Archive for the 'Recipes' Category

It’s the Stuff(ing) Dreams Are Made Of

This time, exactly three years ago, I was living in Sevilla, Spain as an English teacher. I was living with a true cornucopia of people from all over the globe (American, Puerto Rican, Dutch, Swiss, German, Mexican, English, Australian, Kiwi and Spanish). Ever seen that movie The Spanish Apartment? Yeah-it was kinda like that. Well, the day before Thanksgiving that year, I was getting pretty homesick when the Puerto Rican guy Jose (who had lived most of his life in the States) asked me if I’d be interested in doing Thanksgiving for the house with him. I was so excited he proposed that and asked him what he wanted me to cook. He said nothing, just to show up excited for the day. I asked him if he was planning on making stuffing, and he said no. What!?!?!?! Hold up here…no stuffing? That’s just ridiculous. Thanksgiving isn’t thanksgiving without stuffing. It’s not only my favorite Thanksgiving food (by far), it’s up there as one of my favorite foods of all time. I told him that I had to have stuffing and I would make it.

However, there was a problem: I’d never made stuffing before. I knew if involved bread and celery and baking and consuming, but I didn’t know anything else. So, I emailed my mom to get her should-be award-winning recipe for stuffing. Her response was an incredibly vague recipe for stuffing that didn’t even include spices! And because I couldn’t call her cause it was muy caro, I had to use her recipe and figure out what was missing to make the ultimate stuffing, especially for a bunch of people who had never had stuffing before!

The morning of Thanksgiving (actually, we ate on Friday cause I had a bunch of classes to teach the day before) I woke up late. Really really late. At noon and we were supposed to be eating at 2pm. I was sleeping some crazy hours when I was there. I hadn’t started my stuffing at all and still had to go to the supermarket-the far away Corte Ingles, not the close SuperSol cause SuperSol had random stuff and Corte Ingles had everything. I left my flat within 10 minutes of waking up and ran into Jose on the way there. He just looked at me and looked at his watch and just shook his head. As I ran by him in my flip flops (ahhhh, Southern Spain in late November), I screamed that I promised I would be done in time. I got to the supermarket in 15 minutes and spent the next 30 wandering around, searching for thyme and sage. I had no idea how to say them in Spanish (still don’t) and just started at the dried herbs in confusion. I finally found the thyme by smelling everything (and I think it started with a T too), along with everything else and sprinted back to my flat. It was at least 1 by the time I got there and got cooking.

I was able to decipher my mom’s recipe and pump out my first stuffing. I didn’t finish by 2-more like 2:45, but it’s a good think Spaniards are chronically late. Along with some rotisserie chickens (no turkeys in Spain, also this is before I was a full vegetarian), some sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberries and classic tortilla, Jose and I presented a first Thanksgiving to about 12 or 13 non-Americans. I remember that everyone had a great time and enjoyed it all, especially the homesick Americans (I wasn’t the only one). We talked about how Thanksgiving started and what our familiy traditions were. It was one of my favorite memories of that time in Spain-that’s how I remember it all so well! And the stuffing? I honestly think the non-Americans didn’t really get it. Soggy baked bread? Hmmmm. I have a little feeling that they just ate it to be polite. I, along with the other Americans, LOVED it though. We only had a little bit leftover and that was gone in a flash by the next day. That smell of that thyme, despite the hurdles I had to jump over to get it, brought me back to my Mom’s house for the day and made me feel a little less homesick.

And that brings us to 2008. Stuffing is still my favorite Thanksgiving food and I was looking forward to it like no other. And gorging on it. And eating it cold the next day. And the next day after that. However, I am now a full vegetarian and won’t eat my Mom’s stuffing that she stuffs inside the Turkey and uses chicken broth in. I asked her last week if I could make my own and she said sure. Thanks Mom! It was just like Spain all over again…except this time I got it started the day before. My mom had pulled out some whole wheat sandwich bread for me that she had (I have no idea where…had you froze it Mom? Or was it a new loaf?) and I added a whole wheat demi-baguette from Whole Foods for some different texture. I tore up all the bread into small pieces and let it sit out overnight to get stale (this was something I was seriously lacking when I was in Spain. You can’t get bread stale in 5 minutes). I don’t know why you get it stale, but it makes it better.

FYI-the pics from now on are all taken by my sister. She made them blurry. Maggie-why did you make them blurry?! She’s a really good photographer-maybe not with my camera.

The morning of Thanksgiving, I got back from the Turkey Trot (Running Update coming soon!) and got ready to sit down to a nice hot bowl of oatmeal. My mom, however, had different plans. She said that I had to make my stuffing at that instant or I wasn’t going to get it cooked because she needed the oven for the 17 pound turkey. But mom! I’m cold and hungry and tired! Well, at least she let me finish my oatmeal but I wasn’t allowed to linger. So I got cooking.

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I started with some celery and onions that my mom had pre-chopped along with some fresh thyme (not in Spanish!) and parsley. I like lots of veggies in my stuffing so I added more onions and celery. I sauteed all that in a bit of olive oil in a deep saucepan. The key to this is using a big enough pan.

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What’s up. (I look so crappy cause remember I had barely gotten back from the Turkey Trot and had loaded on some sweats on top of my running clothes cause I was so cold!)

When that got all soft and good, I added the stale bread and mixed that in with all the veggies. I did it in 3 rounds so I could get it all in the pan (I would squish it down). Throughout this I kept adding more and more dried thyme. I like things extra herb-y so I wanted more and more. And thyme is one of my favorite herbs so to me, the more, the better.

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After I got all that combined to my satisfaction, I started adding the broth. I added a little at a time, letting the bread absorb all the liquid. I wanted enough broth so the stuffing wasn’t dry but not too much that it was soggy. I’d say I added about half a quart of veggie broth, or 2 cups. Squishy but not falling apart-a key.

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I then put it in a baking dish that I had coated lightly with oil (smart-my mom didn’t to that to hers and hers got all stuck to the bottom…I win!). And threw that in the oven at 350 until I decided it was done.

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But wait! After about 10 minutes (definitely not enough time) my mom declared that I was time for the turkey and my stuffing had to wait. So, that promptly came out of the oven and into the fridge. No stuffing quite yet.

Luckily, the turkey was done early so I was able to stick my stuffing back into the oven for about 40 minutes, until the top got all crusty and yummy. Doesn’t that just look fabulous??

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Along with the rest of our spread-turkey, non-veggie stuffing in the front, my healthy, whole wheat stuffing in the back, mashed potatoes covered, brussels sprouts, mac & cheese, butternut squash, oyster dressing-my stuffing was absolutely phenomenal.

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I’m going to brag a little and say that it was the best I’ve ever had. I didn’t eat my mom’s but I’m sure that was fantastic too. I stuffed myself with stuffing and the day after and the day after. It was amazing and brought back memories of my American Thanksgiving in Spain 3 years earlier. Salud!

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New Uses for Old Cookware: Tofu (pictures are up!!!)

Pictures are up!

So, last night while running the treadmill at the gym, I was trying to think of a way to add something fun and exciting to this post. Any fun stories or anecdotes? Crazy experiences? Silly segues? No, no, none of that. How can I relate this awesome episode of Survivor I’m watching while on the treadmill to this recipe? Did I use tofu to make a fake immunity idol? Did I giggle incessantly while making it as the contestants did in tribal council tonight? No (by the way…I’m not normally a Survivor person, but this season started in the midst of my bed rest period-i.e. the night I broke my toe-and all I was doing was studying for the GREs and watching TV, so I got addicted but only catch every 4th or so episode now. I was psyched that they had it on at the gym.) No, no, none of that. I guess this is just going to be boring. Let me know if you fall asleep while reading this.

This cooking adventure took place several weeks ago (which, let’s be honest here, 90% of my posts do) when I was jonesing for some baked tofu. Now, many of you might remember, I don’t have a good track record with tofu. I basically mess it up every time (do you remember when I had this post and I thought it might be a fluke? Yeah-it was a fluke. That never worked again), so I’m always trying new ways to cook it because I don’t have a good standby. And almost every time I follow a recipe, it fails, so I just make things up. I still eat tofu frequently, but 99 times out of 100, it’s just a chunk cut fresh with some tamari sauce poured on top and eaten plain and cold. Good, but kinda boring. I was in the mood for something different, specifically baked and delicious.

I hit a snag here though…when baking tofu I think the key is an even single layer-no double stacking. However, my kitchen cabinets are severly lacking in terms of cookware-all of it save for some bowls and my mini quisinart that I purchased are hand-me-downs from my mom or my roommate’s parents. Therefore, I don’t have a large enough pan to bake a whole package of tofu in a single layer. It was time to get creative. I have 2 loaf pans that I use frequently that I tried to fit it all in…nope. Double layers everywhere! Disaster in the making. How ’bout a nice glass baking dish? No way Jose! It also didn’t fit and things burn in glass easily and are impossible to clean up. Wait a minute…what’s that I see in the back?

Why yes…it’s a mini muffin pan! It hit me like a load of bricks. Or a load of mini muffins. I thought “Man Betsy, you are one genius…this is going to work perfectly!” So, I talk to myself a lot..don’t you? I thought so. Mini muffin pan it was!!! Awesome. So, I set about cutting my tofu (which I had pressed) into small squares (maybe 1.5 inches x 1.5 inches and half an inch or so thick) and making a spice rub to make them yummy. I’m trying to remember the exact mixture, but let’s go with cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, fennel seeds, black pepper, paprika (don’t know why I added this-I hate paprika), salt…maybe something else or that might be it. I put a heavy sprinkling (or sprinklin’ like how Sarah Palin might say it) on each side of each piece of tofu, using the wetness of the tofu for the rub to stick. I then put each piece in each muffin spot (? what would you call this) in the pan, pressing them down a little so they formed a little cup.

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The tofu wasn’t touching the bottom of the pan (it would have to be much smaller to do that) and stuck up a little on the edges. It was kinda the cutest thing ever when I put them all in there! Lil’ tofu cups! Everything little is cuter.

I stuck the pan in the oven for about 40 minutes or so at 375 till I decided it was done. And it was done!

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The result…the cutest little slightly crunch tofu cups. The edges were crispy and the middle was chewy. They weren’t soggy at all because they weren’t touching the bottom of the pan. You could totally put sauce in middle like those Tostitos Tortilla Scoops things.

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I could totally market these like that. Who would buy them? Let’s be honest…probably no one. And the taste? Let’s be honest again…not great. That rub was not a winner. It was that darn paprika, I swear! So, I got a technique down…but not a rub.

Here’s a question for my loyal readers (probably only my Mom if we’re really being honest all around here)…what rubs and sauces and marinades for tofu can I use that work great and taste great? Any sucesses? I just want my tofu to taste good. I need some serious help here.

The Best Butternut Squash Soup for Marathon Cheering

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First of all, I just want to say that I am in still totally in awe over the election. I am so proud of our country right now and I feel like we witnessed something truly revolutionary and monumental. Everytime I see an image online or in the newspaper or in tv that says President Obama, I still get teary-eyed. I’m looking forward to see him in action. It’s a new world right now.

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Onto food! But first…the events of the day last Sunday. I swear it has to do with food! Just read on. So, last Sunday (the 2nd) was one of my favorite days of the year to be a New Yorker. (Oh crap. I’m watching Andy Rooney talk about the election and I’m crying again. It’s probably never going to stop for the next 8 years.) Last Sunday was the New York Marathon! It’s such a fun day for both runners and non runners. The entire marathon roams through all five boroughs so no matter where you live, you can probably find some close-ish to go watch. Also, because it travels through the entire city, the whole course is swamped with fans along every inch. Us New Yorkers love to cheer! Last year I went to my friend’s apartment in Brooklyn who lives right on the course on 4th Ave and we sat out her window for 5 hours cheering for every single runner, from the amazing elite men and women to the walkers in the back. So, this year, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to go back to my friend’s in Brooklyn, I got a friend to go with me to 1st Ave in Manhattan to cheer. We got there just in time to see the elite women (they go first)….

Look!! Paula Radcliffe! Kara Goucher!
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Catherine Ndebera!
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They were pretty amazing to watch. I mean their legs! How the hell do they move so fast!?!?! And those strides!! Huge! And oh my god those abs. I mean, Paula Radcliffe just had a baby like 20 months ago! Jealous. Oh so jealous. After watching the amazing women (Paula won…she is so amazing) we had brunch right there on 1st Ave (Le Pain Quotidien. Mmmmmm praline spread mmmmmm) and went right back outside to watch the rest of the marathon. We missed the elite men but that didn’t matter…there were still TONS of people coming through. We spent the next 3 hours standing on the street cheering our little butts off. It was FREEZING but that didn’t matter. If you’ve never cheered at a marathon before, a lot of runners write their names on their shirts to they can be called out and cheered for by name. We shouted for many Bob’s and Dan’s and Ali’s and Jen’s and names longer than 3 letters too. We shouted for Italians and Australians and guys in green shirts and Buffalo Bills shirts. Anything to make a runner look our way and encourage a big smile and get them going. We were definitely the loudest in our little vicinity and even had two groups of people come up to us and ask us to help them cheer for their friends when they came through. We even had an Italian runner tell us we were the two prettiest things on the course. I’ll take compliments from delirious marathon runners any day! It made me even more excited about my future marathon…whenever that might be. Ooooo, it was fun. I love marathons and cheering for them. Seeing all those runners reach that huge goal after all those week of training is pretty amazing and such a blast! I’ll be there one day…

So, by the time I trekked all the way home (it’s a trek…60+ blocks. in the wind and cold) I was freeeezing, as was my apartment. You see, the day before it wasn’t so cold and I had the window open in my room as did one of my roommates. So my apartment wasn’t much respite from the weather outside which meant that I needed an outside source to warm me up. My body was cold, my throat was scratchy and sore from all the screaming (those runners better had appreciated my screaming!)-there was only one possible answer. Soup. Creamy, delicious, warming soup. And I knew exactly what kind to make. Well, considering I had planned this whole thing the day before, of course I knew what kind to make. Butternut squash of course! My favorite part of autumn, butternut squash soup on a cold was just the ticket. However, I’ve made tons of baked butternut squash before but never butternut squash soup. The reason? I don’t have a stick blender which is needed to make the soup creamy and blendy (is that a word? well, as I’m typing this, a red line appeared underneath, so I think now. I don’t care!) But guess what? I still don’t have one, so I needed to work around that. The second problem was that I didn’t have a tried and true recipe that I feel like one needs for a classic butternut squash soup. Did I want to try something new? Heck no…I’m the queen of making up my own recipes. I was going to wing it!

By the way…I apologize or the lengthiness of this post. I don’t know what’s going on…

So here’s how my recipe came together. I picked up a nice squash at the farmer’s market the Saturday before and decided to wander to find something else to put in. I didn’t want it to be just squash so I was looking for some farmer’s market inspiration. I found it quickly in the most bountiful fall veg at the market. Apples!! Wait a minute…thats not a veg. But that’s besides the point. Seriously though, every single farmer has bushels of apples overflowing so I had to take advantage of it. And I swear I had seen a recipe somewhere that said that apples are great in a butternut squash soup. (after I made this I saw about 4 butternut squash soup recipes with apples in it, so I was totally right. I always am.) Along with the squash and apples, I picked up some onions and garlic and was on my way.

Fast-forward to the next day (afternoon of the marathon) and mustered up all my post-marathon cheering strength to make this soup! I first peeled and chopped the squash, apples and onions, tossed it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and spread it out in a large pan along with a bunch of whole garlic cloves (maybe 6?).
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Remember that I needed to get over the lack of stick blender but still wanted a creamy soup? I decided to roast the bejesus out of everything so they were as mushy as possible. I pumped the oven to maybe 375 or 450 and roasted it all for about an hour and a half, until it was as roasted as possible. Here’s what it looked like when it was the desired mushiness.
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As much as I wanted to dig in right there (who doesn’t love plain roasted autumn veggies?) I persevered in my slightly less freezing apartment (the oven made it a little more toasty) to turn this mush into soup. I tossed all that mush into my handy dutch oven along with a quart of veggie stock (I use Whole Foods brand-it’s cheap as all heck and good), about 3 ladle-fuls of water and a bunch of fresh thyme. I then took my potato masher and mashed the concoction to death. Well, not that much because I still wanted it a little chunky. Because I let it cook so long, the mashing was so easy and it became a real soup pretty quickly! I then covered it and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
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I was way too excited to dig in when I decided it was done. I filled up a bowl and cozied up on the couch while watching the Amazing Race. This was not one of those recipes where I wasn’t sure if it was going to be good or not. I knew it was going to amazing (like the race!)…it was. Honestly, I think it’s the best soup I’ve ever made, and I’ve made tons of soups before. It was a gorgeous deep orange color-dark because I had roasted it so much and had so much flavor. I couldn’t taste the apple but it tasted subtly sweeter because of the apple. Also, because it had all be roasted, there were lots of bits of carmelized burnt pieces that were kinda chewy and fantastic to eat. And the thyme…ooo that thyme. My favorite herb made the whole soup. And it was still a little chunky which made it a little more exciting that just a straight creamy soup. Overall, it was so incredible and perfect and the ideal throat soother for a sore marathon cheering soup. Next year, maybe I’ll need post marathon running soup. Who knows. The lottery pickers at the New York Marathon know. They hold my fate in their hands.
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Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

1 butternut squash
2 large, firm apples (I used Mutsu. Choose a crispy baking variety)
2 medium yellow onions
5 garlic cloves
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 quart veggie stock
fresh thyme

Peel the butternut squash and chop into small pieces. Chop the apples and onions into similar size pieces (keep the peel on the apples). Toss all chopped produce along with the peeled but whole garlic cloves with a few tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. Put it all in a baking dish in a pretty thin layer and bake at 375 for about an hour and a half, mixing twice during baking, until quite mushy. Put all the baked squash, apples and onions into a large pot (like a dutch oven) along with the stock and water. Mash with a potato masher until it reaches your desired smoothness. Add the thyme. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Eat it on a cold day to warm your soul. Mmmmm.

Oh, and there’s going to be no recap of Chris’ birthday.

Ok…this is all you get.
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No Creativity Tonight, It’s Just White Bean & Olive Dip

Yikes. It’s very much a Thursday night. My brain is fried. My body is tired. And I’m about to write a post about something I made over 2 months ago. This is going to be interesting. Just bear with me…

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If you have the most amazing memory in the world, then you probably remember when I made Baba Ghanoush a few months back. You don’t? Well, why didn’t you click on the link! Geez. Well, I did in an effort to use up all the veggies I kept buying at the Farmers Market. So, that one round of B.G. (totally my initials by the way) used of some of the veggies, but I just kept going back for more! The scent of fresh carrots in the morning are too alluring to me. I can’t resist. And I still can’t. I currently have a big bag of carrots (from the market), lots of kirby cucs and some tomatoes just waiting to be eaten. I think I have a problem with buying too many veggies. It’s a non-stop cycle-the more I buy and eat them, the more I want to keep buying and eating. Well, at least an addiction to fresh farmers market veggies is better than an addiction to Ginger-O’s. Or Almond Butter.

Anyway, back in the day (July?) I pulled a recipe for a white bean dip in a Martha Stewart from work that looked quite appetizing. It had white beans (love), olives (love) and pine nuts (love) so I thought it would be perfect for using up more veggies. So, I stole it from work (legal stealing this time) and headed off to the farmers market to load up on veggies (like I didn’t have enough) and Whole Foods for dip ingredients including an adventure with the olive bar. Ooooo Whole Foods Bowery, how I love thee. I came home and got cracking on some white bean and olive dip!

But, I didn’t really follow the recipe. It called for mayonnaise, I didn’t add that. It called for pine nuts (as I mentioned), I didn’t add those, for some reason. It called for cumin seeds (which I think could have made it spectacular), I didn’t add that. Those are three strong, powerful flavors that could have really impacted the dip in a good way. This is what I did add (all into a food processor): a drained can of white beans, about 1/4 of a cup of coarsely chopped kalamata olives, the juice of 1 lemon, a little bit of cayenne pepper, a few tablespoons of olive oil and some salt. A little blitz and there you go. Served with the aforementioned veggies (carrots, fennel, kirby cucs and tomatoes), all from the farmers market.

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And the verdict? Well, the first time I had it for dinner, it was fantastic! Strongly flavored from the olives (I’m a huge olive fan), a little acidic from the lemon, slightly spicy from the cayenne and filling and smooth from the beans! Mmmm mmm mm. Paired with all my bountiful veggies, it was a hit. I was so excited! Something else to eat my veggies with! However, in true Betsy Cooks Healthy fashion, I made enough dip for several night’s dinners and things started going downhill fast after the initial meal. My second night, it wasn’t so great. I only at half my veggies with the dip, the rest I ate plain, cause I wasn’t into the dip. And the third night, I couldn’t eat even one bite. The pungent aroma and flavor of the olives made it smell and taste rotten. I know it wasn’t, but it was so off-putting, I had to throw it away! And I am not one to throw away food. I’m on a budget, remember?! Stupid olives. You messed with my dip! Or maybe me not following the recipe is what messed with my dip. This might be one to try again.

So, how am I doing on my veggie addiction? Not so good, still lots of veggies, excess purchases, overflowing bags of carrots and kirby cucs. The fact that it’s almost winter (whoa-talk about getting cold fast…anyone else??) is probably a good thing to help me save money because I don’t think cucumbers are grown in New York in January. Until then, no white bean and olive dip for me.

Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba Ganoush

(say that like the beginning of Barbara Ann by the Beach Boys.)

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Man-that baba ganoush was some tasty eats to nosh on while watching the Olympics opening ceremony-which were freaking amazing, by the way. Too bad I finished it last Monday-5 days too early. Damn.

I’ve been into dips lately. It’s a great way to use up fresh produce you can’t stop buying from the farmers market, cause I’ve been having a problem with that lately. It’s becoming a problem-I get so excited every Saturday morning at the market that I buy waaay more veggies than 1 petite person could possibly consume. That’s lots and lots and lots of chopped salads. And I’m getting a little (just a little) sick of them. But I can’t stop buying veggies. So, I’ve needed to find alternative ways of eating them. And dipping them in yummy dips has been delightfully delish. Lots of hummus, a white bean and olive dip from Martha Stewart (coming…), and my latest venture: baba ganoush.

I’ve eaten buckets of the baba at restaurants, especially from a fantastic kosher deli near my job. I always gobble it before the hummus but I’ve never considered making it myself. It seems so daunting and complicated, especially compared to hummus. With hummus, just dump a bunch of ingredients into the food processor and give it a whirl. With baba ganoush, you gotta roast the eggplant first. That’s one extra step-a scary one. However, I like taking risks. Heck-I cut my own hair quite often! If that isn’t a risk, I don’t know what is. So, when I saw a gorgeous bi-colored eggplant at the farmers market last Saturday, I decided to fuel my audacious side and try my had at baba ganoush.

And now it’s time for another photo essay-cause we all love photos, don’t we.

Here’s said eggplant. Isn’t it just stunning? I made sure it was firm with no soft spots.
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This first step was to roast the eggplant on a burner on the stove. I’ve seen chefs do it on TV with eggplants and such, but I’ve never tried it myself. So, I just used the hours and hours of Food Network knowledge I had stored in my brain and let it rip. I put it directly on top of the burner and rotated every minute or so until the entire eggplant was completely charred.
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Use tongs to rotate the eggplant cause you don’t want to burn your hands!! It took about 15 minutes total to char it. This is not cooking the eggplant, just roasting the outside to make it all smokey tasting. The longer you do this, the smokier the baba ganoush will taste. This is what it looked like when I was done with the stove.
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I then stuck the eggplant in the oven at about 400 degrees for about 30 minutes-until I could stick a knife in the eggplant with no resistance. That is more important than the time-just make sure the eggplant is entire cooked and mushy. Mushy eggplant-mmmm.

The next step was when it became easy as pie. Or easy as hummus. I did my best to peel the skin off the eggplant and put it in the insides (it’s okay if some of the skin stays on-definitely not the end of the world) in a food processor along with a tablespoon of tahini, the juice of half a lemon, a good drizzle of olive oil, salt and a clove of garlic that I roasted as well. I didn’t want to put in a clove of raw garlic in because the flavor can overpower so much and I didn’t want it to hide the smokey flavor of the eggplant. So, when I put the eggplant in the oven, I stuck a clove of garlic in as well. I think it was a good choice.

A quick whizz and boom! Baba ganoush! And it made a fair amount. Looks like a medium-sized eggplant equals half a jam jar.
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Here’s the mouthwatering close up-you can see the bits and pieces of the eggplant in it. Mmmmm.
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And the taste? Yum!!!! Nice and smokey and delicious. It was a bit on the watery side, so maybe next time I’ll add more tahini, another clove of garlic or roast the eggplant on the stove a little longer. But, I don’t want to mess with a good thing. And an easy thing!! I was kinda shocked that this thing I had thought was so difficult for so long was so easy and achievable. So, something that I thought was going to be a huge risk in the kitchen actually ended up with a cinch. And I was able to empty my fridge of lots of veggies by dipping them in that tasty baba ganoush. Thanks baba ganoush!!! You’re a life (or veggie) savor.

Maybe I finally figured out how to cook tofu

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I’m good at cooking lots of things. I can do a million things with beans. I can make a mean pb&j (it’s an art! the proportion of pb & j needs to be perfect). I can bake just about any sweet you can think of-cookies, quick breads, thousands and thousands of french macaroons (remember those, Mom?). But one thing I’ve never been able to perfect is tofu. Yeah, I’ve shown a few recipes where I’ve gotten tofu right. But, for every tofu recipe I got right, I got about 5 wrong. Yup. 5. That’s a huge proportion of failure vs. success. I’ve tried baking it, searing it, sauteeing it, everything you can think of. And I’ve almost never gotten it right. There’s something about it that perplexes my mind. It ends up flavorless even if I marinate it intensely, it ends up falling apart, it ends up too spongy: it ends up not good. But, no matter how many times I’ve messed up, I never give up.

So, a while back (geez, maybe a month ago-possibly more?), I set out to bake up a block of tofu. Doing my typical make-something-on-sunday-to-eat-during-the-week move, it was going to be part of my dinner for several days that week. So, after pressing the tofu for about 30 minutes, I cut it up into about 8 or so pieces (although I really don’t remember-it was a loooong time ago), and set it to marinade in a loaf pan-my favorite pan to marinate/bake in. I marinated it in tamari, 5 spice powder, a little bit of rice vinegar and honey, for about 45 minutes. When I decided it was marinated enough, I stuck it in an oven at 375 or so (remember, long time ago). In the past when I’ve made tofu this way, which is pretty often, I’ve baked it for about 35-40 minutes. It hasn’t been great, but it’s edible. This time, after I stuck it in the oven…I forgot all about it.

I try to be responsible in the kitchen, but sometimes I’m not. My most common problem is that I forget about things cooking. I’ve burnt cookies this way, caused oatmeal to overflow, and once, while living in Spain, let a pot of boiling water evaporate completely and scorched the pot. This time, with the tofu, I did it again. I must have gotten distracted in some intense conversation with my roommate (probably about something important, like the upcoming election, or Gossip Girl), but all of a sudden, it was two hours later. I kept thinking it was really warm in the apartment and all of a sudden, I realized why: the oven was on and my tofu had been bakin’ away for about 2 hours. S***!!!!!! I was sure I was going to open up the oven and find 8 teeny pieces of black, shriveled up, hard as rock, things that used to be tofu. Instead, I opened it up and found 8, smaller, but scrumptious looking pieces of tofu. They were a gorgeous, caramel-y color that smelled fantastic. Yes-much smaller than what I normally have after I bake tofu, but 2 hours of sitting in a hot oven will do that to you.

When I ate some for dinner the next night, what did I eat: perfect, flavorful, chewy tofu. It. was. so. good. Look at the close up!

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You can see how the flavor inundated the entire piece as the water evaporated. And they tasted that way too-by far the best tofu I’ve ever eaten. Yeah-cause the pieces were so good I ate it really fast, but I guess that’s the price to pay for really really really yummy tofu. But hey, now I’ve got 3 good tofu cookings under my belt. 3 out of 11-not bad.

So, friends, tell me this: is the secret to good tofu just baking the hell out of it? Was this just a fluke accident that ended up with excellent yumminess? How do you make tofu to make it good?

How to make an awesome salad awesomer-a photo essay

That’s correct grammer…right?

And…we’re back! After a very very very frusturating 3 weeks, my computer is completely up and running and working correctly. The “working correctly” part is what stalled me this past week. I never said I was a computer wizz…

And to celebrate the fact that I can write about food and post photos (!!!) again, let’s move on to a simple, but inspring (well, at least I think so), photo essay on how to make your salad even better. Get it? Got it? Good.

First, take a bunch of your favorite fresh herb (as fresh as you can get. If you have some growing in your backyard, even better. No-weeds don’t count.) I chose a beautiful bunch of dill I got for dirt cheap at the Farmers Market
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Next, chop up a fair amount-maybe 1 or 2 tablespoons worth. (oooo-blurry pic. Don’t strain your eyes!!)
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Put the chopped herbs in a jar ( along with your favorite salad dressing ingredients. I used a bit of good olive oil (spanish, of course. I actually really like Goya Extra Virgin. From Andalucia!), some rice vinager, dijon mustard, kosher salt and pepper.
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Shake. Vigorously. Until your arm hurts. No bicep curls needed tonight!
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It should look like this when you’re done. All emulsified and yummy.
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Pour it over your salad of choice full of the freshest veggies you can find. I’ve been using anything good I can find at the Farmers Market. Here I have carrots, radishes, baby fennel and arugula. Make sure you scrape every last bit of herb out of your jar onto that salad. Don’t make those bits of deliciousness go to waste!
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There you have it. The secret to an amazing salad: fresh herbs. They really do make good salads that much better. This has been my go to dinner countless times this summer and I’ve been trying to buy different herbs every week to mix it up. So far I’ve done dill (duh), mint (soooo good!!), tarragon, cilantro and chives. They’re all winners. And so am I. Cause I’m blogging again.