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Friday, January 22, 2010

Recipe 1.04 - Lemon Mushroom Risotto

One of the big reasons I wanted to start this project was to experiment with cooking techniques and styles that I had never tried before. Sure, money is certainly a big motivation (or lack thereof), but I also wanted to cook food in ways that weren't as straightforward as I had become accustomed to.

Now, I like to cook, and before I started this project I considered myself a relatively good cook. So initially, when I started fooling around with recipes for this project, I thought I'd be doing all these crazy things to my food. Little did I know how absolutely lacking my culinary knowledge and skill were. Probably the most egregious thing on this list: I had never zested a lemon.

At first, I wanted to include this recipe because I wasn't very familiar with risotto. Not only had I never cooked risotto, but I had never really eaten it. My stepfather was never a fan of Italian food so it wasn't something we ate too much at home. However, I have to say that the real victory for me in this recipe wasn't that I made risotto, but that I learned how AMAZING lemon zest was. Although I'm sure the risotto would have been nice on its own, risotto is something that I've read can feel very heavy and thick. I was especially worried about this because I had never eaten risotto and wouldn't really know what to look for to achieve the right consistency. And maybe I think this because I have no frame of reference, but this risotto was not heavy at all, and the lemon gave the dish a tang that I think without would have left the risotto a little flat and one-dimensional.

Haha. This was my sad attempt at pretending to talk about food like I know what I'm doing.

After this, I explored other recipes that I could throw lemon and lemon zest into. And I became a little bit obsessed. Ask any of my co-workers, who ate these cupcakes for about three weeks straight because I couldn't get enough of them. And if I didn't bring them to work, I would have sat at home and eaten them all. By myself. Like a loser.

Needless to say, I still have a lot to learn about food and how to use ingredients in new and interesting ways. Hopefully one day I'll be able to talk about food like I have a clue. But that's unlikely--mostly because I never have a clue what I'm doing. :)

Lemony Mushroom Risotto

1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, chopped (the recipe calls for porcini as well, but I'm cheap)
1/4 stick unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest (eep!)
1/4 grated parmesan
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

Cook onion with butter until the onion is soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add rice, and stir to coat for about one minute. Add wine and simmer until wine evaporates, about 1-2 minutes.

Add mushrooms, and stir in 1/2 cup of broth into the mixture at a time, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Continue to add broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until the rice is tender but al dente, about 18 minutes. The mixture should be creamy, but not soupy.

Add zest, parmesan, and parsley, and stir into the mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately. I don't know how well this reheats since I ate most of it in one sitting. :p

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Recipe 1.03 - Tomato Soup

I haven't been in New York for very long. I came from Chicago about six months ago to teach in the Bronx, and I basically went from school to graduation to real person job in a split second. Which is one of the reasons why I don't have any kitchen appliances in my new apartment.

Because I took off from Chicago so quickly, I don't actually have kitchen things. The pots I cook with, the cups I drink from, the silverware I use? Those all belong to my roommates. Which is especially sucky because I have trouble believing that I'm an actual person when I don't own anything of my own. So you can imagine how excited I was when I bought my first real kitchen appliance in New York--my immersion blender and how, of course, I now have to make soup for every meal. I had a blender in my apartment in Chicago, but I always hated making soup with it, since you have all this transferring of hot liquids. Not being the most graceful person in the world, this usually ended poorly for me.

So yes, I made soup. Again. And I've made about ten other soups that haven't show up on here yet. And I'll probably make about ten more before I have adequately calmed down from my immersion blender-induced excitement and start making normal things again. Until then, I'll can likely be found looking for yet another way to combine my list of ingredients into a soup and calculating how many years I have to save to try to buy my next kitchen appliance.

Tomato Soup

Makes six cups

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
24 ounces canned whole plum tomatoes
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

I usually find tomato soup to be really sweet, and I found this recipe to sort of cut down that too-sweet taste that I think tomatoes can sometimes have. However, one of the key things about this recipe is that you have to make sure the onions are completely cooked! I think the amount of onion in this recipe is what makes it great, but they need to be completely translucent or the soup will taste too much like onion.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, and stir in the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is completely translucent but not burning, about 15 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients, and bring mix to a boil. Turn heat to low, and cook until tomatoes are soft, 10-20 minutes.

Puree the soup in a blender, working in batches, or with an immersion blender (aka my precious) until smooth. If soup seems a little thick, you can always stir in some more stock. Serve alone or with grated parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Recipe 1.02 - Chickpea Soup

For the longest time, I thought I hated chickpeas.

I thought they were smelly and gross looking and had no place in any of the foods I enjoyed eating. But then one day, I went out to dinner at a local campus restaurant, Cedars, with my friend Liz. Being the foxy women we are, the owner gave us a free appetizer of hummus and pita bread, which I had never had before. Liz started digging in immediately, and I figured that I might as well give it a try, especially because Liz was raving about it.

Now, I can't survive without chickpeas. I put them in everything I cook--dips, salads, and now soups. Being a vegetarian, chickpeas are super important to my diet and I try to have them as often as possible to make sure I get the protein I need. Not to mention they make all my food instantly better and more interesting.

I was initially excited about cooking this recipe, but it took a few moderations to get it just right. At first it was too thin, then it was underseasoned, then it was too salty, etc...The nice thing about cooking a soup is that you can sort of screw it up and still salvage it. When it became too salty, I just thinned it out. When it was too thin, I added another can of chickpeas to create a nicer texture.

The only problem that I can't fix is, after all the experimenting and salvaging, I have three huge bowls of chickpea soup sitting in my fridge and no one else to feed it to. I had two bowls of it last night, brought it to work today, and had some for dinner tonight as well. However, now that I think about it, I'm sort of glad I don't have to share. Or worry about greedy hands trying to steal my delicious soup. Yay for being anti-social!

Puree of Chickpea Soup
Based off the New York Times' series, Recipes for Health

1/2 pound chickpeas, washed and picked over*
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, minced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Madras curry**
4 cups vegetable broth
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Parsley for garnish

Soak chickpeas in 1 quart of water for at least six hours. Drain.

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and cook for five minutes, or until tender. Stir in the garlic, Madras curry spice, and salt. Cook and stir until the mixture is fragrant, about a minute. Add the chickpeas, stock, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, and then simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Beans should be tender.

Puree the soup in a blender, or with an immersion blender until smooth. If you want, you can strain the soup to get a smoother texture, but that's not necessary. Serve with the lemon juice and parsley as a garnish.

*I found that the initial recipe gave me a really thin, watery soup, so I decided to add a can of chickpeas to the mix. It made the soup thicker and more flavorful.

**Madras curry is one of those things I found randomly shopping at Whole Foods, and since I'm a spices junkie, have been experimenting with over the past couple of weeks. Basically, it's a mix of common Indian spices that's not too hard to find in most stores and is pretty cheap.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Recipe 1.01 - Eggs in Tomato Sauce

One semester during college, my roommate Aiva and I were bored. Extremely bored. Besides doing homework and watching Gossip Girl, we spent this particular semester sitting around and wondering how in the world our lives got so boring. During this semester, Aiva and I came up with this idea of setting up challenges for ourselves--if you're bored or restless or need something to do, set up a ridiculous goal, and suddenly, you have something to work towards.

Because of this semester, I developed two very important traits that have completely redefined my life and the way I look at the world: I constantly create goals and strive to challenge myself, and I'm a vegetarian. On a dare from Aiva.

Becoming a vegetarian was one of the early challenges that Aiva and I set for ourselves, and it's something that, I think, has made me love cooking and food. People ask me all the time if I miss meat, and although I do get tempted by the kebab carts around my apartment, I have to say that I love being a vegetarian. And it's something I would have never done without our little 'challenge' endeavor.

That being said, I could NEVER be vegan. One thing that being a vegetarian has opened me up to is eggs, which I love. And I love them in this recipe in particular. Growing up, I only really ate eggs scrambled, and breaking into the yolk (although one of my yolks got sort of messed up) of this dish and sopping up the sauce with bread was wonderful and amazing. I can't imagine NOT making this recipe again in the near future. And by near future I mean right now. Tonight. Leaving the

Eggs in Tomato Sauce

Serves 2 (or just one super hungry vegetarian)

8 ounces tomato puree
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Ground salt and pepper, to taste
Glug of red wine (**Deb says this is optional, but I'm gonna say that I HIGHLY recommend you glug away)
2 eggs
2 slices bread, toasted, plus more for sopping up deliciousness
Freshly grated parmesan cheese (**I didn't do this)

In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat, and add garlic. Cook for about a minute, and add tomato puree, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Bring the tomato puree to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer, and let cook for about 20 minutes. Right before you add the egg, pour a bit of red wine into the tomato mixture, and cook until most of the wine has evaporated, about one minute.

Add egg in one at a time, being careful with the yolks (which you can see I was not so good at). Cover the skillet, and let cook five minutes (if you don't cover, which I didn't, it takes FOREVER for the whites to set and cook on top, so make sure to cover!). As the eggs cook, toast the bread.

Remove skillet from heat, let stand a couple of minutes. Transfer the eggs onto the toast, and pour the rest of the tomato sauce onto the eggs and other pieces of toast for sopping. It's ok if it looks like a hot mess--it's a delicious mess.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Rules

I watch a lot of Top Chef. The memory on my computer is filled with episodes from every season, and every time I watch an episode, I always want to make the crazy things that the chefs made. However, as a teacher, I neither have the time nor the money to make the crazy stuff they make. So I have to find a way to still make cool stuff without breaking the bank.

This is why I'm super excited about this challenge. Not only do I want to encourage myself to cook more, but I don't want to spend a lot of money doing so. My dad and I keep talking about saving money and being less wasteful, and while I'd love to spend my paychecks on interesting ingredients, I'd also be nice to actually, you know, have savings. Perhaps have some money in the bank just in case anything happens. And maybe not pay for my morning coffee with spare nickels I scrounge around for on my apartment floor. Not that this has ever happened...twice this week...

So here's my list:

1. Onions
2. Potatoes
3. Chickpeas
4. Broth
5. Eggs
6. Lemons
7. Tomatoes
8. Pasta
9. Parmesan cheese
10. Spinach
11. Bell peppers
12. White rice
13. Lentils
14. Wheat bread
15. Fresh parsley
16. Fresh basil
17. Milk
18. Mushrooms
19. Red Wine
20. Quinoa

Included on this list are my kitchen staples--not because I want more ingredients or anything to work with, but because I know I won't have to buy more of these ingredients. Things like salt, pepper, dried spices, olive oil, butter, etc...are already part of my pantry and count as gimmes.

While this challenge is about using cheapo ingredients over and over, I also want to push myself to use these ingredients in ways I've never used them before. For example, if I'm hungry and broke, I usually just cook pasta and pour some sauce over it. Or scramble some eggs with salt and pepper. I'm interested in using these ingredients in different ways and not cooking these things the way I normally do.

I have so many recipes already bookmarked and I'm ready to go.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Challenge

My friend, Andrew, and I got to talking about milestones.

As you grow up, it seems like the milestones are endless. Going to high school. Getting your driver's license. Moving away from home. Starting college. Renting your first apartment. Graduating from school. Starting your first job. Becoming a functional human being in the real world.

These are all milestones that I've already experienced. I'm a recent college graduate working as a teacher in New York City, and in the past couple of years, I've accomplished a lot. All my life, I've worked towards one milestone after the next, and as I talked about these milestones with Andrew, it occurred to me: the next milestone in my life is getting married.

I am NOWHERE near getting married. Nor do I want to be.

I guess the reason we thought this was the next milestone is because all the others on our list are sort of written out for most people. It's not like I woke up and this list organically came out of me--I think it's assumed that at some point in a young person's life, they will go to school, move away from home, and start a career. Maybe that doesn't happen for everyone, but I think most people assume that their lives will involve most, if not all, of these major events. But then there's this huge gap between starting a life and starting a life with someone else where there aren't any huge milestones. There's really nothing that society is telling me I should be accomplishing or looking forward to than marriage and children, and at 22, that scares the hell out of me.

I suppose I've started this blog as a way around that. My college roommate, Aiva, was always a huge fan of creating challenges for yourself, and I'm creating this challenge for myself: cook twenty recipes from a list of twenty ingredients.

I'm sure that sounds sort of trivial, but I'm also sure that many twenty-somethings living on their own can identify both with not having much money for groceries and buying ingredients for a super cool recipe, and then having a crapton of some ingredient that they can't use for another recipe. I don't know. Maybe this is just me.

This might sound like a silly 'milestone,' but I think one of the reasons I've been so lost in my twenty-something haze is because I haven't had anything that I'm working towards. Obviously, I want to explore New York and be a good teacher, but those aren't quite as tangible as some of the other milestones I've achieved. When have I finished exploring the city? When have I become a good teacher? I need to have milestones that are conquerable, and I hope that this blog will reflect the many challenges that I hope to overcome.