cooking and meditation

one of the nicest thing i can recommend for when you’re feeling overwhelmed or unable to focus, is to grab a bunch of an herb, and pick the leaves or fronds off until you have pruned the entire bunch so they’re ready to cook with.

i did this yesterday with my coriander from the farmer’s market. i didn’t want to be doing it, i only needed a bit of it to top my taco. but i knew if i didn’t do it then, it’s not like i would want to do it later, so i persevered with the coriander. about half way through, i realized, as always, that i was settling in to this new practice of locating the base of the stem and pulling the herb off; a meditation of sorts.

cooking side note: i rinse my herbs in different ways, but it then feels satisfying to toss them in an extra cold (add ice cubes) bowl of water and let them soak. then pull them out, set them on a towel and let them dry. then, add them to a container with a small paper towel to help control moisture levels. from here, the herb lasts quite a while (typically weeks!). and you've completed a meditation practice.

this is also how i typically approach meditation, or exercise… the not wanting to start it, but once i have, getting into it and achieving a sort of “flow” state. it’s worth noticing. because all it takes to overcome an “obstacle,” is knowing that you have something good coming if you can only get through the first minutes of it. those are the few minutes where you’re still living in another mental state, your previous mental state. once you have achieved the “flow,” you will have enjoyed and accomplished a task! or perhaps even a feat! it is really those first few minutes of entering and changing thought patterns that can be the hardest to overcome, then it’s all smooth sailing from there.

and this is exactly how cooking can be for me. also, running, strength training, and various tasks at work. once i actually start on them, it’s nice to have the knowledge that even though i’m not enjoying it in THAT moment to start with, that within a few minutes, i’ll be in a new state of mind. and that i have control over that.

hope you have a great day and thanks for reading!

banana bread mishaps

it feels like every time i bake, i learn something new that i can mess up… that i didn’t realize i could mess up before. for example, smitten kitchen’s jacked up banana bread. i have made many a banana bread in my day, but typically the same recipe. i decided to venture out and try a new one. enter, the jacked up banana bread.

when baking, i know to bring all my ingredients from the fridge to room temp (unless of course it’s a baking recipe where everything needs to be COLD, but usually when i bake, things need to come to room temp). so, before my walk yesterday morning, i grabbed the egg and measured out the salted butter and left them on the counter to come to room temp, so when i returned i could bake banana bread!

one thing led to another (work…) and i didn’t get to baking the banana bread til after work. well, the butter is meant to be MELTED, but i figured it was fiiiine because it was so malleable by being left out all day that it would do its melting in the oven. right? well, no. wrong.

back to the recipe. the very first step involves mixing the smashed bananas (nailed it) with melted butter (didn’t nail it). but i did mix them together and what resulted was, well… this:

see the light-colored globs? that’s the unmelted butter (this photo also includes the brown sugar yum)

what i discovered (i think…) is that melting the butter serves a purpose other than tasting really yummy. and that is, it enables the banana itself to cook and become firm to match the texture of the rest of the bread. i realized this because i had to cook the banana bread for nearly 1 hour 20 minutes instead of the suggested 50 min – 1 hour cook time. and the tester never came out completely clean. i eventually just said, fuck it, and let it cool. there was still some banana-y texture, but overall the taste was overwhelmingly GOOD. and i will certainly be having that banana bread for breakfast today.

honestly still very good

so friends. i learned to use melted butter when a recipe calls for it because it helps stuff cook that may not otherwise cook in the way you want it to! a valuable lesson that did not end with an inedible dish, but an otherwise delicious dish (save for the perfect texture)! banana bread ftw!

every day is a good day for tacos

since the shelter-in-place order began in the Bay Area, i have been cooking a lot. more than usual? hard to say, i always cook nearly all of my own food as i’ve worked remotely over three years now. but now, it feels a bit more forced and panicked. though i think that’s becoming less-so, yayyyy…

at first i thought OHMYGOD what do i have to cook? but then i realized i can chill, there are still groceries, and there’s even takeout! not to mention i have a ton of food. if Tamar Adler’s enlightening cookbook, An Everlasting Meal, taught me anything, it’s that if you have some dried beans and rice… you’re golden. even more, if you have some parsley and lemon to serve with that, then you’re really cooking with fire.

so… this is mainly how i balance my meals. i keep the following ready to go in the pantry: grains like brown rice and rolled oats, dried beans, bananas, and nuts.

in the fridge, i keep: citrus fruits (lemons and limes), herbs (cilantro, parsley, and dill), fresh vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower), and lettuces (romaine, chicories), almond milk, plain greek yogurt, eggs, and some sort of protein. protein for me is typically tofu and tempeh.

in the freezer i keep mainly: frozen fruit and a loaf (or five) of sliced bread.

and then that bring us to, the tortillas. tortilla-style items have been a hot-button item for us lately. tortillas for breakfast, tortillas for lunch, tortillas for dinner — WHO CARES? it’s lockdown season, baby.

so, with the ingredients listed above… you know what i can always make?? TACOS. i can make salads, rice bowls, even traditional ‘recipes’ like a cheesy bean bake or chickpea bolognese (both things i’ve recently cooked). the bean bake was actually really beautiful so here it is:

cheesy bean bake

okay back to the tacos. tacos are a glorious food item to have handy. and all you need are a few crucial elements, the likes of which can be swapped out every time you make a taco so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating the same thing over and over again. that would be torture. to me, this is what constitutes a solid taco: good tortilla (heat on pan!) + deliciously cooked protein + accompaniments. my favorite accompaniments for a taco are: rice, beans, cilantro, hot sauce, mashed sweet potato (idk why!), shredded lettuce, avocado, and salsa. the wonderful thing about a taco is that you really only need the tortilla plus a couple of more elements to create a MEAL. if you don’t have a traditional protein, you can use beans + rice as the workhorse, or whatever! get creative, ya know?

i am obsessed with tofu chorizo though, which is a recipe by mark bittman, my dad. not really. but i’m going to share my version of it here. i like it because you don’t have to do anything fussy with the tofu other than take it out of its packaging and cook it. no wrapping it up in paper towels and pressing it, the water cooks right off of it in the pan.

TOFU CHORIZO

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoon garlic, chopped
Salt and ground black pepper
2 packages firm tofu
2 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

To prepare:

  • Add oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Using your hands, crumble tofu into the pan. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet occasionally and adjusting heat as necessary, until tofu browns and crisps as much or as little as you like, about 10 to 30 minutes.
    • NOTE: Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, I cook mine closer to about 20 minutes until it has a similar texture to chorizo.
  • Add the chili powder, cumin and cinnamon. Stir and cook, continuing to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan until the mixture is fragrant, a minute or two. Stir in apple cider vinegar and adjust the seasoning taste.
    • NOTE: Taste and adjust seasonings until you love it. I often add more apple cider vinegar for that tangy-tang and kosher salt. This is your new tofu chorizo, so make sure you like it on its own. Taste and adjust til you can’t stop eating it by itself. That’s my rule of thumb.

that’s it! let me know if you have any questions about the recipe or tacos in general. this will keep in the fridge for about 3-4 days, maybe longer. my food-going-bad philosophy is that you’ll know when it’s bad because it will smell like it’s gone bad.

here is the final product (also seen on taco above!)

until next time, happy cooking and stay safe friends! i am always here to talk about food, so hit me up!

Reflections on pizza dough and the evolution of a cook

There’s nothing quite so rewarding as cooking a recipe that you haven’t cooked in a year, and realizing that your entire thought process in cooking has changed and evolved since then.

Last year, Charlie gave me a pizza stone for Christmas, and from there I made several pizzas. Then as the weather warmed up, we put the pizza stone away for one reason or another. And if I’m being honest, I think part of it is because I had two pizza dough balls in the freezer, ready to thaw and come back to life, and they got wrapped around one of the shelves in the freezer, and they’re literally still there. It seemed wasteful to make more when they were just… there. Isn’t it weird the things we humans let hold us back? From making more homemade pizza, to boot!

I digress, I do. I was also gifted a kitchen scale around that time, which opened up new horizons in cooking and baking recipes. I remember diligently weighing the size of each dough ball to match what was indicated in the recipe. Last year, I always had one that was way bigger, because I matched up the weights until the last dough ball was leftover, and I somehow always had more dough than the recipe seemed to indicate that I should have. I didn’t yet know some things.

Now, I weigh the entire weight of the dough and divide by how many pieces I want (duh, right?) — this idea hadn’t made its way into my cooking experience arsenal or else I hadn’t yet experienced enough recipes to know to do this. I also added more salt than the recipe called for, because I know I like salt, and that mine is very coarse, so the measurements aren’t always exactly equal in recipes. Something else I’ve learned through my time cooking. I waited until the dry yeast was activated too, to make sure the packet wasn’t inactive. Another trick I’ve learned!

And it wasn’t only these things, it was the overall vibe that it’s so much more fun to cook and bake than it used to be when I was worried about making a mistake or not doing something exactly right. There’s no right way to cook, and mistakes often create unexpected results — hello, chocolate chips cookies!

I was listening to David Chang’s podcast this morning, The Dave Chang Show, and he and Angela Duckworth were discussing grit and what makes a cook great, and what holds a cook back. And one of the ideas is that people are so afraid to make a mistake or of failing that it holds them back from ever attempting something. It’s a sad idea that we aren’t cooking due to the fear of failure or because we are too concerned about perfectionism, especially when every great cook has failed. Many times. The failure is what drives change and it’s vital to how we learn.

This is all to say, no one is great without practice. I’m not great! And I don’t claim to be. But I do know that I like to feed my body with fresh, whole, local, & seasonal ingredients as much as possible, and this is made easiest by cooking for myself instead of looking to restaurants to take on this responsibility (which is another interesting conversation). Home cooking is also a way to share these ideals with my friends and family.

So go forth, make a homemade pizza dough and then the pizza, and reflect on everything that went into this process, mental and physical! If your dough is not perfect to you, then hopefully you’ve learned something new! And I’ll bet you that it’s still going to be pretty damn good regardless.

xoxo

The dough that inspired this post. What a rock star.

Flat omelet with spinach and herbs

This is a no-recipe recipe, in that you can basically make this if you have eggs on hand. I often make this when it’s the end of the week, and I only have odds and ends of cooked or uncooked vegetables around. I usually add in a shallot or onion to sauté with the olive oil to start, too. But that could be omitted. You could really pull this off with just a few eggs, olive oil, and salt. The addition of leeks, sautéed in lieu of the onions or in addition to the onions, would also be an excellent idea. Too bad I didn’t have any on hand.

The idea of a flat omelet is from my personal cooking bible An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. She suggests adding a teaspoon of white wine to three eggs before adding them to the pan to liven things up. I have used champagne vinegar and lemon too, and it definitely adds the extra zing needed.

I happen to have a bunch of herbs right now leftover from making green goddess dressing last week, so I used tarragon, basil, chives, and parsley. Side note: adding herbs to nearly any dish will add a new depth of flavor, so I always try to add as many as possible (from the same family) if I have them on hand. If you’re not sure if they’ll go together, google it like I do. 🙂

Chopped yellow onion, a few handfuls of spinach, three eggs, tarragon leaves, an herb mix of tarragon, chives, basil, & parsley, parmesan cheese, and a lemon

Ingredients list for today’s flat omelet: 3 eggs, champagne vinegar, herbs, spinach, a yellow onion, parmesan, and a lemon.

To start, I heated the sauté pan and added the olive oil once heated, using more olive oil than I normally would for a regular omelet so that the top cooks too. I added the onions to sauté with some salt, to taste. Then, I added in the spinach until it’s slightly wilted. Next, add in the herbs and then the whisked eggs. Cook over medium-high heat (or lower if it seems like it’s cooking unevenly) until the egg mixture is set. Grate parmesan all over the top and more salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste.

Note: Substitute any vegetable with or in addition to the spinach. If I have roasted or uncooked vegetables that haven’t been eaten, or especially if they need to be eaten soon, I’ll throw them in too.

Flat omelet in all its glory

It’s not pictured, but I ended up adding plain full-fat greek yogurt on the side, because I felt like it needed some fat, creamy goodness! I like to sub plain greek yogurt for sour cream and sometimes mayonnaise because it has a high protein content and probiotics!

Farmer’s market tomato and radicchio salad

Food from the farmer’s market needs little more than simple preparation. But why does it taste so good? Read on for more information about locally grown foods, the inspiration behind this salad.

Farmer’s market stands are stocked with fresh, local ingredients, often harvested that very morning. The food itself has spent less time traveling than most conventionally grown food that you’ll find at the grocery store. Not only that, but food grown organically, seasonally, and locally equates to more flavor due to their higher quantity of nutrients, made available through their growing medium. Food grown outside of its seasonality window is likely able to do so using GMOs and pesticides, which in turn damages the soil, so that the final product lacks those valuable nutrients. This is why you can taste the difference in a tomato from the farmer’s market and a conventionally grown tomato from a grocery store. This simple salad is all about amplifying the natural flavors that occur in these foods!

When beauty strikes

For this recipe, I’ve used two types of tomatoes from the SF Ferry Building farmer’s market: Cherokee Purple and Carolina Gold. I came upon these two choices because 1) I’m from South Carolina, so I had to try the Carolina Gold, and 2) I asked the vendor which other tomato he would recommend, and without hesitation, he pointed to the Cherokee Purple. So that was that!

The radicchio and pistachios are also from the farmer’s market. The basil leaves are from my indoor hydroponic garden (which sounds cooler than it is).

This combination of food is infinitely riffable, and could certainly be served with burrata or mozzarella! I didn’t have any on hand, and it was still divine thanks to the quality of the ingredients. The dressing would also swap out nicely with nearly any vinaigrette… the main point being the acidity. And if swapping out the vinaigrette, keep in mind that you want it to have a synergistic effect with the lettuce, so you may want to swap out the lettuce to match the vinaigrette in this scenario. This is essentially a simple salad paired with tomatoes, basil, and roasted nuts.

Here’s how this salad came to be: I started with the star of the show, the tomatoes. From there, I added the basil, because basil and tomatoes are always a winning duo. Then I hand-tossed the radicchio with the lemon-caper dressing in a separate bowl before adding to the plate with the tomatoes and basil. I finished with a topping of pistachios to give a nice hit of fat to the salad.

Ingredients:

  • A few handfuls of chopped radicchio
  • 1-2 small tomatoes
  • A few basil leaves
  • Lemon caper dressing*
  • Roasted, salted pistachios (optional)

Directions:

  • Slice tomatoes and arrange on a plate however you’d like, sprinkle with kosher salt, to taste
  • In a bowl, place the few handfuls of radicchio and add a tbsp or so of the vinaigrette, tossing with hands (to ensure each leaf is coated)
  • Add radicchio and vinaigrette salad to plate
  • Top with sliced or torn basil leaves and the roasted, salted pistachios
  • Grind some peppercorns on top
  • Serve!

*If you aren’t a subscriber of NYT Cooking you may not be able to access the recipe. It’s essentially as follows: 1 clove garlic, ten grinds of fresh pepper, and 1 tsp of capers, and a little kosher salt. These four ingredients are pounded into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Transfer the paste to a bowl, and stir in ~3 tbsp of lemon juice, and ~5 tbsp of freshly grated parmesan. Then slowly add in about 1/4 cup of olive oil. From there, try with a lettuce leaf, and adjust as needed by adding more lemon, olive oil, capers, cheese, and/or salt. Tinker and try a bit on the leaves after each adjustment until you think, damn! that is a good dressing!

Lemon verbena tisane

The first time I tasted lemon verbena tisane, I was at Chez Panisse with my love, Charlie. During this phase of my life, I was not drinking. I am so glad that I wasn’t, or I certainly would have completed my dining experience with a dessert wine over the lemon verbena tisane.

I thought I had never tried tisane before; but in reality we have probably all tried tisane, only called it herbal tea. Tisanes are simply an herbal infusion. Tea is technically only made with tea leaves (black, green, etc.).

The lemon verbena tisane was out of this world. Not only that, but I noticed that it had an overall calming effect similar to chamomile, which I always love. I later researched to find that it is a stomachic, which helps aid in digestion and in toning the digestive organs. Additionally, it helps to soothe anxiety and has a slightly sedative effect. I left Chez Panisse on a cloud.

When I came across fresh lemon verbena at the farmer’s market on Saturday, I knew I would be in for a treat making fresh lemon verbena tisane for at least a week.

I brew it just like tea in my tea pot. I strip the leaves from a couple of stems (though you can add the stem if you’d like), and add them to the tea basket. Then, heat your water to almost boiling, and pour over the leaves. Let sit a few minutes. The longer the leaves steep, the more flavorful the tisane will be. After a few minutes, you’ll likely become intoxicated by the scent and need to pour yourself a cup!