Sunday, May 24, 2009

She tries too hard

I discovered makeup in November of 8th grade. With my newfound teenage rebellion (and elementary knowledge of cosmetics) I proceeded to spend 20 minutes each morning before school going nuts with concealer, foundation, powder, blush, eye liner, eye shadow, mascara, lip liner, and lipstick until I resembled ...well...a 5 year old who just raided her mother's stash of makeup...or maybe a washed up B-list celebrity in a 13 year old's pudgy and fashion-less physique. By December of 8th grade I had come to my senses, and scaled it back to a cranberry flavored lip gloss. But goodness, 8th grade is quite full of lessons, isn't it? I for one learned that even the best of us is sometimes guilty of trying to hard.

But that is neither here nor there.

In other unrelated news, I baked you a dark chocolate souffle.

I know, a little over the top. I just really wanted to impress you. It's true, I really did. Hopefully, you'll see past my pitiful attempt to prove that I am, in fact, one of the popular girls, and take a big bite of this souffle. If you've never had a chocolate souffle before (and I hadn't before the one you see in these pictures), you should know two very important things. One: It's not nearly as hard to make as it might seem. Just follow the tricks below and you'll be sinking a spoon into your own souffle within the hour. Two: It's so worth it.

So, without further ado, here's the recipe I followed. The cool thing about souffles is that they have to be eaten the moment they come out of the oven. Ideally, you'll have your guests seated at the table, spoons in hand, eagerly anticipating the arrival of their souffle when the timer dings. This is because souffles deflate pretty quickly after they're removed from the oven and you want to be able to duly appreciate it's height and form before destroying the puff with your spoon. For this reason, I also like to serve souffles in individual-sized ramekins. Since they start to look pretty awful the moment they're poked, it's better to let each person destroy their own. Enjoy!

Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Souffle
adapted from Mark Bittman's famous fool proof souffle recipe
makes two individual sized souffles

1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup sugar, plus extra for the dish
2 ounces Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate, gently melted
3 eggs, carefully separated
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Step one: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prep the ramekins. Generously coat the sides of the two ramekins with butter. Sprinkle sugar over the butter, invert the ramekins, and gently tap the extra sugar out. Carefully separate the eggs, being absolutely sure that no yoke gets into the egg whites.

Step two: Beat the egg yokes and all but 1 tablespoon of the sugar with a whisk until very light and very thick. You'll know it's done when the mixtures falls from the ends of the whisk to form a ribbon. Mix in the melted chocolate until well combined.

Step three: Beat the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar until they hold soft peaks. Gradually add the last tablespoon of sugar while continuing to beat until the mixture is stiff and very glossy. Stir a hefty spoonful of the whites thoroughly into the egg yolk mixture (a very important step) and then fold in the remaining whites very gently using a rubber spatula.

Step four: Pour/scoop the mixture into the prepared souffle dishes. Bake until the center is nearly set, about 20 minutes for the two individual ramekins. Serve immediately.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Piece on Pie

It’s fun to look at people on city buses. There’s the teenage wannabe punk, with spiked hair and iPod headphones blasting a jangly mess of chords into the surrounding rows. There’s the harried mom of three, fretfully herding her brood into a row a seats near the back. There’s the elderly gentleman teetering his way onto to bus and staunchly refusing the seats offered to him as he clings precariously to the hand bar. There’s the young woman balancing a large, wobbly, steaming pie between two oven mits as the bus hurtles over the pot-holed streets. Oh wait, that one’s me.

Not many people try and take a pie fresh from the oven across the city of Chicago via public transportation. And if you ever hear of someone reaching their destination with their pie untarnished, they deserve a medal. A pie, I have learned, is meant to be eaten close to home. They aren’t built for travel via air, bus, or rail. They don't pack conveniently into boxes or tins. You can't simply throw one in a tupperware and expect it to arrive unscathed.

Why, I asked myself while heading north on Bus 50, is a pie the symbol for classic American home-life? It’s because pies don’t leave home without a fight. And that, in a pie-shell, is what I learned last Sunday afternoon.

That being said, the pie still tasted just fine. In fact, it tasted darn right dandy. I just wish I had been able to present it to my dinner hosts in a somewhat more presentable state. C'est la vie. If you bake a succulent little pie such as this strawberry number below, I advise you to not export the pie, but rather import the pie-eater. And believe me, one whiff and those pie-eaters will be barging down your door.

Home-bound Strawberry Pie
Recipe for crust adapted from Bittman's How to Cook Everything

Ingredients for Pie Crust
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into about 8 pieces
6 tablespoons ice water, plus more if necessary

Ingredients for Filling
6 cups strawberries, fresh or thawed
1/2 - 1 cup sugar depending on the sweetness of the berries
3 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch each of salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg
a dash of milk for brushing crust

Step one: Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse once or twice to mix. Add the butter and process for about 10 seconds, or until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Put the mixture in a bowl and add the ice water. Mix the dough with your hands (the fun part!) until you can form a ball. Divide the dough into two balls, wrap the balls in plastic and either freeze for 10 minutes, or refrigerate for 30. Flour a flat surface and place one chilled ball of dough in the middle. Using a rolling pin and working from the center outwards, roll the dough out flat until it's diameter is at least 2 inches wider than the pie dish on all sides. Using the rolling pin for support, drape the flattened crust over the pie dish and gently press into place. Repeat process with the second ball of dough, but this time cut into strips about 3/4 in. thick. Set aside.

Step two: Heat oven to 450 degrees. Gently toss the strawberries with the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and spices. Pile the mixture into the prepared pie crust, heaping it a bit higher towards the center. Using the strips of dough, prepare a lattice top (click here for an excellent visual demonstration of how this is done). Seal the edges by folding crust under and gently pressing down. Brush the top crust with the milk, and then sprinkle with a bit more sugar.

Step three: Put the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 50 minutes, or until the pie is golden brown. Be sure not to underbake your pie, because this is very easy to do. Cool on a rack or windowsill before serving warm or at room temperature. It's delicious with whipped cream, ice cream or all on its own!

P.S. I had a bit of extra pie crust left over so I rolled it out and filled it with fresh mango tossed with dried shredded coconut and a bit of sugar. Then I folded the sides in to make a tropical fruit galette. Strangely, it wasn't actually too bad. Noah and I wolfed it down while watching the Blackhawks play on TV. I mean, if I freshly baked tropical fruit galette isn't sports watching food, I don't know what is.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

the same, but different

Almost exactly two years ago, I sat on a dull blue plastic-covered mattress, flipping through a copy of Saveur to pass the time in between college graduation and dorm check-out day. My mom sat across the room on a college-issued two-seat couch, fiddling with my iPod. The air hung around us, fragrant and sticky, the way it gets every few days in New York when spring finds its way into the city. I was irritable, partly because I had no idea what do do with this new freedom after a lifetime of doing homework. Mostly I was irritable because I couldn't stand that humidity.

I delved into Saveur, reading every bit of text and examining each photo. I think that issue may have contained an article focused on Bengali dishes. The photos framed sacks of color-saturated spices. I didn't know what I would be doing for the next few months, but I hoped it would include those spices. Back then, I was pretty newly cooking-obsessed. This was, in part, thanks to my fantastic roommate of two years, Anjal. During our time living, cooking, and generally having fun together, she introduced me to agave nectar, her ethereal homemade chai, and a nebulous little concept called food politics. Facing a future that didn't include Anjal, I grasped onto what I could: A Saveur magazine describing flavors that would flit across my tongue in perfectly coordinated ecstasy. That summer did have some incredible flavors in store for me: I ended up interning as an affineur at Artisanal Cheese, allowing me to put off full-time work just a little bit longer while tasting some truly great stuff. Even if that season held big bunches of uncertainty, at least I ate well.
I all but forgot about Saveur for the past couple of years until a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon its website. I particularly liked a little feature of seven salads, all perfectly melding everything one could ever want in a salad with what spring has to offer. I had to make one, if only to say that I finally cooked something out of Saveur.

Ostensibly, not a lot has changed in the past two years. I still visit Adriana and her family in New Jersey every so often, and my mom still needs my help with the ol' iPod. New York still gets obnoxiously humid on random spring days, and I find myself leaving the house in a tank top while everybody else dons their fashionable spring jackets. Just the other day, I wore the same shirt that I wore to college graduation. It still has the same rip on the left side of the neck, and I still don't care.
Other things really have shifted. Adriana and I mustered up some courage and decided to put our cooking, writing and photography out into cyberspace with this blog. I don't hate the humidity quite so much, because I've forced myself to just embrace it (for the most part). I've started looking, really looking, at the city all around me, and it's sometimes even pretty. Plus, I'm working only one job and have no homework to do, which allows time to notice things like how very green the trees have suddenly gotten and the way the air hangs delicately on warm nights, carrying laughter and hints of white zinfandel on its breath.

I'd venture to say that since my first reading of Saveur, life has circled back into itself, improving after a few times around.


Fennel, Sunchoke, And Apple Salad
Adapted from Saveur

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. chopped scallions or chives
2 Tbsp. chopped fennel fronds
Salt and pepper to taste
8 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced (I didn't use them, but you can)
6 sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), peeled and thinly sliced
2 Gala or Fuji apples, cored and thinly sliced
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, and thinly sliced

In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, lemon juice, scallions or chives, and fennel fronds, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add radishes, sunchokes, apples, and fennel. Toss well and refrigerate for a half hour to a day, allowing the flavors to come together. Season with salt and pepper before serving. This is a great salad to make on the weekend and use throughout the week, as it stays crunchy for several days.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spring is for peas

I’ve been doing some thinking about peas.

Yes, I’ve been thinking about those diminutive, starchy green orbs that manage to tuck themselves into just about every type of delicious dish. There’s your standard fare of peas and carrot, the proud sidekick to meatloaves the world over. And whose heart isn’t warmed by a steaming bowl of split pea soup and a piece of crusty bread on a chilly November day? Or perhaps you’re feeling adventurous, so you whip up a sesame pea shoot salad. Truly, these are a very versatile vegetable.

I discovered peas at the age of seven. It was tough being a voracious little kid in a junk-food-free home. When those seven-year-old munchies hit, I learned to be creative with the resources around me. Seven-year-old Adriana would freeze grapes into miniature popsicles. Or she’d pick huckleberries in her yard, mix them with ground cheerios, and attempt to turn them into bakery-fresh treat in her EZ-Bake Oven. But all that stopped the day I discovered the stash of frozen peas. Though it might not sound palatable now, I found these tiny frozen treats to be everything I needed in a summer vacation convenience food: 1) they were easy to get to (our freezer was at a very kid-friendly height), 2) they were nice and cold (a bonus on a hot day), and 3) they were fun to pick out of the frozen mixed veggie bags my mom would buy at the grocery store (stand aside corn, carrots, and lima beans! I’m here for the peas). And if my mother ever
noticed the little holes bored into the sides of the frozen veggie bags, or, for that matter, an unusually low ratio of peas to other veggies as she steamed them for dinner, bless her heart, she never said a thing.

I’m 23 and I still like peas.

Although my methods of preparing them have…shall we say… somewhat matured. Instead of nibbling frozen peas straight from the bag, for dinner tonight, I decided to use some fresh peas in a spicy Northern Indian dish that my new cookbook (The Curry Bible) calls "Garden Peas & Paneer in Chili-Tomato Sauce." It was delightful. Really, you must try some. Should you not feel like purchasing the ingredients and preparing the dish on your own (which really wasn’t that hard), I would recommend you march right down to you local Indian eatery and order yourself up a dish of this enchantingly warm and remarkable curry.

So, without further ado...

Garden Peas & Paneer in
Chili-Tomato Sauce

adapted from Curry Bible
Serves 4
4 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
9 ounces paneer, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 green cardamom pods, bruised
2 bay leaves
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced and mushed garlic
2 teaspoons minced and mushed ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 tsp chili powder (add more if desired)
14 ounces (1 can) diced tomatoes, drained
scant 2 cups of warm water, plus 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup peas, frozen or fresh
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons light cream or yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
rice or bread to serve it with

Step one
: Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the paneer and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, or until evenly browned. Be careful not to burn yourself, as paneer tends to splatter in the hot oil. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Step two: Add the remaining oil to the saucepan and reduce the heat to low. Add the cardamom pods and bay leaves and let sizzle gently for 20-25 seconds. Add the onion, increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes, until the onion is softened. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, for an additional 3-4 minutes, until the onion is a pale golden color.

Step three: Add the coriander, turmeric, and chili powder and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, for 4-5 minutes. Add the 2 tablespoons of warm water and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes, or until the oil separates from the spice paste.

Step four: Add the remaining warm water and the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 7-8 minutes.

Step five: Add the paneer and peas and simmer for 5 more minutes. Stir in the garam masala, cream or yogurt, and chopped cilantro and remove from the heat. Serve immediately with Indian bread or rice.

I also ate mine with some excellent Raita.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My mother's kitchen

Here are some snapshots from my mother's kitchen (featuring her creations, of course).

Home-brewed Kombucha with Rose Hips and Grains of Paradise

Fried Jerusalem Artichoke Chips with Lemon Zest

Coconut Milk Custard and Fresh Berry Tart with Sweet Amaranth Crust

My mom's spice cabinet (less a creation, and more just a sight to be seen)

You know that place you run to when the world seems too wild and and too chaotic and too confusing? That place that warms your belly, and makes you feel as cozy as an egg nestled under a big fluffy hen? If you haven’t found that place yet, you can come and share mine. After all, there’s always room for one more in my mother’s kitchen.

I know it’s been a while since my last post. I’d been working late at the office. I’d been schmoozing with spreadsheets and flirting with files each night until my eyes were red and tired. I’d been living on diet coke, coffee, dunkin’ donuts and other soulless forms of sustenance. Really, it hasn’t been pretty.

That’s why, at the first opportunity, I hopped on a plane to New Jersey, claimed my spot on the hard wooden bench of the family table at my parent’s house, and didn’t budge for four whole days. If there’s one thing a weary body needs more than anything else, it’s my mom’s cooking. For my first meal, I was served a heaping bowl of vibrant fuchsia beet slaw with homemade wine vinegar. Next came a French omelet consisting of our neighboring farm’s fresh eggs, spiced butter, and chopped tarragon. Then a feast of haddock au papillote with braised fennel, shallots and vermouth. Then local pastured Italian sausage served with polenta spoonbread and herbed green beans. Then a spicy lamb curry with pistachio, saffron and cardamom rice. It was a glorious gastronomic adventure, to say the least.

And after four days of learning, and tasting, and preparing, and feasting, let me tell you, I’m as good as new. I returned to Chicago, feeling as warm and contented as I used to each Christmas Eve growing up when I would don a new pair of flannel pajamas and pad around our pine-scented house waiting for Santa.

One day, I will invite each and every one of you back to my mother’s kitchen for a four day break from the world. For four days of chopping vegetables, breaking eggs, stirring big pots, and sitting down to eat at a long wooden table with hard benches does wonders for whatever ails you. But until that day, I will leave you with a recipe so delicious, comforting, and nourishing that maybe, for just a few bites, you’ll feel like you’re already there, sitting next to me on the bench, and wondering what culinary wonderment will next land on your plate.

My mother’s


beet slaw


6 medium-sized beets, (whatever color you like, but my mom likes to use three red and three golden)

Half a bunch of cilantro, chopped

¼ cup vinegar of your choosing (my mom uses her homemade red wine vinegar, but I’ve tried a white balsamic which is also lovely)

¼ to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, depending on the strength of the vinegar

Step one: Scrub and peel your beets. It’s important to remove the peel because it often has a bitter or metallic taste. Using a food processor or a regular grater, grate all of the beets until you have just a pile of shavings. If you are using both golden and regular beets, I would suggest keeping them separate until you’re ready to serve the salad so that the colors stay sharp and beautiful. It won’t change the taste, it’s just prettier to look at.

Step two: Toss the shredded beets with the vinegar and olive oil, and mix in the chopped cilantro.

Step three: Eat this tasty slaw to your heart’s content.



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Adriana Willsie and Kylie Springman ©2009