frugal about my kitchen purchases, haven't bought anything super-expensive, I've used everything I bought... I regret nothing!

Anyway. My advice for anybody building a supercheap starter kitchen is:

-Invest in a good butcher/chef's knive and a decent nonstick skillet. For everything else, you can manage with cheap stuff, but those are hard to fake. And I tried.
-Two mixing bowls and two saucepans: one biggish, one littlish.
-A cutting board, a paring knife, a serrated knive, a cheese grater and a peeler
-Wooden spoons, a ladle, a whisk, one metal spatula/turner and one rubber spatula/scraper
-A baking sheet, a baking pan (9x12), and 2 pie/cake pans
-A colander for pasta
-A can opener
-Stuff to eat off of.

And then be prepared to buy lots and lots of toys.


Monday, March 10, 2008


My google reader has given up, and now just says "1000+." My goals for today are, 1) go hiking and see some beautiful wildflowers, 2) clean the house a smidge, and 3) 0 unread items. Woohoo! Here we go!

I figured as long as I was filtering through my rss feed, I might as well share the highlights with you. Here's what caught my eye:

Frozen rhubarb and banana charlottes, by Tartelette, via Tastespotting. I am a-MAZED by how adorable these are. And I don't like rhubarb, or banana desserts! Seriously, you have to go see them. They have a BOW.

Vegetarian Kofta, by Cookworm, via Tastespotting. I had no clue what Kofta was until I read this, but the vegetarian version has lentils, and I'm still trying to figure out how to make lentils that I love. I think this will go on my list o' things to try. It's a big list.

Asian Black Pearl Layer Cake with Ginger, Wasabi and Black Sesame Seeds
, by Pretty Tasty Cakes, via Tastespotting. It's tempting! I'm normally all about the straight-up chocolate, but all the spiced chocolate I've had has been pretty spectacular. I'm hesitant about using wasabi -- for some reason, I think I'd be more comfortable entering the spicy-chocolate world with some good old chili peppers. But if I'm ever braver, I'll totally give this a shot. (The charlottes up above? Those are just going to be admired from a comfortable distance.)

Garlic Knots, by Cast Sugar, via Tastespotting -- I need to make these the next time I make pizza. I need to have a huge, carb-happy Italian dinner party with pasta and pizza and really good bread and an excellent salad and these things. Confession? Those cheesy pizza-strips that you can buy from cheapo pizza joints are one of my favorite things ever. I think they're pretty gross, but they're still so good. And these look like they are the platonic ideal that those pathetic, limp little mozzerella-covered sticks are aiming for. Long story short, I am cooking these suckers.

My Modern Gingerbread House, via Tastespotting. My sister and I have made a gingerbread house (or castle) every Christmas for the last couple of years. It's a pretty fantastically fun thing to do. But this? This is amazing. Midcentury modern -- and because I've been reading the Homes section of the paper and those butterfly roofs and mid-century ranch styles are very popular around here, I actually sort of get it.

Bread to die for -- Pane di Prato, at A Life (Time) of Cooking, via Tastespotting. Another bread recipe! Woohoo! Sadly, I have had to put french bread city off for a while, as I am still unable to find somewhere I can buy yeast for less than $34/lb. I know it is cheaper if you buy it in bulk, but damned if I can find a store that will let me! And I don't want to spring for another 4-ounce bottle knowing that it will be gone in no time. I will try again, hopefully with more luck, next weekend. Alas. Anyway, this bread looked yummy, and that is all.

Traditional Hummous
, at The Gluten-Free Hippie, via Tastespotting. I really want to make my own hummus. I haven't yet, because I'm the only one who eats it and I don't want it to go bad, and so far I can't think of anything else I'd use the tahini for -- but I would like to. And this reminded me of it. Mm. Look at that.

How To Make Roasted Garlic Oil in 3 Easy Steps, at 64 sq ft kitchen, via Tastespotting. I love garlic! Also...

Nigella's Sesame Peanut Noodles, at What Did You Eat?, via Tastespotting, totally calls for garlic-infused oil. Sounds like fate talking to me!

Also, I read ANOTHER solid endorsement of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I need to bake THAT, too! Damn! What am I doing, sitting around reading blogs instead of tracking down cheaper yeast and getting my hands floury? I've spent almost 20 years of my life not baking, how am I ever going to catch up with all the delicious things I need to be making??

A Slice of Spring, at La Tartine Gourmande, via Tastespotting, features red currant and almond tea cakes with lemongrass and poppyseeds. They look delicious. I want them with my afternoon tea right. this. moment.

Wow. This is taking forever. I'm going to have to start talking less!

Not Your Grandma's Palmeritas, at From Argentina With Love, via Tastespotting. I'm in love with Argentina, thanks to a fellow named Jorge Borges, and am totally psyched about this site now that I've discovered it. These kinds of pastries aren't my thing -- but if they're yours, check out the recipe. Storebought puff pastry plus a little bit of time equals delicious, apparently.

Chocolate Nemesis Cake, at One for the Table, via Tastespotting. I've had a cake called Chocolate Nemesis before, but it was at the Artful Dodger, where they changed the name of their delicious chocolate cake every couple of weeks for a while, and the recipe remained delightfully intact. Chocolate Vengeance, Chocolate Betrayal... I can't remember any of them now. That was a good cake, though. This is... flourless. I have not yet had any luck with flourless chocolate cake. Maybe someday.

Smoky Refried Bean Soup, at Fatfree Vegan Kitchen, via Tastespotting. Sounds simple and delightful. Even if it is fat-free. I'd fix that by adding oil at the beginning, and cheese at the end. NOW we're talking.

And here's another recipe for tortillas, this one calling for letting the dough sit for twice as long as I have been. Maybe that will help me out.

Garlic Soba Noodles Recipe
, at 101 Cookbooks, via Tastespotting, sounds good, but it's their tofu recipe that's hooked me. CHEESE-covered tofu. That's brilliant! Why haven't I thought of that before? Oh man. That's totally going to be part of a dinner coming soon to a kitchen table near me.

Chocolate Pull-Apart Sticky Buns
, at Little Corner of Mine, look like tasty, healthier, chocolate versions of monkey bread. The real reason to visit that post is to read the comments -- so many people asking, "what are biscuits?" and "what are HOMESTYLE biscuits?" and, "wait, biscuits come in a CAN in the states??" I know. I think that biscuits in a can are kind of strange, too. But trust me on this one -- they are pretty darn delicious. And as I am anti-packaged foods, that hurts for me to say.

That's it. I am DONE with things catching my eye! I will be more discerning from now on, I swear!

Mini Chocolate Chip Hot Cross Buns
, at fact or fiction? you decide, via Tastespotting. Pretty much adorable, and very seasonal. I will think about observing Easter with them.

Broccolini, Morel and Campari Tomato Pizzetta
, at Julie's Kitchen, via Tastespotting. Also adorable! Okay, so I don't know what any of those ingredients are, except for "tomato" -- I've heard of morels before, but, um, I'm not entirely sure what they are, and I know that Broccolini (like Broccoli Rabe) is not actually broccoli, but other than that? I haven't a clue. But that's okay. Because I know that a pizzetta is a little bitty pizza, and that is ADORABLE. (P.S., I did actually read the post and morels are mushrooms and campari tomatoes are a kind of tomato, and wikipedia says broccolini is PRETTY MUCH broccoli, but different. I just didn't want you thinking I was all, "hur hur hur, broccolini and morel and campari tomatoes, delicious combination, the campari really merges well with the morelness and anti-broccoletta!" and pretending like I knew what I was talking about. Because I really don't know any of this stuff. And I thought "campari" was one thing and "tomato" another. Oops.)

Better than Sex Cupcakes, at Cupcake Project, via tastespotting. WOW. That is all I can say. Because these are dark chocolate cupcakes with chocolate chips and a chocolate mousse filling and a dark chocolate ganache and white chocolate on top and I just DIED.

Poached Pears
at Cookbook Catchall, via tastespotting, just look absolutely delicious.

Okay. That got me through Tastespotting and about 600 posts. 21 out of 600 -- I culled out the top 3.5% of those posts for you. Aren't you glad I'm doing your legwork? Unless you eat meat, of course, in which case you'll have to do it yourself. It is very nice to be able to bypass anything meaty -- makes decision-making in restaurants much easier, as well as hastening my trip through tastespotting.

Moving on...

Brownie Fudge Tart at Almond Corner: oh my goodness. I won't make this one, because the metric system makes me uncomfortable yet and also I'm not so sure about the cream cheese, but a brownie pie does sound like pretty much the best thing ever.

Honey-glazed Roasted Carrots, Simon-style at Cheap Healthy Good... maybe the boy will eat carrots with his dinner if I cook them like this. Ya think?

I cheated and read a little bit of slashfood... but there's this awesome little story about how some eighth-graders protested their short lunch period by paying for their lunches in only pennies. How totally awesome is that? Way to go, punks!

Baked Apples, at Cheap Healthy Good... like the best part of an apple pie, without all the work. Yeah. Totally on the list.

Potato Gnocchi at Cheap Healthy Good (yeah, that's a particularly good blog... check it out) I have been wanting to make gnocchi for a while, but my one and only attempt at making pasta was disheartening enough that I am going to do a lot more research before I tackle it again. I consider this article phase one of that research.

Cucumber Sandwiches with Dill and Creme Fraiche, at Gourmet Girl. I absolutely love taking tea. It is one of my favorite things ever. And I hate hate hate white bread, but this... makes me consider maybe buying some. Just a little! And she's going to do a whole SERIES of tea sandwich posts. I am psyched!

Ode to my Bench Knife at JoyTheBaker. And now I want one!

Cinnamon Rolls at JoyTheBaker -- I've tried making cinnamon rolls twice, and they've been delicious each time, if I do say so myself... but they haven't been good. They've been delicious mostly because it's hard to go wrong with loads of sugar and cinnamon, but the dough itself hasn't turned out lovely and tall and flaky like I've been going for. This recipe looks a bit different. Maybe I'll give it a try.

Falafel mix at The Perfect Pantry... my world has just been turned upside down. Lydia at The Perfect Pantry says falafel is better when made from a mix. What do I do???

Whoo! All done! I won't be cooking for a little while -- Andrew's girlfriend was in town, so he cooked for us all last night and tonight we tried to get Peruvian food, but it was closed, so we wound up at this awesome little Thai place. Somehow William and I ended up with EVERYBODY's leftovers... so we have a lot of great thai food to go through before I start catching the stove on fire again.

Ah well. I guess I'll survive the wait.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

luster lacked, falafel fried

So I do have pictures of pizza, but they are a little blurry, and I have pictures of thai curry, but I was really hungry and ate first so it's just leftovers and they are unattractive,

(side note: the curry was hampered by its lack of onions. I now know and occasionally cook for two people who absolutely despise onions, and it has made me realize how much I cook with onions all the freaking time. I am so used to onions being a part of the food I make that I leave it out and am just shocked at how sad and bereft the meals are. I am beginning to understand what it must be like for a carnivorous-type who cooks for vegetarians by making meat dishes but leaving out the meat, or serving meals entirely consisting of meatless side dishes. 'But there's something missing!," they say. "How can you eat like this all the time?"

And that is amusing, because they are just looking at their food the way they always have and taking things out, instead of starting from a vegetable-centric or legume-centric or any-other-centric point of view, where nothing is "missing" in a dish that happens to not have meat. And it turns out that I have the same problem with my onion-centricity. So I am sure -- positive! -- that it is quite possible to make scrumptiously delicious food without a whiff of onionness. I just don't know how yet. And since so many people try to make good vegetarian food on behalf of all the vegetarians in the world, which I do appreciate, I think I will start working on making onionless dishes that are more than onion-containing dishes with the onions left out. Does that even make sense?)

and last night was a pretty dull meal of lentils and rice -- not dreadful, certainly very healthy, but not good. I was lazy. Tonight's dinner was a case of, "Ah, shoot, I was supposed to go grocery shopping and blew two hours on the internet doing nothing productive instead, and we are running out of food. Beans it is," and so beans and corn and carrots served over thoroughly mediocre homemade tortillas. This tortilla thing is hard. I think a tortilla press would help loads -- it is the getting it to the correct thickness that is really vexing me.

The point is that there have been lots of un-special meals here lately. On the other hand, it cost me $30 for last week's groceries, so at least it was cheap. I will have to compensate for that a little bit this week -- we're low on oil and out of yeast, both pricey -- but I didn't really cheat at all. We had all the food we needed, and it was great. I wish I could do that every week.

THE POINT -- I'm sorry, I got distracted -- is that I am not going to talk about those meals. Instead, I am going to talk about falafel.

Mmm, deep-fried garbanzo balls. Heh. Balls.


Here are the balls (teehee!) after they have been rolled and are awaiting their splattery doom. I make such a mess every time I deepfry things, it is ridiculous. That was not a comma splice, I swear to you. If I weren't already trying to limit our deepfried-items-consumption to once a week for health and oil-conserving purposes, I would have to keep it controlled on behalf of my standards of mess-making. Those standards are very lax -- that is saying something.

Why do I keep deep-frying things? It is dreadful for us! I didn't grow up eating like that! I blame the fact that, 1) falafel is delicious, 2) most everything improves when you deep-fry it, including, evidently, tofu, 3) samosas are perfection in triangular form, and 4) eggrolls are still challenging me. Those are the things I deep-fry. I can't help myself! It's just too tempting!

Anyway, funny story about rolling the falafel balls. I will try to be more mature than a third-grader, and will now giggle silently to myself when I type "balls" instead of forcing you to read about it. Moving on. They are coated in bagel crumbs -- so if you were looking at that picture and thinking, "why does Camila have white bread? I thought she didn't allow that in the house," you are right. Those are bits of bagel that you see. I allow commercial bagels (with all the nutrition of white bread) in the house because I haven't figured out how to bake them myself yet, and William insists.

That's not the funny bit. The funny bit is that I was trying to bake pita bread at the same time, so asked William for some help. He was rolling the balls. Now, we have made falafel many times. We have made falafel many times because William, heaven help his arteries, absolutely adores them. When I decide to make falafel, I make sure to casually mention it the night before or that morning, just to see him get all happy and anticipatory. "You're making FALAFEL? Oh, I'm so excited!" It's kind of funny, because, I mean, they're just deep-fried garbanzo beans! -- but it is also adorable.

William has helped me make falafel many times. I thought he knew the drill. The drill, by the way, is 'make a ball, dip it in egg, coat it in crumbs.' So I handed him the bowl of mushed garbanzos (and onions and green bell pepper and garlic and cilantro and cumin and coriander and some hot pepper all mixed with bread/bagel crumbs) and an egg and the bagel crumbs and a bowl for the egg.

He broke the egg into the bowl. "Does the egg get all mashed together?" I was unhappily pictured a dish entitled Mashed Eggs as I answered, "Well, they get beaten, yes."

"Mashed together. Right. Don't use this fancy cooking terminology on me." So I busy myself with the pita bread and he is rolling balls and he gets very frustrated. "The damn bagel crumbs won't stick!," he said, and I apologized for the lack of bread in the house and said that I had thought bagel crumbs would work but it was just an experiment, it's okay if it doesn't work. I continued to pay attention to the pita bread.

When the pitas were all ready to be slipped into the oven, I glanced over and nearly had a heart attack. The falafel balls were totally eggy still -- it looked like the bagel crumbs had completely absorbed the egg they covered, and the balls were just a gooey, gross mess.

I remained calm, although inwardly I despaired. Another ruined dinner, what did I do wrong this time? "Wow, those crumbs really aren't sticking, are they?" I dropped a ball back into the bagel crumb bowl. "Have you tried squeezing it after it's been covered in crumbs?" I rolled the ball around, and it immediately was covered in lovely, fluffy crumbs. Strange -- it seemed to be working just fine.

William asked, "Well, aren't you going to dip it into the egg again?" I looked at him with what must have been a peculiar expression, and he looked back with a growing horror.

"Oh no!" I started to laugh, relieved that the bread crumbs were working just fine, and dropped the remaining falafels into the crumbs for a second coating. "Did I get it backwards? I got it BACKWARDS! I am so stupid!" He berated himself for a full five minutes while I tried to persuade him that it really was okay, he should keep going, it would be lots easier now that he'd be putting the crumbs on after the egg, come on, darling, it really is okay. You got a three-step process backwards, no worries. It'll be fine!

And it really was.

They were crunchy and deliciousful. That is all about the falafel.

Do my pictures look less-fuzzy? I bought an adorable little tripod for my camera. I was going to buy it online, and then I realized there is a professional camera store literally right next door. I stand by it and wait for the bus every day. Now I have a less-frustrating flash-free photographing experience, AND I got to support a local business!

I also made pita bread! The recipe is here. It worked just fine:

Mm, warm, paprika-sprinkled pitas. They aren't delicious yet. It was my first time making pitas, cut me some slack! But they were recognizably pitas, and that's what I was going for.

Look, some of them even had real pockets! They are filled with lettuce and falafel and yogurt sauce and feta cheese. And I made it myself. Not the lettuce and cheese, but -- you know what I mean.

Others were sort of unevenly puffy, and a few didn't puff up at all. Ah well. I think I will follow farmgirl's excellent advice and make pita chips. Because that sounds pretty much amazing. (Check out that chunk of feta cheese in the post-bite photo. What's it doing being so square? It looks weird. Whatever.)

Three cheers for foreign fast food! To think that something this delicious is another culture's junk food, another country's street-vendor fare... I'd take falafel and pad thai and even fish and chips over a hotdog any day of the week. Why does everybody else in the world do junk food better than we do? Junk food is America's staple food item! It is our trademark! Our MO! The death of us!

You'd think we could at least do it well!!


Thursday, March 6, 2008

busy busy

Last night was thai curry, probably my current staple dish. If memory serves, I've never completely botched it -- underspiced occasionally, but that's it. It's a keeper! I'm not sure if garbanzo beans are a traditional part of thai cuisine, but if not, they should be. Sez me.

I am DYING -- cough cough, see? -- to bake french bread. I saw the daring bakers post, and since then have had to read about all kinds of other people baking french bread. I am so jealous. As soon as this blitz build is over and I have a day off (days off! what a beautiful invention!) it is french bread city, population: me.


Also, as soon as I have some free time, I will pay attention to my sorrowfully neglected Google Reader. Seriously. 789 unread items! And, okay, so 489 of them are from tastespotting, but STILL. There is just so much to read! So many recipes to try! So many foodporny pictures to ogle, foodcooking stories to read, cookbook reviews to study -- just so darn much!

What's worst of all, I think, is that I want to make EVERYTHING. Seriously. Well, mostly seriously. There are lots and lots of things I've never cooked that I really want to. And if it weren't for all those food blogs I read, I wouldn't have to think about it, but as it is I am constantly reminded of all the things I have no clue how to make -- yet.

And I am incapable of planning more than two weeks in advance -- in fact, even two weeks is a little too much. A week is much more practical. So that's really only 7 days, 14 if I'm lucky, and when 2 of those nights are necessary quick-food items and I have a set budget that only allows a few food splurges per week and only 2 days off (well, usually I get two days off) for hard-core cooking, that is Nothing. That is No Time At All.

And in my mind, if I can't make it in the next two weeks, I will never make it at all!


Guess what? Guess what? Tonight, I made pita bread! And -- get this! -- some of them even had pockets. That's right. They puffed.


More later. You know, when I get time off or something crazy like that.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

like a big pizza pie

So dinner tonight was pizza. Last time I made pizza, it was a thick, chewy crust a la what the hell does a vegan eat anyway. This time, it was thin and crisp, a la A New Vegetarian epicure. How did I pick those two recipes? Last time, I wanted a dough I knew I could let sit in the fridge while I was at work -- this time, one that took less than an hour to rise. What can I say -- I don't have all day to cook. Oh, how I wish that I did...

The jury (of one) has voted -- thick and chewy wins the race. Tonight's pizza was good, but just not a satisfying as a thicker, meatier (figuratively speaking) pizza. Mine was mozzarella, spinach and feta cheese, with a bit of crushed peppers and basil. Confession: I wilted the spinach in the same pan I used to fry tofu yesterday. I dumped out the extra oil, gave it a swipe with a paper towel and threw them in on high for about 45 seconds. Gross, huh? But when the boyfriend worked 12 hours today and 10 hours yesterday, I'm hardly going to harp on him for getting a little lax with the dish washing. And I'm sure not going to wash the dishes myself!

His was mozzarella, parmesan and ham, with crushed peppers and basil. That's right. Kroger deli ham, ripped into little pieces. I read fancy-schmancy food blogs that talk about pancetta and prosciutto, and it makes me kind of want to laugh. Like that's ever going to fit in my budget.

I'll post pictures later, maybe. Right now I'm going to bed. The boyfriend may have worked 12 hours, but hey -- I worked 10. That's a long time, too.

Also? I totally left the oven on. At 550 degrees. For two hours, while we were dancing.

Dang. I am bad at this.


Monday, March 3, 2008

shelf and damn good tofu

exciting news on the kitchen front!


William and I have been talking about making a spice shelf for basically forever, and now I finally have one. It's pretty awesome!

'Scuz the messy kitchen. Oh man. It's so great. I mean, there are a lot of things wrong with this picture -- namely, I'm pretty sure my spices would prefer to be kept somewhere a little darker and cooler and less exposed to sink-splashing, and also some of those little containers could be more airtight, but WHATEVER. I can see them all now. They fit somewhere! They have a home!

It is pretty much awesome. It was also pretty much free, thanks to dumpster-diving for the brackets and working-in-construction-perks for the wood and tools. Having a spice shelf has improved my life ALREADY. Everything is THERE and ready to be grabbed and not about to be knocked over as I reach behind the pepper and between the curry powder and cumin for the cinnamon. Because it is all right there, all lined up and beautiful.


Also: Tofu!

(With leftover stuffed peppers that weren't really that good -- I thought adding lentils to the stuffing was a huge mistake, but the peppers were okay, while William was eating the stuffing up and saying it was the peppers that were flawed, but either way, uninspiring. The rice with onions and peas was okay, but nothing special. Let's talk about the TOFU!)

After the last disastrous dance with tofu (I still love you, mashed potatoes! Never again!), I decided it was time for some really, really good tofu. So I was inspired by a post on pretzel tofu over at what the hell does a vegan eat anyway? They had leftover pretzels, and used it to coat tofu. We had cashews that came in the mail from William's church (along with lots of other stuff. Thanks, William's Church!)

So I basically followed their three-step tofu-coating process, which is described in more detail here. Thank goodness for the internets! I am learning all kinds of wonderful things!

The internet is particularly helpful with regards to tofu. Except for when it isn't (I'm sorry, mashed potatoes! Will you ever forgive me?)

The thing is -- let's face it -- tofu is incredibly boring. A really good slab of meat doesn't need anything else to be good -- if you're into that sort of thing. A really good piece of tofu, by itself? You're living in blahville, hanging out at the local Bland Cafe, heating monotone concerts by bands called Tasteless and Pretty Much Nothing, sitting in empty beige theaters for fun and hanging out with people who might be your friends, but you can't tell -- they're so underassertive you're not sure if they exist. You're wearing clothes that might be a color, but you're not sure, and nobody notices because everybody is pretty much asleep and you go to school to learn nothing at all, taught poorly, and boredom is the single highest cause of death. Am I taking this too far? Point is, tofu is boring, and I'm willing to try most anything to make it otherwise.

How did this particular experiment pan out?

Let's ask William.

A cautious bite. "This is the best tofu I have ever tasted."

A bigger bite. "Seriously. Including all your tofu. I don't think I've ever had tofu that even came close."

Pops the rest into his mouth. "I am amazed that you made tofu taste like this! I am really impressed. Like whoa."

Fifteen minutes of praise later: "Oh my goodness mffff mm oh man mmffff oh this is so good oh man. You are awesome. Living with you is the best thing ever. Are you going to eat that? Oh man that was so good. You could put that on a stick and feed it to people at carnivals and stuff. Mmmf."

What a strange compliment.

Me: "You could deep-fry anything and put it on a stick and feed it to people at carnivals."

Him: "Yeah, but.. but... but most of it's not good! And this is GOOD!" Pause. "Seriously, are you going to eat that?"

Personally? I think it was a little salty. I need to go a little lighter on the soy sauce marinade next time. And I strongly suspect that deep-frying tofu completely negates any health benefits of soy. But I do like effusive praise.

Do you want to know how to make tofu that will make your favorite dinner companion go "Oh man oh man oh mmmf?" I'm gonna share.

(It's ready for its closeup! This picture does not adequately portray the tastiness. But let me tell you: it was tasty. Crunch on the outside, tender on the inside, flavorful throughout, with just a kick of spice; oh man. Mmf, even.)

Step one: Buy some extra-firm tofu. We buy ours for 91 cents (including tax) at the local Japanese market. Lesson learned: you should shop at ethnic stores, because they are awesome, and also cheap. Every now and again I'll send William, and he'll buy the organic stuff by accident. We'll be in trouble then. That's $1.12. Oh man. Breaking the budget.

Step two: Cut the tofu into triangles -- cut it into halves or thirds on a plane parallel to the table, so you have skinnier rectangles of tofu, and then cut each rectangle into 4 or 8 triangles. Depends how big you like your tofu, if you know what I mean.

Step three: Press those suckers dry. I press mine with paper towels a couple of times, then make a sandwich of folded over towel, paper towels, tofu, paper towels, folded over towel -- and top the whole thing with my entire cookbook collection (4 books, at the moment. Whoopdy-doo.).

Step four: Go do something else and forget about it for a while.

Step five: Put the squished (and drier) tofu triangles in a non-stick skillet and put over medium-low heat. Do something else while you wait for the tofu to brown -- I recommend installing a spice shelf! -- and occasionally press the tofu with a spatula. It's fun. You get to see water seep out and sizzle.

Side note on spatulas: I just bought a $2 metal spatula, and boy, am I psyched! Why? Because my $1 plastic one kept freaking melting onto things! Have you ever had to clean melted plastic off a cast-iron pan? Me neither. But William has, and he says that it sucks!

Anyway. Flip the tofu over when they are all golden-colored on the bottom. Or earlier, if you're lazy and in a hurry. Did I mention that this process takes forever? No? Well, it takes forever. But don't turn the heat up too high, or you will have a scorched-to-the-pan mess. And nobody likes that.

Step six: Marinade the tofu. I plopped it in a mixture of a lot of soy sauce, a good bit of vinegar, a little sriracha chili sauce, a little honey, and a little more sriracha.

Step seven: Do something else and forget about it for a while. (There's a lot of that in this recipe.)

Step eight: Get ready for the three-bowl tofu-coating party! Woohoo! Take each triangle out of the marinade and cover it in:

Step 8.1: A mixture of 1/4 cup of flour, a shake of cayenne pepper and a little bit of pepper, then

Step 8.2: A slurry (whatever the hell that is) of 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 2 tablespoons water plus a bit of sriracha, then

Step 8.3: A combination of crushed cashews, crushed red pepper and curry powder.

Step nine: Drop those babies into boiling hot oil! I use the term "babies" in the metaphorical sense only. I deep-fried half of them, and pan-fried the other half in less than a half-inch of oil. The pan-fried tofu got much browner, almost burnt-looking, but tasted just as good as the deep-fried ones -- maybe even a hair better.

Step 9.5: what the hell does a vegan eat anyway? recommends putting the tofu in the oven for another twenty minutes. You can do that if you like. I didn't.

Step 10: Serve. Bow. Reap in the accolades and congratulatory smooches.

You're welcome.