Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Peanut-butter-cup cookies

I highly recommend this recipe for chocolate peanut butter cookies with peanut butter filling. The dough is moist and highly pliable, making it a treat to work with. The filling, however, needs some adjustment (perhaps the proportions work with Skippy or Jif, but not with MaraNatha). The flavor it fine, but even after adding another 50% peanut butter, the filling never gets smooth. I think that one should use less sugar all together, and regular sugar, not powdered sugar. I would also add a pinch of vanilla to the filling.

But, in any case, make these cookies.

Fava, pea, and spinach soup

In a large saucepan, sauté in olive oil:
  • 1 leek, washed well (there's lots of dirt between the leaves), with roots and outer leaves removed and saved for stock, and diced
  • A few sticks of celery, diced
  • A handful of carrots, washed and diced
  • Some parsley, diced, and other fresh (or dried) herbs: basil, tarragon, sage
  • Salt and pepper

When vegetables start to release water, cover and stew for a few minutes. Then add
  • 6 cups water

And bring to boil, reduce to simmer, etc.

Start shelling
  • a couple pounds of fresh peas and fava beans: you should yield a cup or two of shelled legumes.
Add to the boiling water, stir, and cover; they will be cooked sufficiently when the favas have burst open. Also wash, remove stems from, and chop
  • 1 large bunch spinach.

When beans are cooked, add spinach, poking it down under the water to fully submerge. Cook a few minutes more.

Transfer roughly half the soup to a blender (just need to do one batch), and blend to smooth. Return the blended soup to the pot with the unblended soup, and stir to combine.

Serve immediately: color will not keep. Serve with a moist feta cheese, or sour cream, or crème fraîche, or, if you have them, sprinkle with bright orange flower petals (marigold or nasturtium).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Recycled yoga mats

The line between "hippie" and "yuppie" is thin these days, and I sometimes wonder which side I fall on. After dinner tonight, the air was filled with a warm, sweet rain, and I walked to the store that is quickly becoming my favorite Berkeley shop, to return a video and dispose of a used battery. Elephant Pharm is replete with good-for-the-world products: they sell organic Fig Newtons, fair trade tea, recycled aluminum foil, and yoga mats made from reclaimed tennis shoes. When they say that the "quality of life in Berkeley is high", they don't just mean the whether.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Three days of dinners

Farmers' Market today was particularly full: all the local (and non-local) recycling and community farm and so on organizations set up booths for Earth Day. I just devoured a basket of strawberries.

In any case, it's been a few days since I've written up my cooking.

On Wednesday, we had a fennel gratin from Chez Panisse Vegetables
Preheat the oven, say 350°. Thinly slice one large fennel bulb (washed, saving the stems and leaves for stock) and one large leek, going against the grain so that the bulbs separate into disks. Also thinly slice a few yellow potatoes. For each of the ingredients, sauté in a healthy dose of butter to brown each side. Then transfer to a shallow baking dish, and toss with fresh herbs and salt and pepper. Pour over half a cup of cream and one cup vegetable stock. Bake 40 minutes.
We also had a salad — fresh lettuce, walnuts, with a light dressing of mustard, olive oil, red wine, and salt — and a red wine. Finishing the meal was vanilla ice cream and peach cobbler —
More of a cookie-bar, really, I roughly followed this recipe for blueberry oat bars. For an 8-inch square pan, my oven was already hot from the grattin (350°F), and I lined the pan with parchment. In a medium-large bowl, I combined 1 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup white flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt (I like salt, but I thought this dish on the salty side, so be warned) and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Then I mixed in 6 Tbsp melted butter. I reserved 1/2 cup of the mixture, and packed the rest into the prepared pan, and set in the oven to bake 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, I melted 2 1/2 cup frozen peaches from last summer, with 1 Tbsp lemon juice. In a small bowl I combined 1/4 cup white sugar and 1 Tbsp corn starch, and then added these to the peaches and, stirring constantly, cooked until slightly thickened. I poured the topping over the cooked crust, crumbled the crumb over the mix, and 30 minutes.

Thursday saw another Chez Panisse-inspired dish, although I wasn't as happy with it. We had baby artichokes and spring onion, and Alice Waters suggests a ragout. I ended up trying to follow her recipe —
While my boyfriend cut yellow potatoes (washed) into chunks and set them to boil in salty water until tender, I softened the onion in butter, and then added half-artichokes, the outer layer removed. These we sautéed a bit, continually adding more butter, splashes of water, and ice-cubes of frozen vegetable stock. Some fresh herbs and a few stalks of asparagus went in brilliantly, and the artichokes brown beautifully. But upon serving everything was tasty except the chokes. Or, rather, the chokes tasted great, but many of the petals were simply inedible. It turns out that much more of the baby choke needs to be removed before cooking.
We had red quinoa — combine with 1 1/3 parts salted water, bring to boil, and simmer covered ten minutes, then let steam another twenty — drizzled with a fruity olive oil, a very sweet white wine, and ice cream sundaes for dessert.

The best meal recently was Friday. We began with appetizers: olives, and baguette and dipping oil — fruity olive oil, with dried thyme, crushed sumac berry, and sesame seeds. Meanwhile, I had washed, peeled, scooped, and cubed an orange acorn squash from winter storage, and set it in a lasagna pan in a 400°F oven, with olive oil and salt; the squash needs to cook roughly 30 minutes.

Then I brought enough salted water to a boil and then turned off the heat, so that I could add pasta when ready. Fifteen minutes before eating, bring back to boil, and add a pound of farfalle. In a wok, I toasted some pine nuts and removed them, then added olive oil, fresh oregano, black pepper, and one bunch washed-and-sliced red chard, and sautéed. Then go in the squash, the pasta, the pine nuts, and crumbled sharp cheese. More fresh oregano is in order, and the pasta should be served immediately.

Candles and a nice white wine made for a lovely end-of-the-week meal. We went out for ice cream at Ici afterwards.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A gourmet picnic

I took the boyfriend on a picnic on Sunday, and wanted to impress. The menu:
  • Artichoke. Set a couple inches of lightly salted water with lemon juice in a large pan tall enough to fit an artichoke the long way. Trim from the artichoke the lowest (leathery) petals, and peel the stem. Also slice off the top spines with a clean horizontal cut. Place the artichokes top down in the water, stems pointing up, put on the lid, bring to boil, and simmer/steam for thirty to forty minutes.
  • Aioli. In the kitchenaid fitted with the whisk, combine to taste melted butter, olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, and salt. Beat well. To thicken, whip in a little arrowroot at the end.
  • Hot dogs. I based my recipe on this one from PPK. First combine wet ingredients, mashing beens with a fork or in the kitchenaid: 1/4 cup pinto beans, 1 cup veggie broth, 1 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 small bulb fennel, minced, and the leaves of 2 sprigs fresh oregano, minced. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients: 1 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten, 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, 2 tsp ground paprika, and a few grinds of black pepper. Add wet into dry, mixing by hand; knead a bit by hand. (I'm serious: this is much better if done by hand than machine.) Set up the steamer (I don't have a real steamer, so I used my steam canner). Cut six sheets of aluminum foil — 8 1/2 by 11 will do it — and divide the seitan into sixths. One-by-one, knead each a little more, and then roll into a log, and wrap tightly in the foil, twisting the end like a tootsie roll. Steam the logs for 45 minutes.
  • With the hot dogs we had various pre-made fixings: mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, and buns.
  • Strawberries. From Lucero
  • Whipped cream. 1/2 cup whipping cream, 2 Tbsp sugar, a hint of vanilla. In the kitchenaid with the whisk it is very fast.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fava beans

Fava belongs in any Green Revolutions: the plants are high-yield, easy-going, and nitrogen-fixing. In mild California, they're favorite job is as a winter ground-cover between higher-value plantings. Fava is high in protein and fiber, and various other chemicals (watch for "favism", in which the vicine, isouramil, and convicine in the beans and pollen induce hemolytic anemia in some populations of African origin, possibly as an evolved response to malaria).

Young beans can be eaten raw, but I prefer them cooked, as a mild bitterness starts to creep into the growing beans early. In a salad, fava should be blanched; my favorite way to eat fava is sauteed. Today I cooked mine in olive oil, with fennel bulb and fresh oregano.

Since it's early in the season, the fava I purchased at Farmers' Market this morning had few beans per pod. I shelled more than a pound of beans — about half an hour of relaxing — for one plate of food. Still, this low-brow bean is worth it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


The boyfriend was here for breakfast this morning. Crepes are an easy and high-class meal.

In a standing mixer with a whisk, or by hand, combine
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup water
Beat until smooth. Whisk in, but do not overbeat
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp completely melted butter.

At best, let the mixture rest in the the fridge at least 20 minutes for the flour to absorb the moisture; crepes will cook without this.

Heat a buttered crepe pan or non-stick pan. Ladle batter onto hot pan; turn each crepe to brown both sides. Let the crepes cool slightly and serve. I like my crepes with chocolate, or with grated parmesan cheese.

Serves 3.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Brown sugar cookies

For my calculus class tomorrow, since they have a midterm, I plan to bring in cookies. I chose a very fine recipe form Cook's Illustrated.

In a cast-iron pan, melt
  • 10 Tbsp unsalted butter
and, swirling, continue to cook one to three minutes to a dark golden and nutty aromatic. (Why use cast-iron? The butter doesn't care, but, short of rendering lard, this is about the best thing you can do for your cast-iron.) Remove from heat, transfer to a large heatproof bowl, and stir in
  • 4 Tbsp butter
to melt. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle and middle-high, and preheat oven 350°F. In a medium bowl, combine
  • 2 cups plus 2 Tbsp (whole wheat pastry) flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
and set aside.

To cooled butter, add
    1 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
and mix until no lumps. Scrape down bowl. Add
  • 1 large egg plus 1 yolk
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • optional: 1 tsp molasses
and mix to fully incorporate. Add flour mixture, and mix, scraping down bowl.

Roll into small balls, and toss in a mixture of
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
and place on baking sheets. Bake 13 minutes, and do not overbake.

The number of cookies made by a particular recipes depends dramatically on the size of the cookies. In my notes, I wrote in "makes 2 dozen", presumably making largish 2-Tbsp cookies. This time, worried I wouldn't have enough for my sixty students, I made a double batch: I made just over 180 cookies.