Almond cookies

February 23, 2009

Originally posted on

Almond cookies

So, say, you make a clementine cake, which requires a great amount of ground almonds. And now you have all these ground almonds, and are unsure what to do with them. So you scour all the Internets for almond cookie recipes, and none of them are satisfactory, so you end up mashing together the ideas from a couple different posts on, and crossing your fingers while the cookies are in the oven. And then, miraculously, you get some fabulous almond cookies — not too sweet, perfectly crunchy, perfectly almondy. And then you know exactly where the rest of those ground almonds are going to go.

Almond cookies

1 stick of butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or AP flour)
3/4 cup ground almonds
3 teaspoons amaretto liqueur (or almond extract)

Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and sugar in a bowl. Beat in egg and amaretto. Add almonds until they’re all incorporated, then do the same with the flour.

If you’re a fan of softer, chewier cookies, drop batter by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving about an inch between the cookies. Stick an almond on top of each cookie, and bake for 12-15 minutes.

If you like your cookies crunchy, like me, smooth the spoonfuls down into flat rounds, stick almonds on top, and bake for 15+ minutes, until the edges are golden brown.

Clementine cake

February 23, 2009

Originally posted on

Clementine cake closeup

Some recipes have back stories, and some just speak for themselves. Like Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake, from her book How To Eat. I mean, look at it. This cake has five ingredients, and none of them are flour. This cake is arguably healthier for you than a bag of trail mix. It’s a fruit and nut cake, all proteins and simple fruit carbs. But it’s cake. Beautiful thing, that.

Clementine Cake (by Nigella Lawson)

4-5 clementines (about 1 pound total weight)
6 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 and one-third cups ground almonds
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder

Put the clementines in a pot with some cold water, bring to the boil and cook for 2 hours. Drain and, when cool, cut each clementine in half and remove the seeds. Dump the clementines into a blender or food processor – skins, pith, fruit and all – and give a quick blitz. Then tip in all the remaining ingredients and pulse to a pulp. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter and line an 8 inch springform pan.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan and bake for an hour, when a skewer will come out clean; you’ll probably have to cover with foil or greaseproof after about 40 minutes to stop the top burning. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, on a rack, but in the pan. When the cake’s cold, you can take it out of the tin.

Clementine cake

Originally posted on

Red slaw

My grandmother was not the best cook. Even when I was a kid, I preferred my mom’s veggie-heavy and experimental approach to food to my grandmother’s more traditional eastern European (read: starchy, meaty, bland) fare. But there were a couple things that she did better than my mom, and those are the ones that stick in my mind when I think of her tidy kitchen.

The main one is coleslaw. It’s not necessarily the taste I remember most, but the process. I’ve never seen Americans mix and crunch up the raw cabbage with their hands, but that’s how Russians make their slaw, much to the detriment of the American kind. I loved helping make coleslaw because it meant sticking my hands into a big bowl of vinegary cabbage to knead and squeeze and crunch it with my fingers. The result is that the veggie pieces break down and absorb the vinegar faster, taking on a lovely pickle-crunchy texture. Plus, it’s fun. I dare you to stick both your hands in a bowl of cabbage and not smile at the sheer silliness of what you’re doing.

I’ve been thinking about coleslaw since the lovely Angry Librarian wrote about it a couple months ago:

I’m seeing a lot of recipes for dishes that were designed to be economical getting dumbed up by foodies with expensive ingredients. Guys, that’s not the point. The point is that your grandparents and great-grandparents went to the store, not knowing what they wanted to make for dinner, not with a plan, but looking for cheap, nutritious food they could turn into something tasty. The resourcefulness is gone. This makes me sad, because that’s the fun part. So when you go to the store, trip over a $4 jicama, say what the hell and bring it home to make slaw, you’ve betrayed the point of slaw. Unless you live in Texas or Mexico or someplace where jicamas grow and cabbage doesn’t. Slaw is what happened when your grandmother went to the store and cabbage was all they had that wasn’t wilty.

With this in mind, I picked up a pretty little head of red cabbage a few days ago, and proceeded to browse through coleslaw recipes online. The vast majority were disappointing, for the exact reasons the Librarian stated: they were asking me to gussy up the slaw beyond recognition with things like peanut sauce and I don’t even know what else. So I scrapped them all and decided to play it by memory.

There are three ingredients in this coleslaw. Three! And after the vinegar did its magic for a couple hours in the fridge, I ate half the bowl standing up in the middle of the kitchen, shoveling purple forkfuls of tangy, crunchy goodness into my mouth.

Basic, simple coleslaw

A small head of cabbage (I used red, but it doesn’t really matter)
A couple big glugs of vinegar, probably about 1/4-1/3 of a cup (apple cider works well)
A couple big dashes of salt, to taste

Chop up the cabbage into slaw-like shreds and put in a bowl. Pour vinegar and salt on top. Roll up your sleeves and mix the slaw up with your hands for a couple minutes. Taste to see if it needs more salt (the vinegar will make itself more pronounced over time). Cover and stick in the fridge for a couple hours.

Bread and other basics

February 23, 2009

Originally posted on

Whole wheat bread

A while back I typed the words, “What should I do with my life?” into a Google search and came up with this book. The book didn’t actually answer my question, but it did have one insightful message: one of the subjects interviewed was in culinary school, and said that his class was full of people in the midst of a life crisis. The cooking and eating of food, he said, is such a basic comfort that people turn to it for stability when everything else is falling apart. Some make careers out of it, and some, like me, come home from miserable job interviews and make elaborate meals out of whatever was on sale at the store. Because, obviously, I’m not a complete failure if I can still feed myself, right?

So that’s what this new blog is about: weathering the storm, taking life back to basics, making delicious food. I used to be a newspaper reporter, then I drove big rigs around America, now I just sort of bum around and take whatever work comes along. I’ve also lived in four states in the past five years: a wayward gypsy type who takes a sledgehammer to everything in her life because change has just GOT to be better than stagnation. And then I stand amid the ruins and wonder what I’ll do next. That’s where I am right now, and that’s the journey the blog will follow. With food.

Since it’s all about going back to the basics, the first recipe is a loaf of bread. Like many cooks, I used to be afraid of yeast. But then unemployment happened, and those lovely artisan loaves just didn’t agree with my budget anymore. Bags of flour proved much more agreeable.

I credit Mark Bittman and his famed no-knead white bread with getting me over my yeast phobia. But as wonderful as the original recipe was, I wanted something heartier and whole-wheatier. Hence began the tinkering with Bittman’s no-knead wheat bread, until I came up with a version that is now the mainstay of my breakfasts.

You can certainly use all whole wheat flour in this recipe with good results. However, the dark rye flour adds a really wonderful flavor, and the AP flour helps make the dough airier and less dense than most whole wheat breads.

Bread and mango breakfast

No-knead whole wheat bread

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole grain dark rye flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 slightly heaping teaspoon instant yeast (1/2 a package)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
Oil as needed

Combine flours, yeast and salt in a bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir with a plastic or silicone spatula until blended and no more flour clings to the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest about four hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Oil a standard-sized loaf pan. Take your spatula and use it to fold the dough over a few times, then scoop it into the loaf pan, pressing out to the edges. Brush top with a little more oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for another hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake bread for 45 minutes. Remove from pan as soon as it’s cooled enough to handle, but wait until it’s completely cooled before cutting.

The anatomy of a marinade

September 30, 2008

One of the regular dishes at the vegetarian cafe where I worked as a teenager (where I learned to cook from a slightly nutty but very sweet woman who said she hired me because I reminded her of someone with whom she got arrested once in the ’60s) was ginger-baked tofu. The thick slices of tofu would sit in a spicy soy sauce marinade overnight, then get popped in the oven with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, then go into the deli-style display case, from which they’d quickly disappear.

Soy-ginger goo

Last weekend, as I was mincing ginger and garlic for a pork chop marinade, I realized I was using basically the same marinade. In fact, I use this marinade all the time. In the past week, it got prettied up for the aforementioned pork chop dinner, as well as dressed down for beef kabobs for an impromptu dinner party with friends. The basic soy-ginger marinade goes seamlessly between red meat and poultry, and between tofu and seafood. It’s tangy and spicy, with the main building blocks being soy sauce, garlic, ginger, something spicy and something sweet. The dilution with water is very important: a little soy sauce goes a long way, and can make your meat inedibly salty.

Here are the two most recent versions: first the fancy, then the super-easy.

Soy-ginger pork chops with bok choy and mashed potatoes
Soy-ginger pork chops

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • about a square inch of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • a very generous squirt of Sriracha (or a couple teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes, or whatever spice you’ve got on hand)
  • a similarly generous squirt of maple syrup
  • the zest of one orange
  • 3/4 cup of cold water
  • two nice, big, boneless pork chops
  • half of a medium red onion, chopped
  • 3-4 bunches of baby bok choy, chopped
  • butter for cooking
  • mashed potatoes (I’m not going to insult your intelligence by telling you how to mash potatoes)

A few hours before you plan to make dinner (or the night before, if you have more foresight than I could ever muster), pour the soy sauce into a two-cup measuring cup. Add the ginger, garlic, hot stuff, maple syrup, and orange zest. Stir until it becomes a nice, thick goo, like in the photo above. Add the cold water, and stir to make sure the maple syrup and Sriracha have dissolved. Now put your pork chops in a zippered bag, pour the marinade over them, and pop them in the fridge for as long as you can.

When ready to cook, melt a bit of butter in a skillet. Fish your chops out of the bag and plop them in the butter. No need to rinse them. Keep the marinade bag handy. Cook the chops until they’re almost ready, take them off and cover with foil. Spoon enough of the leftover marinade into the pan to cover the bottom, then deglaze with a wooden spatula or spoon by stirring and scraping up the porky bits. Throw the bok choy and onions into this sauce, cover, and cook until the onions are tender and the greens wilted. Uncover and return the chops to the pan, coat them in the sauce, make sure they are cooked all the way, then turn off the heat and serve over the mashed potatoes you managed to cook while you were doing the rest of this stuff.

Soy-ginger kabobs

This was randomly thrown together at a friend’s house last week, hence no pictures, and served over a rice dish that did not turn out as well as I’d hoped. This is the most bare-bones version of this marinade ever, made with the most basic of dried spices found in any spice rack worth its salt.

  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • about a teaspoon of garlic powder
  • about a teaspoon of powdered ginger
  • about a tablespoon of cayenne pepper (or whatever other spicy stuff you have sitting around)
  • about a tablespoon (or more) of brown sugar (or molasses, or honey, or regular sugar…)
  • 1-1/2 cup of cold water
  • about 3 lbs. of beef cut for stew (a.k.a. into bite-sized chunks)
  • plenty of veggies cut into bite-sized pieces, like onions, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, whatever

Pour the soy sauce into a two-cup measuring cup, and mix in the garlic, ginger, pepper, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Fill the cup to the top with cold water. Put the beef into either a large dish, or a large zipppered bag, and cover with marinade. Let sit for at least an hour or two.

Invite people over. Find some skewers. Have everyone grab a skewer and make their own kabob with whatever combination of meat and veggie they like. Stick ’em on a grill. Meat on stick, roar!

Turkey and greens enchiladas

September 3, 2008

Turkey and greens enchiladas

I’ve made enchiladas about a dozen different ways, and none of them are particularly authentic. Not that I’ve ever made any claims to any kind of authenticity, but thought I should put this up as a disclaimer.

I never really plan to make enchiladas. The idea for them inevitably comes to me in a grocery store, where I look at some random selection of ingredients in my cart and go, “Hm, all this stuff could be really good in some enchiladas.” Then I grab some tortillas and go home and throw them together. They’re usually good, but the ones I made the other night were the best so far. The flavor combination was perfect, and by a rare coincidence I had just enough time to chop all the ingredients while other ingredients were cooking, minimizing on prep time. This recipe is mostly so I remember what the hell I did here, so hopefully I can recreate the dish at a future date.

Turkey and greens enchiladas

  • one small onion, or half of a large onion
  • several cloves of garlic (I used three, but I have a very low tolerance for garlic, so you may want to use more)
  • one jalapeno pepper
  • one pound of lean ground turkey
  • five or six tomatillos (green tomatoes) (or you can just use regular tomatoes)
  • one green bell pepper
  • a handful of fresh cilantro
  • a couple handfuls of fresh spinach
  • five burrito-size tortillas
  • about a pound or less of shredded cheese (I used cheddar, but pepper jack would be even better)
  • salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin to taste
  • a 9×13 baking dish
  • cooking oil

Preheat oven to 300. Chop up the onion, and mince the garlic and jalapeno pepper. Heat a bit of oil in a large skillet and throw in the onion, garlic and pepper. Start chopping up the tomatillos and bell pepper. When the onions are soft, add the turkey to the pan. Stir frequently so it doesn’t turn into one big turkey burger.

When the meat is cooked through, add the tomatillos and bell pepper. Season liberally with salt, cayenne, and cumin. Stir and cover, and let it cook for a few minutes. In the meantime, roughly chop up the cilantro and spinach, grate the cheese, and grease the baking dish.

When the tomatillos have lost their shape and the bell pepper chunks have softened up, uncover the skillet and throw in the cilantro and spinach. Cook uncovered for a minute or two, just long enough for the spinach to wilt. Turn the burner off.

Divide all that filling roughly into five parts. Put each fifth in the middle of one tortilla, roll it up and line the enchiladas in the baking dish. The dish should be full now. Cover the top with cheese and stick in the oven for 15-20 minutes, just long enough for the cheese to melt.

Fun with crescent dough

June 26, 2008

DumplingsDid you know that crescent dough is the most amazing, delicious, simple ingredient ever? I bet you didn’t. I bet you thought it wasn’t good for much more than vaguely perverse-looking pigs and a blanket, and the simple crescent rolls for which it’s designed.

I can’t take credit for opening your eyes to the infinite dumpling possibilities of crescent dough. That credit goes to my good friend Cindy, who wrapped some strawberries and chocolate chips in the pliant dough triangles and baked them one night for dessert. The strawberries ended up too jammy, but the treat planted the seeds of experimentation.

I made five versions of crescent dumplings in the course of a week, and they all rocked. There were three savory kinds: mushroom and herb, chicken fajita, and spinach and feta; and sweet apricot and apple. The buttery flavor of the dough is so versatile that it goes well with either sweet or savory fillings. You can use anything. The only trick is getting the hang of wrapping up the dough triangles so they look ok and nothing falls out. It takes a few tries. But obviously, even the Frankenstein-looking ones still taste good.

Mushroom and Herb Crescent Dumplings

  • Half-pound or more of mushrooms of your choice
  • Small onion, chopped
  • A few garlic cloves, minced
  • A teaspoon or so of minced or ground ginger (optional – I’m a ginger freak but you don’t have to be)
  • About a quarter cup of crushed pecans (also optional, though it does add a great texture)
  • Parsley, thyme, whatever other herbs you like

Preheat oven to whatever temperature the crescent roll box tell you. Saute onion, garlic, ginger, and mushrooms in a skillet, covered, until the onions and mushrooms are soft. Salt and pepper to taste, stir in the nuts and herbs, and remove from heat.

Now the tricky part: take a spoonful of the mushroom mixture and put it in the center of the crescent triangle. Wrap the triangle sides around the filling and seal all the holes. As I said above, this may take a few tries. Put the dumplings on a baking sheet and bake for however long the crescent roll box tells you to. Top with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt or dressing and serve with a nice salad.

Chicken Fajita Crescent Dumplings

  • A couple of skinless and boneless chicken breasts, cut into little chunks
  • A bell pepper, diced
  • An onion, diced
  • A jalapeno pepper, diced and seeded (the more seeds, the spicier the result)
  • Spices: salt, pepper, cilantro, cumin, garlic
  • Shredded cheddar cheese

Saute onion and peppers in some oil for a couple minutes, then add the chicken and saute until it’s cooked through. Season to taste (liberally). To stuff the dumplings, follow directions above, except put some cheese into the filling of each, then a little more cheese on top of the wrapped-up dumpling before sticking it into the oven.

Sweet Crescent Dumplings

Much easier than the savory kinds. Basically, each time I made savory dumplings I had a few dough triangles left over, so I grabbed whatever fruit I had lying around (apricots and apples) and honey and used it as filling. Take a couple slices of fruit, drizzle a little honey and maybe cinnamon on it, then wrap it up and bake.

Now, here’s a challenge: try a filling I haven’t mentioned and tell me how you liked it!

Eggplant parmesan

January 23, 2008

Eggplant parmesanEggplant Parmesan was one of the first big, fancy-seeming meals I ever learned to make, and it remains one of my favorites – this is what I make for people I’m trying to impress. It’s relatively easy to prepare, too, albeit a little time-consuming. I think people are surprised at how few ingredients you need to make this dish…

Eggplant Parmesan


  • Three large-ish eggplants
  • A jar of your favorite tomato sauce (minimally chunky)
  • A pound of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • A cup of plain breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, any herbs you like

You’ll also need a 9×13″ baking dish, and a skillet.

First, slice your eggplants into rounds, about half an inch thick. Then put breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl with about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Unless you’re using heavily herbed tomato sauce, you can also put in equal amounts of herbs, like basil or parsley or oregano or thyme. Stir the breadcrumb mixture until the herbs and stuff are equally distributed.

Preheat oven to 375, then heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet on high heat. Put the eggplant slices in the pan in a single layer. The goal here is to fry the eggplant until it’s just a little bit soft, and golden on both sides. You don’t need to cook it all the way, just be sure you fry it on both sides. Eggplants tend to eat up a lot of oil, so keep adding oil if the pan is too dry. Do this with all of your eggplant slices.

When the eggplant slices are done frying, coat each one in the breadcrumb mixture and put them into the baking dish in a single layer. When the first layer is done, pour half the jar of tomato sauce on top, distributing it evenly so all the eggplant is covered in tomato. Repeat with a second layer of eggplants and the other half of the sauce. The three large eggplants should be just enough to make two layers.

Dump all the cheese on top and spread it around. It looks like a lot of cheese. Mmm, cheese. Stick the whole thing in the oven for half an hour. Makes enough food for a week. Eat with crusty bread.

Lentil soup

January 18, 2008

Lentil soupYeah, I haven’t posted in a while. Lots of cooking, not lots of posting. The return can be credited to Miz Cindy and her request for a lentil soup recipe.

This makes a lot of soup. It works quite well frozen in tupperware and eaten for work lunches. Good with cheese muffins – for those, take any muffin recipe (like the oaty muffins), reduce sugar to a tablespoon, take out the vanilla, and replace the fruit with all the shredded cheese and herbs (like cheddar and rosemary) you can handle.

The addition of spinach and sage when the soup is almost done is essential for this recipe. If the greens are added in the beginning, they lose all their flavor and texture. Without them, the soup is pretty bland.

Lentil soup with spinach and sage


  • Medium-ish onion, diced
  • Couple cloves of garlic, diced or pressed or whatever
  • Couple of carrots, diced
  • Couple celery sticks, diced
  • A pound of uncooked lentils, rinsed
  • A couple big handfulls of spinach, chopped
  • A handful of fresh sage, chopped
  • A bunch of water (8 cups seems to be the consensus among other recipes)
  • Salt, pepper, cooking oil, etc.

Saute onion and garlic in some cooking oil on medium-high in the bottom of a big pot (I use a five-quart Dutch Oven) until they are soft. Add carrots, celery, lentils, salt, pepper, maybe a bay leaf or two if you have them, mix it all up.

Pour in the water, enough to cover the lentils by a couple inches. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for like 20-30 minutes, or however long your lentil package tells you to cook the lentils. Add water as necessary – more if you like thinner soup, less if you want it stewy.

When they’re almost done, throw in the spinach and sage and cook for another five minutes or so.

Eat on wintry days when you require comfort food.

Spinach quiche

September 20, 2007

Quiche is one of those things that looks much more complicated and daunting to make than it actually is. All it really involves is a pie crust, eggs, milk, and whatever filling your heart desires (or whatever needs rescuing from the fridge). I’ve made potato and pepper jack cheese quiches before, tomato and mozzarella pizza ones, etc. They’ve all been good. But my favorite is definitely the spinach and feta combination – I love spinach in everything, and the way the feta cheese melts together with the egg is really wonderful.

A note about crusts: if you make your own, more power to you. But if not, I strongly recommend the kind that you roll out into a pie dish rather than the dry kind that comes with its own tin, because the latter burns and dries out and doesn’t taste as good.

Spinach and Feta Quiche


  • A pie crust
  • Four eggs
  • About a cup and a half of milk
  • Salt-n-pepper
  • Stuff! For this one, I used a handful (and by “handful,” I mean that I reached my hand into a bag of salad spinach, grabbed as much of it as I could, and chopped it all up) of spinach, a much smaller handful of basil leaves, one green onion and a 4oz thing of crumbled feta cheese. As I’ve said above, you can use anything.

Preheat oven at 375. Put pie crust into pie pan.

Roughly chop up your spinach and whatever else, and put all the filling into the pie crust. The general guideline for filling is that it should loosely fill up the pie crust, so that the egg just fills in the crevices.

Crack the eggs and whisk them with the milk and the salt and pepper. Pour into the crust.

Stick in oven for 35 minutes or so, until the center is just set and the top is a little bit browned.