Perfect Guacamole

perfect-guacamole

I usually prefer to purchase my produce from the local farmer’s market. However, avocados don’t grow in these parts, and a girl can’t live without a little avocado on occasion.

So, for a treat, I made myself some guacamole for New Year’s Eve, to go alongside a few Grapefruit Margaritas. I know you may disagree with me on this, but in my humble opinion, the perfect guacamole needs just 5 ingredients: avocado, lime, cilantro, garlic and salt. No crunchy raw onions for my tongue to stumble upon, and definitely no hard, watery greenhouse tomatoes to chew on. And even though many Latin foods are spicy – my perfect guac is a cooling refreshment, to balance the rest of the meal.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you the exact ratios of all these ingredients. Avocados are different sizes, some limes are juicier than others, and salt is definitely not just salt. So, you’ll have to taste as you go. Start with the least amount of lime, garlic and salt, then taste and add – taste and add – until the flavor just explodes in your mouth.

perfect-guacamole-2

Perfect Guacamole

2 avocados
juice of 1/2 a lime (give or take)
a small handful of cilantro, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, or part of a big one (to start out with, then taste and add more as needed)
fine grain sea salt to taste

Cut the avocados in half, take out the seed, then scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl. Pour in some lime juice and add the cilantro. Mash it a bit with a fork, leaving plenty of big chunks.

Finely mince the garlic, then sprinkle the salt on top. Using the side of your chef’s knife, mash the garlic and salt into a paste. Add the paste to the avocado mixture and stir well. Taste. If it needs a little tang, add more lime. If it needs to bite a bit more, add some garlic. And if it just tastes watery and flat, you need more salt. Keep adding and tasting until you get the perfect guacamole.

serves 2

Homemade Curry Powder

Curry-Powder

This year I celebrated an early, low-key Christmas, with beaches, pizza and presents. While the rest of the world went crazy worrying about what to wear and take to another fancy party, rushing around for last minute presents, or making sure the holidays go smoothly for their family – I was relaxing in my Dad’s hot tub, in his small, Southwest Florida town. I highly recommend it.

During the gift-giving festivities, I realized that I was more excited to see if everyone liked the presents I got them than seeing what was under the tree for me. I’m pretty sure that makes me an official adult now. That being said, I did receive a few pretty things for this space – as you can see from the photos. The enamelware measuring spoons are so classy, and this small handmade wooden spoon from a woodworker in Brooklyn just melts in your hand. I wish you could feel it. Lovely. There are a few more gems that will be popping up here in the next few weeks, I’m very excited to share (again – how adult of me).

I’ve always wanted to make my own curry powder – it just seemed like a lot of work from something you can buy in a jar. Why buy 8 spices and spend time mixing them together when you can just buy the one jar? Well, I finally found out. Freshly toasting and grinding your curry makes all the difference in the world. The taste is extraordinary. So bright and flavorful I may never go back to buying my curry powder again.

Many of these spices are easy to find in bulk at a health food store – which is what I recommend. You can purchase a small amount of each, guaranteeing that they remain fresh, and saving some cash. Just make sure you shop somewhere with a high turnover. Stored in a jar with your spices, this curry powder will stay at the height of freshness for a few weeks, after that it may lose some of it’s zing. You’re still welcome to use it – it won’t kill ya – it’ll just taste like the stuff you buy at the grocery store.

spices

Homemade Curry Powder

1 scant T. coriander seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. peppercorns
1 tsp. tumeric
1/2 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more for extra spicy)

Combine the coriander, cumin, fenugreek and mustard seeds in a small skillet over medium heat. Toast for a few minutes, until fragrant and just starting to pop. Careful not to burn them.

Transfer to a spice grinder and add the peppercorns, tumeric, ginger and red pepper flakes and grind into a fine powder. Store in a tightly sealed jar.

makes 1/4 cup

Curry-Powder-2

Creamy Soft Scrambled Eggs

Do you really need a recipe for scrambled eggs? Probably not (or maybe you do – no judgement), but hear me out. With my (everybody’s) crazy schedule in December, I’ve been cooking less big recipes and more quick, on-the-fly meals. One of my favorite standbys is eggs. Scrambled is my favorite, but I don’t normally keep milk in the house, and every good scramble requires at least a splash of milk. So I improvise. And since I’ve been doing this for quite some time – I have a few tips for making my favorite, perfect scrambled egg.

First, only buy eggs with an orange (or at least bright yellow) yolk. It really makes a big difference in flavor. Also, by cooking the eggs slowly over low heat and stirring the whole time, you get a very creamy, just barely set scramble. And finally, since I never can find a splash of milk when I need it, I substitute some creme fraiche – which I always have around.

When I have the time, I like to serve these babies with some yukon golds roasted with herbs de provence. Just cut the taters into chunks, mix with olive oil, salt and a shower of herbs, spread on a baking sheet and roast on 425 until they are soft and browned, giving them a flip on occasion. If you don’t have time for that – toast works too!

Creamy Soft Scrambled Eggs

a small knob of butter
2 good quality eggs
1-2 T. creme fraiche
pinch of salt
a few grinds on the pepper grinder
some chopped herbs for garnish (optional)

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium low. While you’re waiting, crack the eggs into a small bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk. I use a fork. It’s ok if there are still big pieces of creme fraiche in there, just make sure the egg yolks are broken up.

Pour the eggs into the skillet and let them sit for about 30 seconds or a minute, until the bottom just starts to set. Using a wooden spoon, scrape along the bottom of the skillet to loosen the cooked eggs. Keep stirring and scraping the bottom until the eggs have just a tiny bit of liquid left, then turn off the heat.

Sprinkle with herbs if using, and serve with potatoes, toast, or whatever else you like for breakfast.

serves 1

p.s. – If you’re cooking for more people, just use this amount per person and mix everything together in the same bowl. You can cook it all at the same time, just be very diligent about getting everything up from the bottom of the pan as quick as you can.

 

Saag Dal

If I’m gonna cover a song, I want to put my own spin on it, and not play it exactly the same as someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a time and place for traditionalists, and a reason to preserve  things. It’s just that I’m not very good at following directions, or doing what everybody else is doing.

The definition of creativity, according to Dictionary.com, is “The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships or the like, and to create some meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.”. In other words, thinking about, or doing, something in a way that no one else has thought of before. Even though most of us tend to associate creativity with artists, many people not in the art world are very creative. So whether or not you are artistic, I encourage you to embrace your creativity and start thinking outside the box. And just as importantly, supporting and respecting others for doing the same.

If you are a traditionalist when it comes to Indian food, I hope you can respect my creativity with this recipe. I call this Saag dal, even though it contains neither saag (spinach) or dal (lentils). What it does contain is any green leafy vegetable I happen to have purchased too much of this week, and usually some yellow split peas (or occasionally chana (chickpeas). I have been cooking and tweaking and cooking this dish again and again and even though it’s not very traditional, I think it’s more than delicious.

I used collard greens in this incarnation, but I’ve used all types of kale, chard, spinach, turnip greens, etc. Whatever you like, or have, feel free to use here. Also, I like my split peas/lentils soft, so I soak them overnight, if I remember to. If you don’t have time, or forget, don’t worry about it. The peas may be a bit hard, depending on their age, but should be fine. Or feel free to use any kind of lentil here. None really need to be soaked, but it can help with digestibility if you have a problem with that kind of thing. And I know it looks like a lot of ingredients, but it really comes together pretty easily.

Saag Dal

1 c. yellow split peas, or lentils, soaked for a few hours, drained and rinsed
1 big bunch (or 2 small bunches) of any leafy green
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. brown or black mustard seeds
3 cloves
1 cardamom pod
1-2 T. ghee, butter or coconut oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1″ piece of ginger, minced
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 – 1 1/2 c. coconut milk (full or low fat)

basmati rice or naan, for serving*

Place the split peas in a large, heavy bottomed pot with 3-4 cups of water. Cover, bring to a boil, then turn down to low and simmer until tender, anywhere from 35-50 minutes, depending on how fresh your peas are. Drain, and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine all the whole spices (cumin through cardamom) in a small skillet over medium heat, and toast until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind to a powder. Set aside.

Also, while you’re waiting for the peas to cook, you can prep the greens. Cut out the large middle stem, then, using either a knife or a food processor, chop the greens into fine, confetti-size pieces.

When the split peas are done, melt the ghee/oil in the same pot (or a new one if you like doing dishes), over medium heat. Add the onions and let them cook until translucent, then add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, pepper flakes, salt and the spice mix from earlier. After about a minute it will smell like heaven, then you can add the greens and stir to coat them in the oil and spices. Once the greens have begun to wilt, stir in a cup of coconut milk. Finally, add the split peas and stir again to combine. As the mixture continues to cook, the greens will release more liquid. At some point some liquid will begin to evaporate, that’s when you know it’s done. You’re looking for a sauce-y consistency. If it’s too dry, add another splash of coconut milk, if it’s soup-y, keep simmering until it dries out a touch.

Serve with naan or basmati rice

* for the basmati – combine 1 c. rinsed rice with 1 1/2 c. water. Bring to a boil, reduce to low, simmer, covered for 20 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes then fluff.

serves 4.

Double Tomato Soup

Is it Winter yet? Not officially, I guess, but I’d argue that as soon as we get into the “Holiday Season”, it’s unofficially Wintertime. I’m not a big fan of cold weather, but I do love me some soup. You may have guessed, if we’ve been acquainted for long, that I eat soup pretty much all year round. This is my current favorite.

In the Chinese medicine point of view, Winter is associated with the element (or phase) of Water. And the kidneys are ruled by water. This is why you may have problems this time of year with things relating to your kidneys (and bladder), your lady or man parts, and your lower back (cause that’s where the kidneys hang out).  It’s important for everyone to stay warm, but if you tend towards any of these issues, you want to take extra care to keep your lower back covered all the time (tuck in that shirt!). Along these lines, the Kidney channel begins on the soles of your feet, so to keep your back from going out, I suggest buying a pair of warm slippers and never letting your feet get cold, because that cold travels straight up to your kidneys.

Another way to keep warm on the inside is eating warm things. This soup is great because you don’t need any super-perishable ingredients. You can keep everything around for weeks or even months most of it, and when you find yourself without and fresh veggies, you know you’ve got that can of tomatoes stashed away, just waiting to become tomato soup. The “double” tomato comes from sun-dried tomatoes, which you’ll want to keep packaged tightly so they don’t dry out. I also used some (optional) dried chilies, because they add another layer of depth to the flavor. You may find it strange to add bread to a soup, but I love the creaminess it adds without resorting to actual cream. I’ve been heating up the leftovers, and this is even better the next day. The dried tomatoes and chilies really give it a special earthy richness. It’s a keeper.

Double Tomato Soup

2-3 T, olive oil
1 onion, sliced
fine grain sea salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
2 slices of bread (any bread works, especially stale)
1/4 c. sun dried tomatoes (not the oil packed kind)
1 dried chili (optional – I used a large mild Aji chili, for more heat use a smaller, hotter chili like chipotle or chili de arbol)
3-4 c. vegetable stock
to garnish choose from: creme fraiche or sour cream, toasted almonds, olive oil drizzle, smoked paprika, cubed avocado, chopped basil or cilantro.

Heat the oil in a big pot over medium low. Add the onion, a pinch or two of salt and the sugar and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the bread, sundried tomatoes, chili, and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the sun dried tomatoes are soft.

Remove from heat and puree, either with an immersion blender (my fave, fast and easy way) or in batches in a blender or food processor.

To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with whatever your heart desires. I used creme fraishe, toasted almonds, smoked paprika and a drizzle of olive oil.

serves 4-6

Vanilla Coconut Popcorn

So, did you survive the biggest cooking day of the year? Anyone scald their arm or slice their finger wide open? I’ve been there – done that, but this Thanksgiving I remained safe and whole. And for that I am thankful.

If you’ve had your fill of cooking for the week, I won’t judge if you decide to just pop up some sweet and salty popcorn and call it lunch like I did (shh, don’t tell my mother…) In this super quick snack (meal?) I tossed stovetop popped corn with toasted coconut flakes and a honey/butter/vanilla drizzle. Vegans, I bet coconut oil and agave would be just as magnificent.

Vanilla Coconut Popcorn

1 T. coconut oil (or olive)
1/4 c. corn kernels
1/4 c. large flake coconut (if you can only find the finely flaked stuff, just use a little less)
2 T. butter (or more coconut oil)
2 T. honey (or agave)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
sea salt to taste

Heat the oil and 2 or 3 of the corn kernels in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium or medium high heat. When the kernels pop, add the rest of them to the pot and cover. Let them sit and they’ll begin to pop. Shake the pot every now and again and wait until you don’t hear any popping for about 10 seconds. Turn off the heat and let it sit and finish popping if it wants to.

Meanwhile, place the coconut in a small skillet over medium low. Toast the flakes until they turn a bit brown and fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Don’t let them burn! Set them aside.

In the same skillet, heat the butter until melted. Add the honey and vanilla and stir to combine. When it starts to bubble, turn off the heat.

To serve, combine the popcorn and coconut in a bowl, and pour the butter mixture over. Salt to taste. Feel free to double the recipe for a family movie night.

serves 2 for a snack (or one if it’s lunch…)

Avocado Pasta

Ever had one of those days when you’re just too tired to cook, but you’re sick of take out? Or maybe you can’t afford to go out to eat, and you’re way too busy for that stuff anyways? Enter – the psudo recipe. We all need a few super quick and easy recipes under our belts. The type you can put together with just a few ingredients, and alter to whatever’s about to go bad in the fridge. Something that takes about as much time as boiling water, and probably less than waiting for the take-out guy to arrive.

That’s what this recipe is to me. There’s always pasta. I love me some avocado. And garlic, well, we can’t live without it can we? (Well, I suppose technically we could – but why would anyone want to?) Other than that, this meal has contained everything from leftover black beans and some corn, to shoyu and toasted sesame oil. Many times it has a sprinkling of fresh herbs, or maybe a handful of greens. And the seasonings change depending on my mood.

So think of this more as an idea than a recipe. Have fun with it, play around with it, and make it snappy!

Avocado Pasta

enough pasta for 1 (this time around I used gluten-free corn-quinoa shells)
a few tablespoons of pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
a glug of olive oil – or be decadent and use avocado oil
a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, minced
a few pinches of sea salt
a few pinches of chile powder
half an avocado, cubed
a little grated cheddar (optional, but do yourself a favor and buy a block of good quality stuff and grate it yourself)

Boil water in a pot. Add the pasta and cook according to the box instructions. When using gluten-free pasta, it’s sooo important not to overcook it. I know it says that right on the box, but I’ve experienced first hand what happens when you don’t, so please, believe them. Drain the pasta when it’s done and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, toast the pepitas until just fragrant and starting to pop. Remove from skillet and set aside. Now heat the oil in the same skillet. Add the tomatoes and cook for a minute or two, until just barely starting to release liquid. Then add the garlic, salt and chile powder and stir to combine. When the tomatoes are starting to lose their shape, they are done.

I use my pasta-making pot to mix everything together. But whatever you use, mix the pasta with the tomato mixture, then add the avocado and gently fold it in. Garnish with the cheese and pumpkin seeds.

serves 1

Coconut & Cilantro Noodles

Happy Halloween! Anyone going as Hurricane Sandy for Trick-or-Treat?

Here in Brooklyn, we survived the Frankenstorm. Spent all day Monday locked up in the apartment, listening to the wind howl and the rain beat our windows. We watched from our third story window as a few cars drove past, and people walked into the bar across the street. The power stayed on, and I made soup and apple cake. It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that we realized the extent of the damage.

In our neighborhood, trees have been uprooted:

and a crosswalk signal hangs delicately from it’s pole.

But through it all, the beer hall next door stayed open.
 I realize how lucky we are, and my heart goes out to everyone who’s lives have been effected by this storm.

Now, on to the food. My mom told me (so it MUST be true) that if you try any food ten times, by the tenth time you will like it. I’ve always been a broccoli hater, so I’ve been experimenting with her theory. Every year (sometimes even twice) I buy a little broccoli and make some fancy meal with it. I’ve discovered over the years that there are two ways to make it that really taste grand. Puree it into some kind of broccoli pesto or sauce – or roast it. Really, I can devour any vegetable that has been roasted. Especially when it has been doused in a thai-scented coconut and cilantro sauce.

I used a bright yellow cauliflower in here, but of course any cauliflower, or even brussels sprouts, will do. And I bet a homemade curry paste would be just fantastic in this, but with my only current method of transportation being walking – there was no way to get to any kind of shop that stocks lemongrass, galangal or kaffir lime leaves. Next time.

Coconut & Cilantro Noodles

1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
1 small head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
8 oz. tempeh, cubed
2-3 T. coconut oil
sea salt
6-8 oz. soba or udon noodles
1 bunch of cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 c. coconut milk
1 T. green curry paste
1 tsp. agave syrup/sugar/honey
toasted large flake coconut for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 425. Place the broccoli and cauliflower either in a bowl or right onto the baking sheet and drizzle with the oil and some salt. Toss to coat. Spread onto the baking sheet in a single layer. This is where a good food blogger would tell you to roast the tempeh on a separate baking sheet so you can take them our as they are ready. However, I’m kinda lazy and I threw the tempeh cubes onto the same sheet as the broccoli. It all got done at the same time, and I had one less dish to wash. So, making sure your tempeh is also coated in oil and salted, place however many baking sheets you’ve decided to use into the oven and roast for about 30 minutes, flipping once halfway. You’re looking for browning all across the board.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and add the noodles. Cook for the amount of time specified on the package (mine said 4-6 minutes) then drain. Set aside.

To make the sauce, combine most of the cilantro (reserving a little for garnish) the lime juice, coconut milk, curry, sweetener and 1/4 – 1/2 a teaspoon of salt in a food processor or blender and puree until smoothish. You’ll probably still have little bits of cilantro, and that’s quite alright.

In a serving bowl combine the noodles with the contents of your roasting pans. Pour the sauce over top and toss gently to coat everything evenly. Serve topped with the extra cilantro and coconut flakes, if you’re using them.

serves 3-4

Video: Using Leafy Greens

I’m so excited to share a new video with you. See, waaay back in February, my boy Darren and I had a weekend long video shoot for this website, before it even existed. We shot enough footage for 7 videos! Well, things got busy and editing got put on the back burner. But now it’s finally time for the 2nd installment of the Greens and Seeds video tutorials.

The video on leafy greens includes spinach, swiss chard and bok choy. Arugula, watercress and a few other light leafy green veggies may also fit into this category. I saved the hearty greens (collards, kale, etc.) for a later post, because I cook with them differently. What you’ll see in this short video are shots of a few different greens (so you know what to look for in the store), how to store, chop, and use them in cooking.  Enjoy!

There are a few more videos elsewhere on this site. One is just a preview video for the New Blog, and the other is on Cooking Whole Grains.

Black Bean Cakes with Roasted Tomato Coulis

I can’t believe it’s been a week since I’ve been here. It feels like no time has passed, yet it’s been so long. I spent most of that time visiting my Papa on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Clean air, hot sun and quick jaunts on the boat to visit empty island beaches. And to top it all off, I was able to cook for a few guests in a big, fancy, state-of-the-art kitchen. I cooked them this dish.

The first night, a few of Dad’s friends came over for dinner. About halfway through dicing the red pepper I diced into my finger pretty good. “How bad is it?” they asked. “Uh, got it pretty good,” I replied. I took a seat – I do have a tendency to faint in situations like this – and the damage was assessed. “Looks like we’ve got to go to the Emergency Room.”

So, after an hour and some fancy tape (no stitches!) we arrived back home – still without dinner. That night we had microwave dinners. However, we tried the whole thing again the next night, and success! Well, kinda. I actually wasn’t able to form the cakes myself, since the cut has to stay clean and dry, but I had help, and they tasted good – isn’t that what counts?

We had this with some rice on the side for dinner, but you could just as easily make smaller cakes and serve them as appetizers with the coulis as a dipping sauce. And letting the mixture sit is, unfortunately, very necessary if you want cakes not crumbles. I used these cute little heirloom tomatoes I found – but any fresh tomatoes will work.

Black Bean Cakes with Roasted Tomato Coulis

1-1 1/2 lbs. of tomatoes, quartered (or halved if small)
1 yellow onion, quartered
olive oil
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (1 15 oz. can, drained)
1 large egg
3/4 c. cornmeal, divided
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. chipotle powder
1 tsp. sea salt, divided
1 T. maple syrup, or sweetener of choice
to garnish, chopped fresh cilantro and feta, crumbled or cubed

Preheat the oven to 400. Prepare the tomatoes and onions and spread on a baking sheet. Pour on a little oil and toss to coat. Make sure the tomatoes are sitting cut side up so the juices stay inside. Pop the sheet into the oven for 30 minutes.

Mash the black beans with a fork or potato masher. Mix in the egg, 1/4 of the cornmeal, the pepper, cumin, chipotle and 1/2 tsp. salt. Let it sit for 30 minutes to soak up the egg.

A minute or two before you’re ready to start frying the cakes, heat some oil in a skillet over medium heat. The oil should cover the bottom of the skillet in a thick layer.  Spread the rest of the cornmeal on a plate.

Take about 2 tablespoons or so of the black bean mixture and roll it between your palms. Flatten in a bit, then coat in the cornmeal. Place it in the skillet and cook about 5 minutes on each side. Repeat with the rest of the mixture, I got 8 smallish cakes out of it.

While the cakes are cooking, transfer the roasted tomatoes and onions to a food processor. Add the other 1/2 tsp. of salt, maple syrup, and a little drizzle of oil, and process for a few minutes, until you get a smooth sauce.

To serve, spread some coulis on a plate, top with a few cakes. Drizzle a little more sauce on top, and garnish with the cilantro and feta.

makes 8 cakes.