Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Obsessed: Spicy-Sour Edamame

I can see that this won't make your mouth water, what with it being a bowl of hairy green pods, but it should.
Oh, you guys, I so loved your comments on that last post. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love you for treating me like your wayward but beloved cousin who is finally making good, and I love you for wanting to pre-order a book that is two years from existing, and I love you for being so. . . loving is really the word that comes to mind. Thank you.

But you are here for a recipe, I know. And I have one.

Do you live nearby? If you do, and you haven’t been to The Quarters yet, you are missing out. It’s all retro pinball and arcade games (everything 25-cents a pop), and then there’s great beer and excellent bar food: deep-friend Brussels sprouts with spicy mayo, perfect sweet-potato fries, mini hotdogs (veggie dogs, if you prefer) with toppings like kimchi and mac and cheese. 

I love it all, but the thing that surprised me the first time, because there was so much deep-fried deliciousness that was inherently more exciting to me, was the edamame. I could not stop eating it—even when there was a basket of fries literally next to it on the table.
This is meant to be more inspiringly simple-looking than unappealingly ruined-seeming.
 I wrote The Quarters guys beggingly for the recipe, and got this back: “It's a mix of lime juice, sriracha, water, salt n pepper. Glad you enjoy!” So this is my interpretation, below. I confess (heresy, I know) to not loving sriracha typically, even though I love almost every other hot sauce. But I love it here. And don’t be dismayed by the amount of salt: you’re seasoning the pods heavily, so that when you bite the beans out of them, they’re seasoned too, if that makes sense.

Trader Joe's.
I cannot enough recommend that you try this. 

The edamame are sensational, in the sense of crazy good and in the sense of there being a lot of sensation: they’re too sour and too spicy in a way that everyone in my family loves. You’ll have to see if you do too. Thank you for everything, Quarters.
All gone. 
The Quarters’ Spicy-Sour Edamame
For this recipe, you want the Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers kind of edamame that’s still got the pods.

1 (1-pound) bag frozen edamame
1 tablespoon sriracha
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
Lots of freshly ground black pepper

Steam the edamame until they are tender. I do this in one of those UFO steamers, the kind that’s always weirdly missing one of its hinged segments, over an inch of boiling water, for about 10 minutes, even though the bag says “5.” (Then again, I don’t really like my pasta al dente either, so use your judgment.)

Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add the hot edamame and toss well to coat. Eat.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Perfect Quinoa Bowls

The superfood of the Andes is, as everybody knows, kosher for Passover because. . . Come on! Those Andean Jews weren't about to be growing any treyf quinoa. Natch.

So. Perfect Quinoa Bowls. Yes, this used to be called "Make Your Own (Quinoa) Sundaes," and yes it's a recipe you've seen before. But it is such a persistent favorite that I'm putting it up on this site, to claim for my very own. The quinoa-cooking method alone is worth a look. I never make it any other way. [Note: I backdate recipes when I add them. So all the older stuff will say "November 2005," but it's not really from then. It's just so it doesn't gum up the current posts. If that makes sense.]

Chappy Pesach, dear ones.

In other news: how about Goldfinch winning the Pulitzer? Right? But you already read and loved that and you and your dad already complained to each other at length about the ending, and you need another book. So read Home Away. It's like A Year in Provence, but refracted through anguished domestic comedy and very mild alcoholism. In other words, my life (except in France). Plus, every time you read about the husband character "Bill," you can imagine the guy who lived next door to you freshman year, the one who was crazy nice and kind of dorky and later turned out to have been a secret hunky catch all along. In other words, Bill is a real person, and he lived next door to me freshman year.

Also (Lean in for this. I am going to whisper, because of my superstitious nature.): I am publishing another book! With Little, Brown! And it's because of you, it just frankly is. When I was making a long and labored case to my new, lovely, wonderful editor there, I sent so many cut-and-pastes of things you'd written--things like "Write another book!" and "What's with not ever writing another book?"--that she finally said, kindly and gently, that she thought she had enough material of that type. (I omitted all the comments that were like, "Enough already with the mildly alcoholic comedic angst. I just need a chicken recipe.") So, as always, thank you, thank you, thank you. The book should be called: The Kids: They're great. They're annoying. I'm afraid they're going to die. Instead it's going to be called, in a similar vein, Field Guide to Catastrophic Happiness. It will come out in spring of 2016. Knock wood. Thank you, my darlings. xo

Monday, April 07, 2014

Miso-Lime Coleslaw

Coleslaw is such an April recipe—a bridge from the slushy shores of winter cold-storage leftovers to the sunny banks of spring picnics and barbecuing. It feels wrong to keep at it with the spongy turnips and the thick-cored parsnips, what with the tinkling thaw and the peepers starting up so gamely. But, then, there aren’t actually asparagus yet, at least not here, and there aren’t peas or radishes, either, or mint or, really, anything. Just a couple inch-long chives, but Birdy already ate them all. We do still have cabbage, though. And coleslaw just feels kind of optimistic.

You don’t need a recipe, I know, but this is a good one anyway, and I offer it with a special nod to the folks with one or more vegetarians in the house. Because miso has become my go-to vegetarian funkenator. Times when I might typically turn to anchovies, fish sauce, or bacon, I reach for miso instead, and count on its profound savoriness to change it up a little, to turn a recipe from bland to lip-smackingly edgy. 

My boyfriend.
Not that I’m a coleslaw snob, because I’m not: I like it sweet and mayonnaisey or sharp and vinegary and my favorite, back in the day, used to be the finely-chopped highly-celery-seeded version you could get at KFC. (Yum.) This one is bright and citrusy, but with a little of that miso baritone humming along the bottom. It’s a creamy, delicious foil for burgers or pork, or for veggie burgers or tofu of all kinds. Until asparagus: coleslaw!

p.s. I am compiling all those awesome book recommendations into a list. More soon.

Miso-Lime Coleslaw

I wish I’d taken a picture of the cilantro I used. It was just the rubber-banded-together stems after I’d already used all the lovely leaves in something else. But the stems were just perfect here. This coleslaw would benefit from something crunchy, such as toasted pumpkin seeds.

6 cups shredded cabbage (I still love, and use constantly, this cheapo mandolin)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
½ cup slivered cilantro leaves and/or stems
1/3 cup Hellmann’s or Real Foods mayonnaise
1-2 tablespoons white miso (I love, and use exclusively, Miso Master Mellow White Miso)
The juice and grated zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
A dash of something spicy (I used Serrano-spiked vinegar, but hot sauce is a good idea too)
Additional salt and lime juice or vinegar

In a large bowl, sprinkle the salt over the cabbage and squeeze it around with your hands until it feels juicy. Leave it while you whisk together first the mayo and the miso, and then whisk in the lime juice and zest, the sugar, the vinegar, and whatever spicy thing you might like to add.

If the cabbage has given up any liquid drain it, then fold in the dressing along with the cilantro. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more acid or salt or miso or spice if it needs a punch. Serve right away or chill it. If you chill it first, then stir and taste it again before you serve it.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

still here, just thinking

should we compile all those amazing book recommendations into a list? how do we do a pdf here? do we like my use of the word "we"? more soon. . . in the meantime, we could always make spelted donut cake.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Books and other diversions (The "spring" edition of linkapalooza)

Do you live near Boston? I am thrilled, embarrassed, and fretful to report that my friend Suzy Becker, author of the brilliant One Good Egg and the brilliant and bestselling All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat (now in its godzillian printing), and her friend Nancy Aronie, and I are going to be in “conversation” together in May. Less important than the actual going is the buying of the tickets and the communicating to the Concord Museum folks that you’re my people, buying tickets because of me, and Suzy and Nancy aren’t the only people selling tickets.

On Writing, Life, and the Origin of Chicken Fingers
Thursday, May 15, 2014, 7PM - 9PM
Authors Nancy Aronie, Suzy Becker, and Catherine Newman invite you to join them for an evening of casual conversation. These nationally acclaimed authors will read from their own works (and each others’), share their thoughts on all manner of things, and answer questions – “theirs, yours, and some real doozies from this year’s MCAS.”  Wine and cheese at 7:00 p.m., program begins at 7:15; book signing to follow. $10 Concord Museum Members, $15 Non-members. Ticket price includes wine and cheese. Tickets may be purchased online or by calling (978) 369-9763, ext. 216. 

Phew. Other things.

I have a piece in the current issue of Brain, Child, and it’s about a hibernaculum [shudder]. (That's just a link to the "teaser," i.e. a photo of me in pasties.)

Do you remember how I mentioned Colorku at the holidays?

Well. I am reporting back that it is completely excellent. All four of us love it, and the level of challenge-feeling ranges from a kind of brain-churning competence to something like a tangled, numbing conviction that that there is something wrong with your mental processing apparatus. We work on it alone, or in pairs or clumps, and it is deeply engaging and fun and companionable. I cannot recommend it enough. Plus, the pieces are painted wood, and there is something very beautiful about them. The pastel ones remind me of Dutch mints 

to the point that I have to actively stop myself from putting one in my mouth.

Also from the holidays: my parents gave me (okay, I may have specifically asked for it) the Roz Chast collection Theories of Everything, and I cannot say how much pleasure we’ve gotten out it. Okay, maybe I can try to say. No. I can’t. Only this: every single day after school, Ben and I lie on the couch and read it together, and every single cartoon makes us laugh. Her memoir is coming out soon, and I preordered it, which is a strong indicator of my feelings, given my propensity to loiter around hoping that someone will send me a review copy of everything. (You can read what looks like an excerpt here.)

Another book recommendation, this one from Birdy: Wonder by R.J. Palacio. She devoured it in a nearly unprecedented way. When I asked her to describe it for you, she said, “Like a review or like a blurb?” Hello, child of a writer. Here’s what she gave me: "August Pullman tries to make it through 5th grade with friends, foes, and surprises. It's an amazing book that you just don't feel like putting down." This is so literally true that Birdy had to stay home from school one day last week to finish it. Hello, child of a reader. Not that her description doesn’t totally capture the plot, but, well, it kind of doesn’t totally, so here’s this from Amazon: “August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face.” Do you have any book recs for Birdy? She has also recently read and loved two of my own tween favorites: Bridge to Terabithia and The Brothers Lionheart. (Not that there were tweens back in the dark ages, when we were wringing out our menstrual rags in a bucket.)

I myself read and loved Valerie’s Martin’s latest, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, which is a historical novel about nineteenth-century ghost ship, communication with the dead, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The ship itself is, weirdly, kind of the missing center of the book, not by accident, and it makes for an engagingly disjointed read, if that makes sense. If you’ve never read anything by her before, Trespass is my favorite and is a nearly perfect novel, IMHO. (I wanted to write IHOP.)
Frank Cottrell Boyce. He was not exactly driven to writing by homeliness, if you know what I mean.

Finally, on a friend’s recommendation we have now listened to more or less everything on tape by Frank Cottrell Boyce, and we have loved every single book: Cosmic, Millions, Framed, and the short but wonderful The Unforgotten Coat. He is English and funny and deeply kind, and the books are all different, but they’re all about the kinds of awesome, quirky kids who obsessively memorize details of saints’ lives, say, or note in a huge journal every car that passes. Some of our own recent car trips, even long ones, have passed in a blur of pleasure. 

Please, share anything relevant (or irrelevant!). We are, as you know, always looking to read, listen to, and play new things. xo

Friday, March 14, 2014

Whole-Grain Cornbread

As you may know, we eat a lot of beans. A. Lot. Of. Beans. as the young people say these days. Sometimes it’s rice and beans! And sometimes it’s just beans! Perfectly cooked pintos, say. (Don’t make me get all pressure cooker on you again.) It’s always exciting. I put out chopped raw onions, a little cruet of olive oil, some feta, fresh herbs, hot sauce, flaky sea salt—and everyone gets to top their own beans. Could there be a more delightful dinner? (Don’t answer that.)
But if company is coming, I occasionally lose my nerve around the serving of Just Beans in a Bowl! I do. And in those cases, corn bread is the card up my bean-loving sleeve. Corn bread is a crowd pleaser—pleasing crowds of children and grown-ups alike. Plus, it’s basically a thirty-minute round-trip excursion: into the oven by the time the oven preheats, then baked in another 15. 
A warm slab of sweet, grainy cornbread with a melting pat of butter? I mean, come on. Even if dinner is a kind of soup that you don’t like, the corn bread will work its good-natured magic on your meal mood, and you will find yourself saying, “I didn’t think the turnips and the parsnips would taste that good together? But it’s not even terrible.” While cheerful corn crumbs spray from your pleasant expression.
This corn bread is yet another example of how, for me, roughing up a white-flour recipe into a whole-grain recipe is win-win. It’s not at all an oh, well, it’s like chewing a cardboard-flavored wedge of particleboard but at least it’s healthy situation. Instead, it’s a nutty, deeply-flavored, tender-crumbed wonder, with a just-shy-of-custardy middle (you could bake this trait out of it, if you like) and a whiff of browned butter. Cheap, easy, wholesome, delicious.
Whole-Grain Cornbread
Serves 8-12

This is a loose adaptation of Joy of Cooking’s Northern Corn Bread recipe. The spelt is me, of course, and, also of course, I am using the maximum recommended allowances of butter and sugar. They call for ½ milk and ½ buttermilk, but I love the flavor you get from using all buttermilk—also the tender, almost custardy crumb of the baked cornbread. Leftovers, toasted and buttered, are sublime.

1 ¼ cups cornmeal (IF you can get freshly ground cornmeal, you will be ruined for life)
¾ cups whole spelt flour THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE (Okay, you could actually use white flour, but why would you?)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup sugar (feel free to use less)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
More butter

Heat the oven to 425 and put a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet in to heat. (Alternately, grease a 9- by 9-inch baking pan or dish, or the equivalent.)

Whisk together the dry ingredients.

Whisk together the buttermilk and eggs.

Fling a knob of butter (1 tablespoon, let’s say) into the pan that’s heating. If you’re using a greased pan, don’t do anything.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, start folding, then dump in the butter and fold together until the dries just disappear.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, which should be coated with browning, sizzling butter, and bake until it’s browned and seems springy, or at least not squidgy when you press the top (or stick a toothpick into it). Start checking it at 15 minutes, which is when I usually take mine out, even though the recipe says 20-25. Maybe this is because of preheating the pan, which is not in the recipe. A cold pan will doubtless take a bit longer.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Lemony Two-Bean Penne with Butter-Fried Breadcrumbs

Between my shrewy kvetching, Ben's squeaky whatever, and this dreary photograph, I will understand if you don't sprint to the kitchen to make this. But please, take my word for it: you should.

I like to say that picky eating is a state of mind: a rigid pre-emptive contempt for the unfamiliar; a kind of cringing, inflexible certainty that things will not be to your liking; a facial expression that says, “I hate this so much that I actually kind of hate you for putting it on my plate.” Thankfully, there are no picky eaters in my family, because here’s how much tolerance I have for it: [holds up thumb and forefinger pressed together]. That said, there are turning out to be many individual dislikes in my family, and if the kids didn’t manage them with so much grace and humor, I would probably have killed myself by now.

Ben likes eggs but not if they’re hard-boiled, and not quiche or frittata or other egg dishes with “things in them” unless those things are ham or ham. Birdy doesn’t like mushrooms, though she is friendly to the idea of them, likes to see them growing in the woods, and plans to like them at some point. Ben and Michael don’t like polenta, while Birdy and I could happily lie down on the couch and never get up again, so long as there was an Ikea catalogue and a hose spraying polenta into our mouths. Michael loathes other porridges as well: oatmeal, cream of wheat, rice pudding. He also hates tea, goat cheese, olives, and hearts of palm. His dislike of Twizzlers and caramel bull’s-eyes comes up only infrequently and never inconveniences me. Ben despises raw tomatoes so profoundly that he is not sure he could eat a pint of cherry tomatoes even if you paid him fifty dollars. Ben also hates melon as a rule, but is becoming less hostile towards really good cantaloupe. Both children dislike raw celery, but with no real passion. Birdy announced recently that she doesn’t really like soup (WTF?). Ben likes guacamole but not avocado; he likes onions but not scallions; he doesn't like sesame seeds or sesame oil. Birdy dislikes barbecue sauce because the taste reminds her of meat (fair enough). Everybody but me gets the willies from tempeh. The only thing I don’t like, besides organ meats and one kind of cheese I once ate that smelled like ammonia and tasted like the smell of human pee, is under-cooked eggplant. Birdy is also, I should add, a strict vegetarian—to the point where she won’t eat even candy or marshmallows that have gelatin in them. (“So, it has a little horse hoof!” Ben likes to say, shrugging, in a parody of Jewy dismissiveness.)

And yet. And yet I very rarely experience this family as difficult to feed, and I think it’s because they happily eat around most of the things they don’t love, and also they have a cheerful outlook about food in general. I mention that because after dinner last night, I looked at Ben’s plate—and it was full of green beans. “Tell me you’re saving those for last,” I said, and he smiled sheepishly. “The pasta was so, so delicious. But I’m turning out not to really like green beans. The way they squeak in my teeth.” He shuddered. I was, I should point out, having a bad day: frustrating work interactions, frustrating marital interactions (not the sex kind), frustrating dirty house, frustrating chimney needing to be fixed for $4000. “Do I have to do every single fucking thing?” is a (rhetorical) question I actually uttered out loud at some point yesterday. Seriously. Michael should have been wearing a t-shirt with an arrow that said, “I’m with jerkhole.”
I'm so busy pissing and moaning I forgot to mention that Birdy, my baby, turned 11.
Where was I? Oh. The beans. Did I look like I was about to storm away from the table? I hope not. But if I was, Ben saved me. “I mean,” he added, tipping his peachy, grinning face, his green-bean-filled bowl, towards me, “I was saving them for you, dear Mama.”
Don’t let Ben dissuade you from making this. I know it’s a variation on a million bean-and-pasta recipes I’ve published over the years, but it’s easy, it’s wholesome, and it’s got that perfect balance of salty-citrusy-tender-crunchy-herby-rich-funky that I always crave.

Lemony Two-Bean Penne with Butter-Fried Breadcrumbs
Serves 6

If I'd had fresh herbs, I would have used them. If I'd had a mint teabag, I would have used dried mint. Instead I used this beautiful California bay leaf that I stole from Ava's family's holiday wreath. It was outrageously fragrant. Probably everybody secretly hated the flavor but me. [Sighs self-pityingly.] A secret: you could make this without the fresh beans: add another can of beans, or use 3/4 of the pasta.

3 tablespoons butter, divided use
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs (made from crumbling, blendering, or food-processing a slice of whole-wheat bread)
1 pound whole-wheat penne, or a different shape that won't echo the beans (I like Bionaturae)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 fragrant bay leaf or ½ teaspoon dried mint (and/or ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or mint)
1 cup vegetable broth (I like Rapunzel bouillon) or chicken broth
¾ pound green beans or haricots verts, cut at an angle into penne-sized lengths (I’ve been buying the 12-ounce bags from Trader Joe’s and they are so easy and good and cheap.)
1 (15-ounce) can pinto, pink, or white beans, drained
Juice and grated zest of 1 small lemon
½ teaspoon kosher salt (half as much table salt) or more or less to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup crumbled feta

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water (taste it—if it doesn’t taste like seawater, add more salt) to a boil while you prepare your other ingredients. Like the breadcrumbs! Melt one tablespoon of the butter in a very small pan, and fry the breadcrumbs over medium heat until they are brown and crisp, around 5 minutes. Scrape them into a bowl when they’re done, so they don’t burn in the still-hot pan.

Pop your bowls or plates in a 200-degree oven to warm. Really do this, so the pasta won’t get cold before you even pick up a fork.

Now heat the oil over low heat in a wide pan. Add the garlic, and stir it around a bit until it is fragrant but not coloring. Stir in the bay leaf or dried mint, then add the broth and green beans and turn the heat to medium.

Put your pasta in to boil.

When the green beans are half-tender (you can cover the pan for a while, if they are being slow-pokes), add the canned beans and lemon juice. Taste for salt: the feta will add some, but not enough to compensate if it is radically under-salted. Season robustly with black pepper.

When the pasta is done, reserve a cup of the cooking water, then drain it. Put the pasta back in the pot with the rest of the butter and stir it around. The green beans should be tender by now. Dump the panful of beans and their liquid into the pasta, along with the lemon zest and feta and, if you’re using them, the fresh herbs. Stir it. Add some or all of the cooking liquid and/or some more olive oil if it seems dry. Taste for salt and lemon and herbs and feta, adding more of whatever it needs.

Serve in the warmed bowls with breadcrumbs for passing.