Grilling from my garden!

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We have spent a year in our house. A fall, a winter, a spring, and summer. A year can go by fast when you’re not counting the length of something. Some of my favorite things about living in this house have been the surprises that pop up in our yard. We moved into a blue house with a yellowed yard, the grass dry and prickly from the rain-free summer days of perfect blue skies and nice breezes. When the rainy season came we were happy to see the grass nourished again and refreshed to an emerald green (while the weeds grew taller!) In the springtime the tulips that we didn’t plant popped up, (thanks previous owners!) the camellia tree bloomed white flowers that quickly browned, and the rhododendrons grew big and bright in front of our window.

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I started my first home garden this summer, though as is typical of me, I had high hopes for all the things I would grow, but I never really planned how to make them happen. Eventually I planted some lettuce, which grew, but had a short season, and some herbs, strawberries, sunflowers, and squash. When the weather finally warmed enough I was rewarded with beautiful tall sunflowers, tiny, ruby strawberries, and zucchini whose leaves grew and spread wide just as I hadn’t really expected. I’ve since lost count of how many squash we’ve harvested from that giant plant, but I am thrilled every time I see a new one forming among the squash blossoms. I literally exclaimed with delight and surprise when I discovered the yellow patty pan squash growing on the other side of the plant. (The package I bought said squash medley, but somehow I only expected one type to grow!)

What I love about squash is their ability to be transformed into a number of different delicious dishes. I love zucchini bread, roasted zucchini, zucchini and cheese casserole, and many other recipes. However, though I tend to complicate things when it comes to food, zucchini are probably at their best when simply grilled. Toss them with a little oil, a sprinkle of salt, a few grinds of fresh black pepper and throw them on a hot grill alongside your chicken or burgers or whatever. Grilling them makes them soft, sweet, and smoky, the perfect way to eat more vegetables this time of year.

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I also forgot to mention another garden surprise from our new house: tomatillos! I never planted tomatillos and yet they sprouted seemingly out of nowhere in my garden bed (apparently they’re perennials). If they ever get ripe enough, I hope to share a recipe using them on the blog soon!

Summer is certainly winding down and it makes me sad to think of the return of the rain and cloudy, cool days, but I also look forward to our grass turning green again and the milder temperatures of fall. Happy end of summer!

Grilled Summer Squash

yellow squash or zucchini, any amount, any variety*

oil, salt, pepper

fresh herbs (optional)

Preheat your grill to medium heat (about 400 degrees)

Wash your squash to remove any dirt and trim the stem ends. Slice into rounds, about 1/2 an inch thick or close to that. Most importantly make sure they are close in thickness for even grilling. Toss or brush with your choice of high heat oil on both sides (olive oil or canola oil for example). Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

When grill has heated up completely, lay squash out on clean, oiled grates using tongs or your fingers (carefully). Cook for a few minutes on one side and then flip and cook a few minutes more. How long you cook them will depend on the thickness, but you want them to be soft and have good grill marks. Remove and serve with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and grilled chicken.

*In general the smaller the squash, the better the flavor. These round squash are perfect for grilling because you can cut them into rounds so they don’t fall through the grill grates. If you buy regular long zucchini, cut them into long strips from end to end. It is much easier to flip bigger pieces.

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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.

 

Stove Top Personal Pizza

Surprisingly I didn’t miss the snow this winter. Maybe a little bit, a tiny little itty bit, but mostly not. Winter in Seattle is mild, dark, cold, and rainy for sure, but no half melted slush, cold feet traipsing through half-shoveled sidewalks, sleeting ice in your face, and below freezing temperatures that require wearing leggings under your jeans and trying to decide if you should change out of them when you get too hot at work. Thank you, Seattle. Thank you for your mild winter that is slowly morphing into a beautiful spring!

Spring is gorgeous out in the Pacific Northwest! There are colorful flowers of every kind everywhere and though there aren’t many plants and parks in the city, there are plenty of places within reach to see nature’s beauty at it’s best: Golden Gardens, Magnuson Park, and Discovery Park to name a few. Even just running around Green Lake in my own backyard is a beautiful sight that I am grateful for every day. (It’s usually not that blue, but I’ll take it!)

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It still isn’t hot here yet, which I’m happy about, but the hot weather will be here before we know it, and with that the need to find meals that don’t require the oven (or at least not for very long). Last weekend, after returning from a run and feeling rather warm, I wanted to make a pizza without heating up the apartment. I had pizza dough and toppings ready to go and wanted to make something quick. Enter stove-top personal pizza! It goes in the broiler just a few short minutes at the end to brown the cheese (which I suppose you could totally skip) and then you quickly turn off the oven before the heat takes over. Perfect for a quick weeknight meal or a quick weekend lunch!

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Bon appetit!

Stove Top Personal Pizza

tennis ball size blob of easy homemade pizza dough* (see recipe below)

pizza sauce

cheese

toppings of your choice

Heat a large cast iron skillet or broiler proof pan over medium heat. Swirl a glug of olive oil in and let your pan heat up. Meanwhile roll out your dough on a floured surface until it is about a 1/4 inch thick. Make sure it is not too big for your pan! When the pan is hot, make sure the oil has coated the pan and carefully lay your rolled out dough circle in.

Now is the time to turn your preheat broiler to high. Allow your dough to cook in the pan for a minute or so, watching for bubbles to start forming on the surface. Using a wide spatula or tongs carefully flip your pizza and gently press down to brown the other side. You can also lift it up to check for doneness before flipping and give it a little longer if needed.

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Check out those bubbles!

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Top with sauce, cheese and other toppings and allow to cook on the heat another minute. Turn off your burner and carefully transfer the topped pizza to the oven to broil, keeping an eye out so the cheese doesn’t burn. Broil for 5-8 minutes, depending on your broiler and how well done you want your pizza. Remove, let cool, and serve it up! Be careful as it will be hot and fresh from the oven!

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If you totally want to skip the broiler you probably could, but don’t expect browning. You would want to just leave it on the heat long enough to melt the cheese and heat your toppings. You could also cover it with a lid to encourage melting, but you might end up with a steamed, soggy crust. Broiler is best and when I did it, it had hardly heated up so it didn’t make the apartment hot.

Happy spring! Happy eating 🙂

And if you want to make your own dough, here’s a recipe. Make ahead of time and store in the fridge for when you’re ready!

 

* Easy Homemade Pizza Dough – no kneading!

(makes enough for probably 6 personal pizzas) from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day

1.5 cups lukewarm water

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)

2 1/4 tsp Kosher salt

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

2 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the yeast and salt with water in a large bowl that has a lid. Add whole wheat flour and all-purpose and mix with a wooden spoon, using your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour if necessary (alternatively you can do the whole thing with a food processor or stand mixer). Cover the bowl with the lid, leaving it not completely sealed and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled in size. Refrigerate until ready to use (dough is easiest to use when cold). Dough can be used for up to a week after making it if kept refrigerated.

 

 

Baked Apples and Thoughts on Food and Cooking

I used to cook everyday for a living. I cooked for hungry school children and teachers. I cooked for a busy, young family, and often I’d come home and cook for Sam and me. I used to think that it would be living my dream – to cook all the time and make people happy with the food that I cooked, but I discovered in the last few years that sometimes dreams change once you begin to live them. And sometimes life just takes you in different directions.

For me, I get satisfaction from turning seemingly basic foods into comforting and delicious meals. I like the feel of breaking cold butter into flour, blending the ingredients just enough so they become semi-homogeneous, and rolling out cold dough to lay gently into a pan as if laying a baby down to sleep. I really do enjoy making a homemade pie crust. I love the sensory parts of cooking – touching cake to feel for that spring of doneness, bending my nose over a pot of simmering soup to smell its seasoning, and listening to the crunch and crack of chopping nuts with a sharp knife.

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I’m not cooking anymore, not for work anyway and here’s why:

  1. Cooking loses its intrigue when it becomes repetitive, mandatory, and no longer creative. Sometimes cooking for a living can do that, especially when you’re cooking to particular customer preference.
  2. Those of you who have been following me for a while know that my body has been telling me it doesn’t like the way I eat anymore and while I’ve been trying to listen to what it wants me to eat, I’m having a hard time understanding. Preparing mouth-watering foods for others that I myself can’t eat (or am afraid to eat for fear of not feeling well) has worn on me and so I’d rather not be around food all day every day.
  3. Working in food sometimes means obsessing about food – thinking about what your next meal will be, what you will cook later, and creative new recipes you want to try. Sometimes my obsession with food drove me crazy and I felt it hard to release myself from thinking about it.

I find now that keeping cooking to a hobby still allows me to enjoy the pleasures of food and pleasing others with the food I cook without driving me and my hungry/angry belly crazy. I’ve learned to eat less of the foods I used to indulge in (and perhaps it’s simply a consequence of getting older) and avoid certain foods (though I test them out again here and there.)

What still makes me happy when it comes to cooking:

  1. Stocking the fridge with delicious foods for the week ahead – snacks, meals, cookies.
  2. Using up ingredients and leftovers just in time to restock and replenish.
  3. Making something out of seemingly nothing.

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I started a new job about a month ago (hence part of the reason I’ve been absent here) and it is so very different from my previous food jobs that it has been a bit of an adjustment. Instead of deciding what to eat from the myriad choices of the school cafeteria, I have to pack my lunch ahead of time and hope I’m still in the mood for that food by lunch time. Bustling around a hot stove and oven have been replaced with staring at two large computer monitors while furiously trying to find the information I need to answer the question at hand. I look forward to fresh air lunch time walks and to the end of the work day. It has been a big change, but I’m hoping it will lead to something greater.

Now for a simple recipe to end this long train of thought: Baked Apples. I invited some friends over for brunch yesterday without really considering what I had in my fridge to feed them. Despite the lack of planning, with a few items picked up from the store and a little creativity we had a delicious brunch. I baked homemade challah bread and stuffed some apples we had in the fridge with a delicious amalgamation from what I had on hand. And the results: divine. Now this is the kind of cooking I can enjoy!

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Baked Stuffed Apples

This recipe can be easily scaled up and toyed around with. The below amounts are approximations of what I used.

2 large apples (I used Jonagold)

1/2 lemon

2 T. brown sugar

1 T. butter, softened or melted

dash of salt

cinnamon to taste

ground ginger to taste

2 T. chopped pecans

1-2 T. dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly butter an 8×8 square pan or other pan that will fit your amount of apples.

Cut the apples in half. Using a melon baller or small spoon gently remove the seeds and core so you get a shallow canal in the middle of each apple half. Squeeze your lemon half over the apples and lightly rub them to make sure they are well covered. Mix your sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon and ginger in a small bowl. Stir in pecans and cranberries. Taste and adjust as desired. Divide mixture between your four apples halves and place in prepared pan. Cover in foil and baked until your desired tenderness 30-45 minutes. Serve warm with brunch or as a dessert with vanilla ice cream.

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Creative Blogger Award!

I have been nominated for the Creative Blogger Award by my blogger pal over at Semi-Sweet Tooth! I am so honored to be nominated for something I love doing – cooking, writing, and sharing it with friends. I have no idea what happens next, but I am just happy to be recognized. Below are the rules for continuing the Creative Blogger Award chain!

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Rules/instructions:

  1. Thank and link back to the person who nominated you (mention your nominator in your own award post with a link back to their original award post, which would be this one).
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Nominate other bloggers and comment on their blogs (usually on their about page or contact directly if necessary) to let them know.

So, given the rules, here are 7 things to know about me.

1. You have probably already learned this from a few of my blog posts, but I have an unhealthy obsession with using up leftover food whenever possible. I always try and plan how much food we will need before we go on a trip, taking into account any lingering fridge ingredients that might go bad. For example, most recently I made a double batch of Marble cookies JUST to use up the sour cream we had in the fridge.

2. I am the middle child with one older and one younger sister. I think being in the middle has contributed to my personality in a million ways: I’m a peace-maker, I hate conflict, I can be really weird and awkward, and I have a terrible time making decisions. Some of these traits also just might be who I am. We will never know…

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3. My dream used to be to have a cooking show on the Food Network and to own my own bakery. I love teaching others about food and I love cooking for others. I have not given up on these dreams so much as changed what I’m interested in.

4. There is culinary creativity in my blood. My great aunt used to be a food writer in Toledo, Ohio and has published a few cookbooks as well! Though I never got to cook with her, I inherited her love for cooking. I have learned my cooking skills from many people to whom I am grateful: my mother, in her own don’t-follow-recipes kind of way; my father, in his specific techniques and skills; and former bosses and co-workers who have taught me about efficiency, tasting as you go, and making beautiful presentation when it matters.

5. I love animals and currently have two ridiculous cats named Lewis and Magellan. They are named after explorers because they wouldn’t stop exploring and checking things out when we first got them. They are my furry children and they have many talents including fitting into boxes too small for them, giving us “bear paws,” asking for belly rubs, and looking cute.

6. I speak (almost) fluent French and am working on my Spanish. I love the feeling of connecting with someone through a foreign language.

7. In grad school I drank wine, ate delicious homemade food, and talked a lot about food, farming, and culture. It was pretty awesome.

Nominations!

Finally I would like to nominate some other blogs that I enjoy reading in no particular order.

1. Peeled Wellness – Kim’s blog is about more than just healthy eating. She shares tips for getting good sleep and saving money. And every week she connects bloggers from all over with her Tell ’em Tuesdays!

2. Crafty Coin – I think if I lived in Chicago we would totally be friends. BreAnna has great tips for saving money by breaking down her weekly grocery haul and showing you what she makes. She also has some great DIY projects.

3. Rare Beauty – I only recently discovered this wonderful blog but I love it. Her photos and recipes are colorful and creative and give me a glimpse of another side of the world!

4. Girl about Town Dayton – As a former Daytonian myself, I love reading all of Lauren’s creative ideas for having fun in a small town in Ohio (not Daytona, Florida!)

5. Cooking is My Sport – I like this girl’s approach to food and cooking. Jess takes her food seriously and has some amazing and creative looking recipes!

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 96 – Raw Vegan Carrot Cake

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I don’t know about you, but I have been eating way too much sugar lately. WAY too much. Like I went to a holiday party today and saw cupcakes and wasn’t even interested. Cupcakes! This time of year often becomes all about sweets – Christmas cookies, chocolate candies, gingerbread men, parties and hot cocoa and everything sugary sweet.

I love sweets. I have a great big, dangerous sweet tooth (teeth?) that keeps me going back for dessert again and again, but sometimes even I get fed up with all of the ultra sweet options. Sometimes I just simply want something sweet, but not too sweet. Something that won’t make me feel sick later.

Enter Raw Vegan Carrot Cake.

I want to tell you all the things it is, but I also don’t want to give you the wrong impression. Yes it is gluten free, refined sugar free, dairy free, and raw, but I am not one to boast a bunch of labels just to impress you. It may be free of a lot of things, but it is also full of a lot of things – flavor, texture, sweetness, crunch (flavorful, textureful, sweetful, crunchful?) Anyway, let me introduce you.

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Fresh carrots, Medjool dates, almond meal, unsweetened coconut, and cinnamon. It’s that simple.

Pulse all of it in a food processor until it comes together and voila.

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You should get a nice sticky, but not gooey texture that you can shape with your hand. You might find you need to break up the carrots and dates a little first and then knead it all together, but this will depend on the strength of your food processor. Then once it’s done you shape it into whatever you want (see the “layers” below). You can even make a delicious frosting or just decorate it with coconut.

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I also decided to make it into carrot cake snack bites or for the sophisticated carrot cake truffles. Now don’t you feel fancy?

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Enjoy the holidays!

Vegan Carrot Cake Bites

adapted from MindBodyGreen

1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1 cup pitted and halved dates, about 10

3/4 cup almond meal

1/4 cup unsweetened dessicated coconut

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

additional coconut and pecans for decorating (optional)

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until it holds together. Shape into layers or truffles as desired. If making layers, use the icing recipe below. Refrigerate for best results.

Easy Coconut Icing

(I have made this before with much success but I have never measured – oops! Do it to taste and keep in mind that the icing will harden a lot in the fridge. You can use the following measurements and go from there.)

1/4 cup coconut oil

2 T. raw honey (or maple syrup for vegans)

Mix coconut oil and honey (microwave for 10 seconds at a time if the coconut oil is cold). Taste and adjust as desired. Spread on your carrot cake and refrigerate until semi firm.