Monday, November 21, 2011

Something Old and Something New

Let me preface this post by saying: I am doing a terrible job on the cadence of this blog. Sorry, really and truly. It's annoying.

You know by now about the Tyranny of the Vegetables, also known as the fall season Capay Valley Farm Box.

I really like the Valley Box because the food is super local and I love eating seasonally. However, two weeks ago, we had a real... incident. The Farm Box gave me bok choy. Two whole bags of it. Ten little heads of bok choy.

I hate bok choy.

I thought I had bok choy on my Farm Box "Do Not Send" list but I guess it fell off, because I found myself unpacking more bok choy than I would ever want, the amount I would want being none, of course.

I also unpacked something I'd never cooked before: delicata squash.

Let's start with my produciary nemesis: bok choy.

Produciary is totally a word, ok? 

When I first moved to San Francisco, bok choy would arrive in the Farm Box every week. Evidently, it grows year round in Northern California. Lucky me.

My primary complaint about this vegetable is that it's boring. It's fairly flavorless. And every recipe I find has it steamed with some combination of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and chile. I'm not that into vegetables that can be cooked only one way. Like so much in life, I grow bored quickly and require new options. I like my veggies promiscuous.

Bok choy is basically the Catholic Nun of vegetables.

After searching high and low for a new bok choy recipe that I could make with ingredients I had at home, I ended up adapting a recipe from this Everyday Food one.

Yeah. Soy, ginger, garlic, chile.


Sauteed Baby Bok Choy with All the Usual Flavors

5 heads of baby bok choy, leaves separated and washed
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 squirt (maybe a teaspoon?) sriracha

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Prepping the garlic and the ginger.

2. Add bok choy leaves and toss to coat. (Tongs are super helpful when making this recipe.) Cook leaves until they become crisp-tender at the base, about five minutes.

3. Add pepper flakes and sesame oil and toss to coat.

4. Remove from heat and add soy sauce and sriracha. Toss to coat again.

I realize this barely looks different from the photo above but in this one it's sauced with soy and sriracha and it just a teeny bit browner, I swear.

To offset the bummer bok choy (which tasted fine but still BORING), I am happy to announce my new love: delicata squash.

This stuff is fantastic. You don't have to peel it (like butternut, which drives me crazy) and it has a wonderful flavor that's pumpkin-y and acorn-squash-y. I could eat this stuff like candy.

My preparation for the squash was super-simple.



Slice and toss with olive oil and salt.  Roast at 425 degrees.

I finished the squash with a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper, and some grated parmesan. That's the recipe. And it's delicious. Make this! It's so good. This might have to be on the Thanksgiving menu. I may well fly across the country with a few of these stripy gorgeous treats.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Third Wheel

The thing about being a single 30-something (as Bridget Jones will tell you) is that sometimes you find yourself in the third wheel position. Hopefully you are lucky, like me, and you find yourself in the company of marrieds who are neither smug nor under the delusion that under your clothing, your entire body is covered in scales.

But I digress.

Being a third wheel is really not so bad. After all, the third wheel on a Big Wheel is the namesake wheel itself. Without that, it's just a plain old low-riding tricycle. Lame!

Here is a real chat conversation - unedited - that happened in the lead up to this dinner I'm about to share with you:

4:29 PM Kevin: hey, its christine
  we are thinking about making white chicken chili tonight
4:30 PM me: interesting
  it's so cold out!
4:31 PM Kevin: i know, its not fun
 me: when you say white chicken chili
  are you talking about the ATK recipe??
 Kevin: yep
 me: YES
  I have had that one saved in my tivo for a year
 Kevin: we just watched it this am
 me: have always wanted to make it!
4:32 PM Kevin: now is your/our chance!
 me: this is so perfect.

Yup, that's right. I've had the White Chicken Chili episode of America's Test Kitchen saved in my Tivo since April 12, 2010. (Yeah, I Tivo PBS and Martha Stewart. What of it?) I cannot emphasize to you enough how excited I was about this plan to cook it.

A little bit of thinking later, I realized I also had the copy of the Cook's Illustrated issue with the recipe in it - from January 2007. That was two apartments and three time zones ago. See, sometimes saving things is smart! Actually, I can't claim credit for this behavior. My mom used to save every Gourmet magazine - we had cabinets full of them when I was a kid. Luckily, the internet was invented (thanks, Al!) and now all those Gourmet recipes are free online at Epicurious. But the Cook's Illustrated recipes are not free online, which is why you should save them. And why I did.

Chris Kimball and his minions probably could have done a better job writing the title of this article.

This is a funny blog entry for me because I didn't actually do any cooking. I did a lot of wine drinking and some cheese eating, but mostly my job was "recipe reader" and "recipe re-reader" and "commentator" and "opinion-giver." I fairly well excel at all of these things, luckily.

Kevin tackled the chili, with assistance from Christine in the sous chef role. It came out great. Spicy but not too spicy. Somehow incredibly healthy.

Christine had the wise idea to steam some rice to serve the chili over and to use a little yogurt for a cooling topping, both of which were an excellent additions to the proceedings. I'm not typing out the recipe because ATK doesn't offer it up for free, but a little birdie told me you can find it here.

Action shot!

Here's the final product. My contribution was the wine, which was pretty tasty. I've been dipping into the "good" wine stash lately because...well, why not?

Looks amazing, right? Food styling credits to Christine. Poor photography/lighting credits to me.

Major thanks to Kevin and Christine for keeping me a well-fed and entertained third wheel. Sometimes I'm not sure why you guys put up with me, but I'm glad you do!


Please note the new barstools and table, and wildly apropos succulents.

Oh, p.s. - and this was a big bonus for me - this meal is totally gluten-free. Yeah, looks like I'm back on that wagon. For now, anyway. Sigh.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Embracing Diversity

There's not a lot of prelude to this post; I'm just going to share with you the meal I ate every Monday for the duration of my formative years. In our house, Monday night was chili night, and in our house chili meant the chili of Cincinnati, my mom's hometown.

We've had this recipe in the family for longer than I've been alive. To call it a staple minimizes its role as a foundation of our family meals. This recipe is an institution. I've tweaked it only the tiniest bit to make it healthier since the first time I made it for our family's dinner "all by myself" in 1991. While I no longer eat it on a weekly basis, I still love it. Simply, this recipe means home to me.

When you've been eating Cincinnati chili for as long as you can remember, the act of eating your chili on spaghetti doesn't faze you. Some people I know get freaked out by this. Those people need to settle down. Other styles of chili have their place, and so does this. There's no one right chili. Embrace diversity, people. Your stomach will thank you.

Empress Chili

Empress Chili was the primary chili parlor in Cincinnati until the 1950s, when an Empress employee left to start the now famous Skyline Chili. We're Empress people. Skyline is ok, but Empress is the best. 

1 pound ground beef (the leanest possible) or 1/2 pound ground beef and 1/2 pound ground turkey
1 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

15 oz. water (measure using empty sauce can once the sauce has been added to the pan)
1 dash A-1 sauce (yes, that brand and only that brand)
3/4 tablespoon vinegar
2 dried red peppers or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 medium bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on your heat tolerance)

Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1. Heat the pan over medium-high heat. Brown the meat, onion & garlic in the pan. The goal is to break up the meat into fairly small pieces during this process.  

Yes, you really do just dump the meat, onions, and garlic into the pan with no oil. I use the leanest meat I can get and I don't drain it, but if you want to use fattier meat, that's fine - just be sure to drain off the fat before proceeding to step 2.

Now we're browned and ready to go.

2. Once the meat is browned and the onions are translucent, add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine.

3. Simmer for 30 minutes to an hour until thickened.

And we're simmering. I should add: this was the first "nice" pan I ever got. My mom sent it to me when I got my first apartment as a senior in college. It's the same pan she makes chili in at home, but it's incredibly versatile. It's classic Calphalon anodized alumnium and it's now in its twelfth year of use. It still looks nearly new. Consider this the next time you want to plunk down cash for crap cookware. It's not worth it. Get good stuff and you'll keep it forever.
4. While the chili is simmering, cook the spaghetti according to package directions. These days I always use whole wheat spaghetti. 

5. Season the thickened chili with salt and pepper. (I find this normally needs at least half a teaspoon of kosher salt, sometimes more depending on whether your tomato sauce is salt-free.) If the sauce gets too thick, you can add more water to thin it and keep cooking it.
This is just about done. Thickened but still saucy.

6. Serve the chili over spaghetti with kidney beans and shredded cheddar. This is known as serving it "four-way bean"* but we never called it that. We just called it chili.

For some reason, we always ate our chili on plates, but now I tend to serve it in bowls.

*In Cincinnati, you can get your chili several ways - see below for a guide. Long ago, we cut out all the stuff we didn't like and have always stuck with the beans (because they are good for you) and the cheese (because it's delicious). DO NOT make this without the cheese. I'm serious. The cheese MAKES it.

Two-way: chili and spaghetti
Three-way: chili, spaghetti, cheddar
Four-way: chili, spaghetti, cheddar, chopped white onion
Five-way: chili, spaghetti, cheddar, chopped white onion, kidney beans
Four-way bean: chili, spaghetti, cheddar, kidney beans

All of the above are traditionally served with oyster crackers. We never ate ours with oyster crackers. Never.

Twirl with a fork. Love.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

On the Mend

Turns out I didn't do such an awesome job fighting that cold last week, despite my chicken soup attack. I ended up with a raging case of laryngitis which made for a bunch of super fun work-from-home conference calls last Monday and Tuesday. It also meant I found myself at home, all day, every day. Which means I actually got to make myself lunch.

One of the nice things about making the chicken soup is that you're left with a bunch of fresh dill. In case I didn't make it clear before, I love fresh dill. It just tastes so...fresh.

For lunch on Tuesday, once I was feeling a little bit less like I was going to have to lie down at any moment to take a nap, I made myself egg salad.

I love egg salad. I made up this recipe for it based on a loose interpretation of my deviled egg recipe. When coming home for the holidays in college, I would inevitably get home late at night, long after all the restaurants near us were closed. I'd never want a big meal at that point, but I was always hungry. One time, on a whim, I just decided to make egg salad, a dish for which mom inevitably had all the ingredients on hand. I'm not sure where the egg salad inspiration came from. I didn't really grow up eating egg salad. But there it was. And it stuck.

It became a little routine for me each time I came home from college and to this day, I think of it whenever I want something light and a little bit soothing. It's like comfort food without all the carbs and melted cheese heaviness that normally accompanies such things. 

Kate's Egg Salad


2 hardboiled eggs, peeled
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon greek yogurt (or more mayonnaise)
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 stalk celery, trimmed and minced
2 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
a dash of Tabasco
pinch of dried sage  
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Slice the eggs in half and separate the yolks from the whites. Put the yolks in a medium mixing bowl. Mince the egg whites and set aside. 

It's important to be sure your eggs are fully cooked. Slightly underdone yolks will make for weird gummy bits in your egg salad.

2. To the yolks, add the mayonnaise, yogurt, and mustard. Mash with a fork to combine into a paste. 

3. Add the minced egg whites and celery to the bowl along with the dill. Combine until well mixed. 

The goal is to chop up the egg whites and the celery so they're basically the same size.

4. Add Tabasco, sage, salt & pepper. (The sage is my secret ingredient.) Definitely taste frequently and add the salt in slow stages because this can get salty really quickly. 

5. Serve on toasted bread, or, as I did, stuffed into toasted pita pockets.