Saturday, December 25, 2010

What Happens When the French Get Ahold of Ice Cream Sandwiches

I remember the first time I ever had profiteroles. I was six. My parents were having a fancy cocktail party, the sort of affair where they hired a bartender to serve guests and I was banished from the first floor of the house for the duration, sent to watch TV and movies in their bedroom. As incentive for staying out of sight for the night, I got my own plate of party food. I really have always loved hors d'oeuvres so this was a major treat, right up there with delivery pizza and Swanson's TV dinners with the square-shaped brownie. My plate that evening included something mysterious called "profiteroles." They were magic, combining everything that is great about eclairs with the best of that dessert classic, ice cream. I fell for them hard.

Profiteroles are simply pastry puffs (think cream puff or eclair - they're made of the same dough, called pâte à choux), filled with ice cream and covered in chocolate sauce. They are the elegant French answer to the ice cream sandwich. You eat them with a fork. They are dignified. Except for the times that they slide off your plate and reenact that escargot scene in Pretty Woman. But they wouldn't be authentically French if they weren't at least a little bit challenging to eat.

Profiteroles have become increasingly popular in our house as a special Christmas dessert -- partly because there's chocolate involved, and partly because we can get multiple flavors of ice cream, meaning everyone gets what they want for a filling. Vanilla is de rigeur, but I also like coffee ice cream and the pure mint flavor Haagen-Dazs makes (sans chips), which tastes like an elegant frozen Thin Mint in ice cream sandwich form. I'm also angling to try some caramel ice cream the next time I make these. I get the sense that would be excellent.

Profiteroles are really not that difficult to make as long as you have your ingredients measured and prepped in advance because the process moves kind of quickly and doesn't stop for hesitant cooks. The dough can be a bit finicky and sometimes my profiterole shells don't rise and I have no idea why. Other times they puff up perfectly. Either way, they always taste alright, even if they are less "puff" and more "flying saucer."

The recipe we traditionally use is from The Silver Palate Cookbook, but I am inclined to begin looking for new versions as the part where you beat in each egg individually with a wooden spoon is tedious, difficult, and borderline painful, especially if you overdid it with the arm and shoulder exercises at the gym the day before.

That said, I am now typing this from bed, ending a full-on kitchen blitz of cooking all day after getting up early for 7:30am mass, where all the other parishoners - all 30 of them - and by the way, our church holds something like 600 people - looked like John Slattery or Betty White because no one under the age of 50 goes to the early mass. The priest himself was a ripe 86, but at least he had a good sense of humor on him, which I greatly appreciated given that I was working on not forgetting the Nicene Creed after having run out the door without coffee.

Today's Christmas feast included but was not limited to: brunch of smoked salmon and bagels with cream cheese, dill, and capers (my favorite!), fresh berry fruit salad, amazing peppered scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh-squeezed blood orange mimosas (Thanks Jen for that bit of inspiration!), and I can't even remember what else, followed by dinner involving the most wonderful, tender, meaty beef tenderloin, kale sauteed with bacon, chestnut-mushroom soup featuring freshly roasted chestnuts (they are a LOT of work, if you ever are in the market for these just buy jarred), a lovely winter salad, haricot verts, wild rice pilaf with pine nuts and brandied currants, and, of course, pecan pie and the profiteroles. I was responsible for about half the day's menu. I am wiped out. The prospect of leaving bed to go back downstairs to grab the cookbook to retype the recipes I just read and made is not that appealing. So I'll just leave you with pictures and some thoughts and if you are really dying to make profiteroles, you can email me.

I always start this recipe by making the chocolate sauce first, because it can just sit, covered, until you're ready to serve the profiteroles. This recipe makes about 6 times as much chocolate sauce as you could possibly need. The one scary thing about the chocolate sauce recipe is that you have to keep it at a "controlled boil" for 9 minutes (I don't know why not 8 or 10), which looks like the below image. Once you've got it there, it won't boil over, but it's hard to trust that it really won't pull a Vesuvius and turn your stove into a cleanup nightmare as it bubbles so perilously close to the top of the pot.

An illustration of The Price is Right maxim "closest without going over." 
After that's done, the sauce has to cool 15 minutes before you can add the liquor flavoring (so you don't accidentally flambe something, like yourself). The recipe calls for a tablespoon of rum but I always use Grand Marnier because I like the combination with the chocolate.

Next, I get started on the pâte à choux. As the name indicates en Francais, it's a dough that looks like cabbages. Don't let that sidetrack you, the French call potatoes "apples of the ground" and I really think that's a bit of a stretch, too.

I always start this recipe, after having prepped my ingredients, by taking a deep breath. Because at some point, this always gets ugly. Then, I boil some basic ingredients - water, butter, sugar, and salt.

So far so good. I manage not to screw up the basic task of melting butter in water and bringing it to a boil. This concoction gets removed from the heat and a cup of sifted flour gets added. Yes, it has to be sifted. This is no time for lumps.

"It looks like a disaster, but it will come together, I promise"
is what my internal monologue sounds like at this stage.
Eventually, with some serious mixing, the ball of glue will form itself into a neat lump in the middle of the pot, cleaning all dough off the sides. Isn't that nice of it?

Well, this dough is about tough love and that lump is about as nice as it gets. Let it cool for a couple of minutes and then you get to deal with the egg situation. This tends to be where my annual breakdown happens, 2010 being no exception. The dough is quite elastic and it doesn't really like to mix with the eggs, like the boys and girls at a 6th grade dance. So you really have to work for it. I sometimes talk to the dough. Sometimes I try to coax it with loving words into submitting to my will. Sometimes I am mean. This year I decided to rise above that (Christmas spirit and all) and use a handheld electric mixer.

Here's what that looked like, two out of four eggs into the process:

Do you see the bits of dough all over the stove, counter, and cookbook? I couldn't also get the ones on  the floor or myself in frame, so you'll have to use your imagination. I later found some in my hair. This is not what I was aiming for.

While I was busy spraying Mom's lovely kitchen with dough, Mom herself was at the adjacent counter trying somewhat unsucessfully to peel freshly roasted chestnuts, accompanied by the kind of cursing you might hear at a Tourette's Convention. It was not our best kitchen moment of the day.

I went back to the painful wooden spoon method (possibly one of the torture methods used during the Spanish Inquisition) and beat the hell out of the dough to incorporate the last two eggs. When you do this right, you are rewarded with beautiful, smooth, shiny dough, and one very sore arm. At last, success.

C'est magnifique!
 There's no time to gloat over your shiny dough, though. You've got to hop to it and get this stuff in the oven before it sits too long. My personal theory is that delays actually affect the rise.  My cousin is a pastry chef, so I'm going to press her for details on this when I see her Monday and will report back.

I like to spoon the dough into a TSA-quality quart-sized zipper bag and then cut off one of the corners so it lets out about a thick stream of dough. All the better to pipe with, my dear, right onto your prepared parchment-lined cookie sheets.

When piping, the idea is to aim for a rounded shape, maybe the size of a silver dollar, if anyone even knows what that is anymore. The sheets go into the oven ASAP at 450 degrees for five minutes; then the oven temperature gets dropped to 350 and they bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. No door opening during this time!

Newly introduced to the oven. Had to snap this quickly and shut the door fast!
 When the timer goes off, here's what emerges:

Golden puffs of pastry goodness

You could, at this point, treat these like eclairs or cream puffs and fill them with pastry or whipped cream, if you were so inclined. But I think those options pale in comparison to the magnificence of the ice-cream-sandwich-meets-hot fudge-sundae mashup that is the profiterole. Just slice the puffs in half, add a small scoop of ice cream, pour a little of the sinfully rich chocolate sauce on top, and voila! Profiteroles!

This is one of those times when a picture is worth a thousand words.

And here's another one of those times.

Yes, Rocky is using the gifts as a pillow.

A very, very merry Christmas to everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Mmmmmeyer Lemons

I love this time of year not just because of Christmas but also because it is Meyer Lemon Season!!! I KNOW that's exactly what you were thinking, too! It's so OBVIOUS. It's practically synonymous with winter. Hooray for MEYER LEMON SEASON!!!!!

Ok, I realize perhaps not everyone is enamored of this little hybrid fruit as much as I am. I think we've already established on this blog that I'm not normal. My Meyer lemon love affair began long ago, when my grandfather planted a Meyer lemon tree in his backyard in San Clemente, CA. Each winter, my grandparents would ship several pounds of the tree's bounty to us and for December and January, our crisper drawers runneth over with the sweet-tangy-peppery scent of Meyer lemons. Back in the 1980s, Meyers were unheard of elsewhere in the country, and I still feel like they are a little exotic even though they are now so plentiful in San Francisco in December that they are practically a commodity.

My grandparents moved from San Clemente long ago, and both have since passed away, but in keeping with our family's winter tradition, I brought three pounds of Meyer Lemons home with me for the holidays. This cost approximately $6 for the lemons and $600 for the "shipping." I always hand carry them because I am afraid my precious cargo will freeze in my checked luggage. Even though my toiletries don't freeze. Whatever. Love isn't always rational.

For our Christmas Eve dessert this year, I decided to branch out and try a new Meyer lemon recipe instead of the usual lemon bars and no lemon meringue pie.  I wish I could have taken more pictures but the family ate it all before I had a chance to snap a few more.

Oh, I should add - this recipe is adapted from one on Epicurious. Full disclosure: I intentionally adapted it by adding lemon zest and serving it with whipped cream instead of just cream; I unintentionally "adapted" it by accidentally leaving out the butter. It turned out great, anyway. I'm leaving out the butter from now on.

Kate's Meyer Lemon Souffle Cake
adapted from this recipe on Epicurious
Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup sugar, divided
4 large eggs, separated
Zest from 2 Meyer lemons
Juice from 2 Meyer lemons (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream (ideally not from a can, and whipped softly, i.e. not too much)
Assorted fresh berries (I used raspberries)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a ceramic souffle dish, or 6 individual ramekins or any glass or ceramic dish approximately 8x8x2 inches. Or thereabouts. I think you can bake this in practically anything glass or ceramic that's approximately that size. Deep dish pie plate would probably be fine, too.

Blend buttermilk, 1/2 cup sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice, zest, flour, and salt in blender until smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Gently fold buttermilk mixture into whites in 3 additions (batter will be runny).

Prior to baking.

Pour batter into prepared dish. Place dish in roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come about halfway up sides of dish. Bake until entire top is evenly browned and cake moves very slightly in center but feels slightly springy to touch, about 50 minutes (ramekins will take less time; start checking them at 25 minutes). Remove dish from roasting pan.

This won't actually puff up above the rim of the dish like a souffle, but the texture is similar.
 Let's go in for a close up.

 Cool cake completely in baking dish on rack. Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours. To serve, spoon souffle cake out into shallow bowls. Put a dollop of whipped cream on cake. Top with berries.

And that was dessert. It was light and almost refreshing after a fairly rich meal. I think it is safe to say that with only adults in the house this year, we've outgrown the "Baby Jesus Birthday Cake," i.e. Baskin-Robbins ice cream roll filled with peppermint and mint chocolate chip ice cream. I can't say I'm sorry to see it go.

Nutrition information for the above serving (1/6 of the cake), including berries and a dollop of whipped cream:

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I was a professional gift-wrapper.

No, really. During my year of underemployment in Austin, I had, as I think I've mentioned before, a job at Williams-Sonoma. It didn't take me long to figure out that if I volunteered (begged) to work the gift wrap station, I could hide in the stock room and not have to deal with any belligerent holiday shoppers.

Like so many lessons in life, I learned the benefits of hiding in the back of the store the hard way. My previous favorite job during the holiday timeframe was working the register, because I was super fast at it and always rang up more sales than anyone else working any of the other three registers. Yes, it was a competition. That all went fine until I checked a signature on a credit card once and it didn't match. Here's how that exchange went:

Me: "I'm sorry ma'am, your signature doesn't match the back of the card. Could I see your i.d., please?"
Belligerent Holiday Shopper: "That's because it's my sister's."
Me: "I'm sorry ma'am, do you have another card I can use? It's against store policy for me to accept this because your signature doesn't match."
BHS: "My sister is right over there."
Me: "Ok, could you ask her to come over? I just need to confirm her i.d. It's for her protection. I'm really sorry, I know this is an inconvenience."
BHS: "This is ridiculous. Are you doing this because I'm Asian?"
Me: (dumbfounded) "I'm sorry, what?"
Me: (Jaw on the floor.)

At which point I called over the manager and let him deal with it.

Shortly thereafter, I aggressively pursued the back-room gift wrapping role. It was delightful. Except for the one time the heat gun we use to shrink wrap gift baskets caught my shoe on fire. But that is a story for another time, and for OSHA.

Based on wrapping thousands of Christmas, wedding, shower, birthday, and other gifts, here are my best tips for gift wrapping.

Step 1: Gather your supplies. Supplies include the following:
  • Wrapping paper: My favorite source of wrapping paper is, oddly enough, The Container Store. They make great, high quality, not-too-thin, not-too-thick paper. Cheaper paper (from Walgreens, Target, etc.) is too thin and tears too easily; easily torn paper makes for an easily frustrated gift-wrapper. Paper Source has gorgeous prints but the paper stock is a bit heavy which makes it tough to get clean creases and corners without a bone folder. As someone who is clearly picky about gift wrapping, I can say affirmatively that a bone folder is totally unnecessary. There is no such thing as “perfect” in life and that goes doubly for gift wrapping. Get good paper and you'll be much less frustrated with the wrapping process. See the end of this post for a word on my favorite wrapping paper of all time.
  • Tape: Have more tape than you think you need. I really like the 3M Scotch Satin tape for gifts, but any clear tape will do. If you want to get fancy, you can also use double-sided tape for the external seams, but that’s really an advanced move.
  • Scissors: Sharp. Ideally only ever used to cut paper and non-wired ribbon.
  • Ribbon: I really think it is worth the splurge to use REAL ribbon. Not the curly stuff, and not those plastic stick-on bows. Real ribbon can be had for pretty cheap if you know where to look – both Michael's and Target have great holiday ribbon options, and if
  • Boxes: To fit your gifts, if they are not already in nice right-angled boxes of their own. Don't even try to wrap something that's not in a box. The thin white gift boxes that they sell (again, at the Container store) are worth every cent. If you have to, you can use a corrugated cardboard shipping box, but those tend to give a less crisp finished look.
  • Black Sharpie Marker: Great for marking out prices on tags you can't remove and for putting names on gift tags.
Step 2: Clear off a large space. I like the floor, but a big table can work, too. You will need more space than you think, so plan accordingly.
Step 3: Figure out where you're going to put trash. Do this before you start. Gift wrapping creates lots of little bits of paper and ribbon and tape and sticky price tags and they all have to go somewhere. The clean-as-you-go-process helps contain the inevitable wrapping mess.
Step 4. Now you can wrap your gift! Flip it upside down on the wrong side of the paper, measure to be sure you have enough paper to cover the box, and cut. (I am not explaining this part in detail - if you don't know how to do this, try here.) The secret here is to use LOTS of tape. Tape everything. Tape the wrap to the box (another benefit of using a box). Tape everytime you make a crease or join a seam. Tape liberally.
Step 5. Add a bow. The traditional way to do this is to lay the ribbon on the floor/table and center the box in the middle, then bring the ribbon up over the horizontal sides, twist it 90 degrees, flip the box back over, and bring it up the remaining sides, then tie at the top.
That method is for amateurs. Here's why: when you tie ribbon that way, the twist on the bottom creates a lump that makes your package wobble about. We like to save our wobbling for champagne overconsumption.
Here's how to professionally tie a bow on your gift, step by step:
1. Measure the ribbon. The easiest way to do this is to wrap it around the longest dimension of your box twice, then add about 6-8 inches.

Sidebar on this wrapping paper: it's from The Container Store, too. I love it for all occasion purposes as well as for Christmas. Faux bois is completely chic. The only reason I don't love this paper more than the green paisley is that it is twice as expensive and comes in two separate sheets instead of a continuous roll.

2. With the box right-side up, lay a short tail of ribbon off to the right from the center. This tail will make half of the bow, so you can make half a bow by looping it to make sure you have enough. Place your finger at the center of the box.

Why yes, I did get a manicure, thank you for noticing! You can't go wrong with Essie Wicked.
3. With the long tail of the ribbon on the left, loop this around the left side of the box and bring it back up the right side, to meet where your finger is in the center.
And yes, that is a new holiday plaid shirt I just got. It also has ruffles at the button placket. Very festive.

4. Hook the ribbon around itself so you form a joint, then take the long tail of the ribbon and loop it around the box from top to bottom and back to the center.

This is what hooking the ribbon around itself looks like. If you've tied bows the amateur way, then you have done this move before, just on the bottom of the box instead of the top.

When you have done this, the bottom of the box will look like this:
Flat ribbon on bottom of box. Good.
5. Now, take the long-tail end and hook the ribbon on itself once more to form a joint where the two tails are on opposite corners of the joint from each other. Make a single tie.

Bringing ribbon up from the bottom of the box and hooking it around the other twist.
A single knot is tied (like the first step in shoelace tying).

6. Now tie your bow. If necessary, cut the ribbon ends to 45 degree angles. And voila!
The final step is to label your package. I skip buying store-bought tags and labels in favor of recycling pretty paper from old cards and craft projects. My other favorite labeling device is plain white name labels, which I like because there's no danger of them coming unstuck from the gift and falling off.

Leftover paper finding a second life as a gift tag.

Pretty presents!
Merry Christmas!
End note: Yes, Virginia, there is a Best Wrapping Paper.

This is my all-time favorite wrapping paper. I buy multiple rolls at a time. I have yet to find a gift-giving occasion that I can't use it for, and it does particularly well in the Gift Occasion Holy Trinity of wedding, baby, and Christmas. It looks great with nearly every color of ribbon: bright red, orange, pale pink, hot pink, turquoise, baby blue, brown, navy, ivory, tan. Probably the only color I wouldn't put with it is...well, I was going to say kelly green, but I just looked at it again and that would in fact be a super cute way to wrap a St. Patrick's Day gift, if you had one.

In general, when selecting wrapping paper, my recommendation is to go with either a solid color paper or a graphic design with only two colors, max. This keeps your gift looking classy, and also, you're far more likely to be able to use the wrap for other occasions. I love efficiency.

This always gets compliments.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Decking the Halls

I really love the Christmas season. I have several boxes of Christmas decor that I am just itching to open as soon as the sun sets on Thanksgiving.

About ten years ago, I started collecting Christmas ornaments every time I traveled somewhere new. I'm so glad I established this habit because when I hang them on the tree at the end of the year, I'm reminded of all the wonderful places I've been in the past year and years ago, and the stories behind each ornament. Here are a few of my favorites:
This is a 2010 contribution to the tree, thanks to Holly and Scott's wedding. I like that it looks kind of industrial. Fitting, no? This is actually a modified keychain that I picked up in the Pittsburgh airport Walgreens. Modified keychains frequently make great ornaments in a pinch.

In case you think your eyes are deceiving you, this is a beaver dressed as a Canadian Mountie, riding the requisite horse.  I picked it up in Nova Scotia on the Canada/New England cruise I was forced to go on for work several years back. At the time I was living in Boston, which we sailed right past. I waved to my apartment.  Why I couldn't have gotten the Alaska, Mediterranean, or Northern Europe assignments, I don't know.

The Harrods ornament was picked up the following year, while visiting Meredith during Law School "study" abroad. It is totally tacky flocked velvet and I love it.

This was another 2010 addition to the tree. Travel costs notwithstanding, this is the most expensive ornament on my tree. I'm not going to tell you how much it was, because that would be gauche. Ok, it was $20.  But it's made of flimsy tin, so $20 is a bit galling.

The most recent addition to my ornament collection was picked up just this month while visiting Avery Island, Louisiana, where TABASCO is made. This little pepper is apparently named "Tabascaux" and after I bought it, my boss pointed out that this pepper has a little pepper pecker poking out under its apron. Awkward. But since the pepper also has long eyelashes and a funny hat, I am beginning to think this is the Lady Gaga of Christmas ornaments.

My holiday spirit doesn't stop at the tree. I listen to holiday music in the car and at home from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day. (The only device saved from this festive behavior is the shuffle I use at the gym. You try running on a treadmill to "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas".) I never start playing the music before Thanksgiving and definitely never continue playing it after the 25th. Christmas music is delightful. In moderation. Like martinis.

I know this is true because when I was younger I worked Christmas-season retail (yes, at the MALL) and it is difficult to properly express the unspeakable horror of hearing "Santa Baby" nine times a day, every day, for ten weeks. It's enough to make anyone want to sharpen a candy cane to a fine point. And also because I know what it is like to have too many martinis.

This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs.

I mean, honestly. Thank you, Lou Monte, for singing this song about my people. (Really?? The reindeer - the flying reindeer - can't make it up the Italian hills? So we're subbing a donkey??) This song is just so ridiculous and I smile every time I hear it. A nice counterpoint to Handel's "Messiah," which I also like to include on the playlist.

Back to the decorating: I love the smell of pine in winter, so I have two wreaths up in addition to the tree. And just so we're clear, yes, it's a real tree. I just can't do the plastic kind. I know all kinds of people swear by them but I personally find them just a little bit soul-sucking. The trick to making the tree super glittery and wonderful is to string the lights both around the tree and run them in and out along the branches. Lights shoved toward the middle of the tree really help make it glow. Plan on 100ish lights per vertical foot. At least.

I love, love, love coming home to this door.
The wreath and big red bow feel so welcoming.

The aggressively-lit tree with (unwrapped) gifts under it.
I asked friends coming to my holiday party to bring over toys for the annual San Francisco Fire Department toy drive. This was not, as suggested by some, a ploy to meet firefighters. Although that is an excellent idea.  

Another wreath in the dining room.

I thought this guy needed a little festive attire.
This mask is probably a sacred African object, but what's Christmas without a little cultural insensitivity?

Cheap and easy, my favorite kind of decorating. You can pick up glass ornaments for just a few bucks at Target.  And who doesn't have a glass vase in the back of a cabinet or closet? So pretty. (For added sparkle, you can get a small strand of battery operated lights and intertwine them with the ornaments.)

I love poinsettias.  I thought this pink version was so cool and unusual.
And it looks great next to that stack of red Fiesta appetizer plates.

Another poinsettia by the door. I just removed that gross foil that these come wrapped in and dropped the plastic pot into a cute planter I already had.  I love the glittery reindeer, too.  His expression reminds me a little of Rocky (the family Lab.)

Last but not least.
Mistletoe is fun!
 Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

No Onion, No Cry

Onions have plagued me since my very first kitchen experiences. I was always underfoot (and sometimes perched on a stepstool) in an effort to participate in kitchen affairs but things always ended in tears when an onion was involved.

My sensitivity was so bad that Mom would warn me when she was about to chop an onion and I would run in the Other Room and bury my head between the sofa cushions for as long as I could stand it. This room is known to normal families as the den or family room, but we've always called it "the Other Room" which gives you some indication of how much time my family spends in the kitchen.

The regular white onion is my nemesis, but I'll also shed tears over mild little scallions, garlic, and leeks. Even with a super-sharp knife, the mildest member of the Allium genus will open my lacrimal flood gates and burn my throat. And it's not easy to chop something with a super sharp knife when you can't see through a waterfall of tears. As a good friend once said, "I know how this story ends..."

Tonight's recipe required me to mince an onion, leading to red eyes and some serious tears rolling down my cheeks. What can I say? I'm a delicate flower.  I tried to photograph the effects but honestly, no one wants to see an extreme close up of my eye on this blog. Trust me.

I really need to pick up a pair of these. Plus, they are so stylish. I've always wanted to accessorize more like Spiderman.

This dip is modified from a Food and Wine recipe. Grace Parisi is one of the F&W test kitchen cooks, and her recipes are generally great. By which I mean, they are delicious and, importantly, they turn out as they should in my home kitchen. (Mark Bittman, take a note!)

Spicy Spinach Dip
adapted from Food and Wine (Grace Parisi), January 2005
Makes about 2 cups


1 cup Greek-style plain nonfat yogurt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 small yellow onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon pure chile powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
One 10-ounce package frozen whole-leaf spinach, thawed


1. Scoop the yogurt into a paper towel-lined strainer set over a bowl. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small skillet. Add the pine nuts and minced onion and cook over medium-high heat.

Feel the burn.

3. Stir frequently, until the onion is softened and lightly browned and the pine nuts are golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, chile powder and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Scrape into a bowl.

4. Using your hands or a clean dishtowel, squeeze the spinach until very dry, then coarsely chop it and discard any stringy pieces. Stir the spinach and yogurt into the onion mixture and season with salt.

You can serve this with crackers or bread or veggies. It's really delicious. I even ate some just straight with a fork, no dippers required. Although it doesn't photograph all that well, it is savory and complex and healthy. I love that.

A new feature on this blog! I hope to be able to provide nutrition info for each recipe I post. Unless I am too lazy to type in the ingredients to build the label. Still, it's good to have aspirations.

Per half-cup serving:

Nutrition data provided by

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Je parle… Latin.

It is ongoing grist for the family mill that I was made to take Latin from the 6th grade through high school. This is because I had taken French from 1st through 6th grades in an after-school program, and I, like any good kid, bitched and moaned about having to take after-school French two days a week while other, normal kids were playing 8-bit Nintendo (yeah, I’m that old) and Sardines. Despite my complaining, Mme. McClamroch was convinced I had an ear for the language.

That ear was promptly stifled when Mom mandated in Caesar-like style that I take Latin for its vocabulary-building effects. Problem was, vocabulary-building not exactly my weakness. After all, we’re talking about a kid whose first word was “apple.” Why go with one syllable when you can start with two?

Despite a new level of bitching and moaning about Latin, (“But all my friends are taking French! But I already know some French! But I want to learn French!”) there have been a few incidents of Latin-usefulness throughout the years, and not just when reading building inscriptions while studying abroad in Italy. For example, in college, a reading for a history class discussed how an Iranian Ayatollah had met his death through defenestration and I knew that meant he’d been tossed out a window because in my freshman year of high school, I learned that “fenestra” is Latin for “window.” It was a small win for a dead language.

In the course of six and a half years of Latin study, we also got a fair dose of Roman history, as you might suspect. Such lessons included the founding story of the city, wherein the brothers Romulus and Remus suckled at the teat of the She-Wolf in order to gain strength and conquer lots of land and people. (I'm giving you the executive summary.) Wolf is lupus in Latin. Somehow, I never learned the word for “teat.”

There’s a famous bronze sculpture called "The Capitoline Wolf" depicting this event, which made its way into my Latin textbook.

I always found this image somewhat disturbing because of all those spiky teats. Like a porcupine gone wrong. Also, the dudes were nursing from this thing, as you can see. It all struck me as a rather unseemly start to the founding of this huge empire.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the farm box last Wednesday to see this:

I love to try new foods, and it's not often I come across a vegetable I've never seen before. I immediately began digging through the box to find the paper that tells me what they sent me and found an entire paragraph dedicated to describing this odd vegetable.

The Romesco, it says, is a variant of broccoli and can be cooked and eaten just like its more common cousin. Word on the street (farm?) is that it originated in 16th century Italy. While that would have been several thousand years after Romulus and Remus’ famed upbringing by Mama Wolf, I can’t help but wonder if maybe that statue (estimated to be from the 13th century) had something to do with the naming of this unusually spiky veggie.

I cooked up some Romesco tonight, steamed simply (so I could understand the true flavor) with a little freshly grated parmesan on top. It tastes kind of like a less-sweet cauliflower. Definitely better than wolf-milk. Or so I imagine.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

This is Genius.

I so have this problem. Nowhere to put clothes that are not fresh from the laundry/closet but also not dirty enough to go in the laundry basket.

I'd love to see two or three of these hung vertically up a wall. I might have to take this on. Except for the lack of a table saw...tricky....

Anyway, thank you again, genius editors at Apartment Therapy.