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Die Uppity Cooking Terms!

I don’t know if it bothers you, but it REALLY bothers me when I’m reading a recipe, or a magazine or watching a cooking show and they make food or cooking seem super difficult and elitist. Sure we can’t all make saffron truffle mussels every night easily, but still, this isn’t that complicated if you own the expensive stuff. So I’m on a crusade to expose fancy terms for what they are… I only have a few so far (6 and a half to be exact), but please add to them!

  1. Compound butter – this is just butter with stuff in it rechilled into butter consistency
  2. Julienne – slicing veggies or whatever in slim matchstick like pieces… I’m sure french chefs will say this is a poor explanation, but it’s just about right
  3. Baste – that liquid at the bottom of the pan? Spoon it up on the meat, done. No need for a baster or brush etc. Use a damn teaspoon.
  4. Chiffonade – see Julienne.. just do that with leaves or herbs, same deal. 
  5. Au gratin – ok, I love au gratin stuff. Broccoli au gratin, potatoes au gratin… nom nom. You know why I love it? Because it just means to be topped with cheese and bread crumbs. Seems l pretty obviously delicious, no need for the fancy title
  6. Roux – The most unnecessarily intimidating cooking process of all time. If you want thicker soup or sauce, or a great mac&cheese… do this. Put some butter (melted) or stock in the bottom of a pan. Stir in some flour. Then heat while stirring until it thickens up. TADA you’ve rouxed (not a word, shhh). So easy. 
  7. Ok, really 6.b: Bechamel this is just an extension of a roux, because a bechamel sauce is just roux+milk. Generally you then add cheese so you’ll have a gorgonzola bechamel, for example, but technically it’s just butter, milk and flour, so we cut it out with froufrou stuff. 

Greens Make the Best Quick Meals

Over the weekend my friend Ami and I made our way out to Larriland Farm for their Pick Your Own style of fun. This time of year of course apples come to mind, and we did pick many of those… Matsus, and Braeburns, and Magnolia Golds and Ida Reds…. all yummy and good for eating or cooking/baking. I can even stack some of them in my window sill with joy 🙂

Anyway, the cool thing about this place was that not only did they have multiple varieties of apples and a pumpkin patch but they also have pick-your-own a lot of other things, like spinach and tomatoes and beets and swiss chard (next spring & summer I will be doing this drive a few times for really fresh pick-my-own veggies). So I decided to get some lovely rainbow chard. But then I had to figure out how to cook said chard. My friend Jessi gave me a recipe, but it would have meant I had to go to the store and buy fresh ginger which was too much work for me at that moment. SO… here’s what we threw together for dinner.

  • Herb and panko crusted chicken breast (split one between two of us)
  • Garlicy swiss chard with almonds and goat cheese crumbles
  • “Baked” potatoes in the microwave because it’s easy and we had some soon-to-be-trash-not-food potatoes

Ok, so chicken first because I don’t do anything special with that. I just washed and patted dry a chicken breast and then rubbed rosemary, thyme and paprika on it, and then pressed on some panko crumbs (we were out of eggs so no dip… ended up fine). I seared both sides in the cast iron and a little olive oil and some onion chunks, then put the lid on for 20 minutes – perfect. The panko crumbs got a tid bit burned, but so it goes. Still tasted yummy to us.

More interestingly and lovelier… swiss chard!

Step 1: First, chop up the chard (even the stems – they’re good too!)

Step 2: Throw the stemmier pieces in a skillet with a few teaspoons of oil (more than just to prevent sticking) and a some minced garlic (we use the jar kind that’s pre-minced and packed in oil, but if you’re a purist, 2 or 3 cloves through a garlic press). Let that all saute for a few minutes to soften up the stems a bit.

Step 3: Then add in the leafy bits. You may have to do this in stages, as greens take up a lot of space raw and wilt down to nearly nothing by the end. You can throw some onions in there too if you have some around/left over (as we always do). AND toss in some almonds. We just happened to have some raw almond slices from something I made awhile ago, and I figured they’d go well in here. They did.

Step 4: So let that cook down a little bit, push it around the pan, you know. It’s super easy. Seriously when people say ‘I can’t even cook spaghetti’  that means nothing. Pasta timing is WAY more complicated than making greens. See? So easy and steamy and pretty!

Step 5: Ok then when you have about 2 minutes until you want to eat and the chicken is done and the greens are wilty and bright green (like above) put the potatoes in the microwave. Small ones really only take 2 minutes (it’s like magic).

Step 6: AND PLATE! When plating the lovely swiss chard, sprinkle on a little black pepper, a tiny sprinkle of ground cayenne and crumble some goat cheese on top, not too much. This adds a kick and a little creamy bit in every bite and adds some depth to the garlicy greens flavor. I’m a HUGE goat cheese fan though, so if you’re not, well… you’re wrong and you should try it anyway.

Tada, 20 minute meal (give or take) and pretty darn good for you too. I took the leftover greens to lunch the next day with some rice and black beans and left over pico de gallo from the pumpkin chicken southwestern soup and it was divine too.

Enjoy – and let me know how you like to cook swiss chard (or any favorite green)!

Glorious Veggie Sandwich

I’ve never been much for sandwiches really. In elementary school I even refused PBJ and for over a year alternated between cheese sandwiches (yup, just a slice or two of cheese…. sometimes even kraft ‘cheese’ folded into a piece of bread) or butter sandwiches (which was really just Country Crock pseudo-butter on a folded piece of bread). God forbid my mom try to make me a ham and cheddar or turkey and swiss. Ew ew ew. And while I’ve grown up a bit in my tastes, I did figure out in college why I didn’t like sandwiches — they were so boring and mono-textured! Soft deli meat, soft cheese, soft bread made softer by mayo or mustard — blah. But add cucumbers or sweet pickles? WOW! Who knew I liked sandwiches?

So, though still not my favorite meal, I’ve endeavored to learn to make sandwiches I enjoy eating. And sometimes, my custom veggie sandwich is everything I’ve ever wanted in a food. Here’s how I (usually) do it…


Some decent whole grain bread… I like this one, the boyfriend prefers the oat kind… but some tasty nutty bread is best. If you can make your own, even better.

Fresh tomato and cucumber

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (or whatever flavor you prefer, but this one is the best so pick it)

Plain greek yogurt (totally a stolen photo from, mix in a teaspoon of cream cheese if you wish for increased deliciousness, and herbs/seasonings. I go with a little bit of cayenne pepper, garlic salt, cumin or whatever suits my whimsy that day. But really this invented ‘spread’ is the key to sandwich flavor variety.

So spread on that hummus and creamy cheesy herb stuff, and pile on some sprouts (I added yet more after this photo). They add crunch and if you get something like onion sprouts it can add some oomph too.

Then those ripe yummy summer tomatoes…

And then the sliced cukes and a piece of lettuce if you have it around (though it doesn’t add much to the deal honestly)

And TADA…. Veggie Sandwich of Glory!

SEE? Doesn’t it look tasty? (it is trust me)

Though, I do have a warning… it is hard to eat and hard to travel with. This is due to it’s size and amount of uncompromising awesomeness. See? It doesn’t even fit in a normal baggie. It’s a plus-sized sandwich. Even better.

You can also fix this up with various mustards (though they aren’t my favorite personally) or add a slice of cheese (muenster works particularly well here) or even add a meat to the mix. The important part is to get some tasty pestos and spreads in there for a variety of flavors and textures and to make a it mostly a pile of interesting veggies. Use that CSA or garden to your advantage!

Let us know what you like to pile onto your specialty sandwich in the comments! I love to try new combinations.

WWII Poster(s)

A few gems from the full collection (from TreeHugger) of WWII posters about food, food security etc. Reminds me of my Oma who ALWAYS said ‘Waste not, want not’ even when I was fighting to throw away moldy cream cheese or dried out onions from her fridge. Some of these though we should certainly live by now, no matter the military situation our nation is in.

Tofu: The Stubborn Nemesis

I’ve always liked tofu. When I was a toddler our neighbors owned a Chinese restaurant and my favorite food when we went there was the tofu out of the hot & sour soup. Even boiled, mushy, and spicy – I loved it. Delicious!

Hot & Sour soup – my original tofu love

But sadly, in all my years since then I’ve never mastered tofu (or hot & soup either… the ingredients list for those recipes are way over my head at this point, though good recipes/suggestions are welcome). But until lately, whenever I’ve tried to make tofu stirfry in our wok I ended up with squishy broken chunks of flavorless soy product. Anti-appetizing. I’ve tried squeezing it out, using different knifes to cut it up, marinating and not marinating it… I thought it was hopeless.

Then, a few weeks ago, I came across the blog Rabbit food For My Bunny Teeth. While her story of weight loss is pretty inspiring, I was really after tasty but easy vegan recipes. And to my delight, Spicy Korean Tacos sounded (and looked!) delicious.

Despite my hesitation, I decided to try it out. We went with normal corn tortillas due to what we could find at our local run-of-the-mill grocery store, instead of cabbage we had lightly sauteed celery, carrots and onions, and I did add a tid bit of spicy szechuan sauce at the very end to add a bit more flavor. Otherwise though, I stayed on point. And by that I mean, I made the tofu exactly as she said. I put the soy sauce, siracha and oil in my cast iron skillet (instead of the wok), cranked it up, and dumped in my squeezed (pre-cubed –  more on that in a sec) extra firm tofu. And you know what? It worked. It seared on that soy sauce flavor. I didn’t need to marinate it, or douse it in tons of oil to get it to crisp up. It just happened. Like magic. With a sprinkle of sesame seeds, they were complete.

I loved it, the boyfriend loved it, all were quite pleased with our not-very-Korean, Korean tacos (I mean, seriously, what about these is Korean specifically really?). I made the filling again the other day to eat on top of quinoa, and even bought the not pre-cubed tofu. Extra-firm block was purchased and I was determined to be able to cut it w/o crumbling. So, I set a plate below with a few paper towels, and a plate on top and then the caste iron on top to put on some heavy pressure. In a few minutes I took it out to cube (with a serrated knife) and TADA! Worked like a charm. I cooked it up just like before and it made a delicious lunch.

My suspicion is that my trusty cast iron skillet was highly underutilized in my tofu cooking processes before and made both the squeezing and the cooking MUCH improved. But that’s just an inkling.

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