Wednesday, December 31, 2008

welcome home

I've realized in my short life that I never feel truly at home in a new house until I have a cup of tea there. 

Did I mention that we finally found an apartment? We did, and it was worth the wait. It's a cozy apartment with warm afternoon light and a clunky, steaming boiler that sounds like a locomotive crashing through the night. I love it.

The first week or so, we were without a working stove, which left us in a sort of limbo: Mostly moved in, but still unable to boil and sputter and do the kitchen-dance. This week, we're lucky enough to have a stove that's clean and bright and free of gas leaks (always a plus). 

And so, this morning, I made myself some tea. Okay, I'll admit that it wasn't actually tea because we don't have any tea right now. We're in transition, you see. But it felt like tea, because I heated the water in the kettle, chopped up some spicy, juicy ginger and steeped it in a tea ball. 

As a caffeine-free and refreshing alternative to tea, I often just pour myself hot water to sip on cold days. People look at me quizzically, but I don't mind. Other days, I like to add something else for my taste buds. Today it was ginger, but I also enjoy adding a tablespoon of Bragg Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar. Lemon or lime is always nice. Once I start growing some roots here, I may even have an herb garden from which I could snip some fresh mint or lemon verbena. After all, there aren't any rules. I like to play.

So to all of you returning from holiday travels, welcome home. I hope you had a safe and happy season, and that you find a soul-nourishing way of bidding this year goodbye and greeting the next.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

16 beans

Despite what my birth certificate from 1985 might suggest, I really have the heart of a 4 year old. At least, I'm guessing that's why I can't keep my hands off collections of small, colorful things. Beads, ribbons, note cards, shells, Legos, you name it - if they're small, if they're colorful, and if they're a lot of them, I must make them mine. This may or may not be the sole reason I found myself guiltily buying a large bag of "16 Bean Mix" at the grocery store earlier this week. I've never handled a dry bean before in my life, and here I was purchasing a pound of them. There were white beans, red beans, navy beans, yellow lentils, red lentils, cannalini beans, kidney beans, black beans, black-eye peas, split peas, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, anasazi beans, fava beans, and two types I couldn't even identify! It was obviously a no-lose situation, I rationalized. I would either create a bean-based dish beyond my wildest dreams, or I would pour all 16 varieties out on the kitchen table and spend the afternoon sorting them by shape and color.

In the end, and after a 24 hour-long process, the beans did find their way onto my dinner plate. And here's just how it happened.

16 Bean and Farro Salad with Lemon Pepper Vinaigrette
Recipe requires advanced preparation

2 cup dried beans
1 cup farro grains
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. finely chopped lemon zest
5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh rosemary, thyme and tarragon

Step one: One day ahead, put your beans in a pot and cover with warm water. Add a tablespoon of whey or buttermilk, cover, and let sit for 24 hours.

Step two: Drain and rinse your beans and cover with water once again. Put the pot of beans on the stove over med-high heat until the water begins to boil. Turn down heat, cover, and let the beans cook for an hour or until they have turned soft. IMPORTANT: DO NOT SALT THE WATER. I learned the hard way that you must not salt the cooking water for the beans, or else they will never turn soft. When the beans are soft, remove from heat, drain, and set aside to cool.

Step three: Meanwhile, rinse the farro, cover with water, and put on the stove over high heat. When the water begins to boil, turn down the heat, cover, and let boil for roughly 20 minutes, or until the grains have doubled in size and become chewy. When the farro has cooked, remove from heat, drain, and set aside to cool.

Step four: Make the vinaigrette. Combine the lemon juice, zest, and a 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes so that the salt dissolves in the lemon juice. Whisk in the oil and add pepper to taste. Taste the mixture and adjust if necessary.

Step five: Add the herbs and mix it all up. Beans, farro, vinaigrette, everything. Just throw it into a bowl, stir it up, and taste it to make sure it doesn't need more salt, pepper, oil, or lemon. You don't want the herb taste to be overpowering, so adjust based on how potent your herbs are. If using dried, you'll probably have to add a bit extra to get the same flavor.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Home alone with a spicy stand-in

Suffice it to say, I have a highly international kitchen. It's just me and my roommate, but between the two of us we've lived in India, Mexico, Indonesia, and Spain, travelled extensively in Thailand, Singapore, Costa Rica, France, Malaysia, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and England, and dated at least two Austrians and two South Africans. Ok, so I'd be lying if I said I were responsible for most (or even half) of the aforementioned adventures, but that's not to say I haven't benefited from them. As it turns out, my roommate has logged more international experience than the average collegiate study abroad department. Having been born in the West Bengal state of India, and coming most recently from living in Indonesia, this girl knows a thing or two about good food. For the first few weeks that we lived together, I could often be found hovering over her bubbling concoctions on the stove, poking tasting spoons into her spicy sauces, and watching avidly as she pulled yet another perfect pot of rice off the stove.

And then one day it happened...she went to North Carolina for Thanksgiving, leaving me alone in our apartment for a week.

Suddenly there were no stove-top bubbling concoctions over which to hover, no spicy sauces into which I could poke a spoon, and no perfect pots of rice to pull off the stove. In short, I was roommate-sick, and there was only one thing left to do. I pulled out my library copy of "The Spicy Food Lover's Bible" and flipped to the tricky-looking curry recipe I had been eying for some time. My day had come, and it was time to get cooking.

The resultant dinner may not have filled the void left by my traveling roommate, but the mouthwatering and mind-numbing spiciness of this Indian curry certainly dulled the pain.

Mottai Koambu
(Egg Curry in Coconut Gravy)

Recipe from "The Spicy Food Lover's Bible" by Dave DeWitt & Nancy Gerlach
Serves 4

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 tsp. grated ginger
1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 to 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 cup roasted cashew nuts
1/2 cups chopped fresh cilantro or mint
salt to taste

Step One: Cut the eggs in half and arrange them in a serving dish.

Step Two: Heat a heavy saucepan over medium heat, add the oil, and when hot, add the onions and saute until they are soft. Add the ginger and saute for a couple of minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Stir in the tomatoes, cayenne, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the mixture thickens.

Stir in the coconut milk and lime juice, and continue to simmer to thicken the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Add the cashew and fresh cilantro or mint, reserving some of the latter for a garnish. Simmer the sauce for an additional 2 minutes.

To serve, pour the curry sauce over the eggs and garnish with the reserved herbs.

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Adriana Willsie and Kylie Springman ©2009