March 2009 Archives

Cooking for One: Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

savory pancake2

DISH: Fried Lentil Salad with Leeks; Savory Cornmeal and Grain Pancake with Herbed Tofu; Baked Eggs with Tofu Croutons
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Lentils, Tofu, Grain Pilaf
TYPE: Creating and Using Leftovers

Recently, my co-workers and I got to talking about food. We were eating lunch (of all things) in the conference room on a Friday, some of us from our own brown bags, some from always-delicious Midtown takeout joints. In the adult equivalent of the Twinkie swap, we were exchanging ideas of dishes to cook, eat, bring to potlucks, etc., when Frederica coined the term “Humpty-Dumpty Food.”

“You know,” she said, “it’s like what you cook for yourself when no one’s watching.” Her shining example: ground beef sauteed with tomatoes on top. That’s it. Probably delicious, but, we all agreed, also probably a bit of a let-down if you served it to a crowd.

Anyway, during the weekend that followed, I did a lot of Humpty-Dumpty cooking, in part to make sure I had rations for the upcoming week (busy), in part to guarantee my yield from the Saturday farmers’ market didn’t go to waste, and in part to wean myself off the sugar-y kick I’ve been on for months and months (remember those oatmeal cookies and that baklava?) with delicious but savory foods. By Monday, I had a refrigerator full of sealed containers: among other concoctions, a hearty grain pilaf, some garlicky herbed tofu, a sweet pea puree, and firm black lentils.

And then it struck me that with all this stuff to work from, I could combine textures and flavors into a couple of dishes that looked gorgeous on the plate, tasted great, and were as far from Humpty Dumpty as the infamous King’s Men.

More to the point, the leftovers, in particular the lentil salad, looked appealing enough in a lunch-time container that I’d definitely eat it in front of co-workers at our favorite conference room haunt.
From my kitchen, where eating at the cool kids’ table obviously matters, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
**Recipes**

If you’re starting this all from scratch, it’ll look intimidating. However, if you make it in parts, it’s really not so bad. Keep in mind, of course, that each recipe makes its own satisfying, if slightly humble, Humpty-Dumpty-ish, dish (there’s nothing wrong with eating plain lentils straight from the pot!).

Fried Lentil Salad with Leeks
Serves 2

This salad is inspired by a post on 101 Cookbooks about frying chickpeas before tossing them with dressing and seasonings. I figured if this method gave beans that extra textural something, it would also tranform lentils from a plain staple to an attractive main course. And it did.I found a little sauteeing lends lentils a whole bunch of crispiness. You can also dress this with olive oil and lemon.

Ingredients
1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 cup cooked lentils (see below; drain and dry them very well)
1 leek, chopped
1 small carrot, grated
2 cups mixed greens

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the lentils and cook, stirring constantly, until they’re slightly crispy, about 5 minutes. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt, and cook until the leeks have wilted. Off the heat, stir in the grated carrots.

Put the mixed greens in a bowl or a plate for serving. Top with the slightly warm lentils and serve with yogurt dressing on the side.

For the yogurt dressing:
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon minced basil
2 teaspoons minced parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients with about 3 tablespoons of yogurt in a blender. Blend until smooth, adding water as necesary to thin. Chill until ready to use.

For the lentils:
1 cup of black lentils (or green—red, however, will melt into goo)
1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring the lentils and 3 cups of water to the boil over medium heat. Cut the garlic into 4 chunks and add it and the olive oil to the pot. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the lentils are soft but hold their shape. About halfway through the cooking, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Drain well. Cool to room temperature or refrigerate until later use.

Savory Grain Pancake with Tofu, Greens, and Sweet Pea Puree
Serves 2

You can make the tofu, grain pilaf, and sweet pea puree far in advance, and you can also replace the grain pilaf with leftover rice (maybe from a takeout container) or another grain.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cooked grains (see grain pilaf, below)
2 eggs
1/2-3/4 cups milk
1/3 cup ricotta

1/2 cup mixed greens
4 slices herbed tofu (recipe below)
Sweet pea sauce (just thin the topping for the Sweet Pea Crostini from Jordana’s Veggie Birthday Wish with a couple tablespoons of water or vegetable stock)

NOTE: I use low-fat or skim for the milk and ricotta, but use whatever fat-content you like.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. Add the cooked grains, separating them out in the flour.

In another small bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk and ricotta, and stir to combine. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry. Set aside for 10-15 minutes, or while you make the rest of the meal.

When ready to cook, heat a small (8″) nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Brush with oil. Pour half the batter into the pan and cook for about 8 minutes until the bottom is golden and firm. Slide on to a plate, hold it to the frying pan, flipping the pancake. Cook on the other side for 4-6 minutes. Keep warm in the oven while you make the second pancake (if you’re making one).

To serve, place a few mixed greens over the pancake and top with two slices of the tofu. Garnish with sweet pea puree and a grind of fresh pepper. Serve more pea puree on the side.

Herbed Tofu
Serves 4



Ingredients
1 container of tofu, cut in 8 slices
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
2 teaspoons sugar dissolved in 2 teaspoons warm water
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely diced garlic
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
splash of Tabasco

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the tofu in one layer in a pan that just fits the slices. Combine all the other ingredients and pour over the tofu, making sure the garlic and parsley are evenly spread. Bake for 45 minutes, until the edges are browned and all the liquid is absorbed.

Grain Pilaf
Serves 4-6


I know the grains below might sound a little esoteric, but they’re available all around, at Whole Foods, et al. You can also use all rice, if you want, but the barley adds a pleasant kind of chewiness, and the millet serves as binder. Plus, rice to the exclusion of all else is boring, and grains are super cheap.

Ingredients
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 leek, chopped
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 onion diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup wild rice-brown rice blend (I used this)
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup barley

Heat the olive oil in a small pot. Add the vegetables and a pinch of salt. Sautee until soft and nearly browned. Add the grains and toast, stirring, for 3-4 minutes until fragrant. Add 3 cups of water and the salt and stir to combine. Turn up the heat and bring the whole thing to a boil, then cover and reduce as low as possible. Cook for about 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir to fluff.

here is true humpty-dumpty cuisine: just some grain pilaf tossed with ricotta and parsley
Baked Egg with Tofu Croutons
Serves 1
This makes a great (and easy) brunch or dinner dish. The leftover tofu and grains develop an awesome and satisfying crust as they reheat in the oven beneath the egg.
Ingredients
1-2 eggs
1/2 cup grain pilaf (see above)
1-2 slices herbed tofu (see above)
1 carrot, cut into thin half-moon slices
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the tofu into squares.
Heat the oil in a small, oven-proof frying pan over high heat. Add the carrots and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes, until brown. Add the grains and the tofu and toss for another minute or two.
Turn off the heat. Carefully, crack an egg (or two—however many you want to eat) over the grains and carrots. Sprinkle with salt and place in the oven. Cook 12-15 minutes, until the white is set and the yolk is as set as you’d like it to be.

mmm…breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner

Cooking For Others: Irish Freckles, Jewish-Italian Breakfast

EVENT: Hoboken St. Patty’s Pick Me Up Brunch; Post-Party
VENUE: Adam’s Apartment, Chelsea
PARTY SIZE: 50-60 Green American Apparel T-Shirts Wearers; 30 Recovering Daytime Drinkers
TYPE: Brunch Buffet; Evening BBQ
MENU: Green Eggs and Ham i.e. Phoebe’s McMuffins with Farm-Fresh Eggs, Prosciutto and Pesto; Post-St. Patty’s Patties i.e. Adam’s Famous Man Burgers

One day a year, us New Yorkers get the a chance to be the “Bridge and Tunnel” crowd, as degenerates young and old flee the island of Manhattan across the gray yonder to a land called Hoboken. And it is on this day, granted one week early, that we post-collegiate, quarter-lifers join the mass exodus to celebrate ye old St. Patrick during an afternoon of good friends, good drinking, and for an unlucky five hundred or so, one great field trip to the Hoboken county police station.>

So in an expertly worded email, my good friend (and former BGSK contributor), Adam, asked this wise question: what better way to celebrate the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland than by drinking at the home of 3 Jews in Chelsea before wandering aimlessly along the banks of New Jersey? And as some of us sat in our cubes pondering the journey across the Nile and other Hebrew school-friendly analogies, 50-70 friends of friends of friends opened their forwarded emails, and answered McMoses’ call—not by RSVP-ing, mind you (which would have saved several English muffin runs mid-party)—but by silently thinking to themselves in not-so-distant office cubes across town: why yes, nothing could be better.

I’d like to think it was the earthly promise of my green eggs and ham that lured so many of our brethren to Adam, Jamie, and Dave’s apartment that day. But likely it was more due to the added value of 10 dozen farm-fresh eggs that my friend Ethan had his dad hand deliver from the Silverstein family farm, his home in Connecticut.

Now I know what you’re thinking: how come even the farmers in this story are Jewish? But as Plunkett and the other good men of Tammany Hall would have it, there was also a pretty healthy showing of Irish freckles, led by but not limited to Miss McEvoy, Mr. Fitzpatrick McKenna, and Mr. Compton Delaney of the County Cork Delaney’s.

Green eggs with a view

It took a week of recovery, but 80 English Muffins, 10 dozen eggs, and 8 pounds worth of post-Patty patties later, I’m ready to dish on the secrets behind the proverbial melting pot of this successful 8am awakening. And, only because I asked him nicely after a few of Keith’s Rasputins, Adam agreed to reveal the recipe for his famous man burgers that kept us going (after a serious 3pm power nap) long into the night.

Oh, and, Happy St. Patty’s Day!

From my small kitchen, on this side of the Hudson, to yours,

Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

Phoebe’s Egg McMuffins with Prosciutto and Basil-Parsley Pesto
Makes 25 breakfast sandwiches (or you can triple the ingredients like we did)



The recipe below contains a key lesson learned from the early-morning egg experience: Regardless of how many people you are accommodating, it is extremely important to recruit some helpers at the beginning of the process. Being the task master that I am, I wrote Adam an email the night before with five prep-work activities that could easily be executed by any of his housemates. When I got there and found that none of them had been touched, I hand-picked an unfortunate few to help: one muffin man, one tomato slicer, and one queen of all trades and exploited them for the entirely of the party. (Well, the tomato slicer got off easy, because on further consideration, I decided that his ingredient and, by extension, his role, was more or less expendable.)

Dave, after watching Ratatouille the night before, happily on tomato duty…don’t worry, the New York City rats wouldn’t fit under that hat

My theory behind all of these parties is to arrange the food so your guests can serve themselves buffet style. However, due to the one cookie sheet in the boys’ possession, we were forced to serve only as fast as the muffins became toasted and available, making Muffin Man Mike a main contender for MVP of the party.

Mike the Muffin Man

Mike melted and toasted, I scrambled, and Nicole managed the assembly line, arranging finished muffins and eggs on a variety of serving surfaces, and then I gave them loving dollops of homemade pesto and the gift of trafe (for those Jews and Irishman who choose to consume it). Luckily, the kitchen productivity met the general ebb and flow of the arriving guests, and my past waitressing skills made river-dancing across the room while carrying a platter of McMuffins all the more graceful.

Ingredients

For the Pesto:

5 garlic cloves
3 ½ cups basil (2 oz)
1 cup parsley
¾ cup pine nuts, toasted
½ – 1 cup olive oil
2/3 cup grated parmesan
1 – 1½ lemons, juiced

NOTE: this recipe produces about 3 cups to a quart of pesto. We ran out about a third of the way into the breakfast sandwiches, so I would recommend making the full recipe and freezing whatever you don’t end up using for another use (preferably with pasta), or just halving the recipe above.

For the sandwiches:

3 dozen eggs
1 tsp salt
25 English muffins
25 slices mozzarella (from the deli, it was only $6 for the whole lot)
25 slices prosciutto or deli ham*
3 tomatoes, sliced (optional)

NOTE: I had the boys buy half prosciutto, half generic ham for budget purposes.


Heat a large non-stick skillet (as deep as you have) over medium heat. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and the salt. Add as much of the egg mixture as possible to the pan without risking overflow when you scramble. It’s okay to do these in batches. Or, work two skillets at once and split the eggs evenly between them. As the eggs begin to set on the bottom, scrape with your spatula constantly. When the eggs are almost done, return the heat to the lowest setting and make sure all other elements are ready to serve. The eggs will continue to cook a bit and stay warm for your guests.

Meanwhile, slice the English muffins and place the tops on one large cookie sheet or baking pan, and the bottoms on another. Depending on how many muffins you are working with, you may have to do this in batches. Place both pans in a 350°F oven for 3-5 minutes until they have begun to toast but are not fully browned. Remove the pan with the muffin bottoms. Arrange one slice of mozzarella on each and return to the oven for another 3-5 minutes. You want the tops to be slightly browned and for the cheese to be fully melted on the bottom.

Set out the two muffin pans, a plate of ham, the pesto, and tomatoes (if you’ve decided to go this route) and allow people to serve themselves buffet style at the stove before passing through the gauntlet of accoutrements.

Adam’s Man Burgers
Makes 8-12 patties

The recipe you’ll see below is the result of years of trial and error, and using whatever condiments or spices we had in the kitchen to get the taste just right. As Phoebe informed me last time, ingredient quantities like “a poop load” aren’t particularly helpful, so I tried my best to quantify what was coming out of my crazy hands into these tasty morsels; that said I encourage you to mix and match as you see fit.

I recommend my burgers to be served on a sesame seed bun with cheese and some mashed avocados on top along with the holy trinity of mustard, mayo, and ketchup. Finally, the burgers should be cooked medium rare, as only fascists and people concerned with their health/well-being eat burgers more well done than that, and I try not to associate with either of those groups.

Ingredients

4 pounds of ground hamburger meat – I normally go with half 80/20 and half 90/10 because I’m indecisive, but the lean/fat mix is up to you
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt
1 teaspoon of soy sauce
1 egg
1 tablespoons of BBQ sauce
2 tablespoons of Teriyaki sauce
3 tablespoons of Peter Luger’s Steak Sauce
4 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
2 Avocados sliced
8-12 Cheese Slices
8-12 Sesame seed buns
Ketchup, Mustard, Mayo

Place the meat in a large mixing bowl or casserole dish. In a smaller bowl, combine the egg, salt, pepper, garlic salt, soy, bbq, Worcestershire, steak, and teriyaki sauces. Stir well and add to the meat bowl. With clean hands, incorporate the liquids into the meat. By the end of this intimate time together, the meat should be moist and should smell pretty good. If that’s not the case, add a little bit more Luger’s and Worcestershire sauce.

For best result, massage meat using man hands

Once meat is at the desired consistency (or olfactory state of deliciousness), form it into burger patties about the size of your palm. My preferred portioning is just under half a pound per person (about 12 patties for this recipe), leaving them just wide enough to fit on your buns after a good trip to the grill.

Get the grill (or grill pan) nice and hot. If on an outdoor grill (Phoebe’s family is partial to Webers), cook the patties with the top on for about 5 minutes (until the bottom becomes seared and the top begins to gray) and then flip.

Replace the top and cook for about 4 more minutes. When close to finished, add cheese and briefly toast the buns. Once cheese is melted, serve immediately.

Recommended serving technique as follows: take a few avocado slices, mash them up with a fork (so that they don’t make the bun slippery) and then put them on top of the burger. Add mayo and mustard on the top half of the bun, and create a generous kiddie pool of ketchup on your plate for dipping. Enjoy with friends, though preferably not at the same time.

Lady and the Tramp made it look easy—but maybe that’s because they weren’t eating a Man Burger
Enough said

Cooking For Others: Baby, Meet My Boyfriend

EVENT: Meeting Swathi’s Man Friend
VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
PARTY SIZE: 5
TYPE: Casual Weeknight Dinner
MENU: Carne Asada with Chipotle-Mango Salsa

My friend Swathi never had a serious boyfriend in college. Well, this can be debated. But I liked to think of myself as the closest she ever came to it, evidenced by our intimate two week road trip cross-country. That said, being the pinnacle of maturity that I am, when it came time a few weeks ago to meet her mysterious (yet real) new boyfriend, Bobby, I took it upon myself to make a meal reminiscent of something we ate together during our trip, on a night that remains, perhaps to this day, one of the most romantic evenings I’ve ever spent with another person.

On our great course cross-country, after having successfully battled numerous sets of southerners on the Louisianan pool tables, acquired a $200 speeding ticket in Texas, and eaten our weight in brisket, we decided to forgo a planned course to Swathi’s aunt’s house in Phoenix and instead spent a night at the Grand Canyon which, to her shock, I had never seen. This is how we found ourselves, after a six hour drive from Albuquerque, pulling up to the great expanse just in time for sunset (and also dinner). Together, we took in the view, spoon-fed each other cold leftover carne asada from the night before, and shared a fine white wine, warm and straight from the screw-neck bottle.

My version of the asada didn’t quite compare to the authentic New Mexican take-out, but then again, neither did the view of the parked cars outside. Nostalgia (and jealousy) aside, the company still managed to stand up to round one, albeit with slightly less estrogen and no road-side Britney sing-alongs following dinner.

From my small kitchen, always welcoming your better half, to yours,

Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

p.s. I don’t know how this factors into our love triangle, but just for the record, my trusty CRV which Swathi and I drove cross-country was also named Bobby. Hmm.

**Recipes**

Carne Asada
Makes 6 servings

Carne asada is a North Mexican (Baja) dish involving any thin cut of meat (usually flank or skirt steak) that is marinated, grilled, and then served in tacos or burritos. It’s a pretty general term, and so too are the guidelines for the marinade (usually involving chili) and subsequent accouterments (likely including avocado). Ingredient analogies aside, I like to think of it as the Mexican street stand equivalent of a deli turkey sandwich. You can stick with my guidelines below, but the condiments are really up to you.

This recipe can easily be made for more people by buying a larger cut of meat and increasing the number of tortillas.


Ingredients:

2 lbs flank steak (skirt works as well)
3 garlic cloves, minced of pushed through a press
1 lime, juiced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tbsp adobo sauce from can
1 tsp salt
6 flour tortillas
1 cup shredded jack cheese (optional)
2 limes, sliced
1 or 2 avocados, sliced

The night before: whisk together garlic, lime juice, olive oil, adobo, and salt in a small bowl. Place the steak in a large ziplock bag and cover in marinade, swooshing the liquids around in bag to make sure the meat is fully covered. Marinade overnight.

The night you’ll be eating, heat a grill pan over a high flame (alternatively, you can use a large skillet and pan sear). Remove the steak from the marinade and pat dry with a few sheets of paper towel. Lay steak across pan. Grill on one side for 3-5 minutes, until it has nice, black markings. Flip steak and repeat. Rotate the meat 90 degrees and cook for an additional minute or so to gain the cross-hatch grill mark effect. Repeat on the other side. Remove steak to plate, cover with foil, and allow to rest for ten minutes before slicing.


Meanwhile, wrap the tortillas in foil and place in a 350°F oven for 5-10 minutes (until warmed through).

To serve, slice steak in thin strips against the grain*. Place limes, cheese, avocado slices, and mango salsa (recipe precedes) in separate serving bowls and arrange buffet style with the tortillas and sliced meat on the carving block.


* cuts of meat like flank steak or brisket have a natural way the fibers of the muscle run. (To get a visual, think about how when brisket is cooked down over time it it begins to break apart and become stringy—it is falling apart along the grain.) To create nice slices of meat that hold together well, you need to slice it in the opposite direction of the muscle. It will feel tougher and less natural to make these incisions than if you were going with the muscle, but that’s how you know you are doing it right.

Chipotle Mango Salsa
Makes 6 servings (as an entree condiment)

Ingredients

1 medium mango, diced
1 garlic clove, minced or pushed through a press
½ small red onion, finely diced
1 lime, juiced
1 small canned chipotle pepper, minced*
1 tbsp of adobo sauce (juice from can)*
½ tsp salt
fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)

*From one 7oz (or smaller) can of Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce

Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and toss to combine. For best results, make the salsa the night before to allow the flavors to intensify.

Cooking for Others: Sunday Supper with Sister & Friends

EVENT: Sunday Supper
VENUE: Cara’s Apartment, Park Slope
TYPE: Simple dinner
PARTY SIZE: 4 total
MENU: Spicy black bean dip; Rice noodle salad with vegetables and cashews; Asian baked tofu; Thai cod; Minted fruit salad and cookies

One of the excellent perks of my neighborhood is the fact that it’s really easy to park on the street. This numbers among the reasons it’s easy to convince Jill, my older sister who lives in Gramercy and is now the proud city driver of a car, to come for dinner over the weekend. Since she hadn’t seen her friends Nate and Callie in almost twenty-four hours, she invited them to come over too (they live around the corner from me). Crucial also was that she brought along a discarded chair of hers, making me the proud owner of four whole chairs to set around my table. Two of them even match!

When I wrote to my mom asking her for the exact proportions of the very simple dressing we always like to put on our soba noodles (from the back of the soba noodle box, I’ll admit), she emailed back with the right proportions of rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil—and, more importantly, to say that noodle salad was among Jill’s favorite dinners. Somehow, I don’t think I knew this. Anyway, I substituted rice vermicellli noodles for the soba, since they’re what I had, but they absorbed the sauce and melded with the veggies nicely.

I rounded out the salad with two sources of protein: cod in a simple Thai sauce and tofu baked in a marinade that when all was said and done wasn’t so different than the noodle dressing. But that just means their flavors went well together, right? What was most amazing about the dinner, though, was just how quickly it came together. One minute I thought I’d be chopping carrots into matchsticks forever, but the next there was a meal on the table. As good a meal for a weekday, I’d even claim, as for a Sunday!

From my kitchen, where apparently things come together in a flash, to yours,

Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipes**

Black Bean Dip

This is embarassingly easy and versatile and takes its inspiration from our launch party’s dip-fest.

You take a can of black beans and put it in the blender with about a tablespoon of canned tomatoes or salsa (if you have them; both optional), about 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder, and a sprinkling of cumin. Blend until smooth, adding a bit of water if the mixture sticks in the blender. Taste for salt—it may not need any if the canned beans were well salted.

Serve with tortilla chips and veggies and garnish with chopped cucumbers or cilantro.

Thai Steamed Cod
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 1/2 lb cod (or other white fish)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 scallions, white and green parts chopped
about 1/4 cup chopped mint, cilantro, and basil, if you have them—some or all

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a baking pan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, and vegetable oil. Add the fish and sprinkle with the scallions and whichever herbs you’re using. Put on the lid and bake, 20-25 minutes, until the fish is white through and flakes easily. (All the moisture in the marinade gives you some leeway with cooking time—in other words, no need to stress about it.)

Serve, sprinkled with more fresh herbs, on a plate with edges deep enough to contain all the sauce.

Serve, sprinkled with more fresh herbs, on a plate with edges deep enough to contain all the sauce.

Rice Noodle Salad with Vegetables and Cashews
Serves 4

This salad takes a bit of chopping, but not much else. You can prepare it ahead of time, but don’t put on the dressing more than an hour or so before serving—the noodles will absorb too much of it if you do.

Ingredients
6 ounces rice vermicelli noodles
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 cups mixed greens
2-3 scallions, chopped
about 12 cashews, coarsely chopped

Cook the rice noodles according to package directions—usually 2-3 minutes in boiling water. Rinse them in cool water and drain. On a cutting board, cut them into 4-5″ lengths. Toss them with 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.
In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar. Set aside.

In a salad bowl, mix together the vegetables, noodles, and cashews, reserving a few scallions and cashews for garnish. Toss well with the dressing and sprinkle with the garnish.

Asian Baked Tofu
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 package firm tofu
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons grated or finely minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons mirin or other white wine
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cut the tofu into 10 even slices and use them to line a baking pan with edges. Mix together all the other ingredients, stirring well to dissolve the honey, and pour them over the tofu. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the marinae is absorbed and the edges of the tofu pieces are brown. Serve hot or at room temperature. (You can also slice into strips and serve atop the noodle salad.)


Minted Fruit Salad
Serves 3-4

So I really like the idea of serving fruit salad (light) with little cookies (less light) after a big dinner. However, I could really use some ideas for presentation—I wound up just piling the cookies along the side of the fruit salad bowl, but they didn’t look that inspired, plus they got soggy. If any expert platers have thoughts, I’d love to know (in the comments)! Read the original post here.

Ingredients
1/2 cup blueberries
2 kiwis, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 Asian pear, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 crisp apple, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 orange, peeled with sections cut out
1 2-inch piece of orange peel*
1/2 cup mint, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
Cookies, homemade or purchased

Combine the sugar with about 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat, add the mint, orange peel any orange juices that streamed out while you were cutting out the sections, and let it come to room temperature.

Meanwhile, combine the fruit in a serving bowl with the chopped mint. When the syrup has cooled, add it to the bowl. Toss well, and refrigerate until serving. Garnish with simple sugar cookies or purchased cookies, like ‘Nilla wafers or ginger snaps in some original and appealing way.

TIP: A kitchen job I had while in college taught me all I needed to know about carving sections out of oranges. Here’s what you do: with a paring knife, cut the tops and bottoms from the orange so it sits flat. Then cut off the peel and the pith all around, so you have a naked-looking orange. Holding this in your left hand, use a smaller knife to cut around each section, letting the juice drip into the salad bowl and dropping sections in as you go. If this sound impossible, skip the orange, or peel off the pith in some other manner.

that’s not Cara! Pictured: fruit salad and Jill in Cara’s chef hat

Asian Baked Tofu

Asian Baked Tofu
Serves 4

Read the original post here.

Ingredients
1 package firm tofu
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons grated or finely minced ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons mirin or other white wine
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cut the tofu into 10 even slices and use them to line a baking pan with edges. Mix together all the other ingredients, stirring well to dissolve the honey, and pour them over the tofu. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the marinae is absorbed and the edges of the tofu pieces are brown. Serve hot or at room temperature. (You can also slice into strips and serve atop the noodle salad.)

Cooking for Others: Our Small Kitchen, Launched and Ready to Mingle



EVENT: Big Girls, Small Kitchen Launch Party
VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
PARTY SIZE: oh, just 75 of our closest friends
TYPE: After-work dips and drinks
MENU: Panko-Crusted Spinach Dip; Spicy Chipotle Hummus; Mint and Sweet Pea Dip; White Bean, Caramelized Onion, and Rosemary Puree; Dueling Oatmeal Chocolate Cookie Party Favors


We passed the three month blogging mark, and to your Quarter-Life Cooks, that meant it was time to throw a party. The plan was to have a casual get-together with the readers and friends who’ve shown us their vested interest in the blog, feed them, and talk to them in a non-creepy, experimental way—finding out what they liked and wanted more of, and getting inspired by the ways they make use of their kitchens. This materialized for about the first ten guests who arrived and then, well, it kind of just became a party.

In any event, like the more intimate food occasions we host, we did take a relatively low-key, cost-effective approach, making dips that could be assembled in advance, and offering a take-away or two to be shared with your kitchen (and stomach) once back at home.

The take-away, our home-made party favors of sorts, came from the roots of our blog and our cooking friendship in general. To embrace redundancy for those just tuning in:

Our cooking friendship began as a bit of a rivalry over chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies. Whose confection was richer, homier, more chocolate-y? we challenged our friends over Tupperware containers during high-school free periods (well, sort of), Phoebe a proponent of the Joy of Cooking version, Cara of the classic Betty Crocker. The dispute was never settled. The friendship, however, continued.

At the risk of opening old wounds and, the more perilous danger, revealing to our big kid friends just how dorky we still are, we offered party favors in the form of these very cookies. Both varieties were carefully (and fairly) made by Cara over the course of the week, packaged in a pastel color scheme, and distributed in between bowls of bean dips for critical consumption.

For those of you who missed out, or failed to share the dueling P and C confections with your neighbor, we’ve included both recipes below to test for yourselves. Whether on our way to Mr. Montera’s American History class way back when, or now, in between conversations on recessionista ways past and present, we’re always happy to have a bite of both.

From our small kitchen, officially opened to yours,

Phoebe and Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS

**Recipes**
Panko-Crusted Spinach Dip
Makes about 10-15 servings

Ingredients
3 16-ounce bags frozen spinach
2 8-ounce boxes cream cheese
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp saltFor the topping:

½ cup panko
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup Parmesan
2 tbsp olive oil

If you’ve done your grocery shopping a day or two in advance, leave the spinach out of the freezer (either in the fridge or on the counter) to defrost. When ready to use, remove spinach from the bag and place in a bed of paper towels (one or two). Fold the spinach in the paper towels to form a bundle and squeeze until all the water has been released. Unwrap, discard towel, and add greens to bowl.

Alternatively, if you are making the dip immediately upon returning from the grocery store, empty the spinach into a casserole pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Replace lid and allow the spinach to defrost, stirring occasionally. Once almost all the frozen chunks have broken down, remove lid and let the moisture begin to evaporate. When this process is finished, use paper towel method above to make sure the spinach has no excess moisture.

In a medium bowl, combine the spinach, sour cream, mayonnaise, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and salt. Place cream cheese in the microwave for 1-2 minutes until soft enough to easily stir into the mixture. Add cheese and stir until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Place in an oven-proof baking or casserole dish.

TIP: dip can be made up until this point 1-2 days prior to serving. Seal with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated.

Preheat the over to 350°F.

Bake spinach dip for 20-25 minutes, until the top has begun to firm up and harden. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the topping, making sure the olive oil is well distributed. Remove the dip from the oven, and sprinkle the topping evenly over the top. Increase the temperature to 400°F, and return dip to oven for ten minutes. The topping should be nice and golden brown.

Serve immediately with tortilla chips for dipping.

Spicy Chipotle Hummus
Makes 1 large bowl (serves roughly 10)

Ingredients

3 15-ounce can chick-peas, drained
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
6 tbsp tahini
1 lemon, juiced
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
1 ½ tsp salt
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, minced
2 tbsp adobo liquids from can (maybe less, I would add this to taste depending on how spicy you like things)
½ cup water
Paprika or chili powder and olive oil for garnish

In a small food processor, combine the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, tahini, cumin, paprika, and salt. Puree the mixture, adding the water as needed to thin it. When hummus is at desired consistency and smoothness, return to mixing bowl.

Mix in the minced chipotle peppers and 1 tbsp chipotle liquids. Taste for seasoning. Add additional chipotle liquids as desired.

Mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Garnish hummus with a couple dashes of paprika or chili powder, and a drizzle or two of olive oil. Serve with toasted pita, torn baguette, or carrots.

Minted Sweet Pea Dip
Makes 1 large bowl (serves roughly 10)

Ingredients

1 inch ginger
4 large shallots
4 cloves garlic
3 15 oz bags frozen peas
1 cup mint, roughly chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

In a medium sauce pan or dutch oven with a lid, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Sauté the shallot for a few minutes until translucent and then add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook for an additional two minutes. Turn the flame to low and add the frozen peas. Stir to incorporate with the shallot mixture, cover, and cook for 5-10 minutes until peas are completely defrosted but not mushy.

Place ¾ of the mixture in a small food processor or blender and puree. Add the mint and combine. In a small bowl, combine the pea puree with all but ½ tablespoon of the remaining whole peas and stir to incorporate.

Mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Garnish with the tablespoon of peas, a few leaves of mint, and serve at room temperature with crusty torn baguette.

White Bean, Caramelized Onion, and Rosemary Puree
Makes 1 large bowl (serves roughly 10)

Ingredients

3 large Vidalia onions (or any sweet onion), thinly sliced
2 sprigs rosemary (about 2-3 tbsp), minced
¼ cup water
1 lemon, juiced
4 15oz cans cannelloni beans
1 tsp salt (to taste)

Sauté the onions over a medium flame, stirring very infrequently. Once they soften, and then begin to brown on each side, return the flame to low and allow to slowly caramelize. During this time, it is important to make sure the onions are spread as evenly as possible across the pan. Every few minutes, scrape the bottom and redistribute the onions so each gains the maximum amount of surface area. The intention is to slowly crisp the onions by enticing the remaining liquids to sweat out, and for the onions to sweeten by condensing in their own juices. If you stir too often, the onions will turn to mush. This process takes about 40 minutes.

In a small food processor, puree onions, beans, lemon, and water (as needed), until mixture is smooth.

Meanwhile, heat the minced rosemary and 1 tsp olive oil in the sauté pan used for the onions until aromatic, about two minutes. Add the herbs to the mixture and puree.

Return to mixing or serving bowl and season to taste. Canned cannelloni beans can be really salty, so tasting is very important before adding the salt.

Mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. Serve with crusty baguette.

Cara’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 3 dozen

As you’ll see, the cookies take two distinct approaches (which is why we felt comfortable having Cara make both…it’s more about the recipes competing, see, than the QLC’s): Phoebe’s method takes a regular chocolate chip cookie recipe and adds oatmeal, while Cara’s substitutes chocolate chips for raisins in a regular oatmeal cookie recipe. Since they share the ingredients that ultimately lead to deliciousness—butter, brown sugar, and chocolate—there’s less a competition between the bakers than a friendship-augmenting rivalry. In other words, the story has a happy ending.

Ingredients
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix butter with sugars until incorporated and creamy. Ad d the eggs and mix to combine. Stir in the vanilla extract

Separately, combine the baking soda, baking powder, salt, flour, oats, and chocolate chips. Add to the butter mixture and mix only until just combined.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet (about 2 inches apart). Bake 8-10 minutes until the edges are crisp and the centers are still slightly soft.

Phoebe’s Classic Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 2 dozen

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup rolled oats

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, cream butter. Add in batches the brown sugar and white sugar and beat until fully incorporated and creamy.

In a separate bowl or cup, beat together the egg and vanilla. Add to the butter sugar mixture and stir to combine.

Sift flour, salt, and baking soda into the bowl of wet ingredients. You may want to do this in two batches as to avoid turning your kitchen white.

Once the dry ingredients are fully incorporated, stir in oatmeal and chocolate chips.

Drop from a teaspoon, well apart on a greased sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the top begins to firm up, but the cookies are still rather soft in the middle. Allow to cool on the baking sheet.