It was my half birthday yesterday. Six months since my birthday Peregrine, already. This year is flying by.
I normally don't celebrate half birthdays; it seems like overkill. And I didn't intend to celebrate this one; in fact, I didn't even realize until the evening what day it was. The day before, I had wanted to make flourless chocolate cake, but we didn't have any baking chocolate in the house, so last night I bought some and planned a yummy dessert. Then I happened to glance at the calendar. Oh. Well, it can be a half birthday cake, I guess.
Flourless Chocolate Cake from Epicurious.
For the raspberry sauce: purée one package of frozen raspberries in a food processor with some water and some sugar (to taste). Pass the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds and transfer to a saucepan. Simmer for a long time until the puree is reduced to a syrupy consistency. Add a little more sugar along the way if you want, but keep the sauce tart; it'll balance out the sweetness of the cake.
I have been cooking a lot lately. Over the years I've bounced around between sewing, drawing, elaborate easter egg decorating, embroidering, painting, paper cutting, and various other crafts that keep my hands busy and appeal to my aesthetic sense, and I think cooking may be my latest art form. It's hands-on, colorful, and a great creative outlet, and the end product is delicious. This year has also shown me that I can cook tasty and balanced meals from scratch, which is strangely empowering. I don't know how I'll be able to go back to eating in a dining hall next year.
Anyway, I'm in the middle of a couple weeks at home before I head off to California, and my brother is at school and my parents at work during the day. So I've taken the opportunity to cook more. My mom loves not having to come up with dinner every night. Best of all, the rest of the family seems to give me as much credit for cooking as if it were an unwanted chore, so more often than not they offer to clean up the kitchen afterwards. Really, we're looking at a win-win situation here.
It all started with an apron.
Two large dish towels was exactly the right amount of fabric for this apron. The horizontal seam just above the pocket is where the towels are sewn together. I cut off three hemmed edges from the towels to make the straps, and there was just enough fabric left over for the pocket. And the towels were already hemmed, which saved me the trouble of finishing the bottom and sides.
Well actually, it started long before the apron, but it's sort of a chicken and egg situation. Because I was cooking so much, I wanted an apron, so I made this one out of two big, pretty dish towels we got on sale a couple years ago. But now that I have the apron, I want to use it all the time. So I cook. Here are some of the things I've made recently. Recipes, if I used a recipe, are at the end of each section.
Blueberry muffins with a twist
I don't always read the Food section of the New York Times, but when I do, I come up with gems like this recipe. These muffins are made with whole wheat flour and cornmeal, using oil instead of butter, etc. etc., but they have so much oil in them that I'm dubious as to their actual health benefits. But I'm not a fan of overly sweet, cakey muffins anyway, and these had blueberries and grated apple in them, so I was sold.
Because of the frozen blueberries, the batter came out kind of an unfortunate color.
But the resulting muffins were moist and delicious. They have oatmeal, cornmeal, and all purpose flour in addition to whole wheat flour, which saves the muffins from tasting too "healthy." Instead, the flavor is complex and, frankly, a lot more interesting than it would have been with white flour alone. The tart grated apple that I added (you can substitute grated carrot if you want), along with the frozen blueberries, gave the muffins a nice tang. I didn't make the orange streusel, so I can't comment on it, but in my opinion these little bundles of deliciousness didn't need anything extra.
I did just one thing wrong with this recipe: I made the muffins the night before I left for a weekend in New York City. When I got back, they were gone.
Darn, I might actually have to make them again.
Whole Grain Blueberry Muffins from the New York Times. I skipped the orange streusel and used grated apple instead of grated carrots. Make sure the batter is thick enough; my muffins didn't puff up as much as I would have liked.
Salmon, green beans, and Asian-inspired salad
This weekend, I spent a night with my friend Mirella at Barnard College in NYC. Mirella has been working at a restaurant (as an actual cook, not a waitress), and she knows and loves food. (She also writes for the Columbia University Culinary Society; you can read her posts here.)
Mirella and I have been friends since I was in kindergarten and she was in first grade, and if you know both of us you will agree that it makes perfect sense that we spent our evening cooking something fancy together in her apartment.
On the menu: salmon with soy-maple glaze (but we didn't have maple syrup, so we used honey and brown sugar instead), sautéed green beans with ginger and garlic, basmati rice, and a cabbage/carrot salad with orange slices and a sesame oil/rice vinegar dressing.
We had fun with this dinner. After glazing the salmon with our improvised sauce, we reduced the rest to a thicker glaze that we poured over the cooked fish. The salad was going to be just cabbage and grated carrots. Then I found half an Asian pear on the table, a little past its prime but still good. I grated it in to sweeten up the salad. Then the orange slices added a little tang.
For the dressing, Mirella mixed rice vinegar and sesame oil, plus a tiny bit of soy sauce and some honey. Then on a whim we added the juice from the grated carrots, because why not? The dressing was lovely and light and complemented the salad perfectly.
Chicken couscous, roasted veggies, and salad
From Barnard, I took the subway to Brooklyn to stay with my aunt Sarah. She's lived there for years but I had never seen her apartment or met her cat, so I figured it was time for a visit.
Sarah's boyfriend, Brian, loves to cook, so the second night I was there the three of us went grocery shopping and had a little fun in the kitchen.
I made my grandmother's chicken couscous recipe (with a couple modifications along the way). Brian roasted some cauliflower and onions and made a tahini dipping sauce. Then we threw together a salad: Sarah had some spring mix in the refrigerator, but that seemed boring all by itself. So we added some currants (don't ask me why she had currants), some orange slices (inspired by the previous night's salad with Mirella) and some grated carrots (Brian's finishing touch). Boom.
I have the recipe for this chicken but can't link to it online. Get in touch if you want me to send it to you!
Fish, sweet potato home fries, and spinach
Not everything I cook is fancy, I just tend to take more pictures of the things that are. I made dinner the other night, and it was so easy and un-fancy that I almost didn't know what to do with myself: I had all the ingredients prepared and I realized that the fish wasn't going to take longer than ten minutes to cook. I didn't know when to start. How come I wasn't rushing around desperately trying to get everything chopped and cooked in the right order? Who knew dinner could be so yummy and still so easy?
I fried my fish filets in a mixture of butter and olive oil and drizzled it with lemon juice (if anyone knows a trick for frying fish so it doesn't fall apart, please let me know. It tasted good anyway but it could have been prettier). Then I minced a large clove of garlic and sautéed it with lots of spinach (alternately with the lid off, stirring, and with the lid on to let it steam).
The sweet potato home fries are Sarah's recipe; she made them for brunch one day when I was there. They're easy and delicious. Basically, you chop up some sweet potatoes and coat them with olive oil, spread them on a baking sheet, and bake them at a high temperature for a while. They come out crispy on some sides, but still soft and sweet on the inside. I'm sure you could do a similar thing with regular potatoes, maybe with herbs or spices.
We ate dinner rolls with this meal, but you could also pair it with rice or pasta, or do a potato/sweet potato mix for a more substantial starch.
Thai yellow curry from scratch
Yellow curry is one of my favorite Thai dishes, but I've always been afraid to cook it because I was afraid I wouldn't get the spices right. Then I did a little googling and found a recipe on Pinch of Yum.
The secret to this recipe is that it uses yellow curry paste that you make from scratch. Yes, that takes a while (about 45 minutes and a bit of annoying prep work), but your curry comes out with a deep, complex flavor that certainly beats sprinkling some curry powder on chicken pieces. Also, the recipe makes enough curry paste for about five curries, so it's worth it. The paste freezes well and you can have yellow curry on demand for days or weeks afterwards.
To make the curry paste, I roasted entire heads of garlic, plus shallots and ginger. That all went in the food processor with hot peppers, curry powder, turmeric, fresh cilantro, and other spices. The result was a beautiful yellow paste that's basically pure mushed up spices. It can pack some serious punch (especially if you put in more chiles) I scooped it out of the food processor and felt powerful.
Once the paste is made, the rest of the curry is easy. Chop some onions, sauté them in oil, add chicken pieces and curry paste. Stir around and cook it a bit, then add the potatoes and some coconut milk. Simmer until the sauce is a good consistency and the potatoes and chicken are cooked. Serve with rice and (optional) chopped cilantro.
Here are the recipes, from Pinch of Yum:
Thai Yellow Chicken Curry with Potatoes
For the curry paste: I couldn't find the specific Thai chiles that she refers to, so I used Mexican Arbol peppers. Unless you and everyone you're cooking for loves spicy food, use just a few peppers the first time you make this. You can always add hot sauce later. You will be sorry if you end up with five batches of curry paste that you will never use because it burns your mouth off.
Pinch of Yum also has a beef curry recipe, which I haven't tried yet. But it would be a good use for your leftover yellow curry paste.
If there's a recipe I didn't link to that you're wondering how to make, feel free to shoot me an email. And it goes the other way too: if you have a yummy and not-too-complicated recipe you want to share, I'm always looking for ideas.
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Welcome to Hawk Ridge
A Massive Migration
A Happy Birdthday
Photos from the Week
Visiting the Banding Station
A Watched Kettle Never Streams
Food, Part 1
The Big Picture
Last Weeks at the Ridge
Belize, Part 1
How to Look at Birds, A Guide (or: Belize, Part 2)
All Creatures Great and Small
Kids and Language, Again
More Photos from France
Food, Part 2
Building Nests in California
Please Do Not Pet the Woodpecker
Condors and Creatures in Big Sur
A Day at Hastings
I am a high school graduate taking a gap year before college. I’m interested in birds, biology, and the natural world, as well as history, foreign languages, writing, and reading.