Chai Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ah, Portland.  What lovely souls reside here.  What fantastic characters grace your coffee shops, your streets, your bars, your grassy parks, who stay for a while and then leave swiftly, guided by a curiosity and thirst for life nurtured only by such a wondrous town.

Those on the go, those willing to pack a bag at a moment’s notice and leave for adventures unknown, those dripping with uncertainty in their seemingly settled lives.  These are the people I want to know.  People who aren’t scared to take their own path, to squirm at the thought of chaining themselves to one life, to one idea, to one opinion, to one place, to one person.  Whose travels and teachings have only led them to know that they actually know next to nothing except who they are with great clarity.  Those who involve themselves in what brings them passion, excitement, livelihood and don’t bother with that which doesn’t.  Those who, just by being in their presence, you can feel something deeper.  Something wild, something untamed, something fierce that just might, someday, arrive unpredictably in full force.

And when I met Liz, it was for this reason that we connected.

A glance around Liz’s bedroom gives a good indication of who she is, covered with posters of the sea, of surfers, of naked girls on bikes, a map of New Zealand, eclectic clothes and jewelry strewn around the room, some textbooks and a beta fish.

She’s a surfer chick who’s studying towards a nursing degree so that she can travel the world while healing people, and she drives an old beater van with a backseat converted into a disheveled bed to sleep on while out on her surfing adventures.

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We first bonded over a Halloween zombie bar crawl a few months ago.  Then we climbed together, then jogged across the river together, then drank beer and, all the while chatting about how strange and funny life can be sometimes.

The other night she took a chocolate making class at People’s Co-Op, and the next day invited me over to attempt to make our own.

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We rode our bikes to the market and back with Gunner by our side, and proceeded to make delicious (and healthy) chocolate from scratch.  It was probably the cutest Valentine’s Day date ever.

Lesson learned, making chocolate from scratch really isn’t all too difficult!  You just need chocolate powder, a fat (such as butter), and a sweetener.  You can choose the quality of ingredients to use in making your own batch, but we opted for a nutritious and energy packed recipe.

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We picked up some cacao powder, a mix of cacao butter and coconut oil, and a mix of maple sugar and coconut palm sugar.  IMG_1158IMG_1162

After mixing the ingredients together in a double boiler, we poured the chocolate mix into molds and put them in the freezer to solidify.  We made a few different batches, including Meyer lemon and fresh ginger, dried rosemary and sea salt, chili powder and cinnamon, and chopped walnuts and sea salt.  Um…wow, they were AMAZING.IMG_1175IMG_1171IMG_1169IMG_1167

It’s obvious to anyone that meets her that she’s a rad chick, but not everyone who’s rad will wholeheartedly bring you into her little Portland world so openly as Liz has for me.

Also, not everyone who’s rad will bake you a cake from scratch for your birthday.

But Liz did.  And just like the chocolates, it was also AMAZING.

It was a chai cake with cream cheese frosting, a recipe borrowed from the journal of her great friend Vicki.

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And because my first birthday in Portland was such a sweet sweet memory for me, this is the recipe I want to share with you.

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Chai Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 6 chai tea bags (without added sugar)
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tsp vanilla
  • 2 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 4 1/2 Tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 Tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 Tsp salt
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter at room temperature

For frosting:

  • 8 oz butter for frosting at room temperature
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer over low-medium heat.  Add tea bags.  Remove from heat and let steep for five minutes.  Let chai milk cool completely.

In a medium bowl, mix eggs, yolks, vanilla and 1/3 cup of the chai milk.  Whisk together.

In separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom and salt.  Add butter and remaining chai milk on medium speed with mixer.  Raise speed and beat until fluffy.  Add egg mix in three additions.  Add to a greased cake pan and bake for 26-28 minutes.

For the frosting, combine cream cheese and butter on medium speed in a mixer until consistent texture.  Add the vanilla extract, then slowly add sugar.    Once the cake has cooled, spread frosting on evenly.

Special thanks to both Liz and Vicki for introducing me to my new favorite cake and for lending me the recipe.  You two make me smile.

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Making Space

The other day I felt the incessant need to clear some space in my house.  Maybe it’s just that I’m antsy to be moving at the end of the month, but I couldn’t help myself in boxing up some of my belongings and moving them along with a few pieces of furniture into the garage and out of sight.   I then rearranged a bit, opening up corners of the room which hadn’t seen the daylight in quite some time.  I dusted, I swept, I vacuumed, I felt cleansed.  Like a blockage had just been broken and the energy could, once again, flow freely throughout the space, through me.

It is this same stale space and burdensome feeling that a routine lifestyle brings me.  When I start to behave in habit, when I think not for myself nor even at all really, but rather lose sight of this mentality where room exists to grow, to learn, to expand my mind.  When my life lacks excitement, change and spontaneity, I feel stale.  Likewise, when my living space lacks a flow of energy, I become stale.  And when it is fresh, nurtured and comfortable, I too am balanced and evolving.  In this way, my living space parallels my life flow: space must first be made before the opportunities that bring health and happiness can present themselves.

This past summer I had a job that I found to be increasingly soul-sucking over the four months that I worked there.  Moving to a new city from a different state, my priorities were absolutely in the right place: to make money, and to put something more tangible on my food service resume in a town of extremely talented candidates.  It is for these reasons I am not regretful, but rather have come to learn in hindsight that this job was wasting away at me, my time and my integrity.  It was stale space.  Had I stayed there and toughed it out, I may have taken on a managerial position or moved up in the company in other ways, sure.  But no, no thank you.  Ultimately I felt a nagging need to quit, regardless of the outcome had I stayed.  So I did.

And just like that, the space was created.

It was at about the same time when I learned of a possible job opportunity at a restaurant that was to be opening up downtown in a few weeks.  What caught my attention most was that it is a restaurant of Chef Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place in Portland, the restaurant that I had been eyeing since before moving out to this town.  If you have heard of Paley then you know that this is exactly the type of chef you want to be working for as both a server and a cook, and knowing this I doubted my own abilities to be up for the tremendous responsibility of presenting food of this caliber.  But I inquired anyway, just for the hell of it.  The following day I was handing in a resume to Paley’s Place and sitting down for an interview with the Chef’s wife Kimberley and Garrett, general manager of Imperial, my heart pounding my palms sweaty as ever.  The two weeks between the time I quit and the moment I received the phone call from Garrett were definitely not the highlight of my summer, but just getting a taste of the light at the end of this dark tunnel was enough to deem it a memorable one.

It’s one of the more difficult feelings a person can experience, the unknown.  To not know of the consequences or outcome of a decision, regardless of whether you think it is or isn’t right.   The anxiety is often so overwhelming for me that I cannot fully experience contentment in the present until I have an answer.  I find myself consumed by it.

It sucks.

Sometimes these opportunities are out of our control, and it may be difficult to perceive them in a positive light at first.  Case in point: my current living situation.  We gave our thirty days notice at the beginning of December with a promising lead on another shared living space that seemed too good to be true.  It was, it fell through leaving us with not only an empty void to be filled but a gaping hole to clumsily climb out of.   In a sea of soulless craigslists ads we are swimming against the tide.  In fifteen days we officially become homeless, it is not an easy prospect to accept.  It is, in fact, extremely nerve-racking and a feeling I do not take comfort in.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But like a flash flood in a moment’s notice, that space becomes filled with an opportunity that’s almost always more meaningful that what existed before it.  What follows is the best part:  an overwhelming feeling of relief and gratitude.  This feeling I can recall most recently when I was offered the position at Vitaly Paley’s Imperial.

If you see your ideal life differently than how it is now; if you are unhappy and seeking change; if you find yourself drained by your surroundings, then there is something you should know.  You must first rid yourself of that which is unfulfilling if you seek to create space for those meaningful opportunities to arise and to experience true growth.

Pre-Thanksgiving Cleanse Update

Today is day 4, and I have to admit I woke up feeling pretty groggy for the first time in a few days.  This may or may not have to do with my diet over the past four days.  The first three days I felt pretty dang great.  I’ve had a extra pep in my step and mental clarity that I often felt I was missing before.  It’s been a great feeling so far!

I thought I’d be craving bread, dairy and sweets much, much more than I actually am!  The one time of day I’ve found myself in a bind is late night after I get home from work.  I’m usually in a snacky mood but not in the mood to cook anything.  This is the time when I would normally reach for something easy like bread, crackers, or cereal, I have had to battle a bit here.  Instead though, I’ve stocked a few go-to items that I can grab and not feel terribly guilty about, like almond butter and hummus.  I will literally eat spoonfuls at a time…is this weird?

Since my boyfriend’s diet consists mostly of these three food groups, I thought that it’d be harder to do a cleanse like this since I’m constantly around it.  It’s really not that bad!  This morning I watched him eat  two eggs (which I don’t consider to be dairy and am still eating) on buttered toast as I sat there drinking my measly green juice.  As good as it looked to me, it wasn’t difficult to watch him eat it without giving in.  This was a welcomed surprise!  Tonight’s our first night off together this week, so having dinner around him probably won’t be as easy…

The only real issue I’m having is at work.  Something I’ve already learned is to always eat before coming into work.  You see, I work at one of Portland’s best restaurants where the sight, smell and temptation of decadent and delicious food is absolutely unavoidable.  To make matters worse,  some of my fellow workers are constantly giving me shit and trying to tempt me to eat things like buttered crushed potatoes, french fries topped with cheese sauce or hollendaise sauce, etc.  It’s not so much that I’m craving it and it makes it more difficult to resist so much as it’s just really annoying.

I have kept a log of everything I’ve eaten in the past few days, for myself and also so that you may get some ideas as to what’s available if you choose to do something like this.

Day 1

  • green juice (kale, cucumber, apple, ginger, carrots)
  • kale salad with preserved lemon, beets and chick peas
  • grilled romaine salad with fresh herbs, tomato and marinated onion (this salad is on the menu at Imperial and normally comes with feta cheese and fry bread croutons, which I omitted)
  • a pear
  • almond butter
  • hot tea/ soy chai

Day 2

  • green juice (apple, pear, swiss chard, carrot, cranberry)
  • steel cut oats with 100% maple syrup, cinnamon, flax, chia and an egg sunny side up
  • chickpeas sauteed in olive oil and spices
  • almond butter
  • hummus
  • KIND gluten-free nut bar
  • a few bites of steak at Imperial
  • hot tea/hot water with lemon

Day 3

  • Green Juice (cranberry, grapefruit, orange, kiwi, swiss chard)
  • steel-cut oats with persimmon, flax and chia
  • New Season’s turkey chili
  • New Season’s harvest vegetable slaw with kale, carrot and cabbage tossed in apple cider vinaigrette
  • ginger kombucha
  • a few bites of kim-chee (I’m currently obsessed with it)

Day 4 (so far)

  • green juice (kiwi, cucumber, swiss chard, pear)
  • coconut water

I must admit that having a juicer helps A LOT, especially because drinking a veg/fruit juice in the morning keeps me fully and happy for a few hours, almost more than a full breakfast would.  If you are interested in a similar cleanse or maybe to improve your diet a bit, you can find relatively inexpensive juicers such as the Jack LaLanne, which is what I have.  This juicer is tons of fun, effective, easy to clean, and amazing for your health.

Awareness in Food

In preparation for one of my most favorite holidays, I’m accepting a challenge to myself.   I’ve decided to devote these next nine days to kicking my own willpowers’s ass into shape.

I’m going dairy-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free.  To clarify, it’s not because I think these foods in particular are “bad” for me.  Rather, it is because of my love for dairy, gluten, and sugary foods.  In monitoring my intake strictly for these next few days, I hope to become more in tune with how the foods I eat affect my body and mind.  I hope to detoxify my body by eating a mainly plant-based diet.  And most importantly, to grow a greater awareness with food.

This is why.

Nutrition is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  Like, A LOT.  How what we eat affects our body so deeply, more deeply than we know.

About a month ago, I got back into the practice of yoga and am already feeling the positive benefits both physically and mentally.  In thinking about the mind body relationship, I have seen how the choices of the mind can greatly affect one’s physical nature.  Choices in food are purely an act of the mind.

I often ask myself, what does it mean to eat healthy?   To eat meat or not to eat meat?  Grain-fed or grass-fed?Organic or sustainable?  Dairy or lactose-free?  Soy?  Gluten?  Carbohydrates?  Refined sugar, synthetic sugar substitutes, or no sugar at all?  What about high-fructose corn syrup? Is there such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats?  Are processed foods okay in moderation?  Are all calories created equal?   Et cetera.

These are all questions that run through my mind constantly.  Some questions I believe to have more accurate answers to than others, but there is simply too much conflicting information out there to lay it out in black and white.  For the most part, though, it’s simple.  A healthy diet should include primarily plant-based foods (fruits and veggies), lots of nuts, seeds, complex carbohydrates, and healthy proteins.

More significant than the food itself, though, the key a healthy diet for me has recently become the cultivation of an awareness with food.  This is something that I’ve thus far habitually neglected.  I consider myself to be a balanced eater, but too often for me is food consumed mindlessly and without gratitude.  I am guilty of thoughtlessly grabbing a snack simply out of boredom, I do this all the time.  I also often find myself eating a meal too quickly, again, mindlessly.  This is also something that I hope to change.

By simply being aware, I can recognize when I’m actually hungry and when I’m just bored or eat out of habit.  I can be conscious of the circumstances under which the food is created.  I can consider whether the food I’m eating is something that was nurtured with respect and integrity, or a mass produced mishmash of chemicals and corn syrup.  Through my awareness, I may slow down and appreciate the sensations of a meal: the flavors, the texture, the atmosphere, and my company.  To listen to the feeling of satiety, and to witness how my food affects me both physically and mentally, that is to be mindful.

Please don’t misunderstand me: awareness does not necessarily mean one must eat a strictly “healthy” diet.  Rather, it simply implies that we should be cognizant of what we are putting in our bodies habitually, and to understand how it will affect us.  Consider alcohol: if you have eight drinks without taking a moment to consider the consequences of a severe hangover, you’re way more likely get after it!  However, I can bet that if you took the time to think about how crappy you’d feel the next day before having your second or third drink, you’d likely stick with only one or two.  But hey, if you want to party your ass off one night or eat a particularly indulgent meal every now and again and have understood the repercussions, I’m all for it (and I’ll probably join)!  Regardless of our choices though, we may develop a more direct relationship with certain foods (and drinks) and how they affect our bodies and minds through awareness.  That is, particularly if well-being is a priority for you.

I often wonder, do I have control over the foods I eat, or do the foods that I eat control me?  I would like to think that I have control, but the latter becomes the truth all too often.  To have complete control of your diet takes a great deal of effort, patience and willpower, so much so that I often doubt my own abilities.  From simply abstaining from reaching into the cabinet for those yummy goldfish crackers, to opting for a healthier option on a menu chock full of greasy deliciousness. Strengthening willpower is as crucial to your health and well-being as frequent exercise.  Being mindful of my intake is the first step.

Today is Day 1 of my challenge, and so far I’m going strong on a green juice of kale, cucumber, an apple, and a few carrots.  Having a juicer is so crucial, and I want to thank my parents for that!

I will keep you updated on my observations and findings.

Reclaiming my Blog

Is anyone still out there?

If so, I owe you an apology.  I didn’t intend for it to be this way.  When I started this blog, I was excited to be cooking all the time and to document my recipes for you.  It was not only an online recipe collection for me, but it was a way of interacting with others, especially those people who were once in my life or are still a part of it emotionally but maybe not physically (you know what I mean).  Having lived a few different lives and met so many wonderful people along the way, this is my way of reaching out to you.

At the time of its creation, I titled my blog No Such Recipe with the intention to documenting my exploration into the world of food, in creating new and fun ways of doing so.  Although I found inspiration in other food blogs and recipes, I wasn’t interested in simply following someone else’s measurements and ideas blindly.  Through these first few months I accomplished a lot culinarily: I took risks in cooking foods that I’d never encountered, I sought culinary mentors and absorbed all that I could, I developed a genuine passion for quality and variety of ingredients and I grew my own culinary identity.  These are accomplishments that I will carry with me always.

Although I continue to cook regularly and still find much gratification in my cooking, I have felt less desire to document every kitchen encounters on my blog.  It was never really my intention to have people follow my recipes meticulously, rather I had hoped that people would use my ideas to get in their own kitchen and step outside their culinary bubble.

I still haven’t found my groove yet.  I want more out of this blog than simply banter and recipes.  I want fulfillment and expression without structure.  I want to get to a place where my relationship with my blog is a source of inspiration, expression, communication, and contentment.  I want meaning.

Onwards, I will write when my mind has something to say, photograph when a vision speaks to me, and cook when I am in the mood.  I want No Such Recipe to reflect my original intention as an outlet for personal expression first and foremost.  This, I’ve come to understand, is the ultimate meaning behind the title, in creating the recipe for a life that is my own.

As of late:

I have become much more focused on what I eat and how it affects me.  I have focused my awareness on my health and well-being.  This is a physical awareness as well as a mental one.

I’m striving to live in the moment, each moment.  And to remind myself of this when I lose sight.

Present, aware, healthy, cozy, inspired, overwhelmed, optimistic, curious, nostalgic.  This is how I’ve been feeling.

Yoga, bouldering, soccer, rainy day jogs.  Spending time with my puppy.  Drinking and exploring tea.  Reading about natural medicines and health benefits of foods, juicing lots of fruits and veggies.  Appreciating the creativity in Portland and taking it all in, especially in the form of seasonal beers.  Basking in the dreary fall weather and colorful leaves all over the ground.  Zombie pub crawls and watching The Walking Dead.  This is mostly what I’ve been doing.

The terrible devastation of Sandy and how I wish I could do more to help.  Old friends and those who I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while.  Whether I want to ask inquire about working prep for Imperial and in general get more involved with the food production aspect of the restaurant.  If I want to invest in a season pass to Meadows on Mount Hood, how I miss Aspen but am stoked to find out what winter’s all about in Portland.  How to create a positive and comfortable living space, if I want to seek a new place to live in Portland, and my incessant desire travel the world.  The holidays.   Aliens and other mysterious things beyond our comprehension. How I can best use my new cast iron skillet.  These are some of the things I’ve been thinking about.

Breakfast sandwiches, butternut squash in any and every way, soups and stews, cornbread, pumpkin muffins, various juices.  These are the things I’ve been cooking lately.  

I hope you’re enjoying your November.  Be well, friends.

Portland Culinary Workshop: Cheese-Making 101

You know a blog post is overdue when the cheese starts to mold.

Although it’s not because it wasn’t absolutely delicious, because it was.  It’s just that I had so much of it!  How much?

This much, to be exact:

Yeah, that’s a lot.  And the best part is that it was homemade.  Well actually, not technically made at home but rather made by my friend Alice and I at the Portland Culinary Workshop.  

A couple of weeks ago, Alice and I signed up to take Cheese Making 101, a three hour introductory course on the basics of making cheese.  As you may deduce from my blog, I love to eat cheese in any and all forms, and I’m pretty dang good at that.  My skills are quite novice, however, when it comes to cheese making.  I do believe that the last time I attempted to make cheese in any form was in first grade when a parent showed our class how to make cheesecake.  So as a wannabe chef, it goes without saying that a lesson in the art of making cheese was well overdue.

Upon arrival I was immediately awed by the beautiful open-air layout of the workshop, as well as the incredible collection of kitchen tools and ingredients that I hope to one day have in my home collection (ah, to be young and broke…sigh).  Is it too cliche to say that I felt like a kid in a candy store?  Probably, but it’s true.After a short introduction, Alice and I along with our dozen or so fellow classmates took to our respective stations and immediately commenced the lesson. Milk was heated to specific temperature ranges, acid in various forms was added, and stirring continued (or ceased) until curds and whey had separated.

The curds were then strained over cheese cloth (or in this case, butter muslin) and then refrigerated until firm. The process was repeated using various techniques and ingredients to make three separate batches: lemon cheese (with lemon zest and fresh herbs), farmer’s cheese and paneer cheese.  We spent the last hour playing with pre-made mozzarella curds like play-doh, melting it in hot water, shaping it into small balls, and rolling out basil and sun-dried tomato roulades (my hands were too oily and food-soaked to take pictures for this part, although this picture is a grilled cheese I later made using the roulades). 

It need not take biography of our instructor Susana to tell that she knows what she’s doing in the kitchen.  Having instructed at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland among a slue of other noteworthy professional experiences, her confidence and comfortability with the lesson plan and material is reflective in her ability to convey the enjoyment derived from working with food.  She was approachable, she was helpful and she was just downright cool.  

I left with not only substantial amounts of delicious cheese to take home, but also with the lingering feeling of  excitement for the tangibility of cheese-making as another skill in my culinary repertoire.  

Now, back to the moldy cheese.

Having embodied Little Miss Muffett (on her tuffet) for these past two weeks, I am sad to see the last morsels of the fruits of my labor go to spoil.  But with honesty, it’s fair to say that the end product alone is worth the cost of the class (I’ve used the cheese in salads, omelettes, grilled cheeses, tacos, you name it and there was still a tiny bit left!).  The value and experience of taking a class with Portland Culinary Workshop is worth far more than what you pay, and if you are reading this from the Portland area I encourage you to sign up for a class (click here for a calendar and schedule of classes).  I hate to see good food go to waste, but I suppose it’s also just a sign that I should be signing up for my next PCW class soon.  Anyone care to join?

Simply Roasted Cherries with Rosemary

I would like to start by saying: my aunt Jane is an amazing lady.

Not only did she send me this antique cherry picker she found at a garage sale a couple of weeks ago, but she is pretty much responsible for my complete and utter obsession with garage sale-ing and flea market-ing.  She also taught me how to bargain.  Before I was even ten years old.  Believe it.

She’d take me to garage sales and flea markets all over the Bay Area on the weekends, and helped me to start a small ceramic dog collection by showing me the bargaining ropes. For you newbies, I’m talking about how to suggest a price that’s well lower than what’s listed and then slowly work your way to the middle.   Or how to pretend like you only have only two dollars in your wallet when you actually have ten.  It’s a skill that, as insignificant as it may seem to you, is incredibly important to me to this day, and especially so now that I’m living in Portland, the garage sale capitol of the world.

There are many, many other life’s lessons and skills that I’ve learned from Aunt Jane, but today I’m thankful for our common appreciation for antiques (especially kitchenware) and good bargains.

Might I add, she’s also quite the cooking extraordinaire, and one of my first true kitchen role models growing up.

I hope she would approve of this simple, yet delicious creation.  Something tells me she would.

Simply Roasted Cherries with Rosemary 

Ingredients

  • A whole bunch o’ cherries, washed and de-stemmed
  • A sprig or two of rosemary, de-stemmed and roughly chopped

You don’t necessarily need a cherry pitter, although it is quite handy and useful!

First you must preheat the oven to a low and slow 250 degrees.  As it’s heating up, you will want to pit your cherries.  I’ve seen recipes where people roast cherries with the pits in, or even entirely whole and with the stems still attached, but I’d rather avoid the nuisance and since I now have a cherry pitter, I went all out on the preparation.  De-stemmed, pitted, halved, the whole nine yards.

So yes, chop in half, and spread onto a baking sheet, skin side down.  Sprinkle with coursely chopped rosemary, and place in the oven.  Allow to bake for at least an hour, if not more, keeping an eye to watch for burning.  Bubbling or crackling noises are okay.  After a long while, your cherries should have shunk to about half their original size, browned or crisped up a bit, and shriveled up like your skin after a long bath (how’s that for kitchen imagery?). If you pop one into your mouth, you will notice how the flavor and sweetness of the cherry is greatly enhanced.

From this point forward, the world is your oyster!  Er, cherry.  You may do with them what you please.  Pop them in your mouth as a healthy snack, throw them on some crackers with your favorite chevre as a beautiful and delicious appetizer, add them to fresh greens in a salad, or even incorporate them into a pastry of your choosing.  It would be utterly impossible to find dissatisfaction in your outcome.

Now, this recipe isn’t quite brain surgery.  In fact, it’s safe to say you could probably do it blindfolded.  It’s the concept that I’m trying to emphasize here, that uncommon pairings of fruits and herbs can and DO go well together.  Also, that fruit can be enjoyed in more ways than just fresh, or in a pie or pastry.  In fact, in many cases roasting or grilling is an incredibly useful method for enhancing the sweetness of the fruit.  It’s also a fabulous way to disguise fruit that you’ve allowed to go a day or two past it’s prime.

If you want to cook simply and do it well, then you will allow the ingredients to speak for themselves.  This is what I’m learning.

 

 

 

 

Plate & Pitchfork: Champoeg Farm est. 1856

This gallery contains 20 photos.

Yesterday began my first experience as a staff member of Plate & Pitchfork, a Portland-based company that brings the dining experience to farms throughout the greater Portland area in the summer season.  Each weekend Plate & Pitchfork hosts these events, which include a farm tour, guest speakers, and an ingredient-driven coursed dinner with wine and beer … Continue reading

Repurposing: The Fourth “R”

You’ve heard the expression “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” a million times probably, the Three R’s so commonly stated in anything sustainability-related.  Well, I propose we add a fourth: repurpose.  Sure, this could pertain to the typical recyclables here, but that’s not what I’m referring to.  I’m speaking strictly of the kitchen, where the cooking happens.  Food, specifically, and the incredible amount of waste we (I!) produce unnecessarily.

This is the story of how I came to take a stand against food waste, and how I plan to do my part in repurposing the foods I buy as much as possible.

A few months back an old Snowmass Lifty friend came to visit.  His name is Ian, and he left after the ’10-’11 season in Snowmass to pursue his passion in the culinary art.  He currently works as Sous Chef at Edibles, a top class restaurant in Rochester, NY and is planning to attend an honors program at a culinary school in New York City in the fall.

Skirt steak and green beans over a brussel sprout, bacon and potato hash

Naturally, he cooked two incredibly delicious meals for a gathering of friends while he was in town.  One of them was skirt steak and green beans with a brussel sprout, bacon and potato hash, and the other was a pork tenderloin served over mushroom risotto.  Also naturally, I was right behind him every step of the way, asking a million questions and taking pictures of every little thing he did.

He pan sauteed the potatoes in reserved bacon grease, which he used to flavor many elements of the meal

There was a focus in his eyes that I admired greatly while he cooked.  There was a purpose in his every preparation, and there was an absolute patience that I have yet to develop.  But what struck me the most about the way he cooked was the use of almost every meat scrap he trimmed and every part of the vegetables he diced.  Almost nothing went directly into the trash without being utilized in some way.  He told me that he often saves vegetable scraps from previous meals in a bowl in the fridge, using them to create a broth or sauce when he wants the extra depth of flavors.  “Fat”, he says unfailingly, “equals flavor”.  I assume he would say the same for vegetable skins, scraps and ends as well.  Absolute genius, this kid is!

Into this sauce he added beef fat trimmings, red wine, water, whole peppercorns, bay leaf, the skin and ends of an onion, salt, and butter

It’s this exact mentality that got me thinking about the amount of food we amateur chefs often waste in our preparation of a meal.  I had previously assumed that the fat trimmings and bacon grease should be disposed of immediately.  I never considered repurposing a lemon once the juice was squeezed, or the stem and skin of a vegetable that was not of immediate benefit to the meal.  It makes perfect sense now though, as I learn how to enhance my kitchen experience, that using these bits and pieces in nonconventional ways can not only enhance a flavor profile but also tie the elements of a meal together simply and without over-seasoning, which is crucial to a well-rounded meal.

Then, I stumbled upon the book An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler.  It is a book in which the ideas are as invaluable as they are numerous (and with almost 300 pages, that’s a lot of ideas).   A main theme, I gather, is how to enhance flavors through simple cooking, mostly by repurposing pieces of your last meals to utilize in future cooking.  She says “the bones and shells and peels of things are where a lot of their goodness resides…the skins from onions, green tops from leeks, stems from herbs must all be swept directly into a pot instead of into a garbage.  Along with the bones from a chicken, raw or cooked, they are what it takes to make chicken stock, which you need never buy, once you decide to keep its ingredients instead of throwing them away.” (p. 81).  It makes sense that when you buy a whole ingredient you would want to make the most out of your purchase.  Another suggestion: “save the lovely green murk from the Swiss chard pan to warm the Swiss chard tomorrow, which will be happier for the chance to spend time with yesterday’s more experienced cooking” (p. 82).  This idea is applicable to far more than Swiss chard, just as this book is applicable, clearly, to far more than what I’ve described in this post.  I suggest that you read it.  Like…NOW.

Fat trimmings, skin and bones of meat can, and should, produce the richest broths when boiled in water.  But what about fruits and vegetables?  Citrus peels should be zested before they’re tossed, or further could be combined with sugar and water to produce a citrus simple syrup or be made into a marmalade to spread on some crusty toast.  You can save your fruit and veggie scraps in a small bowl in the fridge for up to a few days when you have the time to boil them in water and strain the ingredients to create a simple, easy and beautiful homemade vegetable broth.  Or take a handful of wilted greens and throw them in a blender with some garlic, a ton of olive oil and some toasted nuts and you’ve got yourself a homemade pesto.  You’re hopefully starting to get the idea here.

A mix of rainbow chard, celery stalks, celery leaves, parsley, and garlic

So, yesterday I found a whole bunch of wilted greens that were somehow forgotten among the kitchen frenzy that exists in this apartment of five.  In the spirit of Ian, I seized the opportunity to do something good for myself, the integrity of the greens and even the environment.  I coursely chopped the bunch, added it to some water in a saucepan and brought it to a boil.  To this mix I added a dash of salt, a couple cloves of whole garlic, and the core and skin of a tomato which I had just blanched for a different recipe.  Once boiling, I reduced the heat to a simmer and allowed it to sit for an hour or so, strained the solids, poured the liquid into a jar and placed it straight into the fridge. Now that I have a flavorful broth available anytime the next meal calls, I can do away with the greens guilt-free, knowing that I was able to repurpose them rather than just throwing them out blindly.

Not only is it the environmentally conscious choice to repurpose your scraps, ends and wilted produce, but it’s also fun to get your creative juices flowing and leads to a more flavorful meal.  Quite importantly, though, and not always considered, it provides each individual ingredient with a purpose greater than one flavor in one meal.  By extracting flavors, nutrients and textures that might otherwise have been thrown out, you are extending the life of a plant or animal.  And for the amount of vitality plants and animals bestow upon us as humans, it’s really the least we can do.

Think about it.

A Thought on Nudity

I have this reoccurring dream where I inexplicably find myself center stage in a large theater.  I gather that I am in some sort of a play, the audience staring intently at myself and my fellow cast mates who reciting lines that I now realize I should have memorized prior to this moment.  I look at my shirtless arms, then down at my bare legs and shoeless feet.  To my surprise, yet not surprisingly, I’m naked.  I’m never really sure what happens next when these dreams occur, and the theater is but one public setting of many that have slipped my memory.  The significance of this dream to me, as well as its memorability, lies most certainly in the fact that I am naked.

It is definitely not on a regular basis that I find myself in public without clothes, yet the feeling that this sort of dream invokes is one that I bet is not unfamiliar to either of us.  Nakedness to me suggests a strong vulnerability, yet not the same intimate vulnerability you expose to one person in a romantic relationship, for instance.  Yes, there is intimacy in the type I speak of, but it’s different.  The kind I’m talking about is that of opening up to everyone, to those who know or think they know you, or maybe to people who do not know you at all.  The act of giving truth of yourself to others through written or spoken word invokes the same feeling as finding yourself alone on stage, naked.

For me, I’ve noticed, there’s a great nakedness about writing this blog.  I feel a sense of intimidation and fear when I advertise my blog for others to see, almost like going on a first date, showing a stranger your messy bedroom or reluctantly raising your hand to provide a thought during a class discussion.  It’s a feeling that I’ve felt many times, even so far as to say that I feel it almost every day.  I’d guess most of us do, really.  Maybe that’s because there’s a certain comfort we grow to discover with the invulnerability of ourselves in society.  Interesting how it then becomes easy, comfortable and rewarding to conform and a challenge to maintain one’s individuality.  In conforming to this ideal, though, we not so much forget as ignore  the importance of staying true to who we each truly are and being able to show that to others.  I, personally, held myself back in this way for quite some time, until I eventually found my life to be rather dull and lacking in passion and creativity.  It’s not that I was doing something I didn’t want to be doing, it’s just that I wasn’t doing anything, really.  This is when I got back into the kitchen, resumed cooking, created this blog, and subsequently am discovering what it means to cook and eat simply.

The goal of eating simply, for me, shares an important congruency to finding comfort in this sort of exposure.   There is sexiness in eating simply, just as there is sexiness in nudity (if you eat simply, that is).  What I mean by eating simply is to consume predominantly fresh or raw, with few ingredients, no chemicals, no synthetics.  To allow the few ingredients in a dish to speak for themselves, rather than masking them with too many (or unnatural) flavors, suggests a vulnerability like that of being naked.

Take a farm fresh egg, for instance.  An egg on its own is modest in that it never once pretended to be anything that it wasn’t.  On the contrary, it continues to endure fabrications of high cholesterol, the bad kind, to this day.  And yet the egg maintains its integrity without fail, providing us with copious amounts of protein and other nutrients unfailingly.  It’s simple, natural, it can stand strong on its own in many different forms, or accompany (no, enhance) any dish quite nicely.  And just as in writing this blog to share with others, there is vulnerability in a farm egg; from the hen’s act of laying the egg to preparing and then consuming the egg.  Needing at most a dash of salt and pepper, a thoughtfully cooked egg is a culinary equivalent to the most beautiful, healthy naked body needing only a shower and maybe some deodorant.

It’s important, I think, to be naked often.  To take off our clothes, regardless of whether someone is looking, and see ourselves in the mirror.  We should be proud to take accountability for ourselves, and to feel comfortable in our own skin and with our own voices.  Now I’m not suggesting to go run around the block completely naked, screaming out the deepest darkest thoughts and obscenities.  Actually, I take that back; just give me a call before you do.

I am suggesting, though, that one of the keys to fulfillment is the ability to regain this sense of comfort in the nude, just as we possessed from the time of birth up until we’re told that it’s inappropriate to live unclothed.  I mean this both literally as well as figuratively, in the way that we should give our most concerted effort to express ourselves vulnerably, and without inhibition.

This, for me at least, starts in the kitchen.