On writing

It’s been a good solid four months since my last blog post. My reason? I’ve been “too busy” (aka not making time for it). I haven’t taken many photos while cooking (or just not enough to make it worthy of a blog post). But really the main reason is that after it’s been a certain amount of time since a post, I suddenly feel the pressure to come back with some wham, bam, fireworks of a blog post. Like heyyyy I’m back! I’ve been gone because all this time I’ve been working on this – ta da! Unfortunately, I don’t have any such grand reveal. Since December I have been doing pretty much the same thing – cooking food, eating it, doing the dishes, and doing it all again the next day. I just haven’t documented anything here in a while. Forgive me.

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Chocolate Macarons I made for a co-worker’s birthday

Since first grade, I’ve had dreams off and on of being a great Writer (capital w). I used to write stories in my elementary school journals and I participated in the writing competition, Power of the Pen (and won!), when I reached Middle School. I’ve wanted to publish a cookbook (still do) or write the next great novel. I actually did NaNoWriMo last November and though I didn’t reach the 50,000 word goal, I made it to 30,000, which felt like a pretty big deal. Like most projects I do, I started off strong, motivated, and excited. Then my motivation and creativity quickly fizzled out and I left my project unfinished, just like the quilt I started in eighth grade. That unfinished quilt now sits on top of a filing cabinet in an unused room, untouched since last November when I simply unfolded it and dusted it off enough to feel like I was doing something with it. (Sigh.) I guess I’m bad at finishing what I started.

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Don’t knock it ’til you try it – savory oatmeal. Oatmeal topped with sauteed mushrooms, spinach, scallions and a runny fried egg.

Yesterday, while listening to one of my favorite podcasts/radio shows – Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me! – I was reminded that being a Writer (capital w) isn’t something that just magically happens overnight and it isn’t a title someone just hands to you with a new writing job. Like anything else it takes work, but it’s totally do-able work. On the show they featured romance novelist Nora Roberts* as their guest. The host, Peter Sagal, asked her about writer’s block. Her response:

“I don’t let myself believe in it. […] Writing is a habit as much as an art or a craft. If you write crap, you’re still writing. You can fix that, but if you walk away, you’ve broken the habit.”

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Lilikoi (passion fruit) pancakes as eaten on our recent Hawaiian vacation

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Lilikoi cheesecake (no bake) – my favorite dessert while in Hawaii! Currently working on my own recipe version!

Her response was a good reminder of what it takes to be a good writer. Writing! It’s one of those so totally obvious things that I still have to be reminded of. So thanks to Nora Roberts, here I am after a long break, returning to write and say hello. I also owe a shout-out to my fabulous sister, Chelsea, who has a wonderful and funny blog on gardening and permaculture. Reading her writing reminded me that it’s something I like to do too.

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Macadamia and dark chocolate chunk cookies

So here’s hoping I’ll do some more writing coming up, no matter how good or bad it might be. Thanks for tuning in!

If you want to see more regular posts mostly on food, follow me on Instagram @erinthecooker

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Fish tacos with avocado, crema, and coleslaw

*This episode is from February so not a super recent episode, but I haven’t listened in a while.

 

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Vegetable Galette & Mixed Berry Tart

Here in the Pacific Northwest, people love to hike. With plenty of beautiful hiking trails within a reasonable distance, from the Cascade mountains to the east of Seattle and the Olympics to the west, it is easy to see why. When I was a kid my family used to take a lot of camping vacations. We packed our gingersnaps (for carsickness, Mom told us), our tents, and our sleeping bags, and hit the road to camp, hike, and cook on a propane stove. I have many fond memories from our camping trips, like Dad’s rules of camping and the invention of our fake band, Faulty Gravity, but I also remember the hard parts: washing dishes in a basin in the woods when dish-washing at home was already a chore, walking to the bathroom at night with a flashlight, and sleeping on a slowly-deflating mattress with your two sisters as you slowly sank down to the cold, hard earth.

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We did some hiking while we camped and most likely did lots of complaining along the way, as kids often do. In fact it seemed like a long time before exercise became enjoyable to me. My days in Boston taking buses, walking from the bus, or biking to work taught me to appreciate my legs’ ability to carry me a farther distance than I believed. Now I run when I want to, walk because I enjoy it, and hike knowing I can come home and sleep in my own bed, on a real mattress.

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Me walking across a rickety bridge over a bubbling stream

This weekend my friend, Zack, invited me for a hike out near Skykomish. We wore our warmest, water-wicking clothes (and packed extra just in case) and drove out into the foggy mountains of Washington. The hike was beautiful. I felt nothing but a sense of appreciation for the present. I felt calm. I felt in awe of the beauty of nature surrounding me.

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Look closely at the pattern etched in this piece of bark – apparently it’s made by a certain kind of ants!

Along the trail Zack shared his forest knowledge, pointing out various trees, plants, and blackberry leaves, which he informed me grew like a weed in the forest. We shared a snack on the trail of soft Brie and bread, but on the drive home we found ourselves hungry and talking about all the delicious things we wanted to eat. While most food sounded good during our discussion, I found myself inspired by the emerald-green trees and the blackberry leaves to make a meal worthy of such natural wonder.

With the cold drizzle of a typical Seattle day I wanted something both wintery-warm and light, consisting primarily of plant-foods to reflect the day’s hike. I settled on a vegetable galette, very loosely adapted from this one by Melissa Clark. I made half as much dough for a less heavy meal and added sauteed rainbow chard and mushrooms for more veggies. I roasted sweet potatoes to use instead of the pumpkin, but then ended up leaving them out of the galette to keep as a side dish instead.

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The results were not as beautiful as the hike, but satisfying and delicious all the same. And after reading this great article, In Praise of Ugly Food, I hardly cared that it wasn’t the picture of food porn perfection.

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Of course, the blackberry leaves also had me craving a berry tart to follow my veggie pie. Despite the fact that berries aren’t exactly in season, I decided to make my dreamed-up tart, and why not?  When berries are in season hardly anyone wants to run the oven to bake a pie anyway. Winter was perfect pie-baking time.

So I made myself a triple berry pie with fresh blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries and it was delicious.

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Triple Berry Tart

Crust:

1.25 cups all purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1 T. sugar

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, cold

3 T. shortening, chilled

3-4 T. ice water

Filling

4 cups mixed berries*, rinsed and shaken of access water

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

the zest of one lemon

In a medium bowl measure out the 1.25 cups of flour, salt, and tablespoon of sugar. Stir to mix. Cut your butter into chunks and stir into flour to coat, along with the shortening. Using a pastry cutter or breaking up with your fingers, blend the butter and shortening into the flour until the pieces are pea-sized. Drizzle in water, starting with 2 tablespoons and gently stir to moisten the flour. Add more water until your dough can come together into a ball. Don’t overdo it! Flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for an hour.

When your dough is chilled, mix together your berries, flour, sugar and lemon zest. It helps to rub the zest into the flour or sugar so that it doesn’t clump. On a floured surface, gently roll out your dough to an even thickness, about 1/4 inch. Aim for a circle, but as a tart this doesn’t have to be a perfect circle. Carefully transfer to a parchment-lined sheet pan. Top with the berry mixture and fold the excess over the top to help contain the berry juices once it starts cooking.

Bake at 375 F for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling. For best results, let cool before slicing to allow the filling to gel somewhat.

*I used 6 oz. of blueberries, 6 oz. of blackberries and 9 oz. of raspberries.

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When you take a bite, think of the blackberries that grow wild in the forest, blanketing the ground with their dark, bumpy fruits.

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Pan-fried Coconut Shrimp

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Shrimp is one of those foods I usually have to enjoy on my own. That is to say that Sam won’t touch the stuff, even if it’s breaded and fried. I often buy a bag of raw shrimp to keep on hand in the freezer for lunches or dinners where we’re short on food or he’s out of town.

When we honeymooned in Barbados, I kept seeing coconut shrimp on the menus and figured I should try it while we were there. However, other dishes always tantalized me more and though I kept looking for an excuse to order it, not having someone who’d share it with me made it that much more unlikely. Finally on our last night we went to Champers for our final, elaborate, honeymoon feast. They took us to our table on their open deck, overlooking the beautiful Caribbean waters. Thanks to our wonderful hosts at our hotel, the restaurant had surprised us with “just married” confetti and personalized menus congratulating us on our recent wedding.

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Seeing as it was our last night in paradise, we opted for a three-course meal. We each chose our own appetizers, Sam’s a beautiful baked brie with apples and mine the long lusted-after coconut shrimp! They were perfect – crispy and sweet, with sprigs of lettuce for color and crunch and a sweet chili sauce to dip. We followed our appetizers with equally amazing entrees and desserts – three in fact! We ordered two (being the gluttons that we are) and they brought us a surprise extra – a scoop of ice cream with a candle and “congrats” written in chocolate across the plate.

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The famous coconut shrimp at Champers!

We left the restaurant five pounds heavier and happier, me glad to have finally enjoyed my coconut shrimp.

So yesterday, with Thanksgiving leftovers dwindling and a trip to the grocery store in the somewhat distant future, I decided to make myself coconut shrimp for lunch. Other than deep-frying, how hard could it be? The answer: not that bad at all. You dredge your shrimp, throw them in the pan (more like place them carefully and stand back!) and within a few minutes you have tasty, crispy, coconut shrimp.

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Then, since this was a totally impromptu lunch, I whipped up a simple mixture of ketchup and red curry paste to dip them in. Despite the splattering dangers and the mess on the stove afterward, they were worth every bite!

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Pan-fried Coconut Shrimp

serves 1 for a meal or 2 for an appetizer

1/4 lb. raw shrimp (thawed if frozen), peeled and deveined

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/3 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup flour

salt and pepper

canola oil for frying

ketchup & red curry paste

Set up your breading station as follows: flour in the first bowl – add a good sprinkle of salt and pepper, milk in the second bowl, and panko and coconut mixed in the third.

Heat a large skillet or deep saucepan (saucepan is probably safer) with oil over medium heat. Add enough oil to form a thin layer on the bottom about 1/4 inch. If you wish to deep-fry you can add several cups of oil, but it will take longer to heat up and can be more dangerous. I did mine in a skillet and though there was some splattering, they were easier to flip.

While the oil heats, bread your shrimp, keeping one hand for dry and one for wet (to avoid breading your hands). Dip in the flour first, milk next, and coconut crumbs last. Put breaded shrimp on a plate. Discard any remaining breading ingredients.

To test your oil, toss in a few extra breadcrumbs and see if they sizzle. When ready, use tongs to transfer your breaded shrimp to the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. After you can see they are beginning to brown on the bottom, flip them. Let them cook about another minute and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Let cool.

In a small bowl add however much ketchup you’d like. Mix in red curry paste to taste, starting with a small amount and tasting for spice. Dip your shrimp and enjoy!

 

 

How to Cook When You’re Moving

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There are some days you just have to power through and know that it will be better on the other side. These are the days you dread, but you tell yourself it’s only a matter of time until it’s over, and as long as you will yourself to push on through, it will get done. Like packing. And moving.

The last time we moved we had a 1-bedroom apartment and the smallest Uhaul truck available to drive us a few miles from Boston to Brookline. We started packing the truck at 5 pm and had until 8 am the next morning to be out of our apartment. We were up until past 4 in the morning carrying out furniture, loading the Uhaul, boxing up last minute items in the apartment. Needless to say it was an exhausting night of tetris-packing our perfectly calculated amount of space. (Lucky I married a math man!) The worst part was once we drove the truck across town we had to unload it, the very same stuff that we just packed in the truck so neatly less than 24 hours ago now had to be unpacked and put away in the new place. Continue reading

Quick Whole Grain Pizza – Happ Happ Hurrah!

In my house we never order pizza. It’s not because we don’t like pizza or because we think it’s unhealthy. It’s because we are spoiled… Let me explain.

Upon finishing grad school a few years back, my husband declared he was going to start making bread from scratch. Slightly skeptical but totally supportive, I bought him the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, figuring with his culinary background (or lack thereof) and schedule this would be a perfect book. Soon after he impressed me by actually reading the introduction to the book and telling me there were a few other tools we needed. We invested in a pizza stone and pizza peel and have since put them to excellent use making homemade bread and homemade pizza. And as he had promised, there was actually a period of time where he made homemade bread!

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Though it has been a while since he’s done any bread baking, we now have a pizza stone that we use occasionally for bread and pizzas. So why are we spoiled? Have you ever baked homemade pizza on a pizza stone? I highly recommend it – you get a crisp, chewy crust with a nice rise from the preheated stone. When you have a pizza stone that makes delicious pizza at home, it’s hard to spend money ordering pizza or going out. You can easily save yourself money and customize your pizza when it is homemade, so why would you order in?IMG_1615 Nonetheless, pizza making takes time. For our recipe you have to make the dough, let it rise for 2 hours, refrigerate it, preheat the stone, roll your dough, top it and bake it. Most nights when you come home from work you want dinner ready as quickly as possible. This healthy pizza can be your fast solution and it’s just as quick as ordering delivery. The ingredients are basic and the toppings are customizable. You may even have everything in your fridge already.

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Forgive the weird prints on the parchment paper. I reused the paper after roasting my sweet potato slices!

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Spelling or translation error: recipies? Recipes for pies?

This recipe comes from a wonderful book my sister-in-law gave me called Happ Happ Hurrah. This colorful book of healthful, fresh recipes comes from the Happ restaurants located in Luxembourg and Iceland. Someday we will go to the restaurant when we visit them in Luxembourg (where they live now!) The dough comes together in 5 minutes – no rising, no waiting – and bakes in 10. After that you top your flatbread-like crust with whatever you like and throw it back in the oven to melt the cheese. IMG_1609IMG_1611Happ has recommendations for four different types of pizza, but you can top it however you like. I did a combination of two of them using roasted sweet potato slices, fresh mozzarella, basil, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes. We also added grated Parmesan for a little extra saltiness. They baked up beautifully and we both enjoyed them (I didn’t know what to expect from Sam, but he gave them a sincere thumbs up). We made them small so that we could personalize our pizzas.

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Quick Whole Grain Pizza Crust

adapted from Happ Happ Hurrah!

makes 6 personal pizzas

2 cups + 2 T. whole wheat flour

1+1/4 cup mix of the following: rolled oats, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds (see note)

2 T. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. salt

2 T. cream of tartar (optional – see note #2)

1 cup warm water

1/2 cup olive oil

toppings of your choice

Mix all dry ingredients. Add water and oil and stir carefully. Add more whole wheat flour if the batter is too sticky. Gently knead the dough and divide into six equal parts. Gently stretch or roll each part of the dough into a small circle. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees F. It should be lightly browned on the bottom when you lift it off the sheet. Turn the oven temperature up to 450 degrees F. Top your pizza as desired and return to the oven. Bake for 5-10 minutes or until toppings warm and cheese melts to desired browness. Cool slightly and enjoy!

Note: The original recipe calls for 3 dl. of oats, sesame seeds, muesli, and sunflower seeds. I did about 2/3 of that in oats and filled the remainder of the cup with a tablespoon of sesame seeds and the rest in roasted, salted sunflower seeds. Feel free to try purchased muesli, use only oats, or try your own ratios of seeds and oats.

Note #2: When I have made bread or pizza it always contains a leavener such as yeast or baking powder or soda. I looked up the properties of cream of tartar, assuming that must give this pizza some rise. Though I learned that cream of tartar is a natural by-product of wine-making, it is still unclear to me its role in this recipe. It is an acidic ingredient often used to make baking powder though it is more commonly used by itself to stabilize egg whites in angel food cakes or other baked goods. This particular recipe didn’t seem to get any benefit from it in terms of rising, though I did not test the recipe without it. Proceed at your own risk!

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Post 120 – Dinner at Ming Tsai’s Blue Dragon

It’s springtime and you can’t stay inside too long with weather this gorgeous! To celebrate the spring Sam and I have been getting out more on the weekends and enjoying this wonderful city that we live in. A few weekends ago we enjoyed a casual dinner in the North End (the Italian neighborhood of Boston) and walked along the Boston Hah-bah afterwards. I love being close to the water, smelling that salty seawater and taking in the view. The Boston Harbor hotel has a beautiful domed entrance.IMG_0821 A few weekends ago we wandered over to Somerville for a pre Cinco de Mayo block party at Taza Chocolate company. Continue reading

Post 97 – Christmas eats

You want to know something weird and cool? I have been obsessed with documenting my food way longer than this blog. Surprised? No, probably not. Upon visiting my sister in Ohio, she returned a journal of mine that had somehow gotten mixed up in her stuff. I flipped through it and found notes from a trip to the South that I took in high school, most of which consisted of the meals I ate as we traveled along. I guess some things haven’t changed…

I have eaten a lot of good food these past few weeks leading up to and during the holiday time. I enjoyed a wonderful time with my family eating and hanging out and having an overall good time and thought I’d share some meals with you. Here is the story of my stay in Ohio as told through food pictures.

Early Christmas dinner at my sister's

Early Christmas dinner at my sister’s

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Rum punch made by Sam

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Sweet potato salad

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The master crescent maker

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Family recipe from-scratch crescent rolls!

Delicious Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale with friends in Columbus

Delicious Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale with friends in Columbus

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Lunch at Olive – an urban dive in downtown Dayton!

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Falafel and sweet potato fries - yummy!

Falafel and sweet potato fries – yummy!

More cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast

More cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast

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Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner – Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, and cranberry sauce.

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Christmas Blueberry Pie

Christmas Blueberry Pie

Gingerbread decorating creativity

Gingerbread decorating creativity

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Hipster close-up

Hipster close-up: note skinny jeans, hipster glasses, and V-neck shirt.

Six-pack abs

Six-pack abs

Hope you had a Merry Christmas! I can’t believe it’s almost 2015!