I was going to post a pasta dish this week – it’s really good and summery but still creamy and light – but I just couldn’t bring myself to suggest that you turn on both your oven and your stove. I don’t know about you, but we are in the middle of a heat wave. It’s another heat wave, or maybe it’s the heat wave we’ve kind of been having all summer despite a couple days last week. We have established a system of closing our windows around noon when it starts to get really hot outside, turning on the air conditioning when the inside temperature gets unbearable, and then opening the windows in the evening once the outside temperature is lower than inside or maybe if there’s a slight cool breeze blowing by.
On days like this, I can’t imagine eating anything hot. In fact, I would prefer that everything I ate was cold and crunchy, preferably also maybe juicy or with a little tang or spice to it. These toasts almost fit that bill – no juiciness really (unless you include the cucumbers that I GREW IN MY OWN GARDEN – sorry, I’m excited), but lots of crunch from the sliced vegetables and tang from the miso cream cheese. You do have to turn on your toaster, but it’s worth it, I promise.
I’m going to be honest folks. It feels a bit challenging to write about summer and my garden and produce when the world is falling apart. But here we are. I know, pea blintzes can feel trivial – they do to me too. I can’t spend 100% of my waking hours reading articles and calling representatives and being depressed about the state of the world, so I am doing my best to act like everything is normal and it’s all going to be fine. Despite the fact that at the moment it’s looking pretty bleak.
Now that we’ve got that depressing shit out of the way, I guess let’s talk about my garden. That sounds fun doesn’t it?
I feel like I’m in produce overdrive! Between our expanded beds and the CSA we have this year I’m having trouble keeping up with the lettuces, greens, peas, and radishes. I’ve been eating salads for every meal and adding sautéed collards or bok choy to everything I make. When shelling peas started coming in from my garden, these blintzes popped into my mind and I wasn’t able to get them out. I don’t recall eating that many blintzes as a child, but I know it happened, and that they were a treat filled with sweet cheese and topped with fruit. But every since eating blintzes stuffed with mushrooms at Malka’s chanukah pop up, I feel like the world of savory blintzes is a whole new world.
My little garden didn’t produce enough shelling peas for a full batch, so I supplemented with some frozen ones, steamed them with some lemon juice, layered them on top a creamy spiced cheese filling, and wrapped it all up in pillowy crepe-like pancakes. The result was just this side of savory, delicate and lovely, a dish that could be eaten at brunch or for a light dinner.
A little while ago, I went to lunch at one of my favorite cafés (which, disclaimer, is also owned by my dear friend) with Jonah and another friend who was in town. After we finished eating, we were waxing poetic about their brown butter miso cookies. These cookies are quite possibly my favorite cookie of all time, and I do not say that lightly. They are certainly in the top three cookies I’ve ever had in my life. Why? First, when the miso mixes with the brown butter and sugar, it creates this amazingly complex butterscotch flavor. Second, I love anything with miso. You know that, I know that, why even pretend like it’s not true? As we were sitting there, talking about The Cookies, we decided to play a game called “will it miso?” We decided that pretty much all produce will miso (though I’m sure there are exceptions). Will cheese miso? I’m not so sure.
This got me thinking about the bag of rhubarb I had at home in my fridge. I hadn’t decided what to do with it yet – there was talk of ice cream, as well as the previously posted gluten-free rhubarb poppy seed bread – but all this talk of miso in baked goods got me thinking. We got home, I did a little research, and I got cooking.
Don’t be scared by the (optional) miso in this recipe. As I mentioned above, it mostly provides an extra butterscotch flavor, making it a little richer and complex. If you don’t have any miso, head to the store and pick up a small tub. You can use it every which way, and once you learn its magical power of making everything delicious, you won’t be able to stop using it. If you get stuck there are plenty recipes on this very blog that feature it, like this caramel apple cake, this sticky toffee pudding, these roasted vegetables, this roasted squash and tofu, and these vegetable quinoa bowls.
I have never really liked lentils. When I was young, lentils and beans both had this texture (I think from cooking them into oblivion until they became mushy and grainy) that I just couldn’t stand. And so I stopped eating them, simple as that. Mexican food became a slight challenge (back then, it was because I didn’t like beans, now it’s because I can’t eat corn), but I mostly got away with it. Beans re-entered my life when I started living with my friend Carmelle and she made the most amazing refried beans and vegetarian chili. But lentils… I still couldn’t get behind. I hadn’t ever had them and thought, “Now those are good lentils!”
Recently though, my sister has been on a microbiome and gut-health kick, telling us all that we should be eating this or that, sending us articles and books to read. And when she sent along a recipe for lentils on our family WhatsApp thread, I told her I didn’t really eat lentils. She proceeded to yell at me (as much as one can yell via text) and tell me that lentils are good for you and that I should be eating them. It also happens that around this time, I was in the thick of cooking my way through many recipes in Alison Roman’s Dining In. From it, I made a recipe for spiced lentils (used in a rendition of a salad nicoise) that I found to be incredibly delicious. So delicious in fact, that I told the checkout guy at the grocery store that he had to make it immediately, and I let him take a picture of the recipe I had on my phone.
So I was working on liking lentils, and I was off to a really good start. Now I’ve become a person that, instead of cooking a batch of rice or farro on Sunday afternoon for lunches that week, will cook a batch of lentils to be used in salads and bowls or seasoned with oil and herbs for a side. I feel like I don’t even know myself anymore.
As I’ve been looking for other ways to use this batch of lentils, a recipe slowly started formulating in my brain. The warmer weather has got me itching for all food that is representative of spring, and a warm salad with lentils and crispy lamb sprang to mind (pun very much intended). With a little heat from the onion, some creaminess from the yogurt, bites of juiciness from tomatoes, and a little tang from the feta, this recipe became a quick favorite. It’s easy enough to throw together, makes great leftovers, and doesn’t make too many dirty dishes. I think you’ll like it.
This spring has been flying by. Every time I think “Those flowers won’t bloom for another few weeks,” it feels like they open up the next day. Baby plants are coming up in our garden already. Can you believe that? The spring rains are dousing Portland, but with that comes the lush greens and bright pastels, the mildly warmer weather, and of course, the rhubarb. I started another ceramics class last Friday, and when our instructor made us share an interesting fact about ourselves, mine was just rhubarb. Simple as that. I am certainly the class weirdo. But the time of year has arrived when I always have some in my fridge.
My sisters, who both have important people in their lives avoiding gluten (as do I), requested that I create a gluten-free version of this poppy seed rhubarb bread (which I really hope to re-photograph soon). I’ve done very little gluten-free (GF) baking in my life, partially because I strongly dislike the anti-gluten movement – the people who avoid it because it’s the trendy thing to avoid – when gluten and the grains that contain it actually provide lots of good, healthy nutrients. But, as I have known more and more people diagnosed with Celiac Disease, it seems like it is time to wade into the world of GF baking. Another thing I have found so sad about GF baking is that often the pastries I have seen are simply depressing – soggy, structurally unsound, chalky messes. This all changed, however, when I visited my sister in New York last fall. She had been singing the praises of Alice Medrich’s book Flavor Flours, and when I stayed with her we baked two recipes from it: some linzer cookies and I think some gingerbread. They were delicious. Perhaps my favorite thing about them was that, rather than hiding the lack of traditional AP flour, these recipes embraced the flours they used instead, making the flavors of buckwheat or teff or rice flour an integral part. Instead of being the random flavor of the flour you needed to use for the right texture and structure, the flavors played a role in the ingredients and flavor combinations. It makes perfect sense that the book was called Flavor Flours.
I had been thinking of getting a copy of this book for quite some time, and then I realized that not only would it be fun to cook from, but it would be a good tool for me to learn about GF baking and to create my own recipes that are edible for that many more people. So hopefully this is the first of many. If there’s a recipe here you’d like to see a GF version of, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. In the mean time, enjoy this GF version of what has become a favorite spring recipe.
When I was younger and we went out to a sushi restaurant, my parents would make us order a salad. This salad was usually mostly iceberg lettuce, topped with a neon-orange clumpy dressing, and I loved it. I loved how crunchy and bright it was. I hadn’t really thought about that dressing until a year or two ago when Saveur‘s recipe for it popped up on my Facebook feed. I made it immediately and was SO HAPPY.
These days there is always a jar of the stuff in my fridge since it can be used for pretty much anything. How do I use it? Most often to top my grain bowls with whatever random assortment of vegetables and proteins I’ve got around. I love using it to dress a simple salad with whatever greens I have in my fridge (romaine, baby kale, and baby spinach are the usual suspects) and topping it with sesame seeds. Or I drizzle it over my lazy breakfast of crisped leftover rice and a fried egg, plus some hot sauce and everything bagel seasoning. The point is, if there is an opportunity to use this dressing, I do.
To say I have been feeling uninspired would be an understatement. Ever since our fridge stopped working 2 months ago (it was finally replaced. That’s correct, we were without a working refrigerator for almost 2 months) I have just not been itching to be in the kitchen like usual. I think of a recipe and start to research, and I feel like I see it in twenty places and it doesn’t seem worth me developing it myself. When I do think of a recipe that I can’t seem to find, I can never quite get myself to actually make it. Other things intrude into my kitchen time. I decide I would rather paint or read or nap.
So I decided to wade back in with someone else’s cookies. Deb Perelman’s cookies, to be exact. I feel like since she started doing press for her most recent cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day, she has been on fire. There was a time when I would go to Smitten Kitchen and nothing would quite catch my eye, but these days? These days I feel like everything she posts is just for me. I kid you not, a couple of weeks ago I googled “Korean short ribs instant pot” and the next day – THE NEXT DAY – she posted exactly. what. I. was. looking. for. It was bizarre, I felt like she was a god that had heard my prayers!
Her siren voice was calling and I decided to answer in the form of these peanut butter filled chocolate cookies. I agree, it’s a weird thing when a blogger posts another blogger’s recipe. But I needed to get back in the kitchen, and these were the ticket. I had a sunny afternoon alone in my house, so I turned on my favorite baking Pandora station and enjoyed myself for the first time in a while. Sometimes all it takes are some really good cookies, you know?
A week before Christmas I almost cut off a large chunk of the tip of my thumb. I won’t get into the gory details, but here’s what I’ll say: don’t rush, and be careful when it comes to the combination of frozen produce and very sharp new knives. Ok? The next day, our refrigerator broke. It took two days to get someone to come look at it, and now we are waiting until January 8th for a part to come which will hopefully (please please please) fix it. In the meantime, we had two coolers outside plus a very mini fridge in our basement, plus a kind-of working refrigerator that our friend graciously gave to us. Did I mention that we were not only hosting Christmas dinner but also had my in-laws staying with us for the week?
Anyway, we got through all of this just fine. We got through it well, in fact. There were no stitches or trips to the emergency room, just lots of gauze and finger cots and trips up and down our basement stairs and re-freezing ice packs. And at the end of all of this (well, technically it’s not the end since our fridge is still busted and my finger is still bandaged up), an ice cream maker appeared on our doorstep. It was one of those times when you rack your brain to remember, “What the heck was my latest Amazon purchase?” But no, it was just my wonderful father-in-law. Maybe it was an additional Christmas present or a very nice host gift. My mother-in-law is one of my only family members who religiously reads this blog, so I’m sure she’ll show this to him, and hopefully, it will make him smile.
Of course, then I had my in-laws in mind when I was thinking of what recipe would be the first in my newest kitchen addition. I was researching and researching recipe ideas, feeling frustrated that I couldn’t quite find what I wanted, and then this one popped into mind. You see, my mother-in-law was the one who got me drinking rooibos tea. I had tried it before, but it wasn’t until my regular trips to Chicago, sitting around sharing a pot, using her cute little strainer, that I started really liking it. It’s now a staple in my tea collection and one that we drank a lot of while they were here. And because I can’t leave anything alone, I decided to add tahini, bringing a sweet nuttiness to the earthy flavor of the tea. You can make this without the tahini, and it would be good. But I recommend trying the combination – I think they suit each other.
We give each other a hard time in my family. Really. Nothing is off limits, and boy do we know how to push each others’ buttons. My sisters, for example, can get me more angry than anyone in the world. But the other side of this is that when we give each other compliments, it really is the most heartwarming thing. Getting a sincere compliment from my sisters or my parents is one of those things that gives me the warm and fuzzies. But back to the giving each other a hard time thing. My dad has all these -isms. These things he says and we give him quite a hard time for. I won’t share all of them here because he might kill me (if he happens to read this post), but one of my favorites that is relevant to this story is when he says, “You know, it wasn’t actually that hard.” This is almost always in reference to some intricate, fantastic dish he has cooked. It goes like this: either we are on the phone or sitting down to dinner, and he tells me all of the steps it took to make the dish in front of me or that he made for dinner last week. And then, no matter what I say, he follows it up with, “You know, it wasn’t actually that hard.”
When I was in Seattle last month, he and I were at the store shopping for dinner, and he mentioned he wanted to pick up whipping cream for leftovers of a dessert he had made a couple days before that, you guessed it, “wasn’t actually that hard.” I, of course, did not believe him. Especially when he claimed it was called a parfait parfait, which in his often jumbled speech, became farpait farpait. Imagine the two of us, wheeling our cart up and down the aisles of the store, giggling and spouting “farpait farpait” at each other – it was a sight. But we got home, ate dinner, and then were treated to this dessert. The sautéed fruit topped with salty, sweet, buttery graham cracker crumbles, and freshly whipped cream convinced me quickly that this dessert was worth whatever effort it required. It was so tasty that I made it for a dinner party last week to find that he was right: it really was one of the simplest desserts I’ve ever made. Did you hear that Dad? YOU WERE RIGHT.
The beauties of this recipe are two-fold. First, it can be easily adapted with whatever seasonal fruit you have on hand. In the coming weeks, I’ll be making it with plums, then apples, then maybe even some grapefruit wedges, rhubarb, berries, you get the idea. Second, having this graham cracker crumb on hand, I’ve found is both tempting and useful. Being able to just sauté some fruit and whip some cream and voila, dessert, is pretty great. Plus it isn’t so bad sprinkling a tiny bit on my morning yogurt, fruit, and granola either.
It’s inevitable. This time of year especially. You go to the farmers market and drool over the rainbows of produce. The rhubarb has that perfect blush that begs you to bag up more than you could ever use at once and cart it home. The ruby strawberries glimmer, covering tables, overflowing from their containers. You can just imagine how red they are on the inside, and you take one from the little sample bowl to confirm your suspicion. They taste almost as much like candy as they do like fruit, they are so sweet and perfect in every way.
So you haul it all to your car and then to your kitchen. And then reality strikes. It’s Monday again and no, you’re not going to get around to making that strawberry pistachio pie you’ve been pining after, or pickling that rhubarb to go with the pâté you brought home from the market. You feel guilty, seeing those sad fruits softening by the day every time you open the fridge.
When it comes to fruit that is beginning to turn, I used to turn to compote (the rhubarb) or freeze them smoothies (the strawberries), but this summer that all changes. I started making shrubs, aka drinking vinegars. It’s painfully simple, goes perfectly well with just sparkling water on those long warm days when you want something fruity and tangy and refreshing, and can welcome a taste of your favorite gin or tequila when those long summer days turn into warm evenings and you want a cocktail to sip while you light up the grill.
It seems shrubs are the fancier version of my dad’s old “it’s-too-hot-out” beverage: a Perrier with an entire lemon juiced in. Tart and bubbly and immediately cooling. They take a little forethought, yes, but in all they take about 15 minutes to make and your friends or guests or whomever is lucky enough to partake will be impressed and thankful. I promise.
My cooking these days feels torn. On the one hand, we’ve been having people over for dinner all the time and when we do, I take it as an opportunity to make those dishes that are just a bit too much of a production for any old night with me and Jonah (i.e. anything from my newest and also favorite cookbook Six Seasons). On the other hand, when it is just me and Jonah I tend to turn to what I have in the fridge. This is a great practice, but when I go to the grocery store, I generally buy the same things for weeknight dinner staples: I pick up some tofu, mushrooms, peppers, leafy greens, onions, occasionally some sweet potatoes, and a bulb of fennel if I’m feeling fancy. These ingredients most often turn themselves into a rice or soba noodle bowl because, well, we love Asian flavors, and it’s simple enough that we don’t have to think about it too much before it can become dinner. But the key to any good rice or noodle bowl is the right sauce.
In my recipe box that sits in my spice drawer, I’ve got at least 3 different asian marinades/sauces. They all have roughly the same ingredients, with a couple extras thrown in or substituted. They are ingredients that are used almost daily in my kitchen: soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, garlic, lime juice. Occasionally there will be honey or maple syrup, sesame oil or miso. But this sauce, the one below, it’s different. Instead of being the base sauce for a meal, it’s a sauce that I keep in a small jar in the fridge. I drizzle it on a plate of food when it needs an extra kick, that beloved tingling on the lips, the gentle burning on the edges of your tongue. It’s not too hot – you can still taste all the ingredients in it because the heat is just at the right level where the flavors don’t get lost. I put it on noodles and rice bowls, but I also put it on fried eggs in the morning, orzo salads that need a little jazzing up after a few days in the fridge, and an afternoon snack of avocado. It has gotten to a point where I like to always have a jar on hand, should the need for it arise. And the need does arise. It always comes in handy.
There is something about home that is indescribable. We haven’t finished purchasing all the things we need for our new apartment yet, like shoe racks and lamps and soap dispensers. But still, this place feels more like home than any place I’ve lived in a long time. We picked the curtains and the plants, our art is hanging on all the walls, and I have all of my kitchen appliances in one place – no boxes, no storage, no knowing that one day I’m going to have to go through all these cookbooks to figure out what belongs to whom. Nope – it’s all ours.
And now that we have a table and enough chairs for a few extra bums to sit in, all I want is to have people over all the time. We’ve been pretty successful so far – having people over almost twice a week since we’ve moved in. It has reinforced my love of cooking for people, of making an excuse to get together. But why should we need an excuse? Isn’t good company enough? Add to that a home cooked meal and a bottle of wine and how could anyone turn you down? I feel lucky that we’ve gathered a little community who feels the same way, that there’s no better reason to be together other than it’s been a few days since we’ve last seen each other.
It helps that it’s spring – dusk drags its feet a little more each day, the tulips on our walkway have come and mostly gone at this point, and they’ve put up the annual rosé wine display at the local grocery store. It’s the time of year when people come out of hibernation, itching to wear their short sleeves and dig out their sunglasses, ready to get their hands dirty in the garden (we’re hoping to plant ours this weekend), antsy to go on evening strolls. For me spring means always having a pound of rhubarb in the fridge, ready to roast into a compote for topping ice cream or simmer into a syrup for mixing into cocktails or slice and bake into a galette. I would do the same if I were you.