recipe

creamy roasted potato salad [sans mayo!]


IMG_0369_Fotor
[Microphone crackles.]

Ahem.

We interrupt this travel-saturated blogging binge, punctuated by the occasional glutenous pastry, with a long-overdue post dedicated solely to food.

[Angels sing a heavenly chorus.]

Down to business.

The antithesis of my strong affection for mustard is my absolute hatred of mayonnaise. Sure, sure, its silky texture and satisfying fat content is nice, I suppose. But the flavor? Ew.

My unaccountable but consistent loathing for the sickly white condiment presented me with a quandary, especially growing up in the South: potato salad. Oh yes, that staple of church potlucks and homestyle diners; that ubiquitous, chunky mountain of starchy deliciousness; that best friend of juicy ribs, playmate of sliced ham, and neighbor to the greasy box of Bojangles fried chicken. That dish. I just didn’t like it. I wanted to, though. Over and over again, I sampled the savory ambrosia of the South. I tried a recipe with pickles, one with celery, some with eggs and some without, many with too much dill, and others with very little flavor at all. But each time I was repulsed by my familiar enemy: mayonnaise.

creamy roasted potato salad [sans mayo!]

So, for years I contented myself with the pure and simple potato salads favored by my mother and dressed with oil and vinegar. A version with arugula became our family favorite, and for years I was satisfied with feasting up on its peppy zing and forgot about traditional potato salad entirely.

Then recently, it hit me: mayonnaise can be circumvented. It does not own exclusive rights to creaminess! Hallelujah!

Enter plain yogurt. She and I became fast friends during the summer and part of the fall of 2013, when I breakfasted nearly exclusively on overnight oats or granola with yogurt. My mother tells me I used to eat plain yogurt like ice cream, during the first two years of my life when she fed me no sugar whatsoever. Well, those days have returned. Give me a spoon, and I’ll scoop that tangy goodness right out of the container and into my mouth.

potatosalad1

So, a few months ago in the beautiful kitchen of fairytale house in another southern state I now call home, I spooned some plain yogurt over roasted red potatoes, added a bit of this and a little of that – in accordance with my usual kitchen procedure – and at last I had my own mound of creamy, crunchy, salty potato salad. Mayo not included. Childhood saved.

I decided that, since I was going to take the time to cut potatoes into bite-sized chunks, I might as well roast them. While boiling does turn the potatoes soft and keep them moist, roasting makes everything taste better. And when you’re going to slather them in yogurt, who cares if your potatoes have a slightly lower water content? I don’t, and you shouldn’t either. Nope, flavor wins.

potatosalad3

And for more flavor, I settled on some honey to tame the tang of the yogurt,  little bits of garlic and onions for bite and pizzazz, a dollop dijon mustard – my love, my life, fair mustard! – for excitement, and a sprinkling of rosemary to tie it all together. Of course, the omnipresent twins, salt and pepper, also made their requisite appearance. The end result not have tasted exactly like those potato salads of bygone potlucks, but by golly, it tasted good to me.

potatosalad2

Creamy Roasted Potato Salad

  • 2 pounds red potatoes (or white, if you insist on being boring)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • several dashes of salt and pepper
  • 5 tablespoons minced red onion (~1/3 onion)
  • 6 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 4 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 3 boiled eggs, roughly chopped (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized chunks. Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with several dashes each of salt and pepper, and roast on a baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft but not mushy. Let cool completely.

Honestly, then I just throw everything together and mix it. But, perhaps a bit more finesse should be taken in order to insure you end up with something to your taste.

So, mix together the yogurt, mustard, honey, salt, and pepper – adding the salt slowly and tasting as you go. Adjust this combination to your taste, or blindly follow my preferences; it’s up to you. Then add the onions and garlic. Finally, place the potatoes and eggs (if you choose to include them) in a bowl, and pour the sauce over them. Stir until everything is well-coated. Taste and adjust seasonings again. And then enjoy the marvelous, mayonnaise-less mound you have made.

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collard quiche with sweet potato crust

collard quicheWait! Come back! I know you’re about to click away. You saw the word “collard,” and it scared you. Maybe it brought back childhood memories of bitter, boiled leaves heaped in a sickening, faded green, shoved to the edge of your plate. Or maybe, like me, that’s what came to your mind, despite having never actually tasted that dreaded southern excuse for a vegetable.

Let me assure you: your fear is unfounded. Collards are like kale or swiss chard or spinach – perfectly palatable and delicious if you cook them right. If you boil them, not so much.

sweet potato quiche crustI doubt I would’ve ever escaped my sad ignorance of the versatility of collards, had I not asked Dad to pick up some swiss chard for me at the store. Ever absent-minded shopper that he is, he triumphantly presented me with a giant bundle of collards. So, I used them instead of swiss chard in the tart I was making. And you know what? They tasted just fine. No bitterness. No stringiness. Nothing. Deeeelicous! In fact, I’d say they were better than spinach, which tends to be mushy, and superior to kale, which can be a bit tough.

sweet potato crust

Indeed, I started eating sautéed collards as part my Whole30 breakfasts. Then I expanded to mustard greens and turnip greens. I’ve been having my own little renaissance of greens in the past several weeks.collard quiche with sweet potato crust

Naturally, quiche was the next step. As usually happens with recipes, I’d had an idea for one component floating around in my mind for a while: grated sweet potato crust. Mom makes quiche with shredded white potato for a crust sometimes when she doesn’t feel like dealing with making or eating a proper pie crust. Since sweet potato is the most scrumptious, sweet, versatile of starches, it was clearly an even better choice for a crust. Duh.collard quiche sweet potato

So, armed with my brilliant orange, crisped-edged super-crust, I browned some sweet red onions and earthy cremini mushrooms, mixed them my newly befriended collards, and added some eggs for cohesion. And there it was: one vegetable-packed, Whole30 compliant, dense quiche – with just a hint of rosemary. As I’ve said previously, I never eat quiche for breakfast; it’s a supper food to me. But I gladly ate this for both.collard quiche recipe

Appropriately enough, this is day 30 of my Whole30. It’s been a ride, but mostly an easy one. I made it through the extraction of all of my wisdom teeth, the mild temptation of all the normal food my family ate, and the boredom of the last couple days. But I did it. And I’m happy. My last official meal has been eaten, so now there’s just to wait for…

Tomorrow, tomorrow!
I love you, granola!
You’re only a night awaaaaay!

For now, I’ll have to content myself with sharing this quiche with you people. The directions look complicated, but really I’m just telling you to chop and sauté, chop and sauté.sweet potato crust quiche

Collard Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust

  • 1 ten-ounce sweet potato
  • 1 + 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 8 oz collards (~6 large leaves)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 small package crimini mushrooms (also called “baby bella”)*
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a bit more here and there
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and some more here and there
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (nut milks would probably work, too)*

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Grease a 10-inch* pie pan with 1 tablespoon coconut oil.

Use a cheese grater’s medium-sized plane to shred the sweet potato. Don’t bother peeling it first; just wash it well. You should have about 3 cups of shredded sweet potato. Toss with the olive oil and a few dashes of salt. Press the sweet potato into the greased pie pan to form a crust. Bake for 20 minutes until the sweet potato is soft and slightly browned on the top edges.

While the crust cookies, dice the red onion into 1/4-inch half-moon pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a frying pan and sauté until browned and softened but not mushy.

As the onion browns, cut the tough ribs out of the center of the collard leaves. Slice into 1/2-inch-wide ribbons. Mince the garlic.

When the onions are finished, remove them from the pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan. Brown half of the minced garlic. Once the garlic is browned, add the collards and sauté until wilted and bright green, with a few dashes of salt. Set aside.

Slice the mushrooms into fourths or fifths. Add the final tablespoon of coconut oil and the rest of the garlic to the pan with the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are softened and browned.

Combine all the vegetables with the salt, pepper, and dried rosemary. Spread evenly in the crust. Whisk eggs and coconut milk together, and pour evenly on top of vegetables, being sure that the mixture gets distributed evenly. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until firm. Enjoy warm! Or cold – it’s marvelous leftover!

*Important notes:

  • You’ll have way too much filling and egg if you try to make this in a 8-inch pie pan. If you do, just leave out some of the filling and only beat 4 eggs or so. Eye it.
  • You could probably leave the coconut milk out entirely if you wanted to, but I think it adds a nice sweetness and flavor.
  • Substituting regular button mushrooms for the criminis would work just fine, I think.

basil cauliflower hummus | whole30

basil hummus

Soooo I’m doing this Whole30 thing. It’s 30 days of no grains, no sugar, no legumes, and no dairy, plus some helpful rules for how to eat what you’re permitted to eat. Call it what you will – a diet, a cleanse, a fad, a phase, a crazy idea, whatever – but I call it a reminder. It’s a good way to forcibly haul myself back onto the path of sensible eating, to re-experience the marvelous flavors unadulterated, whole foods, and to at least partially break some of my pesky, food-related bad habits. Also, it’s a challenge and something of a benchmark, at least for me. And I like a good, attainable challenge, especially one that seems deceptively simple but turns out to be a mind game. It’s good to conquer my will and remind myself that I am actually capable of self-control.

I’ve done a Whole30 before – well, sort of. Early last summer – in May and June of 2013, that is – I did a Whole27. Yup, that’s right. I stopped three days before the end. Ridiculous, right? It didn’t seem like it at the time. I hadn’t experienced any sort of “aha!” or “I FEEL GREAT” moment that apparently most people have at some point midway through their Whole30. I felt normal. Perhaps maybe I didn’t crave sugar as much as usual, but then again, I’m a very good rule-follower, so knowing I can’t have something is strong enough motivation for me to stay away. Maybe I felt the same because I tend to eat rather “cleanly,” as they say, to begin with – I genuinely love vegetables and whole grains and am picky about the source of my animal proteins. Either way, on top of the lack of any changes – whether physical or mental – the last week and a half of my first Whole30 fell during our house-hunting trip in Houston. We were staying in a small apartment with frustratingly limited kitchen supplies, so I was essentially subsisting on eggs, avocados, lettuce, bananas, almonds, and squash – foods that need minimal flavoring to taste tolerable. But I was bored. The final straw was going over to eat at the house of some friends of our friends in Wilmington. I neither wanted to appear rude by not eating the food that was served, nor did I wish to explain my food philosophy experimentations to these people we had just met, as nice as they were (and now I know they would’ve probably been interested by Whole30 anyway, as they’re quite food-conscious, in a good way). So I ate the white potatoes, the chicken of unknown origin flavored with unnamed sauces, and the chocolate cake. I sacrificed my Whole30 for my principles of social conduct. And I was okay with that. In fact, I still am.

It didn’t matter so much that I gave up on that first Whole30 just before the end, because I had been cheating all along. I’d indulged in chocolate banana freeze, a marvelous ice cream replacement, numerous times. I practically lived off of fruit, since my Whole30 fell right at the end of strawberry season and the beginning of blueberry season. I even made paleo pancakes (that’s 1 mashed banana + 1 beaten egg = 1 tasty banana pancake, just so you know), despite it violating the “no pancakes” rule. Those delicious things became my breakfast staple. And, oh boy, did I ever snack. All the time. On everything, but mostly fruit.

So, while that first Whole30 was at the most perfect time – when I still had easy access to eggs from our own chickens and meat from our own goats and blueberries from our own bushes, et cetera – this one that I’m dong right now is the real deal, as much as I can make it so.

Most importantly, I’ve adjusted my goals and expectations. I know I’m unlikely to suddenly feel just “better,” like some people. My skin and hair won’t look any different (though I never expected that even with my first Whole30). I won’t lose weight (though, again, that was never a goal for either time). In fact, nothing palpable will change. However, I will learn to eat a more nutritious, less carbalicous breakfast. I will rediscover that carrots taste wonderfully sweet. I will enjoy getting back into the groove of eating lots and lots of vegetables, especially after the holidays. I will respect my body, God’s creation, by feeding it well. I will not snack constantly; I will actually adhere to the rules of the game, even the seemingly silly ones; I will not subsist on exclusively on fruit and meat. And I will attempt to experiment in the kitchen, despite a narrower repertoire of ingredients at my disposal.

Today brings me to day 19 of my Whole30. So far, it has been as I predicted and described above. Normal. But, as I explain way up there in the first paragraph, it has been a wonderful reminder. I’m certainly going to finish it, even though I’ll be getting my wisdom teeth removed during the final week. I’ll have to blog about that. I’m sure it’ll be amusing. 

Well, anyway, that was a long-winded introduction to some comparably short-order hummus.

cauliflower hummus

Obviously, chickpea hummus is out of the question during a Whole30. But sometimes I like to have something to dip my carrots in, and we needed tahini paste, and I needed to get some creativity out. So I bought the tahini paste and made some hummus out of cauliflower. The story always goes that way. My scattered plans to experiment turn into an impulse buy at the grocery store, which leads me to developing a recipe I had hoped to concoct but expected that I wouldn’t.

Are you having yourself a paleo Super Bowl party? Or just a plain old Super Bowl party? This could be a good food to add to the snacking menu. Unlike salsa, it’s thick enough that it won’t spill all over the floor when the bowl gets tipped over by your explosions of  exuberant motion. That is, of course, if you’re into football. Me? I’ll be watching Downton Abbey and Sherlock. And maybe a bit of the Super Bowl, if the commercials are any good.basil cauliflower hummus

Because I follow football as closely as I follow the sport of curling, I have a highly sophisticated method for choosing which team to root for: Peyton Manning is the Colorado team’s quarter back, I hear, and he used to play for the Indianapolis Colts, I believe, and I have relatives who love the Colts, and I have relatives who live in Colorado. So clearly, I must cheer for the Broncos. Or maybe I’ll just make hummus. And (the best) guacamole. Yeah, that’s a better use of my time.

So, this hummus. It’s much lighter than hummus made from chickpeas, and I appreciate that about it. The flavor is unique – a near perfect mix of bright basil and tangy tahini. It’s not nearly so unassuming as regular hummus. So, if you don’t like your dips to make a statement, maybe you should stay away. Of course, I think you could expand out from basil. In fact, you could leave out the basil, up the tahini, and have a more traditional hummus flavor. Or you could swap basil for cilantro. I suppose you could take out the tahini and have a basil dip. But, that wouldn’t be hummus, at least in my mind. To qualify for the name hummus in my book, the dip must have either chickpeas or sesame seed paste. Anyway, clearly there’s a lot of options here.

And, yes, I am aware that according to the Whole30 shopping guidelines, consumption of sesame seeds – and other seeds – should be limited. What I am doing making hummus with sesame seed paste? I figure that 2 tablespoons of tahini diluted by a couple cups of cauliflower, eaten once or twice in the entirety of my Whole30 certainly qualifies as “limited.” So please excuse my while I plow my way through some baby carrots with this marvelous spread.carrots and hummus

Basil Cauliflower Hummus

  • 1 + 1/2 cups cauliflower rice (recipe to follow)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 + 1/2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Cauliflower Rice

  • 1 head cauliflower

Separate a head of cauliflower into florets. Toss the florets into a food processor (do not try this in a blender like a Vitamix; the pieces will be too small), and pulse until the cauliflower is pulverized into pieces just a bit smaller than grains of rice. Put as much cauliflower rice as you’re going to use into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes – stirring every minute – until the cauliflower has softened, cooked, and become less white and more translucent. Cooking time will vary, depending on your microwave. [Makes 4-6 cups, depending on the size of the cauliflower head.]

For the hummus:

Put the garlic and olive oil in a small bowl and microwave for 1 to 2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant and starting to brown. Toss all of the ingredients into a blender. Blend until smooth. Add more salt if you think it needs it. Enjoy with carrots or celery or broccoli (or chips of some kind if you’re not Whole30ing it).

cinnamon waffles + cranberry pear compote

cinnamon waffles

Coming to you live from an expansive Texan kitchen with beguilingly shiny black countertops, it’s me! I have returned! And I’ve got a recipe for you – something I made for lunch today. It come into existence a couple weeks ago, though. One 20-hour road trip with my best friend through the hills of Georgia and the endless swamps of Louisiana and five days of sailing, kayaking, movie-watching, and eating later, there I was, sitting at the kitchen table while a thunderstorm whipped angrily at the forest that is our yard. It was gloomy. So I cooked.

Now I bring good tidings of great waffles that shall be unto all people. For unto us some pears were given, and unto me some cranberries were brought. So what’s a person to do but to shout, “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” and make some waffles as a vehicle for thick, sweet compote? There is no other option, so that’s what I did. Never mind the fact that I’d already planned to can, bake, and otherwise cook my way through the entire day. Ah well, sometimes you just have to follow your heart – er – stomach.cranberries

My stomach informs me that cranberries beautiful, flavorful, and excellent all year round. The rulers of the grocery store realm, however, seem to believe that cranberries should only be accessible during the holiday season. As if that’s the only time of the year one would want to eat tart, brilliantly red berries! How absurd. We like to buy up bags of cranberries in December and January and freeze them for use anytime, grocery store or no grocery store. They freeze splendidly, and I highly recommend it.

That way, you can make this cranberry pear compote any time. Because, it’s pretty tasty. The mild sweetness of the pears and a bit of sugar balances the tart bite of the cranberries without masking it entirely. And there’s just a hint of nutmeg and vanilla to warm everything up and bring it all together. And, bonus, it’s pink! While I personally detest wearing the color pink – it is, in my mind, nothing more than a sickly, sad excuse for its pure, vibrant cousin red – I quite enjoy eating it. “Eat the rainbow,” they said. And I took them seriously. Even though pink isn’t in the rainbow colors song.green anjou pear

The waffles would be just your average, hearty whole wheat waffles, except that they’re bursting with cinnamon. This can be achieved two ways: drizzling cinnamon sugar atop the waffle batter in the waffle maker or folding the cinnamon sugar into the batter beforehand*. While the former method is more dramatic, as it produces a swirling trench of crystalized cinnamony goodness in the top of the waffle, it does tend to make the waffle iron messy. However, that is easily remedied by pouring water on the surface of the griddle (with it off, mind you) and letting it soak for a while, before scrubbing the sugar bits off with a vegetable brush. Should you wish to avoid sugar trenches and waffle iron cleaning, you can just fold the cinnamon into the batter, for a more subdued, cinnamon-speckled waffle.

But let’s be clear. The real star of the show here is the cranberry pear compote. Of course, the cinnamon waffles compliment it quite perfectly, I’d say. In fact, I think they taste a bit like that cinnamon toast cereal. But if you make nothing else, make the compote.cranberry pear compote

Now a word on the photos accompanying this post. Firstly, it should be noted that I clearly have no idea how to take a flattering picture of compote. Secondly, this new kitchen has even worse light than our previous kitchen. Thirdly, despite performing admirably the first time I attempted this recipe, our waffle iron decided to rebel today – the day I took pictures. Hence the pile ‘o waffles. How annoying. It must have just been cantankerous, because the waffles stuck less and less as I doggedly (foolhardily?) continued to make them. I tested out a flour-and-water-only waffle in the iron, and it stuck a bit, too. That and my previous success, assure me that the fault was the waffle iron’s and not the recipe’s – which I shall now present to you.

cinnamon waffles and cranberry pear compote

Cinnamon Waffles

Waffle ingredients:

  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 + 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil (canola or coconut or even melted butter – whatever!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg (optional)

Cinnamon sugar ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter (or oil)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • *2 tablespoons sugar (if folding in) OR 1/4 cup sugar (if drizzling on top)

Combine all the waffle ingredients in a large bowl and mix until just combined. If you chose to use the egg to add some extra fluffiness to the waffle, separate the yolk from the white. Mix the yolk in when you mix everything else together, and whip the white until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg white into the batter. Combine the cinnamon sugar ingredients. *If mixing the cinnamon sugar into the batter, use only 2 tablespoons sugar, and fold it in at the same time as the egg whites. Pour about 3/4 cup waffle batter into your hot waffle iron. *Drizzle about a tablespoon of cinnamon sugar mix on top of waffle batter. Cook according to waffle iron’s directions and/or your preference. Enjoy with cranberry pear compote.

Cranberry Pear Compote

  • 1 + 1/4 cups cranberries (either fresh or frozen, but most certainly not dried)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large, ripe pear, ~2 cups chopped
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch + 1 tablespoon water (optional)

Combine cranberries, water, and sugar in a small saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and reduce to a simmer until most of the cranberries’ skins have popped open. In the mean time, cut the pear into 1/2- to 1/4- inch pieces. Mash the cranberries a bit with a potato masher. Add the pear, nutmeg, and vanilla when the cranberries have popped. Continue simmering for 5 to 10 minutes, until pears are soft. Smash with potato masher until desired texture is reached. Remove from heat. If you prefer your compote to be thicker, mix cornstarch and water, and then pour mixture into compote. Stir. Enjoy compote warm with waffles or pancakes or toast or by the spoonful.

And here’s an idea of what may be coming up next: Mocha Meringues or Cranapple Pie with a Ritz Cracker Crust. Or something else entirely. No telling.

procrastination blogging [+ ginger lemon marinade]

I blog at the most inopportune times. For instance, this morning I wrote a post – that I’ll publish in the coming week or so – when I should’ve been studying for today’s German test, practicing my presentation for Spanish class, or perfecting my first phonology paper. Instead, I spent 45 minutes or so of my morning letting my thoughts flow freely through my fingers onto the computer screen. This very post I wrote – by hand, no less – while sitting in the shade of the towering lab buildings during my 30-minute break between classes. I should’ve been catching up on reading from the previous class.

This same phenomenon occurred to me last semester: writing, blogging for pleasure when my school work is most pressing and critical. Even when I crawl into bed – later and later as the week wears on – my mind is composing blog posts and perfecting their sentence structure as I drift to sleep.

I’m sure it must be a form of procrastination – something seemingly more productive than browsing Buzzfeed or Foodgawker or NPR.org, but nevertheless an escape from or delay of the task at hand.

Maybe it’s the satisfaction I get from hitting the “publish” button and seeing my post there, finished, on the front page of my blog, the product of my own brain, with no one to criticize it but myself. Meanwhile my tests and papers are graded and marked and deemed good or bad by my professors – outside my control. They can always be improved upon or changed; they always demand a second, third, eighth look.

Maybe it’s the constant state of high alert, brought on by the endless succession of weighty assignments, that puts me in the writing mood. My brain is running fast and hard and can’t even slow down enough to mindlessly browse the web. It must create! Question! Analyze!

So here I am, with a treatise about why I blog what I blog when I blog it – and a recipe that has sat in my drafts since the early summer, waiting, apparently, for the mad rush of October for it to be posted.

My, what a strange experience life is.

And with that, here’s a recipe for marinade that I made several times this summer.

I used it with beef and paired it with grilled pineapple. It was delightful. It’s a lovely combination of the slightly warm and vaguely licorice-y Chinese 5 Spice and ginger flavors and the tart acidity of the lemon and rice vinegar. Flavor contrasts make for the best marinade, I think.

Ginger Lemon Marinade

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch  slice of a medium onion, minced

Whisk together all ingredients. Place meat in a tupperware container and pour marinade on top of meat. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Marinating time depends on how thick your cuts of meat are. Cook the meat according to your preference – grill it, bake it, sear it, whatever. Enjoy!

[I used this marinade for four or so good-sized steaks. I suspect it would also work with chicken.]

fruit-on-top baked french toast + making breakfast for company

You know you cook differently when you have company. It’s okay guys; the secret is out. Just admit it. No more nonsense. You’re not fooling anyone by waving off the inquisitive compliments of your friends and relatives, “Oh my goodness, this is so delicious.  Do you make food like this all the time?” No, is the answer. Only when you’re here, and I feel an alpha-dog-like need to prove my culinary prowess. But, “Aw, psh, it’s nothing,” you object, turning your head away so they can’t see your satisfied smirk.

It’s nothing? Yeah right. You know you rummaged around your neglected notecard filer for your grandmother’s secret recipes, flipped through your cookbooks for your most trusted dishes, and paged through dozens – no, hundreds – of food blogs online in the days leading up to the company’s arrival. You mentally planned out the meals for every day, arranging the best ones for the last few days, so you’d have some tasty leftovers to shovel into your mouth as you slump on the couch in exhaustion/depression after everyone has left. You stocked the fridge and freezer ahead of time, so when everyone arrived you could casually offer them exactly the beverage you know they’ll be wanting.  “Caffeine-free diet Dr. Pepper, anyone? Sure thing, we just had it in the fridge.”

Breakfast is always the trickiest. You can’t just offer cereal every day. That would be pathetic and not at all festive. You don’t even like cereal enough to wish that upon anyone else. But you don’t want to get up at the crack of dawn to whip egg whites – quietly, quietly now –  for waffles, nor do you want to permeate everyone’s clothes with the lingering smell of bacon and eggs more than one morning out of the week. You can make pancakes, but only once. Ummm, what else? You need something that can be ready when the first person gets up.

Enter baked french toast. It’s the solution to your problems. It’s easy, tasty, but impressive nevertheless. But there’s still that syrup dilemma  They’ll always be one person who wants real maple syrup, so you’ll have to get that. Then, what kind of artificial syrup do you get? The low-sugar? Sugar-free with aspartame? Ick. Butter flavor or not? Stupid American grocery stores with endless choices. They make daily quandaries even more difficult.

So, enter fruit-on-top baked french toast. It really is the remedy. It has all the ease and flavor of regular baked french toast, but doesn’t require syrup. The fruit on top – be it blueberries or peaches or whatever else is in season – melts into its own delightfully gooey berry compote or roasts to lightly caramelized perfection with just enough sweetness to satisfy even the most sugar-crazed child but not so much that people begin to wonder if you made dessert for breakfast. Throw everything in the pan the night before, set your oven to turn on nice and early, and enjoy a blissful night’s sleep. And when you awake with a start early in the morning, panicking about breakfast being ready for your guests, the warm smell of baking fruit will lull you back to sleep. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Got guests coming to stay for the Fourth of July? Give it a try!

baked french toast

Fruit-on-Top Baked French Toast

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
  • 4 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3-5 slices of sandwich bread
  • ~2 cups blueberries or other fruit
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

[Makes enough for one 8 x 8 pan. You’re going to need more than that for company.]

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease an 8 x 8-inch (or 9 x 9?) baking pan. Lay the slices of bread in a single layer on the bottom of the pan.

In a small bowl beat together the eggs, milk, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, nutmeg, 5 spice, and vanilla. Pour evenly over the bread. Be sure that all the bread gets some egg mixture on it. You may have to move them around with your hands a bit to be sure.

Spread the blueberries (or sliced peaches or whatever fruit) in a single layer on top of the bread. Sprinkle cinnamon and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar evenly on top.

Bake at 350°F for 40 minutes, until the toast part has puffed and the fruit has softened (or burst, as in the case of the blueberries). Enjoy warm!

[To any friends and family members who have ever stayed at our house: the above post was written entirely in jest and should not be taken as a reflection of reality.]

the best guacamole

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I’m a guacamole snob.

Too many avocados. Recipe calls for two.

Too many avocados. Recipe calls for two.

And maybe it’s a bit pretentious to claim that I am in possession of the recipe for the best guacamole, but I really think it’s true. It’s actually a recipe I learned from my mother, unlike most on here. Unlike a lot of people who cook, I don’t have many recipes I can say were handed down to me by my mother. I can’t pretend that I learned to cook from a tender young age, attending my homemaking mother in the kitchen and soaking in her culinary wisdom. Nope. I hated cooking until just a few years ago. And Mom is very much a follow-the-recipe-and-use-measuring-cups kind of cook. She’s not all that into improvisation, I’d say. So, other than basic life skill type cooking – eggs, pancakes, french toast, et cetera – and her blessed tendency to cook with whole foods, I haven’t inherited many actual recipes from her.smashing avocados

But this one I did. I learned to make guacamole from my mother. And before I went about measuring the ingredients and writing it down, I only knew how to make it by taste. No recipe.chopped onion

So why is it the best? Well, mainly because it has the right ingredients. Other guacamoles tend to leave out crucial ingredients or add in distracting ones. For example, my dear but sadly misinformed best friend and her family make the guacamole without tomatoes. That’s the usual offense. Guacamole absolutely must include tomatoes. They also make theirs with cumin. No. Just don’t. It distracts from the avocado flavor. Same with peppers and leafy herbs of any kinds. Those are for salsa; keep those far away from guacamole, too. Do, on the other hand, be sure to include garlic. That’s tantamount. Guacamole tastes unexciting and blah without it.smashed avocado

Also, texture is important. Finely chopping the onions and garlic allows the flavors to blend together better in the guacamole. That way, you don’t get an overwhelming taste of onion in one bit and none at all in the next. The tomatoes can be whatever size, since their flavor is more mild. But they need to be small enough to fit in one bite with everything else and large enough to not disappear or turn to mush. The avocado itself should not be too smooth or creamy, unlike the final product of this batch, which I stirred too much as I tried to get the ingredient measurements right. Mash the avocado with a fork. Don’t blend it. Don’t use a potato masher. Just a fork, so there is still little chunks of avocado rather than total creaminess. It should look like it does after I first mashed it [above].

guacamole ingredients

And salt. Don’t forget the salt.

guacamole and steak

The Best Guacamole

  • 2 perfectly ripe avocados
  • 2 cloves garlic (~ 2 teaspoons when minced)
  • 2 tablespoons onion
  • 1 small roma tomato ( ~ 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon (or lime) juice

Smash the avocados roughly with a fork. Mince the garlic and finely chop the onion. Cut the tomato into small chunks. Gently fold all the ingredients in with the avocado, using 3/4 of the salt or so. Taste it. Adjust the salt as necessary. Add a bit more of any of the other ingredients if you think  you should, but salt (and sometimes garlic) is the only ingredient that ever really needs addition. Enjoy with chips or crackers or with steak for breakfast!