Tag Archives: kitchen creativity

Exporting the Valuable American Traditions of Turkey, Pie, and Stuffing…Your Face

Thanksgiving is without question my favorite holiday of the year.  It involves all the things I love most – family, friends, fun in the kitchen, and obscene amounts of food. Before returning back to Boston for the annual FamilyStylesFoodFestFunTime, Chris and I decided to organize a London Thanksgiving to comfort the Americans missing their annual tryptophan hit back in the States and to introduce some Brits to their FirstEverThanksgiving. Such a phenomenal opportunity to welcome foreigners to a holiday that revels in stuffing yourself beyond capacity.  Oh and we tossed a few Australians and Canadians in the mix too. I only wish we could have invited about thirty other friends, but we could barely pack the 20-odd guests into the living room already.

The menu was a classic Thanksgiving feast for the first-timers but also involved some first times for me. Like my first time brining a turkey! Apparently the ratio of one gallon of water to one cup salt and one cup sugar  is ideal to unwind the meat proteins of the turkey, allowing the flavored solution to be drawn up into the meat. Sweet. More moisture + more flavor = happy eaters. There’s nothing worse than dry turkey breast. And you can add your choice of spices, aromatics and flavorings to make things even more exciting. Here’s what I came up with based on the contents of the kitchen:

Brine For A Juicy Turkey:

1 gallon water
1 cup salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 orange, sliced
1/2  lemon, sliced
4 cloves smashed garlic
1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
about 1/2 tbsp white pepper
about 1/2 tbsp Chinese five-spice
a few sprigs of thyme

Here is Boris (named for our London mayor) or Natasha (named for Boris) in his (or her) bag of spicy salty sweet bathwater.

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Kitchen Experiments: Roasted Fennel, Squash, and Asian Pear Soup

roasted fennel squash and asian pear soup newI’ve just spent the last few hours greedily devouring the food porn and travel tales in Anthony Bourdain’s round-the-world eating book, No Reservations. It makes me want to eat coconut water-basted roast pig in Indonesia, steamed shark’s head in Singapore, fois gras burger in Montreal and white clam pizza in Seattle (pictured above behind the soup). Hell, I’d even consider testicle terrine in Iceland, raw seal in Northern Canada, and ‘sand-, fur-, and crap-laden warthog’ in Namibia to be able to eat and travel like he does, although I could do without the nasty details of the hospital visit resulting from getting a little too friendly with the lower intestines of said warthog.

Since I can only vicariously live out my gluttonous international foodie fantasies through Bourdain’s book (at least for the evening) I consoled myself with soup. It’s become perfect soup weather in London, so I finally stopped longing for my lovely red immersion blender back in San Francisco and buckled down and bought another one. Can’t do soup without it!

With delicata squash and a big bulb of fennel in last week’s veg bag, I had the basics of a flavorful autumn soup based on an amazing roasted pumpkin soup recipe with cinnamon and chilis from the cookbook of the fabulous Moro Restaurant  on Exmouth Market (so far the best meal I’ve had in London…go eat there now). And then I remembered that I bought a bag of Asian pears on Brick Lane today and decided to include one for an additional sweetness and a texture that is  somehow on the positive side of slightly mealy and almost gritty.  I roasted half a pear with the squash at first but then decided more was needed and diced another half directly into the boiling soup. It’s probably easiest to just toss it all in at the end along with the potato that I added to thicken the soup. Then go to town with your immersion blender  – aka  your onomatopoeicallynamed zjzjzjzjzjjjzzher  – and your soup goes from ugly lumpiness to smooth and creamy like MAGIC.

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Insanely Indulgent Butter-Fried, Onion Soup-Simmered Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash and Ricotta

butternut squash butter roasted pasta

This may look appear to be normal pasta – if anything, a bit mushy and brown looking,  but otherwise nothing special. But no. This is some seriously, insanely, unnecessarily butteriffic pasta.

Butteriffic: (adj) infused with a completely superfluous amount of butter to the point of unsurpassed deliciousness and extreme caloric overload.

TV is generally full of all sorts of useless drivel, which is why I don’t own a television. However, sometimes TV teaches you important things. For example,  how to take a decadent and already relatively unhealthy dish such as macaroni & cheese and then infuse it with more deep, rich, buttery flavor to the point of…well, I was going to say heart attack, but I’m still standing.  So then, more accurately, to the point of AMAZING.  For this knowledge, I owe thanks to the final episode of MasterChef, which, based on my one viewing, appears to be  a British show of similar concept and nearly identical name to Top Chef.  In the ultimate challenge to determine a winner, the contestants had to recreate the dishes from a Michelin-starred chef for thirty other Michelin-starred chefs.  Yikes. I learned that Michelin-starred food is precise, complex, innovative, boundary-pushing, technological, demanding, beautifully presented, really ridiculously complicated, and most importantly – you guessed it, butteriffic.

The macaroni & cheese, elevated to Michelin-starred standards, involved dried pasta pan-roasted in butter,  simmered in veal stock, covered in stock glaze, cut into perfect circles, and stacked into a tower with layers of butternut squash and another over-the-top indulgence, duck confit.  Apparently the dish took four hours to make,  and that’s along with the 18 ducks that Steve, the ultimate winner, had to simultaneously roast.  Obviously I have neither the skill nor the time to recreate this dish, although maybe I should try because then I could eat it. But pan roasting in butter and simmering in stock? That I can do.

And now you can too, if you’re looking for that extra hefty dosage of calories. But hey – it’s also an extra hefty dose of seriously tasty comfort food, perfect for curling up in a comforter on the couch on a cold day.  This would also be an excellent dish if you were a bear looking to stock up on fat for hibernation. If you’re not a bear…well, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the buttery goodness is worth the fat.

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Roasted Lemon and Vegetable Bulgur Wheat Pilaf

bulgur wheat pilaf with roasted vegetables

One of the exciting things about living in a new place are all the new and different ingredients  to sample, eat, delight in, purchase, cook with, and integrate into your kitchen repertoire.  Thanks to my dear friend Michelle and her excellent dish from the stunning Feast of Strangers, I’ve become acquainted with bulgur wheat, which tastes to me like a cross between couscous and brown rice.  The grains are slightly larger than the average couscous and a little rounder than rice grains and apparently have more fiber and vitamins, as well as a lower glycemic index than either of those two close cousins (at least for white rice). More importantly, they’re delicious as well as inexpensive and versatile.

I’ve taken to buying various cereals and grains in bulk for those exact reasons. Any given evening, I generally have enough fresh vegetables or canned items or refrigerated goodies to toss into a very simple bulgur pilaf or couscous. The following recipe can be adapted depending on whatever items you may have around but what makes the recipe a bit more special is Michelle’s roasted lemon trick. Tangy, zesty and slightly caramelized, the browned lemon rinds add a fantastic and unexpected kick of flavor.

The rest of the recipe is fairly nebulous, which, if you’ve read any of my other recipes,  you will most likely find unsurprising. But I think that’s the best part – it’s not particular or demanding or complicated or requiring of your full undivided attention. Essentially, you roast the vegetables that need roasting, sauté the vegetables which would taste better sautéed, slice up any delicious items you might have in the fridge like marinated olives or peppers, and boil the bulgur. Combine in dish, stir, and eat. Easy peasy. But don’t worry, I’ve also spelled out directions after the jump…

orange peppers and uncooked bulgur

Bright orange peppers and uncooked bulgur!

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the veg bag game: easy roasted tomato zucchini bread soup

note: parts of this (the non-rambling, correctly punctuated parts) were originally published here at eat.drink.better. read there and support an awesome green blog.

roasted tomato potato soup

one of my favorite parts of the week is picking up my growing communities veg bag from hackney city farm. every time, i still feel really lucky to live in a place where i have access to locally grown and organic produce from an incredible organization and i can pick it up less than a block away.  i also still feel a little weird using the phrase veg bag – it sounds like an insult (you dirty veg bag!) – but hey, when in rome…

this week, i’ve got:

potatoes, onions, and zucchini from ripple farm organics in kent

carrots from hughes organics in norfolk

cherry tomatoes and eggplant from wild country organics in cambridge

and finally, a salad bag locally grown in my very own borough of hackney. amazing!

this week’s salad bag had numerous unidentifiable bits of greenery including baby lettuce, basil, what looked like yellow chard, and a bizarre mottled green lilypad-esque leaf with a peppery bite. hilariously enough, i tweeted about it, and a farmer from georgia randomly told me that it was probably nasturtium leaves. after a quick google search, i think they’re right.  man, these interwebs.

following on my veggie burger and carrot potato explorations, i’m doing more fun kitchen experiments figuring out how to use all the random vegetables that come my way.  it’s the veg bag game! can’t beat anything that combines games and food: two of my favorite things on the planet besides panda babies.

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ice cream sandwich cookie #3: accidentally awesome honey cinnamon squares

honey cinnamon cookie squares 2

i’ve gotten a pretty quick schooling in american vs. british english since moving to london. trash = rubbish. bathroom = loo or toilet or ‘the ladies’. cell phone = mobile phone (had to make that conversion fast considering i run a business based on mobiles). and on the food side:  zucchini is courgette, arugula is rocket, eggplant is aubergine, cookie is biscuit, jello is jelly, and so on and so forth.

all this is a fun vocabulary game that i actually enjoy until the point that it MESSES WITH MY COOKIES. see, i went to the local grocer and purchased granulated sugar for my honey walnut cookies. because granulated sugar is granulated sugar, right? well, in fact, it’s not. what we in america bake with and call granulated sugar is called caster sugar in england. and what they call granulated sugar here in england are the massive boulder-like rocks that people stir into their coffee as sweetener.

i discovered this upon pouring a cup of allegedly granulated sugar into my honey walnut cookies and sticking a fingerful of batter in my mouth and finding it…crunchy. gritty. like someone had poured sand into my cookie dough. WTF england!?! i figured out the problem after googling around and finding this very helpful translation/glossary of US vs. UK kitchen terms.

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ice cream sandwich cookie #2: a lazy lemon rosemary cookie recipe

lemon rosemary ice cream sandwich cookies

the simple lemon rosemary cookie above was born out of pure laziness. thought process: what else is in the house besides the basic cookie ingredients?

1. potatoes.  meh…can do better.

2. pasta. not useful.

2. lemons! good.

3. ham. baaaad.

4. a plastic tray of plants masquerading as a ‘garden’ with oregano, basil, sage, rosemary and thyme. yes, perhaps we can do something with this.

the result? lemon rosemary cookies, most delicious in sandwich form with homemade vanilla ice cream from foodrambler.

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The Veg Bag Game: Carrot Potato Pancakes and Veggie Fritters

potato-carrot-pancakesevery week, i pick up a two bags full of dirty straight-from-the-farm fruits and vegetables from the growing communities organic veg box scheme at hackney city farm.  every week, the contents of the bags are a surprise and an opportunity for cooking fun, experimentation, and learning. what’s the best way to cook summer squash? can i eat these cauliflower leaves? (answer: yes! recipe here). how did i end up with so many freaking oranges? are the carrots multiplying on the counter to taunt me?

to counteract the carrot invasion, i’ve been playing around with a bunch of recipes that showcase the root vegetables that always seem to be  hanging around the kitchen. go read them here on eat.drink.better and support the green blog network of green options. i’ll reprint them here in a few days. while you’re waiting, go read this excellent article by michael pollan in the sunday times magazine last week on cooking as a spectator sport. why do so many people watch cooking on tv but never turn on their stove? don’t get me wrong, i love the food network but i love playing around in the kitchen even more. it’s creative, entertaining, and most importantly, results in something delicious to eat. one such experimentation resulted in the delicious fried veggie fritter meatball thingamajigs below. who doesn’t like deep fried balls? mmmm….go cook something!

a-cup-of-fried-vegetarian-meatballs

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Easy Veggie Burger with Carrots, Zucchini, Chickpeas and Halloumi Cheese

i’m still in a bit of a recovery mode from yesterday’s rambling tea party and banquet, so here’s a post originally published on eat.drink.better.com.  it’s the first recipe in a series inspired by the what-the-hell-am-i-going-to-do-with-all-these-vegetables game i play (and very much enjoy) every week when i pick up my organic veg bags. read the original here and support an awesome local healthy eating website!

happy saturdays,

mei

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Zucchini Carrot Veggie Burger on Salad

A lot of supermarket vegetarian burgers try so hard to resemble meat that they ignore the fact that vegetables actually taste delicious in the first place. Why try to replicate a beef burger with a monotonously colored brown thing full of mysterious ingredients and even weirder textures when you can eat a vegetable burger that actually showcases the flavors of the vegetables? Here on Eat.Drink.Better we’ve seen fantastic burgers made of black beans, white beans, lentils and portobello, and and even beets! Here’s another veggie burger that’s brightly colored, packed with exciting flavors, and simple to make with both fresh and canned vegetables. Plus, it’s healthy but still deliciously tasty thanks to the freshness of just-grated carrots and zucchini with the heft of canned chickpeas and the salty tanginess of halloumi cheese.

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ice cream sandwich cookie #1: C is for cayenne pepper chocolate

chocolate cayenne pepper cookies

i think i may be possessed by a cookie demon. this cookie demon worms its way into my brain and convinces me that it’s a good idea to make a trio of ice cream sandwiches for dessert at rambling restaurant. i listen to this cookie demon and then i find myself experimentally baking 3 kinds of cookies for 3 kinds of ice cream sandwiches (each requiring 2 cookies)  for 19 diners last night. all of which, including screwups and overspicing and um-let-me-try-another-one-of-those-to-make-sure-it’s-good adds up to…almost 200 cookies baked in the last 4 days. damn you cookie demon!

luckily, i happen to like cookies (duh). if you don’t like cookies, you have your own demons.  i also enjoyed the excuse to play around with new recipes and have an automatic tester audience.  it did make me slightly nervous that these cookies were for paying customers and therefore needed to be really good. but most of all, i was very happy to have an automatic set of mouths to feed these cookies to. if i bake by myself,  there’s a possibility i will consume all the fruits of my labor and that’s never good. although let’s be honest – i definitely ate a lot of cookies this week.  so many cookies that at certain points i kind of wanted to toss my cookies.

sorry. that’s gross. but true.

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