Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Easy Button

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in a meeting that I felt could have been avoided. The meeting took just five minutes and was going over plans that I already knew, yet I had to take the subway 45 hours to get there and then back home before going to work that night. When it was over, the woman said "Well that was easy--just like I pushed the 'Easy Button.'" And I thought 'if only.'

I have been trying to find the easy way out of certain daily routines lately. I used to enjoy long, sprawling afternoons to make complicated, time consuming recipes. It was fun for me--I talked at length about the Eric Ripert salad that took me 2 1/2 hours to make (and that would be all I ever ate if I had the time). I'm not quite sure what happened, but I haven't had that kind of time in months. And so, in between trying to find my way back to free time and continuing live my over-scheduled life, I have also been looking for some simple time savers. Trying to find the 'Easy Button' in my own life, if you will.

This dish, pasta with roasted tomatoes, accomplished exactly that. It came together in about 40 minutes (and I am one where, if the recipe says 30 minutes it usually takes me three times that), roasting the tomatoes deepens their flavor, and the fresh herbs brighten the dish. It's perfect for right now.

Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Goat Cheese
from Cooking Light

12 ounces uncooked whole wheat spaghetti
2 pints cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven to 450* F.

Cook pasta in dutch oven according to package directions, omitting oil. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Return pasta to dutch oven.

Toss cherry tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and crushed red pepper. Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, until softened (you'll hear them popping open in the oven--when most of them are open and there is some char in places, they are finished).

Add cherry tomatoes to pasta. Pour 1/4 cup reserved pasta liquid into tomato pan, scraping to loosen all the juices/browned bits, add to pasta. Add remaining oil to pasta, cook over medium heat, adding pasta water slowly, until whole mixture is glistening. Add herbs, top with goat cheese.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Here and There

Two weeks ago I finished my very intense spring classes. The material was concrete, grounded in research, and tangible. Today, I started my summer semester course, the first in the holistic part of my curriculum. The class is about the mind-body-wellness connection, and it most certainly leaves the concrete behind. For example, we watched part of a film about quantum physics today. One of the people in the film spoke about instances in which particles can be in two places at the exact same time. While I can't quite wrap my brain around such an abstract concept, I also can't help but find it appealing.

Recently, DP and I found out that two of our good friends in the city are moving across the country. Just before that, two other friends also moved across the country. As I look at the dwindling list of friends I have here (with an eye on the ever growing list of friends I have elsewhere), I find myself wishing that I could be in two places at once. If I could have one superhero power I'd want the ability to be transported anywhere, any time, instantaneously.

Sadly, I don't have that power. I do, however, have the ability to make a dish that transports. I wanted to use meatballs that I saw on one of my favorite food blogs to make an Asian spaghetti and meatballs dish. I followed her instructions almost exactly, but I put the meatballs over soba noodles, added some snow peas and used the dipping sauce as the pasta sauce. The winds of change are a'blowing, and this recipe is coming with me!

Asian Spaghetti and Meatballs
adapted from this recipe

1/3-1/2 cup panko
1 1/3 cups ground turkey
1 egg
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt (scant)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
assorted vegetables (snow peas, haricot verts)
1 (8 oz.) package soba noodles, cooked according to package directions

4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon water
1 scallion, chopped

Preheat oven to 500* F.

In a large bowl, mix together panko, turkey, and next 8 ingredients (through sesame oil), combining with your hands until just mixed. Shape into golf ball sized meatballs (I made about 14) and place on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray (or olive oil in a spray bottle, like I do). Bake for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp sesame oil in a 10 inch nonstick skillet. Saute vegetables for 5 minutes, until crisp tender.

Combine all ingredients for the sauce, tasting to adjust seasonings.

When meatballs are done, place soba noodles on dish, place 3 meatballs atop noodles, top with vegetables and sauce. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I love the farmers market. Love it. Last year, on the most perfect spring day in early May, I went to the market with the goal of filling my house with flowers. It was a rare Saturday off and the farmers market was bursting with people, flowers, and fresh produce. It was like heaven. And then, to add to the perfect day, I spotted Dan Barber with two assistants doing the shopping for his restaurant, Blue Hill. I couldn't resist the opportunity to find out what a chef-hero thought was the best looking produce that day, so I followed him. For about 45 minutes. He weaved through the people, stalls, and food like he owned the place, and I must admit that occasionally when he picked up something extra and asked for some for the restaurant (most stalls had pre-prepared orders for him) I came up right behind him and bought some too. Animated birds couldn't have made me happier.

When I came home from vacation a couple of weeks ago there were facebook and blog posts about peoples' amazing hauls over the weekend. Ramps, asparagus, spring greens--spring had arrived! I couldn't wait to get there. Monday morning, bright and early, DP and I grabbed some bags and headed out, eager in our anticipation. It was, to put it mildly, a disappointment. We set out with the mission: "Find stuff we haven't been eating all winter." Unfortunately, Monday at the farmers market is like a skeleton market. There aren't many stalls, and this particular Monday the only "new" vegetable was asparagus. It was the woodier, thick asparagus stalks, but I bought some anyway because I was so excited. Then I got some salad greens, cheese, eggs, carrots and beets (for the aforementioned carrot and beet salad). If it wasn't going to be spring yet, at least I could get some fun new products. Fortunately, later in the week I discovered Wednesdays at the market and since then all has been right with the world.

Later in the week I roasted the asparagus, placed it atop the greens with pork medallions and cheese, and made a red wine vinaigrette--and forgot all about my disappointment at the market. It was delicious!

Salad with Pork Medallions
*This is more of a method recipe than an actual recipe.

1 tsp olive oil
1 lb pork tenderloin
1 bunch asparagus
salad greens (in my house, enough for 2--leftover salad is almost never good, unless it's kale)
your favorite cheese, cut into chunks or crumbled (depending on what kind of cheese)
red wine vinaigrette (I know there are very good recipes out there with the ratios. I just can't be bothered to measure when it comes to dressing. All of this is to taste)
-red wine vinager (2 tablespoons?)
-good olive oil (1/4 cup?)
-1 tsp honey
-salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Heat oil in a large skillet.
Trim fat off pork tenderloin and slice into 12ish rounds. Place in skillet, being careful not to overcrowd (or they will steam, not brown). Cook until done, about 8 minutes, turning 1-2 times. Set aside.
While the pork is cooking, wash the asparagus and break off the ends (the asparagus will break at the point it starts to be tender, so it's best not to cut). Place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Shake it around. Bake at 400* for 15 minutes. Cut into 1 inch chunks.
Place the salad greens on individual plates, top with 3 pork medallions, cheese, and asparagus. Drizzle vinaigrette over salad and enjoy!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ode to Squid

Squid, when they are swimming, look like evil little demons heading to their master. Or hypnotized animals following the sirens' call. They swim in groups, all of their pointy little heads tilted in the same direction, and they move by fluttering their tentacles--all of this combining to look like they are being pulled by some magnetic force to their destination.

They are also beautiful. They have purple flecked skin that changes to golden brown for camouflage purposes. Every time we saw a group of squid while snorkeling on vacation I was mesmerized and found myself following them as they glided through the ocean. I also found myself wishing that we had splurged for the water case for the camera so I could snap pictures of the little guys.

My first memory of eating squid was in the third grade at science camp. We dissected them, pulling out the spine to write our names with the ink, and then cut them up and sauteed them for a little snack. I remember thinking it was rubbery, and, quite frankly gross. Of course, throughout the years I have had my fair share of fried calamari--sometimes quite good and often quite bad--but it wasn't until two years ago at Christmas that I started to think about squid as a fish to cook and enjoy at home.

My mother bought some un-prepped squid from her fish guy, and then had a "family project" during which we all learned how to clean the little guys for cooking. First, you pull off the wings, which helps you loosen the skin which you also pull off. Then, you reach inside and pull out the spine, and finally you open up the top and pop off the little beak. I started out the activity begrudgingly, but it was actually kind of fun to get my hands a little dirty and relive my science camp dissection days with a different purpose. Of course, the squid, tossed in an Italian vinaigrette with vegetables, was delicious.

This week at the farmer's market, my favorite fish market had squid for relatively cheap and I snapped up a pound without thinking about what to do with it (a rarity for this devout recipe/list girl). I also got ramps, asparagus, and whole wheat pasta. When I got home I saw this recipe and this recipe on Closet Cooking and I figured I could make a variation of the pesto and add the squid to the dish. It was delicious--full of spring flavor and slightly lighter than your average pesto.

*photo courtesy of DP

Whole Wheat Pasta with Asparagus and Ramp Pesto and Calamari
Pesto adapted from Closet Cooking
*I should note here that I don't really use recipes for pesto. I just throw things in the food processor, whirl it around, taste, and adjust for seasoning/texture. So I'll give my method here.

1 bunch ramps
1 fistfull of basil
3-4 tablespoons olive oil (the original recipe called for 1 tablespoon--maybe because I don't measure, my pesto was originally way too thick. I ended up pouring it through the food processor opening until I got the right consistency--I think it was about 3 tablespoons)
zest of 1 lemon
palmful of walnuts
lemon juice (to taste, and to help with the consistency so you can use a little less oil)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 spears blanched asparagus (from a bunch, use the rest with the pasta)

Place everything in the food processor and turn on, blending until you reach the desired consistency. I like mine a bit chunky.

For the pasta:
12 oz whole wheat pasta, cooked according to package directions
The rest of the bunch of asparagus, cut into 1 inch sections
1 lb squid, cut into 1/4 inch rings
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup asparagus and ramp pesto

1. Blanch the asparagus (place in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, until bright green, then remove and plunge into ice water).
2. Heat olive oil in a skillet, add the squid and a little salt and pepper, saute until opaque.
3. Place pasta in large bowl. Add asparagus, calamari, and pesto. Toss. Enjoy!