Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summery Whole-Grain Salad

It was totally Strega Nona. You know, how Big Anthony abuses the magic pasta pot, and the town fills with spaghetti, and then the solution (because Strega Nona studied Dante's Inferno?) is for him to eat it all? That's what it was like. It turns out that if you start with 6 cups of cooked spelt, you are going to be making a whole lot of salad. And then, when you're not looking, that salad is going to grow. So that by the time you bring it to a potluck, it's going to be heaped up over the rim of the bowl. And then after the potluck, during which everyone is going to eat tons and tons of it and exclaim over its goodness, I swear, the bowl is going to be nearly full still. And then by morning the bowl with actually be completely full again. It is a magical mystery grain. Plus, it just sounds so bad. Spelt. Spelt. "I brought spelt salad," I said, to my friend Meredith. And then I added, "It's better than it sounds." "It would have to be," she said. "What's with spelt anyway? Spelt. It sounds like spent. Crossed with smelt." Exactly.

How was your holiday? People asked me when I dropped the kids off at school this morning, and I wanted to say, "Spelt-rific!" (I'm sure I've mentioned to you the 4-H sign we once saw in a barn at a county fair: "Goats! They're goat-rific!") We ate so much spelt salad that it was coming out of our ears, and this was after bringing it to a second potluck! Seriously.  I mean, it was a great holiday, it was. We swam in a friend's pool. We swam at a swimming hole. We watched almost all of this series with the kids (check for it at your local library). I cleaned the kitchen. We played Puerto Rico and Rummikub and Dutch Blitz. I read this, which blew my mind. We tried to figure out how the mosquitoes are getting into the house. We drank beer. We drank blueberry-coconut smoothies. We drank hard cider. We sweltered. We cooled off. We saw fireflies. Really, it was perfect. But boy, kind of grainy.

Luckily, though, the salad really was fantastic: chewy and earthy, bright and crunchy, tangy and fresh, with ecstatic hits of lemon, sweet bites of cherry, and salty bursts of feta. It is seriously well-balanced and delicious, and thank God. Because I'm about to eat the last bowl of it for lunch.

Summery Whole-Grain Salad
Serves 350
Total time: 45 minutes

Oddly, I don't use olive oil in the dressing here, because I like to let the flavor of the lemon really sing out, unencumbered by another strong taste. But feel free to swap anything around, or swap in anything you like better than something else. And feel free to double the recipe if you're hoping to eat this for the rest of your life.

*3 cups cooked whole grains (such as spelt, farro, wheat berries, brown rice, or barley)
8 ounces frozen baby peas, boiled 1 minute, drained, and cooled under cold water
1 English cuke, halved, seeded, and diced
½ of a small red onion, chopped and rinsed under cold water
The juice (1/4 cup) and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon each sugar and kosher salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dried tart cherries, soaked in warm water for 5-20 minutes, then coarsely chopped
6 ounces crumbled feta
½ of a 7-ounce bag of arugula, coarsely chopped (or parsley, mint, dill, or a combination, finely chopped)

Put the cooked grain in a large bowl, then stir in the peas, cuke, and onion. Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper, then stir most of the dressing into the grain. Now add the lemon zest, cherries, feta, and arugula, and stir again. Allow the salad to sit for a little, then stir again and taste, adding the end of the dressing and/or more salt and/or another squeeze of lemon to balance out the flavor. Serve at room temperature or cold.

*To make 3 cups of cooked spelt, I boiled 1 ½ cups of spelt in plenty of salted water until just tender (around 25 minutes), and then I drained it well and put it back in the pot with a dish towel under the lid to let it steam and dry out for another 10 minutes.

It looks so innocent here, like maybe it's not even going to be enough! You don't understand at first what you're dealing with. Kind of like, Oh, Amityville seems like a nice place to live.

Ingredients from Trader Joe's.

The lemon situation.

At first I thought this bowl was going to be big enough. Kind of like how at first, in Poltergiest, they thought that a burial ground was a good place to build a housing development.

I had to switch to the biggest bowl in the world to mix it.

But it looks delicious, doesn't it? It really was. Er, is.

Birdy loves, loves, loves the spelt salad. But What's that on her face? you're wondering. Whenever I cut her hair, she puts some cut hair on a piece of tape and makes herself a little mustache. It cracks me up, even though it's a little Hitler-ific, if you know what I'm saying.

Friday, May 27, 2011


I already know I'm lucky. And yes, it is because I find a lot of four-leaf clovers, I'm pretty sure. I really do. But also, take a day like today, when I am just a total Crabby Crabberton, arguing with everyone: with Ben because he's packing for a school camping overnight and insists on locating a hairbrush "because it's on the list, look, here it is, on the list, and it doesn't say optional," even though he has never once used a hairbrush in his life; with Michael because if there are sweets in the house, he eats them, as if sweets present the mandatory task of eating them until they're gone, even if the person in the house who never eats sweets might suddenly want a cookie; with Birdy for laughing popcorn all over the kitchen floor in a way that seems somewhat unnecessary to me. I know what you're thinking: That poor woman--what a horrid, horrid family. Believe me, I was thinking the same thing. And then I complained somewhat listlessly about how everyone was fighting with me, and Ben, the dimpled Ben, came over to say, lovingly, "Um, Mama? In the Venn diagram? You're kind of at the overlapping middle of all the fighting, if you know what I'm saying."

What would I do without that kid? That kid who has a new recipe testing for Twice-Baked Potatoes up over at ChopChop. Please go read it, would you? (That was a very Mr. Rogers request, wasn't it? Neighbor.)

Have a wonderful weekend.

Don't even talk to me about how the lilacs are already brown and withering outside. Stupid lilacs. I was mad at them too.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Strawberry-rhubarb Crumble

Here's our rhubarb.

Don't try to freeze me! I am super-insulated.
 What's all that grey fluffy stuff? Why, it's blown-in insulation. Blown-in insulation that has somehow blown out and filled my garden, or what's left of it. Sigh.

Have you ever done anything like insulate your house? It is just such a grown-up thing to do that I can't quite wrap my head around it. "We're spending thousands of dollars," I complained to Michael. "And there is no air travel involved." I know it's smart, it's eco-groovy, it's money we'll recoup in x number of years, and we'll save x amount of energy, have x fewer ice dams, etc, and that's great. I was glad to do it. But the fun factor is perilously low. Save up for months and months so you can treat yourself to a noisy hose full of newspaper pulp! A noisy hose manned by 5 noisy young men over the course of 2, no actually 3, well I guess it's really going to be 4 days, but not 5 days, as long as you can do the paperwork at 5:15 on Friday. No, 5:15 A.M.--we have to get to Holyoke by 6. Kill me.

Of course, I loved the kids desperately--the kids who were insulating our house. I loved the way they took every opportunity to use the expression "blow your house," catching each other's eye and smirking because of course it was going over my head because, ew, I'm like 100 years past my oral-sex prime, unless my teeth have already fallen out, and then, well, maybe they're intrigued. I loved eavesdropping on their conversations ("And she was like, man, right? And I was like, that's some serious shit." ) which was easy, given the volume at which they tended to speak, and I loved listening to them sing along to the radio. If it sounds like I'm being facetious, I'm not. I hated the noise, noise, noise, noise of the actual work--the banging and sawing and drilling and prying and the hose, which was like a writhing, screaming, cellulose-spitting dragon. I hated the mess, the disruption, the pictures falling off the wall, the frightened cat, the ladder planted first on my herbs and then on my flowers, the expense, the holes cut into the wall and ceiling, and the fact of people working in my house, which gives me the feeling that I'm hosting the worst party ever! It was so boring and difficult, and all she served was coffee and donuts! But I loved the kids, and I couldn't stop tending to and fretting over them, and trying to make sure that they loved me best of all the boring middle-aged ladies who are constantly fretting over and tending to them. Which, needless to say, I do with the grace and smoothness of Edward Scissorhands. Those poor guys. One of them fell down the stairs with a vacuum cleaner, and I made him sit on the floor and hold my hand until I was convinced that he was okay and that I wasn't having a heart attack. And I actually overheard them gossiping about my peonies. "What are those, roses? The pink ones? They're huge! They're seriously nice, right? I told my ma about them."

Wait, why am I telling you this? Oh right! The rhubarb. Not sure how it would fare, buried in insulation, I decided to pick a bunch of it and make a crumble. And here is the crumble. Did you make the cherry-apricot crumble last year? Well, this is similar, only it's rhubarb and strawberries, and, therefore, it will make your jaw ache, in a good way, just thinking about it. The filling is perfect--tangy and rosy, sweet and fragrant and just barely vanilla-scented--and the topping is absolutely magnificent in its crunchy, buttery, brown-sugary way. You can't not like this. Plus, with your new-found gratitude on account of, phew, the rapture not occurring, you'll love it all the more.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
Serves 8
Active time: 25 minutes; total time: 1 hour

Feel free to make this with 6 cups of rhubarb and no berries, which is my preference, although I'm not sure it's widely shared. "That's great," Michael said, as I was prepping the strawberries. He said, "I'm sure lots more of your readers will make it because of the berries," thereby offending me and my devotion to rhubarb. Although it is really, really, really good this way too.

For topping:
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 stick salted butter, very slightly softened and cut into 12 pieces

For filling:
4 cups of rhubarb sliced into half-inch pieces (Just over a pound)
2 cups sliced strawberries
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup flour

Heat the oven to 400. To make the topping, use a fork to mix the flour, brown sugar, and salt together in a medium-sized bowl. Now add the butter, and toss to coat it with the flour-sugar mixture, then take off your rings and use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry mixture. This is a messy but not unpleasant job: you’ll be lifting handfuls of the mixture up out of the bowl, then gently letting it fall through your fingertips as you rub it lightly together. Eventually, you’ll have a bowl of what looks like damp, clumpy sand: squeeze fistfuls of this topping and then crumble them lightly so you end up with a bowlful of pebbly clumps of varying sizes. Put it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Toss the rhubarb and strawberries in a large bowl with the vanilla extract, sugar, and flour, then pour it all into a glass or ceramic baking dish—something larger than a pie plate but not quite as large as a lasagna pan. There will be some flour and sugar on top that looks like it’s not joining the party, but don’t worry about it. Top the fruit evenly with the crumble and bake in the middle of the oven (put a baking sheet underneath if bubbling-over looks likely) for 35-45 minutes, until the crumble is deep brown and the fruit is bubbling up at the sides. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Eat leftovers cold for breakfast.
These stalks were s ginormous that 3 of them yielded 4 cups sliced. Don't you love their scarlet party dresses?

Tell me your jaw isn't aching looking at this picture.

Ben, slicing strawberries with our strawberry slicer. More on this soon.

The filling, ready to be stirred up.

And ready to be topped.

Like so.
And here it is, baked. We were with my parents over the weekend, and my mum made a rhubarb-apple crumble with oats in the topping, and it was ridiculous, it was so good. Ellie, my English cousin, went so far as to call it "brilliant," which it was.

Oh, that really is lovely.
I couldn't resist sharing Ben's rhubarb expression.
Strawberry's hiding so we won't make a crumble out of him.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Green Wrap, Curried Tofu Fingers

God, those both sound like Berkeley garage bands. Or unenticing menu items from the Whole Earth cafe. Or 1970s vegetarian porn stars. But there it is. As for the Curried Tofu Fingers, that is the recipe from the first Cooking with Ben blog over at ChopChop. I am guessing that he was just really ready to cook already, or something, but I thank my lucky stars I got that job over there, because it has totally changed our lives: Ben now cooks dinner once a week. While I lie around fanning myself with a palm leaf and reading the Garnet Hill catalogue and enjoying my own personal happy hour. I'd be grateful if you'd go over and read it. Plus, that recipe rocks (it's not mine--not that I seem to worry about immodesty anyways).

Green Wrap is the first Mama Lunch! Yay. "Mama Lunch" means that I'm not officially recommending it as a family meal, even though you might head down that path on your own. "Mama Lunch" means that you're eating it and enjoying it all by your ownself, either while your kids are at school, or while they're home, flitting around worriedly, saying, "Are you really going to eat that?" And yes. Yes you are.

Green Wrap is also what we call around here "deja new," meaning that you've never heard of it ever in your entire life, but then suddenly you've heard about it a hundred times in a week. Apparently, these are all the rage everywhere, though I've never actually eaten one out or anything, because I am too cheap to pay for a collard leaf stuffed with stuff I already have at home. Hence, the making of them. And make no mistake: they are delicious. There is something so utterly energizing about how green they taste; I eat one (or two) and then feel very boingy and glad, like I'm on a psychic pogo stick (in a good way) with none of that bread-heaviness of a sandwich. It's like a chlorophyll burrito (in a good way).

It starts with two large, clean, raw collard leaves. Cut the stems flush with the base, then trim the center rib flush with the leaf so that it's not huge and thick, which would prevent the leaf from rolling up nicely.


Then you massage the leaves with olive oil, because you love them that much and it's almost Father's Day. A little drizzle of olive oil, and also a sprinkle of salt, and then you rub it on the side of the leaf facing up, which is technically the bottom of the leaf even though it's on top. Why am I making this sound so complicated? Because I'm tired. I had the same boring dream all night long--a dream that I was reading. Seriously. And I love reading--but it makes for a really boring, ennervating dream. Anyways, oil and salt the leaves and they will get nice and dark and supple and shiny. Comme ca.

I can haz cheeseburger? No.
And then you add your filling. My filling here is diced pickled beets, feta, and toasted walnuts, which was crazy delicious but kind of a mess. Ideally your filling would include something creamy, like hummus or guacamole, to kind of stick everything together so that it doesn't all fall out while you're eating. This exact filling, but whirled for a minute in the food processor, would have been ideal. I like to add something crunchy always, like nuts or toasted pepitas.

And then you tuck the ends in towards the center and roll it up, just like a burrito. 

And then you cut it in half, to show off a little bit, at which point you wish you'd used a different filling so that it didn't all look like it was falling out. But still.

Enjoy your weekend, my darlings. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Perfect Veggie Burgers

I love veggie burgers. I love real hamburgers too--especially nice beefy ones with mushrooms and onions all over the barbecue sauce that's all over the blue cheese that's melting all over them--but I have a special place in my heart for a good veggie burger, which I approach not as a wan and debased substitute, but as its own special, wonderful self. In fact, when I worked at the famous Saturn Restaurant in Santa Cruz, that's what I picked for my staff meal every day: a veggie burger with pickles, mustard, and a side of potato chips which I would then cram into the bun. Every day, and it was always good. Granted, I was a vegetarian then. And it was a vegetarian restaurant. Not that that always sank in with the customers. "What about the Saturn Burger?" some would ask. "Is that meat?" "Nope, sorry," I'd say. "It's all vegetarian. There's no meat on the menu." "I'll have the chili then. That's got to be meat, right?" This is the same restaurant where people used to ask me tricky questions like how the peanut butter tofu pie was. "How does it sound to you?" I used to ask, coyly. "That's probably about how it's going to be." This is also the same restaurant where you could drink the house beer during your shift, as long as you didn't feel like it was impairing your performance. We tended not to feel like it was impairing our performance.

This particular veggie burger recipe is special to me because this was the first meal I made Anni when she moved in (back before we converted her to our carnivorous ways, bwa ha ha ha) and then it was the last meal I made her when she was moving out. "Oh no!" she said, when she came into the kitchen that last evening and saw me frying them. And then we burst into tears. You would not typically cry over them, but they are really delicious: rich and almost greasy, in a good way, from the walnuts, but then tender from the beans, nicely grainy from the bulgur, and really well seasoned with an extra umami kick from the soy. The green herb feels totally crucial to me, but if there's a cilantro-hater in your midst, I don't see why you couldn't use parsley. And the sauce--the sauce is key. Creamy, limey, just a little spicy, and making completely redundant the need for cheese. We made these for a large crowd of folks who were not of the meat-eating persuasion, and the burgers were devoured by grown-ups and kids alike, which was utterly satisfying.

Perfect Veggie Burgers
Serves 6
Active time: 45 minutes; total time: 1 hour

This is a recipe from the late Gourmet magazine, with a few tweaks, the most significant of which is that I make the burgers a good deal smaller. Too thick, and you'll eat half of it and feel like you've had enough; these are thin enough to maximize the nice, crispy outside. Just right. I still think you might want to try making the buns yourself--but you don't have to.

1/2 cup chopped onion, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for frying
Kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup bulgur
1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup canned pinto beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves and stems, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Juice and zest of half of a large, juice lime
1/2 teaspoon chipotle puree (I write about this here, but you should know that Smoked Tabasco is a perfectly acceptable and readily available substitute--and yes, you could use smoked paprika in a pinch.)
Accompaniments: toast or buns, lettuce, sliced tomato, red onion, jalapenos, pickles

Cook the onion with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt) in the oil in a smallish pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, around 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for a minute, then add the spices and stir for a few seconds, just until fragrant. Add the bulgur and water and cook, covered, over low heat until water is absorbed, 15 to 18 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce.

Pulse the bulgur mixture, pintos, walnuts, cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much etc.), and a few grindings of black pepper in a food processor until finely chopped. I have done this more or less fine, and my favorite is for it to be a mix of puree and larger pieces, which I then stir together in a bowl; my ancient Cuisinart does this automatically, by mistake, but you could probably get the same effect by pulsing on and off, then scooping out half the mixture into a bowl, pureeing the rest, and then combining the two. Then you've got the puree to hold it altogether, plus some nice texture from the less ground-up nuts and beans. It sounds complicated but isn't, I swear.

Form the mixture mixture into 6 patties, using, if you like, a 1/3-cup measure. Chill them for at least 10 minutes and up to a couple of hours. While patties chill, whisk together together the mayonnaise, lime juice and zest, chipotle, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. (We made extra sauce and served it as a dip for asparagus, and it was heavenly.)

Now cook the burgers. You can, apparently, do this on a grill, by spraying or brushing them all over with vegetable oil and then grilling them on a grill sheet (?) for 8 minutes. I have never done that, though. I heat up a nonstick frying pan over medium heat, add a big glug of oil, and fry them until very brown and crisp on the outside, turning them over carefully when the first side is done. I takes maybe ten minutes altogether, and they brown up beautifully. Serve them on buns with the sauce and lots of accompaniments.
Yes, there are many ingredients, but I tend to have most of them already. Plus, they are very inexpensive to make, even considering the issue of the nuts.

Thanks to ChopChop magazine, Ben has totally upped his game in the kitchen. Now he can chopchop an onion.

And fryfry it.

Bulgur. When you first add it, it looks like this.

But then it fluffs up all nice.

Ready to whirl. The beans are so weird and foamy after you rinse them, like they're already daydreaming about the gas they're going to make you pass.

I leave a little texture. I can see, objectively, that this looks gross, but I love these so much that even this picture looks good to me.

You will need to wash and dry your hands in the middle of making these. I should mention that I'm making a double batch in these photographs, hence the vast quantities. 

Let them get nice and brown.

We kind of assembly-lined them, on account of there being a lot.

Meanwhile, The Ben made The Sauce. All by his ownself. I know. Can you see the cool necktie shirt I made him? I copied it from one we saw at a craft fair.

Good kids, eating their veggie burgers. My friend Corn took this picture. Thanks, Corn!

And a proud Ben. Not to hammer the point home too concussively, about kids in the kitchen, but he said, as he was eating, "I like these all the more because of the millions of fried onions I put into them." Exactly: that's cooking for you, right? You unlock all the secrets of deliciousness.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Review: the Birdy version

So, I know I'm remiss here in my continued non-posting of the promised "Mama Lunch" column, but: I have to write instead about what Birdy and I are reading, because these are simply some of the best books there are. Period. And, oddly, they're all by authors who are much more famous for other books: Roald Dahl for his full-blown ogre-addled magic-infused fantasy fiction; Madeleine L'Engle for her incomparably riveting, weirdo-buoying, sci-fi Wrinkle in Time series; and Joan Aiken for the villain-and-orphan-filled Wolves of Willoughby Chase series which, more than any other books, best represent the time in my life when all I wanted to do was curl up with a book. (Which is different from now how? I guess I mean the very profound 12-year-old version of that.) But these are kinder, gentler books--books perfect for younger kids who are, yes, reading mostly on their own, but who still like to curl up in an arm crook for a pajama-clad cuddle and a chapter or two aloud at day's end. I mention that because these are books that an 8-year old could read alone, but they're strangely tricky in that British/weird-humor/old-fashioned-language way. I recommend reading at least the first two chapters aloud, to acclimate them--by which point you'll be fully engrossed anyways and will want to keep reading.

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. A boy and his dad plotting to steal some pheasants really might not sound like your ideal plot, and I understand. But this is a lovely and wonderful book--about a parent and child, about loss, and about the nuanced complexity of right and wrong. "Who are the actual bad guys?" Ben wondered, when he and I read it years ago--but he already knew.
Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle. This is such a delightful, gentle book, and it's got this fantastically smart and observant girl narrator, which I love. An orphan, slow-paced family drama, nice kids, deliciously excellent writing--all the makings of a perfect reading experience, if you ask me. The others in the series are a little "grown-uppy," but I'm sure they'd be great for older kids.
Arabel's Raven by Joan Aiken. A young girl adopts a badly behaved bird named Mortimer who loves diamonds and guitar music and the stairs, which he eats. It's a little like the Paddington series, in terms of wacky misadventures and hilarious hijinx, but it is so laugh-out-loud funny that Ben is always putting his own book down and creeping over to listen. I love reading it because the language is great, the absurdity and chaos are pitched just right, and I am never, ever bored. There are more of them, and I bet they're all good, but we're just finishing this first one right now.

And now: share away. I have *so many* books on my library request list thanks to all your fantastic recommendations last week. I am thrilled. Thank you, as always.

TGIF, darlings.