March 23, 2014

Mile-long* sweet potato noodle stir-fry

Oh I'm a fast dog. I'm fast-fast. It's true and I love being fast I admit it I love it. You know fast dogs. Dogs that just run by and you say, Damn! That's a fast dog! Well that's me. A fast dog. I'm a fast fast dog. Hoooooooo! Hooooooooooooo!
I can eat pizza. I can eat chicken. I can eat yogurt and rye bread with caraway seeds. It really doesn't matter. They say No, no, don't eat that stuff, you, that stuff isn't for you, it's for us, for people! And I eat it anyway, I eat it with gusto, I eat the food and I feel good and I live on and run and run and look at the people and hear their stupid conversations coming from their slits for mouths and terrible eyes.
—"After I Was Thrown Into the River and Before I Drowned," Dave Eggers

In high school, I wrote about Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius as my final project. I remember being awed by his confidence, his raw talent, his candor.

Hungry for more of his voice, I bought How We Are Hungry, one of his short story collections. The quote above is taken from one of the gems in there. Who else can make a dog sound wise yet simple-minded all at once? For that is how I imagine all dogs think and talk.

I love to run, too. And you know what one benefit of running is? You don't have to feel bad about eating carbs. Your body needs them to run, after all! One of my favorite carbs is noodles. I'm particularly fond of sweet potato noodles, the kind found in Korean japchae—but I recently started using these to make other dishes, too. These noodles are incredibly long (*not quite mile-long, but close enough), so most recipes will suggest that you cut them with scissors to make them easier to eat.

Feel free to substitute the fish cake with some other form of protein, such as chicken, pork, shrimp, beef, egg, or tofu.

Stir-Fried Sweet Potato Noodles With Fish Cake
1 12-oz. package of dangmyeon (a.k.a. glass or sweet potato starch noodles)
1/2 cup minced chives
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, minced or grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped fish cake (straight from the freezer is fine)
Sesame oil
Soy sauce
Roasted Sesame seeds

Boil the dangmyeon in a pot of water according to the package instructions. Drain and toss in sesame oil. Set aside.

In a large wok, heat olive oil and chives, onion, carrots, garlic and fish cake. Let cook for 15-20 minutes or until carrots are slightly softened. Toss in the cooked dangmyeon and drizzle with some soy sauce and sesame oil. Toss in the sesame seeds. Stir until everything is combined and the noodles are heated through, another 5-10 minutes. Serve immediately.

This dish makes a ton of servings—enough for 4 hungry people who need to stock up on carbs to run, or 6 normal people. Tastes great heated up in the microwave the next day. Do not serve straight out of the refrigerator, because the noodles harden when they're cold. But once heated, they become soft and chewy again.

March 18, 2014

Last suppers

My mother said he came in from work that night and ate a big supper. Then he sat at the table by himself and finished what was left of a bottle of whiskey, a bottle she found hidden in the bottom of the garbage under some coffee grounds a day or so later. Then he got up and went to bed, where my mother joined him a little later. The next morning whens he looked in on him, he was on his back with his mouth open, his cheeks caved in. Gray-looking, she said. She knew he was dead—she didn't need a doctor to tell her that.
—"My Father's Life," Raymond Carver
This essay is tinged with regret, confusion and sorrow—many of the emotions most of us experience when we try to think and write about our parents. When I read it, I thought about what I'd like my last meal to have been. The thing about last meals is that you never get to have another one. So you had best make sure it's darn good. I've given it a lot of thought, and I'm pretty sure that mine would include a large plate of roasted brussels sprouts and linguine with meat sauce. It's my favorite supper.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
1 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed at stalk and cut in half lengthwise
4 cloves of garlic, cut in half
Olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400 °F. Spread the brussels sprouts and garlic in a large baking dish and drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake until tender in the middle and slightly charred around the edges, about 40-45 minutes.

Linguine with Meat Sauce
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. lean ground beef (or turkey)
2 carrots, minced
2 celery stalks, minced
1 box of mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 lb. dried linguine
1 25-oz. jar tomato sauce (the 365 Organic Eggplant is pretty good, in my experience)
1/2 cup milk
Red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat until fragrant and translucent (about 5-10 minutes). 

Add the ground beef and cook until no longer red. Add in the carrots, celery and mushrooms and let cook until carrots are tender (another 15 minutes or so).

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente by following the directions on the package. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water before draining the pasta.

Add the tomato sauce to the skillet and stir until combined. Once it's bubbling, stir in the milk and reserved pasta cooking water. Season with red pepper flake, salt and pepper until it tastes as hot, salty and peppery as you like.

To plate, spoon pasta sauce over the linguine and add brussels sprouts on top. Dig in!

March 8, 2014

On cake, cornbread and Claire Messud

The first summer I spent in New York, I fell in love with the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle. I thought it was as captivating as a trip to the top of the Empire State Building.

To this day, I still drop in specifically to pick up a square of their cornbread...especially if I can find a middle piece. I adore middle pieces because the edges are a bit too dry for my liking. I've always liked my cornbread to be moist and sweet, more like a cake than a bread. If you agree, for the love of god, read on.

Marie Callender's makes an excellent one. Whole Foods' cornbread is much along the same vein. Plus, it's rarely more than $1.50 a piece, making it an affordable and satisfying snack for a stroll in Central Park.

This morning, I had an intense craving for cornbread. But rather than make the trek up to Whole Foods, I decided to make it at home. Turns out that cornbread tastes even better when you don't have to change out of your pajamas.

Sweet, moist and crumbly, this cornbread is like a light and fluffy yellow cake, only a bit heartier because of the addition of cornmeal. Life is too short to eat dry cornbread.
I thought I could get to greatness, to my greatness, by plugging on, cleaning up each mess as it came, the way you're taught to eat your greens before you have dessert. But it turns out that's a rule for girls and sissies, because the mountain of greens is of Everest proportions, and the bowl of ice cream at the far end of the table is melting a little more with each passing second. There will be ants on it soon. And then they'll come and clear it away altogether.
The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud
As the quote above illustrates, life is also too short to deprive yourself of dessert. This cornbread may be dessert-like, but that doesn't mean you have to wait until you finish dinner to eat it. Since it's technically got "bread" in the name, you can treat it as an appetizer. Dig in, before the ants steal what's rightfully yours.

Cake-Like Cornbread
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup cake flour (or all-purpose)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup oil

Preheat oven to 400 °F. Grease an 8"x8" square pan and set aside.

Combine the cornbread, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Work out the clumps of sugar with your fingertips if necessary. Pour in the milk, eggs and oil and stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 20 minutes, until golden brown around the edges. Insert a knife in the middle; it should come out clean. If it doesn't, let it bake for a few more minutes (mine took about 25 minutes).

March 2, 2014

Vegetarian breakfast burritos

"Mine eyes smell onions; I shall weep anon."
All's Well That Ends Well, William Shakespeare
Perhaps it's the Californian in me, but nothing makes me perk up at brunch like the words "breakfast burrito."

In reality, it's so very simple to make this at home. Plus, when you make it yourself, you can customize it however you like, without annoying the waiter/waitress with your special requests and substitutions. As our pal Shakespeare would say, you can make your breakfast burrito just as you like it. Ba-dum-bum.

This recipe below makes enough filling for 3-4 good-sized burritos. It's definitely great bang for your buck—I think the ingredients cost me about $4 (even in New York, where groceries are redonkulously expensive).

I would have added corn to mine if I had any on hand. You can use whatever beans you like (or no beans at all); I used pink beans. Sliced avocado would also be a divine addition, methinks. So get thee to a stove and whip up some of these fantastic breakfast burritos, stat.

Vegetarian Breakfast Burritos
1/2 large onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
2 small tomatoes, chopped
15 oz. can beans, rinsed and drained
4 large eggs
1 boiled Yukon Gold potato, cubed
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Seasonings: dash of salt & pepper, hot sauce, and/or Magic Unicorn salt
Whole-wheat tortillas
Monterey jack cheese, sliced thin

Drizzle oil into a large skillet and cook the onion, garlic and tomatoes over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Add in the beans and stir.

Make a well in the center of the pan and crack the eggs into that space, one at a time. Gently break up the eggs with a wooden spoon and wait until the eggs have somewhat solidified before slowly incorporating them into the rest of the pan.

Stir in the potato and season with salt and pepper and hot sauce, or whatever seasonings you like. Sprinkle the chopped cilantro on top and stir until evenly distributed. Turn off the heat. At this point you can either serve by itself, or over rice, or start to assemble your breakfast burrito.

If you're going the burrito route, here's how you prepare your tortillas.

Arrange a few slices of monterey jack cheese on a tortilla and place on a microwave-save plate. Microwave for 30 seconds or until the cheese melts.

Spoon about 1/2 cup of the prepared egg and bean filling into the center of the tortilla. Roll up the burrito and enjoy by itself or with a side of salsa. :)