Remember those I Spy books from the 90s? I think this picture could totally be one of those. “I spy 2 army men, dressed all in green, 3 thimbles, a lock, and a driving machine. A snake, 2 bats, a hive full of bees, a fitful protest, and some cheddar cheese.” Can’t you just see those army men crouching among the broccoli in this sandwich? Or a car sneaking its way along the edge of the plate. The fitful protest? That’s me, a not-yet-grownup, not wanting to eat my vegetables. Cheddar cheese? Not exactly the easiest thing to find in this picture, but it is there.
This sandwich was basically a way of tricking myself into eating something green. “I spy a person, too old to rebel, she must eat her veggies, if she wants to stay well.” A couple weeks ago I found myself in a rut, filled with lentil soup and fried eggs. But not wanting to jump cold turkey from the land of too much butter to the land of all produce, all the time, the idea for this gem of a sandwich popped into my head.
You’ll probably notice there’s not much cheese on this sandwich. Not because I was really that concerned about eating my greens. Just because I’m not a fan of things where cheese is the main event. Especially melted cheese. Cheesecake is definitely an exception. It melts and covers everything and then it gets hard and that weird shiny layer of grease or whatever it is appears. Can’t do it. But if melted cheese is your thing, do it.
First we saute some onion and broccoli. With butter, of course.
Then we pile the goodness on some bread and grate some cheese on top.
Slap another slice of bread on there, cook for a couple minutes, and you’ve got a serving of vegetables that doesn’t taste like a serving of vegetables at all. It is mostly butter, after all.
Broccoli Cheddar Grilled Cheese Sandwich
a few slices of onion, however much you like
half a small head of broccoli, chopped into small pieces
butter for the pan and for the bread
2 slices bread of your choice
Melt some butter in a frying pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion in the pan and cook until soft. Add in the broccoli and cook until bright green, about 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, butter two slices of bread. This will be the outside of your sandwich. On a non-butter side, arrange the onion and broccoli. Grate cheddar cheese over the vegetables, however much you like. Top with the other slice of bread, buttered side out.
Heat the pan again, on medium this time, and carefully place the sandwich in it. Cook on one side until nicely browned, then flip and cook the other side until browned and cheese is melted. Cut in half and serve.
I think it would be best for all of us if I started this post with a big fat disclaimer: my knowledge of and experience with Indian food is virtually nonexistent. I’ve been to the Indian buffet restaurant in my college town a couple times, a 100% non-sketchy place, unlike a lot of buffets. It pleasantly surprised me both times, but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that this kind of food, with so many distinct flavors in one pot, gets better as it sits under the warming lamps. I have a curried couscous recipe that I make quite a bit, but I’m not sure it really qualifies as Indian. Other than that, my exposure to Indian food has been limited to those times when you’re in a group or at work or school and one person looks a little uncomfortable, and finally someone asks them what’s wrong, and with a slight grimace and a firm hand on their gut, they say, “I had Indian for lunch.” And everyone nods and exchanges sympathetic, understanding looks, and remembers why they still haven’t gotten around to trying the new place that opened up down the street.
But Indian food has always been intriguing, mysterious in the good way, with its long list of exotic-sounding spices and names of dishes. Curry, turmeric, garam masala (which is actually a mix of spices). Just the ingredient lists are appetizing. So last weekend I decided that the best way to use the two cans of chickpeas in my cupboard would be to try making Indian food. So I poked around for a while and found this recipe on the ever-wonderful Smitten Kitchen. And let me tell you, this dish makes me wish I’d ventured into this vast realm of Indian food a loooong time ago. It’s delicious, people. And really easy, as long as the onions don’t make you cry for too long.
*A note about buying spices. Yes. There are six different spices in this dish. I can hear you thinking it from here, “Spices are so expensive!” They are, if you buy whole jars of them for $4 a pop. BUT, if you buy them the right way, you’ll spend less than $2 on all of them combined. And the rest of the ingredients in this recipe are dirt cheap. Go to the bulk section of your grocery store. Even if you have to go to the fancy grocery store where you’re normally only allowed on special occasions and payday. Because in the bulk section, you can buy just a tiny bit of all these spices, and you’ll pay by weight, and each one will probably cost you 30 cents or so. You’ll never buy a $7 jar of turmeric again. And you won’t have a zillion spice jars that you bought for one recipe and never used again crowding your pantry. Bulk section. Ready set go.
Here are all the lovely spices in this recipe: cumin, cayenne pepper, coriander, paprika, turmeric, and garam masala.
Then, there’s a whole bunch of chopping and grating and eye-watering.
In goes the deliciousness. This is when your house starts to warm up just from the smell.
Simmer a while, and done.
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe
Serves 4-6, or a single lady like me all week
This recipe is a little spicy, a little tangy, and will warm you to the core.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced (I used a serrano)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, or 1 15-oz can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lemon
Heat oil over medium head in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic, ginger and chili pepper and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and toss in the coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, paprika and garam masala. Cook the onion mixture with the spices for a minute or two, until the spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes and any juices that came with them. Scrape up any onion bits that have stuck to the pann. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in salt and lemon juice. Serve over rice. This keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week, and is great reheated.
Three and a half months ago, freshly graduated and completely unprepared for post-school life, I started a new job. My first big-girl, real-money, professional-but-doesn’t-feel-professional, corporate job. The first month was a blur of “Can you show me how to do this again?” and “What’s the next step?” and “Who’s that?” and “I’m confused.” It passed in the blink of an eye, and yet I’m pretty sure I got almost nothing done. I asked before I did anything – otherwise, without fail, I would skip a step, or send the wrong thing to the wrong person, and then risk having to go back a few steps. Mess up, and the mistake is on the record forever, in the incorrect email I’d sent, polished and displayed in a glass case for the half dozen people cc’d on the message. I’m sure the people one or two steps above me on the totem pole got sick of my endless questions. I got sick of them.
But then, after about six weeks or so, I felt like I had things figured out. I knew what the next step was, and what I needed to do to make it happen. Or so I thought. I was like a high school freshman after Christmas break – a semester under my belt, I totally had things figured out, right? Wrong. I forgot the important part – I was still a freshman. Still the newest person on the team, still able to make a mistake any second and be completely oblivious to it. Just like Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, “In fact, being – forgive me – rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.” (Yes, that just happened. I quoted Harry Potter. And I know you liked it 🙂 ) And that was just it. I’d gotten cocky. I had it all figured out! But then when I messed up, and I would, because I had next to nothing figured out, it was bad. People would have to go back and redo their work, or do mine for me. Not a fun thing to have on my conscience.
So I picked myself up from my ever-growing mistakes, and started asking questions again. But this time was different. I knew what to ask, who to ask, what the answer would mean, and what my next move should be. And that’s when I really started learning, and figuring things out, and doing things without checking first. And doing them right. On the first try. Now I’ve been working there three and a half months, and I can’t believe how high my level of knowing what to do is compared to when I started. And it’s growing every day. This week has been an especially good one. Sure I’ve made mistakes (like marking some email SUPER URGENT that my boss was cc’d on…apparently they weren’t urgent. But the project was due three hours ago!). But this week, I’ve also been doing things without being reminded. I’ll do them, tell the person in charge of the project I’m doing them, and get a “Thanks for remembering!” in response instead of a “No no no no no we send to this person now, and you have to do that to the file first.” I’m finally more of an asset than a liability when it comes to getting stuff done.
In the midst of my constant mistake-making, this dish (and variations of it) was one thing I knew I could always get right. Terrible segue. I’m sorry. But still. You can’t mess this up. You can use whatever you have on had. No potatoes? No problem. Throw that questionable broccoli in there. Half a bell pepper? Good idea. Cabbage? Let’s be friends. Bacon? Let’s be best friends.
Chop up a small sweet potato, toss it in a large frying pan with some butter. Or olive oil or whatever fat floats your boat, but I really like butter for this one. And some red pepper flakes, because is there anything they don’t make better?
The sweet potato will take a while to cook. Once it starts to get soft, throw in some chopped onion and garlic, and let everything get a little crispy. Make a space, and plop some more butter in there.
Crack an egg in that delicious, buttery space. Fry it up to your liking.
And pat yourself on the back for getting dinner totally right.
Sweet Potato Hash
Makes enough for one hungry person
A couple tablespoons butter, for the pan
1 small sweet potato, chopped
red pepper flakes
1/4 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Melt some of the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add the chopped sweet potato. Once that starts to get soft but not charred, add the onion and garlic. Cook until everything starts to blacken a bit, but be careful to not burn the garlic.
Make a well in the center and melt the remaining butter in it. Crack the egg into the well and fry it however you like. Dump it all on a plate, salt, pepper, and hot-sauce liberally, and enjoy!
Love it or hate it (or have an unsettlingly complicated love-hate relationship with it), it’s pumpkin season! I’ve driven by three different pumpkin patches in the last week. There’s a pumpkin-themed 5k/10k run in my town this weekend. Even the trees are orange. Though I guess that’s a whole different thing.
I don’t have any strong feelings either way about pumpkin. But one thing I do love about it – you can turn it into just about anything. Pancakes. Cookies. Pie, Soup. Bread. Jack-o-lantern. 5k run, even. And, you can mix it with just about anything. Chocolate. Coffee. Beans (in the soup). Bacon. It’s a vegetable with a lot of potential.
This is a recipe that showcases pumpkin in all its glory but has enough other flavors in it that if you don’t like pumpkin, you’ll still love this. It’s ginger-y, cinnamon-y, and there’s chocolate.
First we melt the chocolate. Chocolate is fragile, and melting is best done in a double boiler. If you’re like me and don’t have one, set a heat-proof bowl on top of a small pot of boiling water. Just a little bit of water in the pan, don’t let it touch the bottom of the bowl. The steam will melt the chocolate.
Then we’ll mix our dry ingredients together.
And in a separate bowl, our wet ingredients.
And then everything gets mixed together.
We layer batter and chocolate in a baking dish, and run a knife through to make it look nice.
And bake! I blame the monochromatic-ness of this on my oven, which I’m pretty sure has a completely uncontrolled heating mechanism and gradually gets hotter and hotter no matter where I set the temperature. It has a near 100% success rate burning the bottoms of my cookies.
Monochromatic it may be, but this gingerbread is delicious. A little sweet, and it’s got enough spice to warm you on a cool fall day while you watch the orange leaves fall past your window.
Chocolate-Swirl Pumpkin Gingerbread
Yields one 9×13-pan, however servings that is for you and yours
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
2 c all-purpose flower
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
1/2 c molasses
1/2 c pumpkin puree
1/2 c boiling water
Set oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray a 9×13-inch pan with non-stick spray and set aside. In a double boiler, add the chocolate. Melt, stirring occasionally and then remove pan from heat, leaving the bowl on the double boiler to keep the chocolate melted.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside. In a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a bowl with a wooden spoon, you can totally do this by hand), combine sugar and butter and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in molasses and pumpkin. Stir in the boiling water. With a rubber scraper, fold in flour mixture.
Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Pour in half the melted chocolate in an “S” pattern. Pour on the remaining batter, then top with the remaining chocolate. Run a butter knife through the batter to better swirl the chocolate, but do not fully incorporate.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Brussels sprouts. Is there a vegetable more polarizing than these ping-pong-ball-sized miniature cabbages? I haven’t met many people who like them, for a variety of reasons:
“Old people food.”
Okay maybe I haven’t actually heard that last one, but you know people are thinking it. Brussels sprouts are one of those foods that get shunned like turnips or split pea soup or molded jello with odd things floating in it. But unlike those ones, Brussels sprouts totally don’t deserve that treatment. These little puppies are delicious. I adore them. They’re versatile. They’re tasty. I’d bet lots of money that they’re super-duper healthy.
I know what you’re thinking. “Yeah, yeah, that’s what my mom told me when I was a kid. Before she plopped down a plate of them in front of me at the impressionable age of five, and I put one in my mouth and the urge to retch was stronger than the time I decided to share my dog’s food.”
And to that I say, “If you don’t like Brussels sprouts, you’re not cooking them right.” Which you’ve probably heard. But really. It’s true.
This stew is a great way to start the climb to the other side of the Brussels sprout fence. Hopefully it will at least get you looking at the other side, where my fellow Brussels sprout fanatics (I know you’re out there) and I will be waiting in a magical Brussels sprout forest. Why magical? Because life will be so much more enjoyable now that you like Brussels sprouts! Just think of all the possibilities and go with it.
It looks like there are a lot of them in the stew (and there are) but there are so many other flavors that it’s completely okay. Also: this is the easiest dinner ever. You literally chop a bunch of stuff and throw it in a pot. No sauteing, no browning, no fancy ingredients or instructions. Plus: leftovers! I actually recommend not eating this stew the day you make it. Throw it in the fridge to marinate for a day and you’ll like it even more.
Here we go. Your introduction to the Brussels sprout.
There’s chopping, chopping, and more chopping.
Which will result in this:
Toss in a bay leaf, some salt and pepper, and broth, let it cook for less than 15 minutes, and you’re done!
Swedish Sausage and Brussels Sprout Stew
From Real Stew (which will become your trusty winter food Bible)
1 lb small mortadella sausage or large cooked or smoked Polish kielbasa (that’s what I used), skinned and cut into large dice
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
1 1/2 lb Brussels sprouts, sliced lengthwise into thirds
1 bay leaf
2 tsp salt (if you use store-bought broth or bouillon, don’t use more than this)
6 black peppercorns (use more than that. maybe 10)
2 cups beef broth (the book recommends homemade broth. store-bought is great.)
1 cup water
Finely chopped parsley leaves for garnish
Put all the ingredients, except the parsley, in a stew pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook until everything is tender, about 12 minutes.
Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
And suddenly, it’s fall. It’s in the 40s at night and today was the first sunny day we’ve had since the rain came back with a vengeance over the last month after being left neglected in the back of the closet with our boots and scarves for the summer. For a few weeks, I completely ignored the signs – the foggy mornings, intermittent downpours, and abrupt appearance of pumpkin spice everything. Or rather, I didn’t ignore the signs. They were there as I stubbornly rode my bike to work without gloves. I just told myself it wasn’t fall quite yet – I could still ride through town without getting a single goosebump! Still summer, right?
Wrong. Fall is here. I can’t convince myself (or anyone else) otherwise anymore. Weekends have passed completely sunshine-less. I bought my ski pass. I drink more tea than water. Muddy boots clutter the doorway. The office football rivalry is in full swing.
And now I find myself feeling like I’ve cheated fall a little bit by ignoring its first few weeks. I defiantly turned a sunburned shoulder to it and ate my less-than-juicy, slightly out-of-season peach, when really, I should have put on my long sleeves and tossed an acorn squash in the oven. Oh well. Football season’s not even halfway over yet, the leaves still have a lot of color-changing to do, and the cast iron pot has been dusted off and commissioned for a stew. There’s plenty of fall left to enjoy.
This cake is my official farewell to the summer that left three weeks ago and my no-longer-hesitant to the fall that has been impatiently knocking on the door ever since. It’s a perfect cake for this in-between season we’re in. Light and sweet enough for summer, but complex and caramel-y enough for winter (thank you, whiskey). Just right for fall. And an excellent use for those mealy peaches that just aren’t as good as they were a month ago, no matter how much you wish they were.
First make a whiskey caramel sauce, pour it in the pan, and arrange some peach slices in it. (Put more in the middle than I did, they separated while it baked and left an awkward blank spot.)
Then the cake batter will go in. It’s light, there’s whipped egg whites!
A while in the oven, and your coping mechanism for transitioning to fall is here.
Whiskey Peach Upside Down Cake
Very slightly adapted from the Baked: Elements cookbook
Yield: One 9-inch, single-layer cake
For the Whisky Cake Topping:
3 ounces (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons good-quality whiskey
1 lb fresh peaches, cut into 1/4- or 1/2-inch slices
For the Whiskey Cake
3/4 cup cake flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 ounces (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks, plus 2 large egg whites, divided
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
2 tablespoons good-quality whiskey
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Make the Whiskey Cake Topping
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position the rack in the center. Butter the bottom and side of a 9-inch round cake pan, line the bottom with parchment, and butter the parchment.
In a small saucepan over medium-low head, melt the butter. Whisk in the brown sugar and whiskey and cook until the sugar is melted and the mixture is foamy. Remove from heat, pour into the prepared pan, and swirl the mixture to coat the bottom of the pan.
Arrange the peach slices in a circle directly on top of the sugar mixture to cover the bottom of the pan. Do not try to overload the pan with peaches and don’t be concerned if you have some left over. Set the pan aside.
Make the Whiskey Cake
In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks, oil, and vanilla, and beat until just combined.
In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and the whiskey. Add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.
In a medium bowl (or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment), whisk the egg whites vigorously for 1 minutes. Sprinkle the cream of tartar over the whites and continue beating until soft peaks form.
Gently fold one quarter of the egg white mixture into the cake batter until almost combined. The mixture will begin to lighten. Fold another quarter of the egg white mixture into the cake batter until nearly combined. Finally, add the remaining egg white mixture to the cake batter and fold in gently until completely combined.
Pour the batter over the peaches (since this is an upside down cake, the peaches will become the topping when you flip the cake over later). Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until the cake is very brown (but not burnt) and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake (not all the way through to the sticky topping) comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for at least 15 minutes. Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake and carefully invert onto a serving platter. Let the cake cool to almost room temperature and serve with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired (you can add whiskey to the whipped cream, too!).
This cake is best the day it is made, but it can be stored in the refrigerator, covered with a cake dome or in a cake saver for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
*NOTES: If you don’t have a mixer, don’t fret! I did this all by hand (even the egg whites) and it turned out just fine. Also, the whiskey topping of mine boiled over a little while it was baking. Put some foil or a baking sheet on the rack under the cake to keep it from making a mess in your oven.