How to Cook the Perfect Fried Egg (on Toast, with Coffee)

IMG_1117There are four essential elements to the perfect morning.  The first, obviously, is a cup of good coffee.

The second,  good music.

The third, a fried egg.

It also happens to be, I’ve decided, the best indication of one’s level of cookery.

Something so simply achieved, yet almost even more so easily butchered.  I cringe when I order a breakfast of fried eggs at a cafe, only to be presented with A) a couple of clear, shiny snot-like egg whites and cold liquid yolks or, worse, B) a matte-colored egg white mass surrounding two firm and lifeless powdery yellow globs.  I can only hope that maybe, possibly, an order of “over-medium” will imply that I am hoping for something in between slimy mucus and a yellow brick.  But due to the fact that my egg ordering experiences at various brunch spots has proved to be both inconsistent and unreliable, I’ve taken it upon myself to ensure that when I’m the one cooking, I know how to do it right.

This is something that has taken me quite a long time to master.  My whole life, in fact.

But I do believe I recently broke the code, and like The Sound of Music I want to sing it from the mountain tops with such joy for the world to hear!

There are certain aspects to my surefire recipe for success that are absolutely essential in cooking a fried egg, and these will be noted in bold.  That which isn’t bolded are simply a few personal preferences, little suggestions to kick it up a notch or ten.

You will need:

  • Eggs (2) of very good quality.  Preferably farm eggs, but as always local, organic and cage-free will suffice.  
  • Butter (about one tsp.)
  • A small or medium sauce pan
  • A lid or something that can act as a lid (this can be in the form of a  plate even, anything that will seal the heat into the pan space)
  • Salt, pepper and various other seasonings of your choosing (preferably sea salt, though).  I use fresh cracked pepper, garlic powder and chia seeds.
  • Any other add-ons your would like to include, although absolutely not necessary.  Previously used examples: sliced avocado, sliced tomato, chopped fresh garlic, sauteed onion, sauteed kale, sliced ham, bacon(!)
  • Cheese, again, optional
  • Sliced bread
  • Coffee grinds, preferably of good quality
  • Water
  • A french press
  • Spatula

1.  Turn the oven on to anywhere between 300-350 degrees and place the allotted amount of toast onto the racks (this is, of course, if you don’t have a toaster like myself).

2. Turn the heat of one burner onto a low-medium flame and place the saucepan on top, allowing it to warm up for about 30 seconds.

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3.  Turn another burner onto medium and place a full kettle of water on top, allowing the water to heat while you cook eggs.

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4.  If using a french press, add coffee grinds to your press.

5.  Place butter in the pan and allow it to spread evenly over the pan as it melts.  Note: I use only real, unsalted butter with my eggs, it seems to protect the egg from burring or overcooking on the bottom and it tastes wonderful.  I do not use olive oil (burning or cooking olive oil a)has a lower smoking point and b) denatures the amino acids in the olive oil, negating the nutritional value entirely)

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6.  Exactly at the point the butter has melted, crack two eggs into the pan. IMPORTANT: MAKE SURE THE YOLKS ARE RESTING ON THE PERIMETER OF THE PAN, NOT IN THE CENTER WHERE THE HEAT IS CONCENTRATED.  The whites should immediately start to solidify and whiten upon contact with the pan, but shouldn’t start to sizzle too loudly or bubble.  If the latter occurs, turn the heat down and remove the pan from the heat for about 10 seconds until the eggs calm down.

7.  Season your eggs, minus salt.

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8.  Cover the pan.   Allow to sit for at least one minute, no more than 2 minutes.  If the yolk starts to develop a white film on top, uncover immediately.

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9.  Check the toast.  If only slightly crispy, turn it over and continue cooking.

10.  If kettle water steaming at this point, add your water to the coffee grinds.  Allow to sit while you complete the preparation of your eggs and toast.

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11.  If you would like to add cheese to your egg, this is the time to do so.  Uncover, sprinkle or grate cheese on top, and then re-cover your eggs.  

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12.  Remove from heat but allow eggs to stay covered in the pan until either the yolks are still squishy but white or the cheese has melted.  If yolks are firming up, uncover the pan immediately.

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13. Remove toast from oven.  If toast consistency has reached desired state, remove from heat and onto a plate, spreading butter immediately on the toast.  Turn off your oven (I always seem to forget that part, and then remember after having left the house).

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14.  Using a spatula, carefully place fried eggs on top of toast (or on a plate). 

15.  Press your coffee, then pour into a mug.  Add milk, sugar, or in my case, a spoonful of Oregon Chai powder and stir.

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16.  Salt your eggs lightly.  

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17. Arrange various add-ons to your egg and toast at this time.

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18. Bask in the deliciousness of a firm (but not chewy) egg white and warm yet still runny yolk on a crunchy piece of toast.  

19.  Take a sip of coffee.

20.  Appreciate the moment. 

(And the fourth?  That one I’m still keeping a secret.)

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.

Hot Dog Relish, a recipe by Norma Gibbs

Cheers to those extraordinary moments, those breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, those unexpected connections.  The ones in which my spirit awakens, in which I feel most alive and for which I am filled with a deep sense of appreciation.

It is to a place seen only by those fortunate few that I dedicate this piece.

I never expected to find myself at a lake in the middle of Michigan.  I never expected to fall in love with this place either, let alone visit here at all.  But I did, three times over.

The lake is called Higgins, and it’s where the Gillespie family has called their summertime home for over three generations.

With each visit I am shown again of the unwavering generosity and warmest of welcomes.

To visit Lake Higgins is to take a step back in time, to a slower pace unconcerned with life’s most consuming trivialities.  Anyone is invited, everyone pitches in, and nobody’s counting.  Out there, it’s about the simplest forms of enjoyment, and enjoyment there is to be had.  It’s a gift alone to be a part of it.

The Gillespies have a neighbor and friend who also spends her summers at the lake.  Her name is Foxy, and her effervescent demeanor is a welcomed wake in the tranquil morning waters of Higgins. She’s just a joy to know.

When she heard of my passion for slow foods, canning, and farming, her excitement grew impossibly greater.  She grew up on a farm, she told me, and she’s been eating food from jars since before refrigerators were a household staple.  She even offered me a taste of her latest batch of homemade hot dog relish for me to taste and a recipe to bring home. It was her Grandma Norma’s recipe from when she was just a child, and it was simply delicious.

I followed the recipe once I returned home to Portland.

In cooking recipes both traditional and unique, there is something to be said for those tried and true, the ones that are passed down from generations before.  For in those dishes lies the flavor of hard work and memories, the flavor of deeply rooted family traditions.  It is the flavor of a weekend spent at Lake Higgins.

Hot Dog Relish, a recipe by Norma Gibbs

Ingredients

  • 3 cups ground (well chopped) cucumbers
  • 3 cups ground onions
  • 3 cups chopped celery
  • 2 Hungarian hot peppers
  • 2 ground sweet red or yellow peppers
  • 3/4 cup salt
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 quart white vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 2 Tbsp. celery seed

Add salt to water, combine and add to vegetables.  Let sit overnight.  Drain and rinse lightly.

Heat white vinegar, sugar, mustard seed and celery seed to boil. Add vegetables and cook slowly, 10 minutes. Seal in hot jars.

A special thank you to The Gillespie Family for an always wonderful visit to Michigan and the lake.  Also, to Foxy for the inspiration and wonderful family recipe.

Raspberry Summer Squash Flax Muffins

This past saturday Tim and I took the puppy to the Oregon coast to splash around in the ocean waves.  We drove up through Astoria and drank some local brews at the Fort George Taproom, then headed south and stopped at a few spots along the way, including a delicious dinner and sunset beach stroll at Cannon.  It was quite the lovely adventure, really.

Bittersweet it was though, as this was one of the very, very few times the two three of us have had a day off together since we moved to Portland.  You see, Tim works a relatively normal work week but I, on the other hand, have a work schedule that is far more out of wack.  Sometimes I work days, other times nights, and almost always on the weekends with the lovely Plate & Pitchfork.  

Being by the ocean never fails to offer a welcomed change of perspective for me.  Its vastness is humbling, and the significance of day to day issues and stresses that normally get me just seem to slip away.  There is an impermanence about the ocean that I also take comfort in: the ebb and flow, the way the tide rolls in and out, the waves crashing in at one moment, and then retreating back the next.  

  Photography and film by my aunt Cheryl.

This week marks a welcomed last several days of a disappointing summer serving gig.  It wasn’t right.  It wasn’t even close to what I needed to be doing and this became apparent as my summer was gluttonously swallowed by my the time spent at work.  Here in my world, when it rains, it pours.  I’ve spent the past three weeks without a full day off, and it’s taken its toll on my soul.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut, and I did.  I quit without alternative plans except for several remaining events with Plate & Pitchfork, a few suggestions and a hopeful interview for a new restaurant owned by perhaps the most well-respected chef in Portland, Vitaly Paley.

I got the job.  And mostly because I truly meant every word I spoke and wore it all on my sleeve.  It starts at the end of August, and until then I can relax and enjoy the ebb of the final days of my first Portland summer.  But first, to spend a long weekend at one of the most relaxing retreats I could imagine: Tim’s family’s cabin on Like Higgins in Michigan.

But back to our oceanic adventure.

As a sweet end to a beautiful day, we returned home to find this gift bestowed upon our dining room table.  It certainly isn’t a bad thing to have neighbors with a thriving vegetable garden.

So I made some muffins.  Because let’s be honest…who doesn’t love muffins?

Raspberry Summer Squash Flax MuffinsYields 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used the raw Trader Joe’s kind)
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large organic summer squash
  • 1 cup raspberries (I used organic frozen, but you can certainly use fresh)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated is best!)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp. flax seeds
  • Non-stick cooking spray for muffin tins (I used vegetable oil to coat the tins, but spray is easier)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grate summer squash using a large cheese grater, and set aside.  Combine sugar, vegetable oil and eggs into a small bowl.  Stir to combine, then set aside.   In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients including flax seeds, and stir to combine.  Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry.  Add grated squash, stir.  Fold in frozen raspberries, being careful not to over-stir at this point (because your batter will become pink and your raspberries will lose their body).  Pour batter to about 3/4 of the way up the tin using a spoon.  Place in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or metal object placed inside one of the muffins comes out dry.  


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?

Garden Greens with Grilled Peaches and Figs

The other day on my way to the dog park, I saw a sign for an estate sale in bright orange paint on a bright yellow poster.  Now, seeing as every four houses on a saturday in Portland is either having a garage sale or an estate sale, I normally wouldn’t detour too far out of my way for one unless I was truly on the hunt.  But this sign, for some reason, called to me.  I turned a sharp right on the next street, found a parking spot and went inside.  Among piles and piles of needless stuff,  I almost immediately spotted and couldn’t take my eyes off of a cast iron grill pan that was sitting quietly in the corner of the kitchen.  I couldn’t leave without it, and I knew I had to have it.  Instantly we were bonded.  It may sound silly, but it almost felt to me as if it had spent its entire existence at this house so that it would be sold, for eight dollars, to me.

Serendipity.  It’s not just a horribly cheesy movie.  It’s also pretty much how I try to live my life.  Opportunities present themselves, sometimes in the form of a job or experience opportunity, sometimes in new and old friends and acquaintances, and sometimes in bright yellow signs with orange paint.  I make an effort to leave space and time in my life for spontaneity, and for the most part I am rewarded.  I’ve also learned to let the things go which do not bring positivity into my life without necessarily being prepared to replace it.  Usually, in this case I am rewarded too.

It’s not easy moving to a new place without having any sort of concrete plans or a solid friend base.  I have my boyfriend, who’s not only a boyfriend but a true friend above all else.  We have an amazing puppy.  We both have at least one job that fulfills us, that makes us happy and has rewarded us in some way.  We are meeting some great people.  We’ve already encountered bumps in the road, impediments that force us to make difficult decisions and sometimes ones with unforeseeable outcomes.  But in making time for the good stuff, and in weeding out the bad, we are making it happen.  Slowly, things are coming together.

I received some great news today, and consequently spent the morning tearfully overjoyed and hugging my puppy.  Yes, good things are brewing on the home front.  Sorry to leave you in suspense, but it’s too early to divulge…and no, I’m not pregnant.  Just wanted to clear that one up.

So instead, I’ll just leave you with this recipe for garden greens with grilled peaches and figs.  There’s really nothing serendipitous about it, except for the fact that I used my amazing new-ish cast iron grill pan and it met- nay surpassed- my expectations.

Garden Greens with Grilled Peaches and Figs

Ingredients:

  • Juicy peaches
  • figs
  • An assortment of garden greens.  Mostly arugula and spinach.
  • Mint
  • Pistachios
  • Some kind of crumbly cheese.  I used homemade farmer’s cheese from my Portland Culinary Workshop class)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Juice of half a lemon

Start by gathering your greens.  Farmer’s Market, Trader Joe’s, New Seasons, your neighbor’s garden.  Don’t matta.  Just pick up a bunch and make sure they’re organic and healthy looking.  None of that supermarket iceburg crap.

For this salad, I mooched some spicy arugula, refreshing spinach, and cooling mint leaves from my neighbor’s backyard.  Rinsed, chopped, thrown into a bowl.

Chop the peaches into slices, half the figs and place on a sizzling hot griddle pan with maybe a drizzle of olive oil.  Allow to grill for a few minutes on each side, using tongs to flip, until the fruit is softened and has some grill marks on both sides.

Meanwhile, shell some pistachios.  Use a knife to smush and crack them into smaller pieces (as you would a garlic clove to remove the peel) and throw them in a small pan on low to medium heat for a few minutes to bring out a roasted nutty flavor. Watch carefully so as not to burn, as nuts can and will burn quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them.    Remove from heat, allow to cool.

When your fruit is sufficiently grilled, turn off the heat and remove from the grillpan (or grill).  Allow to cool then cut into chunks.

Assemble the salad.  Throw the greens into a bowl, sprinkle the pistachio, grilled fruit, and some goat cheese, farmer’s cheese, or feta.  Or maybe even blue cheese if you have that on hand instead.  Drizzle generously with a mix of olive oil, salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lemon.  Take a moment to appreciate the simple beauty of the dish.

And then devour.

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.

 

 

 

 

Lentil Cakes with Cucumber Dill Raita

There are a few reasons why I chose to make this recipe.

1.  Frankly, I’m sick of making popsicles.

2.  I had a whole bunch of plain yogurt in my fridge that needed to get used up.  I bought the dill specifically for this reason: I have been wanting to make raita/something to dip my baby carrots in on a hot day for a while now, so with some leftover raita this recipe is a two-fer.  Two birds, one stone.

3.  I also had this huge bag of lentils from when we first moved in that we haven’t used and was starting to feel guilty about it, oddly enough.  Is there such a thing as chef’s guilt?  For not using what you’ve got before it starts to go bad (like the chard and beets sitting in my veggie drawer as I type)?  Even with non-perishables?  Because if so, I have it.

4. For the first time in almost two months of living in my new spot, it was the first night that I had the entire place to myself.  The boyfriend, roommate and puppy went camping for Ryan’s birthday, and since I had a Plate & Pitchfork event the next day, I couldn’t go.  I enjoy cooking no matter who’s home, but the fact that I had the place to myself that night meant that I could go on a cooking spree uninhibited and uninterrupted.  What’s further, I could cook whatever I wanted because I would be the only one eating it.  I’d be surprised to find myself in the majority opinion of the household when it comes to lentils normally, but this night was different.

5.  Look at the size of these spinach leaves from our neighbor’s veggie garden! How could I not include these in the recipe?!  They are so awesome.

Lentil Cakes with Cucumber Dill Raita 

Yields: 8-10 small to medium sized lentil cakes

Ingredients

Raita:

  • 1-2 cups of yogurt, must be PLAIN
  • 2 Tbsp. Vegannaise, or plain mayo (I prefer the taste of Vegannaise and it’s much healthier)
  • Half a cucumber, skin-on and thinly sliced and julienned (with a mandolin if you have one.  If not, try to mince the cucumber as thinly as possible)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of fresh dill, chopped
  • a handful of capers, chopped
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • Optional: a few splashes of hot sauce of your choosing (I added Secret Aardvark Habanero hot sauce and it worked perfectly to add a hint of residual spiciness)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Lentil Cakes:

  • 1 cup organic lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • Half an onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • a nice sprinkle of chili flakes
  • 1 cap-full of apple cider vinegar, for lentils
  • olive oil for sauteing
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil for cooking, preferably a higher smoking point oil.  I used a few tablespoons of pork lard that I rendered in a slow-cooker a while back and have kept stored in the freezer.  It works amazingly well for cooking pancakes, grilled cheeses, and in baking for pie crusts, etc.  It makes it much easier to avoid burning what you’re cooking, and as an added bonus you add a very slight bacon-y flavor to whatever you’re cooking.  I don’t expect you to have lard on hand, however I do recommend looking into it for future recipes)
  • optional: a handful of golden raisins or dried apricots, chopped.  (I actually used about a tablespoon of homemade apricot preserves I had made a few weeks ago that worked very well in this recipe)

Start by soaking the lentils on very low heat in salted water for an hour or two.  During this time you can prepare the Raita.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, stir well to combine and throw back in the refrigerator.  Drain the lentils, add fresh (salt added) water and cook according to package directions.  At the same time, cook rice according to package directions on a separate burner.  When the lentils are firm and starting to “pop”, remove from heat, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and stir to incorporate fully (don’t add too much, just maybe a cap-full, because any more than that is overpowering).  Allow the lentils and rice to cool down while you saute the sliced onion in olive oil, and when translucent add the chopped fresh spinach, curry powder, salt and pepper and stir until well incorporated and nicely wilted.  

In a large bowl, combine the lentils, brown rice, onion/spinach mix (and raisins, dried apricots, or apricot preserves if you’d like).  Add the eggs as well (it would have been smarter of me to combine the eggs in a small bowl and whip before adding them to the mix beforehand) and stir to incorporate fully.

In a saute pan, heat the oil or lard until sizzling hot (my trick is to soak my hand with water from the sink and “throw” the residual water into the pan to see if it sizzles.  If not, be patient for a few minutes then try again, and if so then it’s ready to go).  Add the lentil “batter” to the pan, forming small palm-sized circular patties.  It’s important to keep in mind that they are fragile and prone to break or split easily.  Do not to mess with them too early or else they will break, but also keep a patient yet diligent eye on them so as to prevent burning.  This can be tricky, but I suggest letting them sit on each side for 4-5 minutes and then flipping them very carefully in between.  As with pancakes, once each batch is finished, place them carefully on a plate and keep them in a warmed oven until completely finished.

Place 2 to 3 on a each plate, and top with the chilled Raita.  Serve with a lemon wedge and maybe some extra fresh dill if you have left over, which you should.

What I love about this recipe is that there’s so much room for playfulness here.  You can add almost anything you’d like to the cakes, whether it’s broccoli, kale, cilantro, zucchini, chopped apples, flax seeds, nutritional yeast, etc.  Its a great canvas for exploration, and I suggest, if you are interested in making a similar recipe, that you do add your own twist to it.  I’d love to hear your ideas or suggestions.

Cheesy Vegan Kale Chips

This isn’t the first time I’ve done a blog post devoted to kale chips, but they’re just so gosh darn delicious (and addicting, I might add) that they deserve to be brought back to the forefront of my blog for this evening.

HA! Tricked you.  You totally thought this was my veggie garden, didn’t you?

I WISH.

Actually, my rad new neighbor(s) stopped by for a chat this morning and mentioned that their backyard veggie garden is in serious summer surplus mode and demand is at a premium.  It’s. A. Rough. Life. For. Us.

As a self-diagnosed veggie hoarder (note the pic of the current state of my fruit/veg drawer in the fridge), I pretty much teleported myself to their backyard as soon as I possibly could to get my hands on some.

Among the wide variety of awesomeness I found, I came home with some basil, rosemary, a few leaves of rainbow chard, and kale.  I have some manners.  Some.

Having just picked up a new bunch of purple kale at the farmer’s market yesterday, I knew that throwing the leaves in the fridge would likely result in a mess of yucky smelly goo on the bottom of the veggie bin. It’s never a good thing to let fresh food go to waste, let alone a very nasty waste.   And anyone who’s ever suddenly found themselves with a surplus of kale can likely attest to this phenomenon.  If not, then you my friend are a jedi of kale.   But for us less gifted, there is one solution to this problem and it is a good one at that: kale chips.  Make a batch and, I swear, you’ll be down to a workable amount of fresh kale before you know it.  These babies are so addicting (and guilt-free), they’ll be gone before you leave the kitchen.  Literally.  As in, I put them in a bowl to share with everyone else and just stood in front of the bowl shoving them in my mouth for like five minutes until they were gone.

Cheesy Vegan Kale Chips 

Ingredients:

  • One bunch of organic kale, de-stemmed and chopped into large pieces
  • One healthy dose of olive oil, maybe two to three tablespoons, poured in small increments
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Chili Flakes
  • Two or three large pinches of nutritional yeast (“healthier” alternative to cheese, many vegans use it as a substitute to that cheesy flavor.  For instance, my old roommate Susan used to make vegan mac ‘n cheese with nutritional yeast.  It doesn’t compare to cheese in texture by any means, but I actually really enjoy using it  on popcorn, scrambled eggs, kale chips, etc.)

Preheat oven to 250 (any higher and your kale chips will burn).  In a bowl, toss kale with the rest of ingredients and ensure an even coating.  Spread out evenly on a baking sheet or large piece of aluminum foil.

Place in oven and bake for about an hour, or until the chips are completely dehydrated and crispy.  Remove from oven, and enjoy.

Lesson learned today: Dino kale is the best type of kale to use for chips due to its rigidity.  It’s the kind with the long and thinner crinkled dark green leaves pictured above.  A close second is the green kale- the firm, almost sharp looking leaves that you can usually find in the market or grocery store.  Try to avoid using Russian or Purple kale.  Also, don’t over oil the greens.  Use only enough to very thinly coat each leaf, as the oilyness comes out when crispy and the idea is to avoid greasiness.

Blueberry Honey Yogurt Pops

Improv in the Kitchen.  It’s a game a like to play quite often, really.  When you buy something at the store or market without any intention of what to do with it.  So you open your fridge and cabinets, checking out what you have and could possibly combine with said ingredient to make something awesome.  Sometimes the end product is an epic fail and other times it’s great! You never really know what you’re gonna get, but that’s the fun of it.  You should try it sometime.

For this past episode of Improve in the Kitchen, the key ingredient was blueberries. To be honest with you, I’m on the fence with blueberries.  I like them, I do.  I can almost feel my immune system flex as I nibble away on the juicy little blue balls of antioxidant awesome.  And you have to give the blueberry some credit for its adaptability.  She knows how to play it cool, to chill on the sidelines, to be that wingwoman that’s always down to go out  and have a few drinks with you after you’ve broken up with your boyfriend for the fifth time and need to vent about it.  But after a few drinks, you realize that you really just want to dance.  Try as you might to bring her along for a few tequila shots and an epic dance floor sesh, she’s not really into that.  Yeah, she’s just kind of boring.  She’s sweet and compliments others well, but a blueberry just isn’t that exciting.

Enough blueberry bashing.  I feel very strongly about second chances, about finding the best in everything and everyone. Sort of.  And anyone who knows anything about blueberries knows that the frozen kind is far superior to the fresh form. So in the spirit of frozen blueberries, I turned this batch into popsicles, because on a hot summer day there’s almost no such thing as a bad popsicle.  And after we demolished the badass batch of cilantro lime popsicles, I’ve been having very serious popsicle withdrawals.

This is how it all went down:

I took these babies, washed them and threw them in a saucepan with a cup or so of water and a couple tablespoons of honey on medium heat.  While this was happening, I found some plain yogurt in the fridge and mixed a cup or so with honey to incorporate a bold tart/sweet flavor into the mix.  After all the honey had melted into the liquid and the blueberries were bursting, I removed it from the stovetop to cool down.

Next, the mixture went into the blender.

Then through a cheesecloth into a bowl to strain all the larger particles and skin pieces out.

I poured a little of the yogurt/honey mixture into each, then added the blueberry/honey mix on top being careful in pouring softly to maintain the separation.  I froze them for an hour or so, stabbed them with popsicle sticks and then froze for a few more hours.

AND BAM! Blueberries, they’re alright in my book.