Thursday, October 27, 2011

Park Kitchen

I took my mom and aunt out to Park Kitchen for dinner tonight and I think the pictures speak for themselves.  It was a delicious and fun time, I love trying many little dishes.  We did the small plate tasting menu and I think that's really the way to go, if you are someone who likes to eat everything.  Yum.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Falafels, Pita, and Hummus Oh My!

I discovered MFK Fisher when I was in college; my roommate's mom had given her With Bold Knife and Fork and one day it caught my eye and I started reading.  By the end of the year, I had read and reread that book so many times it was practically in tatters.  Eventually I proceeded to collect all her books and even now, if I'm feeling particularly blue I can always rely on her to cheer me up, or find a phrase that fits that moment in my life perfectly.  One person she alluded to again and again was a man who lived in the 18th century - Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.  He was apparently very quotable; for example "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are."  The quote that sprung to my mind tonight upon my first bite of falafel sandwich was:

"The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star."

Falafel sandwich in this case, is not precisely a new dish because of course I've eaten many falafel sandwiches in my lifetime, of varying quality.  In this case, it's discovering a new favorite recipe, a new addition to what I can make at home.  I started planning this sandwich yesterday, making pita bread and hummus and soaking a batch of chickpeas for the falafels.  As with almost everything I make these days, I followed a recipe from cook's illustrated and it was extraordinarily easy and delicious.  The hummus recipe is also from cook's illustrated so I don't feel right posting either of them, but the pita bread I made from this recipe.

Pita Bread (from

1 package of yeast, or quick rising yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup lukewarm water

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until water is frothy. Combine flour and salt in large bowl.  Make a small depression in the middle of flour and pour yeast water in depression. Slowly add 1 cup of warm water, and stir with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until elastic.  Place dough on floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. When the dough is no longer sticky and is smooth and elastic, it has been successfully kneaded. Coat large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough in bowl. Turn dough upside down so all of the dough is coated. 

Allow to sit in a warm place for about 3 hours, or until it has doubled in size. 

Once doubled, roll out in a rope, and pinch off 10-12 small pieces. Place balls on floured surface. Let sit covered for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 500 deg F. and make sure rack is at the very bottom of oven. Be sure to also preheat your baking sheet.

Roll out each ball of dough with a rolling pin into circles. Each should be about 5-6 inches across and 1/4 inch thick. Bake each circle for 4 minutes until the bread puffs up. Turn over and bake for 2 minutes. Remove each pita with a spatula from the baking sheet and add additional pitas for baking.  Take spatula and gently push down puff. Immediately place in storage bags. 

Notes: I made half the recipe to test it and my dough was doubled in size in less than 2 hours.  The dough was extremely easy to roll out, unlike the flour tortillas I recently made and they puffed up beautifully.  The heat source for my oven was on top so I baked close to the top instead of the bottom.  When I cut them in half today for my sandwiches, there was a nice pocket in all of them.  Success!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Necessity is the Mother of Invention or Beets with Cilantro Yogurt Dressing and Lentil Sprouts

Lengtil Sprouts
As you know, I've been on a sprouting kick and my latest sprout of choice is lentil.  I've tried here and there to cook with lentils, but it really is not my favorite thing in the world.  The last time I was in San Diego, my sister begged me to take a bag of French green lentils off her hands so I did and they were stashed in my cupboard and largely ignored.  Lentil sprouts though, are delightful!  I've been making lentil sprout quesadillas (I know this sounds hippie gross, but it's actually really tasty with the tortillas I recently made) and tonight I incorporated them into the above beet salad.  As with any sprouts, you first rinse and soak the lentils in water overnight.  And then for the next few days you rinse with fresh water and drain thoroughly, and keep lightly covered (so air can circulate but the lentils don't dry out).

Quick Cilantro Pesto
I've never made any pesto aside from the classic pesto with basil, but I've read everywhere that you can theoretically grind up any kind of herb in olive oil and enjoy it in all manner of ways.  Ironically, after attending a seminar on circadian rhythms yesterday, I found myself struck by insomnia and was infuriated and awake at the wee hours of night.  At some point I got out of bed and noticed that my bunch of cilantro on the counter (I like to keep herbs in water on the counter with varying degrees of success) was looking decidedly tired so I decided to attempt this pesto.  It literally took 5 minutes.  I twisted off the top leafy part of the bunch from the bulk of the stems in one go (no need to be finicky here and spend the rest of your life pulling off individual leaves), peeled one small clove of garlic and threw the whole thing with olive oil in my mini-food processor.  Being both lazy and out of containers, I ended up removing the blade, adding a layer of olive oil over the top to seal the mix and sticking the whole thing in the fridge.  These have also been good in my quesadillas, along with the sprouts, fresh salsa and sour cream.

Beets and Salad
A couple of Saturdays ago I picked up a magnificent bunch of beets and promptly set to roasting them.  I had so much edible stuff lying around that these were largely neglected in the back of the fridge.  Until today!  I was determined to eat some, but wanted something a little different.  A dollop of the cilantro pesto, mixed with a dollop of homemade yogurt* and a generous pinch of salt and I was in business.  This tasted awfully good; I'm very happy I have more beets left.

*I just realized I never had a post about making yogurt, but there are so many tutorials online that it doesn't seem at all necessary...maybe someday.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Homemade Flour Tortillas

As promised, I attempted homemade tortillas on Saturday night to console myself for the Phillies' loss.  And consoled I was!  I found a highly rated recipe from and despite the author's explicit instructions not to substitute shortening for lard, I was certainly not going to run out to buy a tub of lard just for this recipe.  And besides, many of the reviews had subbed in shortening successfully.  A few notes:

  • I don't really know what homemade tortillas taste like, but these tasted great to me.  Good enough that I will certainly make them again and will even buy a small amount of lard so I can see what the fuss is about.
  • They were a pain to roll out because the dough kept stretching back toward the center.  I made just half the recipe and was still tired.  Next time I will try Pioneer Woman's recipe, which calls for resting the dough for 1+ hour - this is supposed to help with that problem.
  • These were much smaller than I was envisioning.  Dinner plans quickly changed from one burrito to two quesadillas.  Based on the instructions in the recipe, each ball made a tortilla the size of corn tortillas you buy from the market.
I'm excited to try making these again.  This is one of those times when it's totally great to live alone.  If I had anyone else to feed these would be long gone and not worth the time and trouble of making.  Is that selfish?  Probably, but I'm not a machine and these take time and effort!  It's a similar thing with dumplings.  Of course, if I have assistants, they would be welcome to the spoils...

Homemade Four Tortillas
(adapted from LaDonna's recipe at

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons lard (or shortening)
1 1/2 cups water (I used hot water based on reviewer comments)

Whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Mix in the lard with your fingers (or a food processor!) until the flour resembles cornmeal. Add the water and mix until the dough comes together; place on a lightly floured surface and knead a few minutes until smooth and elastic (or knead with food processor!). Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Use a well-floured rolling pin to roll a dough ball into a thin, round tortilla. Place into the hot skillet, and cook until bubbly and golden; flip and continue cooking until golden on the other side. Place the cooked tortilla in a tortilla warmer (or under tea towel); continue rolling and cooking the remaining dough.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bar Method Musings on a Sunday Morning With Earl Grey

Image taken from Bloomspot
I am back from a Sunday morning class and am nibbling on a chunk of challah toast smeared with some tasty cheese.  And of course a morning mug of Earl Grey.  Morning classes are the best (not that I've taken classes at any other time, since they don't fit into my lab schedule well) because I feel productive and awake after them.  My muscles are a little sore and endorphins are rushing about and it's just a great feeling.  While it's harder to go to class now that it's dreary and cold, I think BM will keep my spirits from sagging under winter blues.

Some things:
  • I can hold myself fast through thigh and butt sections of class, no matter how much I burn and shake, but I can't consistently go through the tricep dips and ab sections without breaking.  Today's ab section felt especially killer for me, so I was constantly taking little breaks.  I hope to do that less in the future.  I AM proud of being able to go through more tricep dips than I could manage when I first started though.  Perhaps I am growing some muscles.
  • During each section of class, in addition to trying to stay in the right position, I am often thinking about my goals and what I'd like to work toward.  I think I look fine generally, so my goals are things like: work up to 2 and 3 pound weights, be able to do the leg lifts without straps (and eventually managing a vertical leg), be able to lift feet during flat back, touch nose to knee during bar stretches.  Stuff like that.
  • The other women in the class are really inspiring.  That's one thing I like about the studio here anyway, the people who come are committed but it doesn't feel unfriendly or competitive.  I never feel bad that I can't do the things that other people can do and am inspired to see women of all ages.  Keeping an eye on my fellow students also helps me to correct my own position and form because I can see what I'm doing wrong or right and I also push a little bit harder since everyone else is working so hard.
  • I've scaled back from my 4-5 times a week to just 4 a week.  I don't think I'm at the point where I can keep on going to two classes in a row all the time (Last week I was hobbled by two different twinges).  So at the moment, it's MWF and Sun and I think my muscles are appreciating the rest in between classes.  Next week will be a little irregular because of my schedule, but this is the BM routine I hope to keep to, until I am stronger.

As for Earl Grey - I bought a canister of loose tea leaves from Whole Foods a few weeks ago and have been making cups whenever I am tired of my green teas.  It's a nice tea, especially now that I've finally realized that the water really does need to be boiling when I add it to the leaves.  The water from my electric water pot just isn't hot enough.  So I have to forgo a little convenience, but that's fine.  Leftover tea leaves of course, go to my worms.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Portland Farmer's Market at PSU

I think I went a little overboard.  The theme of today's purchases seem to be "round."  I meant mostly to get fruits and pick up some salsa ingredients (the Phillies did in fact lose last night, and I have decided to try making tortillas and from these, burritos, in order to set the world to rights again), but I spotted this interesting looking acorn squash and of course the red peppers seemed like a good deal.  Red peppers in grocery stores always cost a million dollars so I never buy them unless absolutely required.  These three will be promptly roasted and stored away for future use.  I made a Whole Foods run yesterday which is why I didn't have a pressing need for vegetables.  

Acorn Squash: $1.15
Red Peppers: $2
Cilantro: $1.50
20th Century Asian Pears: $1.05
Early Girl Tomatoes + Red Onion + Jalapeno: $4
Jonagold Apples*: $5
Red Flame Grapes: $1.50

Total: $16.20

*I usually have a stand I go to for my apples and pears but I passed the peach stand and noticed they had a box of really big nice-looking apples.  There was a sign saying they had just been picked yesterday so I was intrigued.  I was going to buy just one but noticed a girl nearby giving out samples and man they were really delicious.  And here we are.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Baking Challah Bread to Soothe the Spirits

I was only able to take one blurry photo of this before my camera died, oh well!

Last night I watched a dramatically tense baseball game (Yankees vs Tigers) on my computer while juggling various lab tasks during commercial breaks.  It was so gripping I ended up staying in lab for far too long.  I can't be considered any kind of real baseball fan since I only follow post-season games and only care about two teams: the Yankees (#1) and the Phillies (#2).  The fates of these two teams have been remarkably parallel the last couple of seasons so I really hope the Phillies will make it through round 1 tonight.  Yes, the Yankees lost last night and was eliminated, an event so annoying that I decided to start a challah bread at 9:30pm.  I never made challah bread before and there was a simple looking recipe included in my food processor recipe book.  Everything came together marvelously well and at around 12:30am I was rabidly eating warm slices, restored to my usual sunny spirits.  It is incredibly, insanely delicious warm.  This morning it was still tasty, but nothing compared to how it was last night.  I highly recommend eating this loaf fresh.  I do foresee some pleasant challah french toasts this weekend!

I like to weigh everything so I am including my googled weight conversions in parentheses in case anyone else likes to do the same.  My food processor is 9-cup size, fyi.

Challah Bread (adapted from Cuisinart's recipe book)

3 tbs white sugar, divided  (I probably used more like 3 tbs + 2 tsp)
1 package active dry yeast (googled to be 2 1/4 tsp)
1/4 cup warm water
3 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour (406 grams)
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 cup cold water
1/3 cup butter, melted (76 grams)
1 large egg, mixed
egg glaze (1 large egg + 1 tbs water)
cooking spray

In a 2 cup liquid measuring cup, combine 2 tsp sugar, yeast and the warm water.  Let stand until foamy, ~5min.

In food processor using dough blade, add flour, 3 tbs sugar and salt.  Pulse 2-3 times to mix.

In the cup with the proofed yeast, add cold water, melted butter and the egg.  With the food processor on, slowly pour in the liquids in a steady stream.  Let the food processor knead the dough for 45 seconds (I'm obsessive so I actually timed this exactly).  Place dough in a plastic ziplock bag and let rise for 1-1.5 hours (1 hour was good for me) until doubled in size.

Place dough on lightly floured surface and press down.  Divide into 3 equal pieces and roll into long ropes (1 1/2 x 14 inches, again I measured because I like measuring).  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, set the three ropes onto the sheet and braid.  Tuck the loose ends under and let rise another 45 min until doubled in size.  (Cover with a piece of plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray to prevent sticking)

Preheat the oven to 375F, 15 minutes before you are ready to bake.  Mix up the egg glaze and brush on the top of the bread.  Bake for 20 minutes on the lower third of the oven and then turn the heat down to 350F and bake another 10 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sprouting Mung Beans

I'm a huge fan of sprouting and have been on a mung bean kick recently.  When I first started sprouting, I followed the method that was most recommended on the internet:

Method 1 (soil-less)
Soak a handful of beans in water overnight
Next day rinse the beans, drain well and cover lightly (want some air to circulate through)
Repeat step 2 every day (once a day) until the sprouts are long enough to eat (~3 days)

This method was fine and made perfectly edible sprouts.  I liked sauteeing them alone or adding them to fried rice or other dishes.  Recently though, I was researching how to sprout sunflower seeds and saw that a few videos recommended growing them in soil.  Not being able to find sunflower seeds so far, I decided to try out the soil method with my mung beans (see picture above).

Method 2 (soil)
Soak a handful of beans in water overnight
Next day, rinse and press into a container filled with a thin layer of wet potting mix.  Cover with a piece of plastic wrap for 1-2 days.  Every day, check to make sure the potting soil is still quite damp.  Water as needed and remove the plastic wrap when the mung beans start to push against it.  

Soil-grown sprout vs soil-free sprout

Comparing the two methods, I felt that the soil-grown sprout (top) had a fatter stem than the soil-less sprout and were more similar to the mung bean sprouts you find in stores. At the same time, the soil-grown sprout was more of a pain to harvest.  Whereas the soil-less sprouts were ready to be cooked with no additional prep, the soil-grown sprouts had to be either pulled or cut from the soil and then washed.  If pulled, the washing took more time because the soil clung to the roots, but cutting was more laborious since the sprouts didn't all grow at the same rate and I kind of end up cutting each one individually.  So far, I've been cutting the tallest sprouts and leaving the rest to continue growing.  I like the fatness of the soil-grown sprouts, but will probably split my efforts between both methods of sprouting because of the ease of the soil-less method.  Note, I used the lids of strawberry containers for my soil-grown sprouts, but I might try to find deeper containers and see how that goes.

After sprouting, I toss the soil into the compost bin and start anew.  You might notice that the soil-free sprout looks a little greenish but the other does not.  I think that's because I was growing the soil sprouts in my laundry closet and the soil-free sprouts were on my kitchen counter and got a little light.

Plate of soil-grown sprouts after washing
Sprouts are supposed to be very good for you, but I confess I do this mostly for the fun of it.  At any given moment you can find something soaking, sprouting or fermenting on my kitchen table.  Science spills over into the home I guess!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Portland Farmer's Market at PSU

It's been a few weeks since my last visit to the Farmer's Market but I managed to go this weekend and was so glad I did! There were eggplants galore so I had to pick up a few Japanese eggplants - my plan for these is a Chinese dish my mom makes, that was one of my favorites growing up. I've finally gotten a little tired of tomato on toast so these will go in my hotpot or into tomato egg (another beloved childhood dish).

Beets: $3
Strawberries: $3
Eggs: $6
Fuji apples + Pears (forgot the name of this kind): $3.95
Japanese eggplants: $3
Tomatoes: ~$3? (forgot!)

Total: ~$22

Last night I went to a friend's house for teppannyaki and it sparked a desire for hot pot (especially with the rainy chilly weather we're suddenly having). So tonight I assembled my ingredients and mixed up the sauce. Unfortunately Whole Foods didn't have any napa cabbage and I didn't feel like stomping over to Safeway so I'm eating it without; it doesn't feel like hotpot without napa though, so I'll be getting some tomorrow after BM class. All in all, a lovely evening at home!
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