Monday, October 17, 2011

Blowing Your Mind with Broccoli

Guys, it's a saladbook recipe.  Are you excited?  Well, you should be.  I mean, there is no salad, there is no book.  But there is broccoli.
And as it's touted by the blog post where I first discovered it, it's truly the best broccoli of your life.  (Incidentally, said blog -- the Amateur Gourmet, which was a pretty lovable blog to begin with, just got better: its writer, Adam, has just moved to Los Angeles from New York, and it's pretty fascinating seeing to see the city I know and love through the wide, hungry eyes of a newcomer.  Imagine discovering Thai Town, Zankou Chicken, or beloved Gjelina, for the first time all over again!  And this sweet soul hasn't even tried the Golden State burger yet!  Ah, so much to look forward to!)

Anyway, roasting broccoli with bits of garlic in the oven until its little tendrily 'leaves' become crisp and browned and totally heightened in savory flavor is the absolute most delicious way to eat broccoli ever.  Super easy to make, too -- major return on investment.  Tonight, I tossed the broccoli with some whole-grain fettucine to turn it into a meal.

The spirit of the saladbook is simple homey meals that don't sacrifice taste, but still maintain a good balance of vegetables, whole grains, and good protein.  I hit the first two, but to get some protein in there, I added some parmesan cheese (yeah cheese is kind of fatty, but good parmesan adds huge flavor with a small portion), and some chopped pecans.  I think pine nuts would actually be better, but I dealt with evil car dealership issues so horrendous today that I had to resort to a salted caramel mocha frappuccino.  With whipped cream.  And that insane starbucks caramel sauce.  Heaven.  All of which is to say is that going to the store after work was no-way-no-how going to happen.  Thus, chopped pecans from the freezer.  This recipe also happens to be vegetarian (vegan if you omit the parmesan).  Of course, you could change that.  Remember our old friend Adam from paragraph one?  Sometimes he throws some shrimp into the oven with his broccoli.  Might be even tastier than salted caramel mocha frappuccino.

Pasta with Roasted Broccoli

My sister swears by the browned bits of garlic in this recipe ("They're like candy", she says), and she may have converted me.  So, by all means, feel free to use more.  And on the topic of proportions, I won't tell you what to eat and what not to eat (oh wait), but consider what lovely Mark Bittman has to say about flipping the pasta-to-topping ratio.  He makes a good point.

1 1/2 c broccoli florets, rinsed and fully dried
1 clove garlic, chopped
extra virgin olive oil (use a tasty one; it's a simple recipe)
1 sensible portion whole-grain pasta (I used fettucine)
1/4 cup pine nuts or  chopped pecans
1/2 lemon
parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of water to a boil; preheat oven or toaster oven to 425F.  Line a baking pan with foil and add broccoli.  Drizzle with olive oil; toss to coat.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic, and toss again to combine.  Roast broccoli for about 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime, cook pasta according to package directions, then drain, reserving some of the cooking water.

Start checking on the broccoli at about 15 minutes.  When it's bright green, cooked through but still crisp, and just beginning to brown, add in the nuts, give the pan a toss, and cook for another 3 minutes.

Toss pasta with broccoli mixture (you can use the same pot you used to cook the pasta).  Add some more olive oil, salt, and pepper.  If it's dry, add a spoonful or two of the reserved pasta water.  Squeeze on some lemon juice.  Top, on the plate, with grated or shaved parmesan cheese.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cold Weather Saladbook: Indianish Red Lentils

For a minute there, it was fall.

Like, pouring rain and sweaters, bona fide fall.  Of course, this being October in Los Angeles, it lasted all of two days, and was followed closely by a heat wave (It's gonna be 98 today.  wtf, mate?).  As much as I obsess over the glory that is summer, and as amazing as this particular summer was, it also involved a lot of constant sweatiness and insect bites, so I was glad to feel some cooler air.

I embraced it by cooking one of my favorite cozytimes recipes, red lentils simmered until creamy with warm spices, lots of vegetables, and a dollop of rich yogurt on top.  It's a good fridge-cleaner-outer,  it's vegetarian (vegan if you omit the yogurt, though that'd be a little sad), and if you're smart about the spices, is an incredibly cheap meal.  I'm not authority on Indian cuisine, so I can't vouch for authenticity here, but with curry powder, cumin, turmeric, and fresh ginger spicing this one up, I can safely say it's Indianish.  It's great in a bowl as is, but you could certainly serve it over brown rice (which makes it a lot less Indianish, but white rice would make it very un-saladbookish, so there you go).

Indianish Red Lentils

You can adjust the spices based on your tastes and what you have on hand.  Curry powder is a blend in itself, but I like to beef it up with extra cumin (a favorite), and turmeric because it's good for you.  Oh, and don't skip this recipe just because you don't have fresh ginger on hand.  Just skip the ginger (and maybe use dried instead?).  As far as vegetables, I used cauliflower, spinach, and halved grape tomatoes this time, but it varies every time.

olive oil for the pan (about a teaspoon)
1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tsp fresh grated ginger (optional)
2 tsp curry powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
chili, if you're into it (i'm not)
1 bay leaf

Vegetables (use a lot; vegetables are good for you):
broccoli or cauliflower, small florets
carrots, small dice
spinach -- fresh or frozen, chard, or kale, roughly chopped
tomatoes, diced
peas, fresh or frozen

3 cups broth (I am partial to vegetarian "no-chicken" broths)
1 cup red lentils
lowfat or nonfat Greek or other thick yogurt, about 1 tbs per person

Makes about 3 servings, more if served with brown rice.

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot, over medium heat.  Add onions, stir to coat, and cook until translucent.  Stir in garlic, ginger, and spices, cook for another couple minutes (your kitchen will smell amazing at this point).  At this point, add in cauliflower and/or carrots, as well as lentils and broth.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft and creamy, and most of the liquid has been absorbed.  If the mixture gets too dry before the lentils are fully cooked, just stir in  a bit more broth (or water).  Stir in remaining vegetables, continue to simmer until they are just cooked through (this time can vary from just a couple minutes for spinach to longer for broccoli or kale).  Ladle into individual bowls, and top each with a spoonful of yogurt.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Istanbul Eats Culinary Walks: Part 2

Guys!  I left it on that silly punch post and weepy Regina Spektor and not much else, because I'm surrounded by business right now.  A few weekends ago, I was so lucky to be a part of a truly beautiful wedding that took over the sweet old mining town of Bisbee, Arizona, then I baked two crazy awesome spiced honey bundts for Rosh Hashana that I'll want to share with you, and then Yom Kippur happened, which is kind of antithetical to food blogging by nature, no?  And, yet there's still so much from Turkey!  Aaahh!  Someone needs to come up with some cutesy portmanteau to describe the constant state of blog-overhwelmedness in which I live.

In the meantime, maybe you remember Part 1 of this story of our dreamland day with Angelis and our Istanbul Eats team; here's the rest, finally! When last we left off, we were stuffing our faces with baklava.  Naturally, next was Turkish coffee, and a sad lesson about today's Istanbul.

 We went to Mandabatmaz, a thimble of a shop that has been serving nothing but Turkish coffee for decades. This stop  highlighted something very troubling going on in Istanbul.  Step out on any evening, and you'll notice that the city is alive with sidewalk culture -- every cafe, every restaurant spills out into sidewalk tables, and in centers like Taksim Square, there's hardly room to walk between people sitting at long tables outside, eating, smoking, peoplewatching, catching up with friends.  It's beautiful and fundemental to the character of Istanbul.  However, while we were there, the government had begun cracking down on sidewalk seating.  Something about permits and licenses, but Istanbulites are all pretty convinced that it's just another step towards a conservative Turkey.  It's hard to watch it happen:  I was immediately impressed by this Muslim country that has seemed to strike the perfect balance between maintaining its religious essense and leaving room for a more liberal lifestyle.  Side streets tightly packed with people breaking bread, laughing, drinking wine or coffee, were now barren.  At Mandabatmaz, the proprietor had brought in all but a fraction of their outdoor seating, and all five of us nearly had to squeeze into the tiny shop itself.  We took a chance and sat outside, and over tiny cups of strong and richly fragrant coffee, Angelis shared with us the worry that we would keep hearing from Istanbulites:  "Istanbul is a living city... and they are killing it."

Next up was Ficcin, one of three restaurants from the same owner that take up a block off Istiklal Caddesi -- the main boulevard of Istanbul's cosmopolitan center.  Once again, we sat inside, while a couple waiters kicked a ball up and down a street that used to be crowded with tables and chairs.  Ficcin's specialty is Circassian food -- the cuisine of the Caucasus Mountains.  Here we sampled a tasty Circassian chicken spread, a strangely named but delicious sea vegetable called common glasswort, and the celebrated manti -- hand-filled ravioli-like dumplings served with a yogurt sauce, and sprinkled with powdered sumac berries and dried herbs.   Yum. 

Lunch number two: Sahin Lokantasi. The hero of Istanbul Eats is the lokantasi, humble places serving a constantly changing menu of homey Turkish favorites to the working class, and this cramped, bustling spot was a prime example.  Here we got a spread of stews, vegetables, various delicious eggplant/meat combos, and more, all totally satisfying.

Our third lunch and final stop was at Akdenis Kokorec, which Angelis had warned us about.   Kokorec is a street treat made from lamb intestines and their surrounding fat.  It's slow-roasted on a rotisserie, then a portion is carved off and chopped up.  Chopped tomatoes and peppers are added along with spices, the whole mess is grilled again, and then scooped into a sandwich roll.  If you can get past the nature of what you're eating, it's got the texture and strong savory, salty flavor of a hash, Despite my being a little wigged out by what I was eating, I could see how this would hit the spot late at night.

And that was our last stop.  Painfully full, but still in great spirits, we ended our day of marathon eating as all good ones should: with hugs, heartfelt goodbyes, and lamb intestines.

Personal revelation digression:  Lately, I've been thinking a lot about a certain type of person. It's the type who has gotten past 'shoulds' that they've learned second-hand, who's explored their world for themselves, drawn their own conclusions, and ended up at an openness that allows them to get past the things they might judge -- be it a person's religion, or who a person chooses to love (as if it's a choice) -- and to instead see people with pure eyes.  They live their life honestly and with integrity, and build their path based on no one's rules but their own.  I feel myself more and more becoming one of these people, and every time an old 'should' is challenged and defeated, I have a moment of glowy happiness that sometimes brings me to tears.  Something similar happens when I realize I've met someone else like this.  A few moments after our tour ended, hugs, kisses, and email addresses exchanged, Ashley and I were walking down Istiklal Caddesi -- the main artery of cosmopolitan Istanbul.  Standing in the middle of the wide, carless boulevard, I remembered something Angelis had said when we asked him about coming to the United States.  He acknowledged a nagging 'should'.  "I may not be in the Land of Opportunity," he said, "but here in Istanbul, my soul is filled."  I beamed a little.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


I've listened to this song a million times -- Pandora plays it a lot for me --, but yesterday decided I love it, and it sucked me into a wormhole of wikipedia and songmeanings dot net, and I know it's not cool to like Regina Spektor these days, but I still hold a candle for old Tori Amos, too, so I guess any illusion of that kind of coolness is out the window anyway.

So I buy it and download it today before an upheaval house-cleaning, because it's one of those songs I want badly to sing along to.  And then what happens is, as I clean the bathroom sink, I remember what I read yesterday -- that Samson is about a lover of hers who had cancer -- so when the verse comes around, lyrics I've heard a million times, recall -- "Samson went back to bed, Not much hair left on his head, He ate a slice of wonder bread and went right back to bed" -- I look into the bathroom mirror to see eyes shiny with tears and that ugly, strained look on my face.  Go on cleaning, but soon, singing along is not even a possibility as I'm gasping back all-out tears as I sweep the bathroom floor (take the song off freaking repeat, Tannaz!).

And I guess the lesson, or the question, here is, would I have been better off just listening along with blind ears and not knowing what I was humming about?  Maybe I would.  I mean, is it really worth our energy to cry over the stories of strangers?  Seriously, maybe not.  I know, not the most uplifting message.  So, let's just say this is a story of the powerful forces of music, and leave it at that.

Here's the song if you want; it's beautiful.