ursula: (Default)
[personal profile] pinesandmaples asked, "What recipes do you default to?"

This varies by season. Right now I'm in the middle of a month of travel (holidays followed by conferences), so I'm not cooking much. On a slightly wider timescale, my defaults have been changing because I'm avoiding cheese and [personal profile] glasseye wants lots of protein.

My improvisation-for-lunch standards involve a lot of eggs: frittata with whatever vegetables are around, soy sauce eggs from Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East (boil eggs briefly, peel them and cut slashes in them, cook smashed garlic in oil, add soy sauce and brown or palm sugar, simmer the eggs in the sauce until brown), fried rice with a scrambled egg or two, fried egg with rice and stir-fried spinach or mushrooms with lots of hot pepper, maybe scrambled-egg tacos. This quinoa gratin makes a nice template, though I like it more with greens and something savory like sun-dried tomatoes, olives, or bacon than with the rather plain zucchini and cheese in the base recipe. If I've got smoked trout-- there's very nice smoked trout available in Wisconsin-- I'll make something inspired by kedgeree, with leftover rice, a splash of fish sauce, and a bit of almond milk.

Last winter, I bought lots of frozen spinach and peas, canned tomatoes, potatoes and carrots, cucumbers, celery, and the occasional expensive bell pepper or avocado. The regular rotation included soy sauce eggs or egg curry, Madhur Jaffrey's ground lamb with peas (I've been skipping the yoghurt), ginger chicken (dreamwidth locked recipe/ lj locked), "Send the rice down" ground beef with celery (scaled up in quantity, because Fuchsia Dunlop's accounting assumes the number of dishes is the number of people plus one), and the Pok Pok Thai salad with canned tuna, which you can easily make more substantial by adding another can of tuna and whatever crunchy vegetables you've got handy.

This sounds a bit more carnivorous than I actually am, but the vegetarian dinners tend to be prompted more by things like finding some nice fennel in the market, so they don't get repeated as often. Lately I've been excited about chickpea soup with lots of parsley and lemon or preserved lemon, and about wild rice with spinach.
ursula: (Default)
Ginger raspberry fool

Here's a summer dessert I invented. It's a fool, which means custard and berries, though the very oldest fools may just have been custard.

I used the mango parfait recipe at Global Table Adventures for some of the quantities.


1 1/2 tsp packed fresh grated ginger (or a small knob of peeled ginger)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
About 3 pints mixed berries (I used raspberries from our garden and blueberries from the farmers' market)


Whisk the ginger, eggs, and milk with 1 cup cream and 1/3 cup sugar. (I used homemade vanilla sugar, with beans from saffron.com.)

Heat the mixture in a small pot over a low flame. Stir frequently with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom of the pot each time. Don't let the mixture boil! After a while, the custard will begin to thicken. Keep stirring, and don't let the bottom curdle. When the custard is thick but still pourable, pour it into a bowl and chill it. (If you're worried about curdling, strain through a sieve before chilling.)

Rinse the berries and toss them with about a tablespoon of sugar.

As the ginger custard chills, it will thicken. When the custard is chilled, or your impatience triumphs, whip the remaining cream to stiff peaks with the remaining spoonful of sugar and the vanilla. Fold the ginger custard into the whipped cream until they are mixed. Layer the berries and the ginger cream in a serving dish (use a glass trifle dish if you've got one!) Chill again, or serve immediately.
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This post is part of the Cooking For People Who Don't: Food Security blog carnival.

Here are some of my standard strategies for cooking beets, cabbage, and squash. All three tend to be cheap and plentiful in the winter months. As [livejournal.com profile] carpenter notes, cabbages and squashes can also be huge, especially if you're only cooking for one or two people. Fortunately, they store well, so you can cut a squash or cabbage in half or quarters and use the rest later. (If you're the sort of person who likes to prepare lots of staples at once and then store them, you could also roast cubes of squash and freeze them for later.)

This post involves general notes on dealing with all three vegetables, and two specific recipes for beets (one with squash variation).

biases and substitutions )

shopping and preparation )
Two Beet Recipes

Beets are good with white, salty cheese. Both of the following recipes follow this principle, but you can obey it more simply by cleaning your beets and cutting them into chunks, putting them in a pan, drizzling olive oil on top, tossing it around with your hands or a spoon, adding salt, pepper, and perhaps some peeled cloves of garlic, and sticking the whole thing in the oven at 400 degrees or so, until the chunks are no longer crunchy. Eat with the white cheese of your choice (I recommend goat cheese, and maybe some walnuts).

Greek-Style Beets )

Roasted Beet Soup )
ursula: (Default)
[personal profile] commodorified is organizing a blog "carnival" with the theme "Cooking for People who Don't: Food Security". As far as cooking goes, I am definitely a Person Who Does; I didn't exactly learn to cook at my mother's knee (we're too territorial about our kitchens, in my family), but I did acquire a general sense of fearlessness. That means I can't give good advice on overcoming one's trepidation in the kitchen (as far as I'm concerned, the best strategy is to cook all the time and use sharper knives), but maybe I can suggest specific recipes for scary foodstuffs?

In particular, I'd like to write a post (or three) on How To Make That Fruit or Vegetable Into Dinner. I'm taking nominations for fruits and vegetables. Is there a fruit or vegetable you particularly love, that you'd like more recipes for? Is there a fruit or vegetable that you don't know how to use? Right now I'm thinking of apples and beets, because of the season, but I'm open to suggestions.
ursula: (bear)
I made feta pies today, based on a recipe from Ibn Razîn's thirteenth-century Andalusian recipe collection, in Lilia Zaouali, trans. M.B. DeBevoise, Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World. The overall effect is of crackers with a very sophisticated cheese dip.


Another Mujabbana

Crumble the cheese as finely as you can and mix it with eggs, then with mint water and coriander [cilantro] water, and finally with whatever common spices are at hand. Spread [the mixture] over a thin layer of dough and cover with another layer. Cook in the oven. Learn to do this, in accordance with the will of God!


I used the dough recipe for Lebanese Spinach Triangles in Anissa Helou's book Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, because one of the other Mujabbana recipes mentions a dough of flour, water, oil, and salt, like this dough. You can find Helou's recipe in metric units here; in American units, it's 2 cups flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1/2 cup warm water. The dough is soft and easy to work with.


8 oz. feta
1 egg
2-3 tbsp. mint and/or cilantro water (I soaked a handful of finely chopped mint in warm water)
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
ground pepper


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Divide the dough into eight balls (for larger pies) or sixteen balls (for individual pies). Roll out a ball into a translucent disk; place it on a baking sheet. (I buttered my baking sheets lightly, but I'm not sure I needed to.) Spread 1-2 heaping tablespoons of filling across the disk of dough, leaving half an inch or so of plain dough at the edge. Roll out another ball and lay it on top. Crimp the edges together. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Bake until puffed and golden brown (about twenty minutes?)
ursula: (Default)
I made corn and avocado salad for dinner the other night, since now that we live in California all the non-bacon ingredients are available and in season. The side dish was cornmeal waffles. It turns out that although I'm often skeptical of cornbread, I really like the extra crunch of cornmeal waffles. (I like my waffles crispy to a fault, which may say something about the normal modes of our family waffle maker when I was small.)

This was the first time I've ever cooked bacon. At the faculty meeting yesterday, one of the professors was explaining to my neighbor that since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma he has vowed to eat more vegetarian meals; I feel myself running against the cultural tide, beginning to be a non-vegetarian cook (though I should note that my bacon was ethically produced & lacking in nitrates or nitrites). I didn't cook it long enough alone, I think, since it never crisped the way I hoped for-- though in the end crunchy corn vs. soft avocado was enough in the way of contrast, and the smokey flavor was a bonus.

Variations: I did add a bell pepper with the corn, since I was low on corn & tomato quantities. If I try this again and have the bell pepper, I may leave it raw. I don't think the bacon was actually necessary; mushrooms seared & deglazed with a splash of red wine, or mushrooms with smoked paprika, or chopped Lapsang-Souchong tea eggs would all substitute nicely.
ursula: (Default)
This afternoon I made Election Cake, based on the 1796 Amelia Simmons recipe:

    Thirty quarts flour, 10 pound butter, 14 pound sugar, 12 pound raisins, 3 doz eggs, one pint wine, one quart brandy, 4 ounces cinnamon, 4 ounces fine colander [sic] seed, 3 ounces ground allspice; wet the flour with milk to the consistence of bread overnight, adding one quart yeast; the next morning work the butter and sugar together for half an hour, which will render the cake much lighter and whiter; when it has rise light work in every other ingredient except the plumbs, which work in when going into the oven.

My version (sized for a party, not an entire election) is as follows:

    Dissolve 4 1/2 tsp. yeast in 6 tbsp. warm water. Add 2 cups milk, then slowly mix/knead in 6 cups of flour. Knead the resulting dough for about ten minutes. Set aside to rise for an hour (presumably 30 quarts of flour would need more time.) Cream 2 sticks of butter (half a pound) with 1 1/2 cup of sugar. Mix in an egg, 4 3/4 tsp. red wine, 3 tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. brandy, a teaspoon each of cinnamon and ground coriander, and about three-quarters of a teaspoon of allspice, along with a pinch of salt. Combine the butter mixture with the dough mixture, then stir in about 9 ounces of raisins. (Hard work! I used the dough hooks on my hand mixer.) Divide batter between 2 buttered loaf pans. Set aside to rest for forty-five minutes, then bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. (I used a 375-degree oven, and it took about an hour and a half, ending with a very dark crust-- a cooler oven might be better.)

The result is not unlike a superior bakery scone: sweet for a breakfast but plain for a dessert, and inclined to break into large crumbs.
ursula: (sheep)
Questions from [livejournal.com profile] slysidonia. Comment if you'd like five of your very own.


1. Who are your favorite Poets and why?

Horace, for versatility, audacity, lyricism by definition . . . I'm taking a graduate poetry workshop right now, which makes me very aware of how much I don't know about poetry in English. One measure might be whose books are prominent on my shelves: Theodore Roethke, Ted Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, John Donne. Another measure of allegiances is the list of poets I am meaning to read, or read more of: Pope, Milton, Louise Glück, Wordsworth, Alcuin, Venantius Fortunatus.

(If you wanted a poem, here's a pretty hilarious example of how *not* to critique poetry: assume that the poet means everything the speaker says, even when the speaker is a flower.)

2. Why did you join the SCA and what keeps you there?

Friends, men with long hair, excuses to make stuff; to which I now add, excuses to get weird books out of the library. I like the worldwide social network. I like being appreciated for my academic bent. I like meeting people who have nothing to do with academia.

3. What is your idea of a perfect evening out?

Good food, good drink, good conversation? And for true perfection, there should be absolutely no fretting about transportation: no people who want to drink but have to drive, no taxis getting lost, no anxiety about buses or trains which stop running at a certain time.

4. Tell us about the Hobbies you have.

Let's start with things that aren't hobbies: reading and cooking. To me the word "hobby" has this aura of extraneousness, a suggestion that, no matter how intensely you may be involved, you could substitute a different activity entirely without any real change in self. The hobbyist's approach to food, in particular, I find both fascinating and disconcerting: why, yes, for dinner last night we did make mushroom-lentil soup with chanterelles and organic carrots and garlic and sage and porcini flour (that powdery gold), deglazing the seared mushrooms with red wine, but then it was wet out & I'm sick & we had to eat something.

So what is engrossing and yet extraneous? Right now, knitting and the SCA, I suppose. In some ways, it's more fun to think of potential hobbies: embroidery and folding paper cranes have taken the same space in my life as knitting in the past, along with a bit of netting. Naalbinding? Sprang? Quilting? (Patchwork Ottoman silk star pillow-covers!) Weaving, if I had the space for a loom (tablet-weaving strikes me as privileging the annoying fiddly parts of the operation). Maybe spinning. At the moment, RPGs are more potential than actual hobby, but a good game with the right people could tip me back into obsessiveness, or I could get semi-serious about writing for games. I could edge further into artsy science-fiction fandom, too.

5. What one luxury item would you buy for yourself if you got an unexpected windfall?

I am actually expecting a windfall, in the sense that a substantial fellowship check ought to come my way sometime this quarter; part of that money is earmarked for a new, lighter laptop. So maybe I'd just buy a nicer laptop. Maybe [livejournal.com profile] glasseye and I would have dinner someplace unsuited to a student's budget. Or maybe I would buy a chunk of gold, since suddenly I'm in the market for a ring . . .
ursula: (bear)
"Gorby and the Rats" is a fourteenth-century Persian poem with a strong element of political satire about a cat who decides not to kill a rat because he's full. The rats decide the cat must have changed his eating habits, and seven rat princes bring him a celebratory feast. Here are two descriptions of that feast, from two different translations:

    Gorby and the Rats,
    trans. Omar Pound
    copyright 1972, 1989

    One brought wine,
    the next, a whole roast lamb,
    another, sweet raisins from his estate,
    the fourth, seven dates as big as mice,
    the fifth, a bag of fragrant cheese
    which was to have been his New Year's feast.
    Another thought yoghurt would bring peace
    to his digestion,
    and the seventh, proudest of them all,
    carried above his turbaned brow
    a bowl of great price, heaped with pilaw
    nightingales' wings
    almonds and rice
    decked with sweet lemon rind and spice . . .

    A Tale of Cats and Mice of Obeyd of Zaakan
    trans. Mehdi Nakosteen
    copyright 1971

    One bore upon his palm
    A flagon of the seasoned wine,
    The next a plate of roasted lamb,
    The third a tray of raisins sweet,
    The fourth a plate of Persian dates,
    The fifth a cake of cream-rich cheese,
    The sixth a loaf of whole wheat bread,
    The last of noble chiefs,
    A bowl of saffron rice,
    Well steamed with spice and lemon juice,
    Upheld on head with balanced care.

I don't know why one translation has yoghurt and the other has bread. Nakosteen says in his introduction that he has changed some details to make them more familiar to Western readers, so my best guess is that he believed yoghurt was unfamiliar to everyone except hippies?

I decided to put together a similar feast for Saturday dinner at July Coronation. We brought wine (Shiraz, for the name, though I've no reason to believe the modern version has much to do with Persia. We had an inexpensive Australian version with a penguin on it. It was pretty good for the price), raisins, sugared dates, and goat cheese. I drained the whey from some plain yoghurt and replaced it with a bit of cold water-- this sweetens the taste, and there are a number of Middle Eastern recipes from our period which call for more aggressively drained yoghurt as one of the ingredients. We weren't up to a whole lamb, but [livejournal.com profile] aelfgyfu brought lamb kebabs to grill. The pilaw was the most complicated. Modern Persian pilaw is made by partially cooking the rice, then steaming it with a slurry of butter and yoghurt at the bottom which makes a crunchy crust called tah dig. I've read discussions of sixteenth-century Safavid Persian recipes which mention the partial-cooking technique, but I don't know whether tah dig is modern or not. I decided it was plausibly Timurid-- the fondness for butter in Ottoman cooking seems related to the Ottomans' nomadic roots, and the Timurids likely had similar influences-- and served my pilaw with toasted almonds and with lemon rind slivered and boiled to remove the bitterness. (Next time I'd use more rind-- I only bought one lemon.) Since [livejournal.com profile] glasseye is vegetarian, I didn't worry about nightingales' wings, but roasted chicken or quail might be tasty another time.

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