Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Apple Peel Twigs

I've been spending some time lately trying to conquer a few kitchen anxieties in an effort to become more proficient in my cooking skills.  Peeling things and pastry-making, specifically.  I'll address the pastry business if I manage to crack the code on that niggly awful process (which yields nearly 16 million google hits for good reason), but until then, peels!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm the laziest prep cook in existence and if there's a step in a recipe that even remotely seems like it doesn't need to be done, it's just not going to happen in the Trash Salad kitchen.  There's always a Law and Order SVU marathon on, you see, and that is always going to take precedence.  As a result of this cooking philosophy, I have peeled apples maybe twice in my life and really never had a problem with chunky applesauce or brown betties with an extra special texture to them.  But autumn is a time for productivity and personal challenge, and thus I decided to go the whole nine with desserts while also learning how to peel without looking like a thumbless orangutan.

Glory be, if I didn't discover the most outrageously delicious, easy to make, and healthy snack food item made from scraps in the process.  Apple peels, tossed with cinnamon sugar and dehydrated at low temperature.  So simple sounding, they have a light crunchiness with a sweet and spicy tart flavor that is impossibly addicting.  The entire batch was inhaled in less than 24 hours (by me).

Just toss them in the oven while you're waiting on your pie dough to transform from a chilled blob into magic unicorn crust that should flake to infinity.

Apple Peel Twigs

Adapted from Sassy Radish via MStew
Total time: 2.5 hours, active time 2 minutes

  • Peels from 6-8 apples
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt (optional)
  • pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Preheat oven to 250F/120C.  Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Toss apple peels with the spiced sugar, using a few drops of water if more moisture is needed to help the sugar stick.

Spread peels out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 2 hours, rotating halfway through until peels are curled and crisp.  Let cool in the oven for another 30 minutes to dry before serving.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Loaded Veggie Cream Cheese

Two recent and disappointing bagel experiences have driven me back into the realm of kitchen experimentation and bloggery.  Different days, different Hoboken bagel-specific establishments.  Disappointing to the point where the convenience of the on-the-way-to-work breakfast pickup is now outweighed by the significant potential for negative surprise induced by opening the bag.

I like to treat myself to an enormous bagel breakfast on the occasional Friday that I head into the office. Normally my morning routine involves a harried five minute dance between the french press and the bathroom sink followed by a sad high-fiber desk cereal around 10am, but Fridays I pull out all the stops and add 2-4 minutes onto my commute for the bagel detour. The payoff is that the doughy rings in this area of the world are so huge that the workday is usually halfway over by the time I finish it. Breakfast as a time-traveling device, you see.

My standard order is a whole wheat everything with light veggie cream cheese. Everywhere, always - with the very occasional substitution of olive cream cheese, but only if it visibly contains green, black, and pimento varieties.  A few weeks ago, I opened the bag to find this:

A bagel straining under the weight of its cream cheese, with maybe one or two vegetable (?) chunks spotted.  Have I just never taken the time to look at my breakfast before? Are we entering a new world of cream cheese homogeneity and chunk skimpage?

Familiar with my own obliviousness, I inclined towards the former assumption and carried on the following Friday at another bagel shop, hopeful of a better result. Here, the gentleman misheard my order and instead said that I was getting lox cream cheese when he handed over the bag.  "Excellent!" I thought to myself, "lox cream cheese is usually much more expensive and I am getting it for the same price!"  And then I unwrapped this, barely pink, barely salty, completely chunk-less abomination (I didn't take a photo because it made me angry, but here is an artistic rendering):

Let's do a little better, shall we?  The goal is to veer away from the usual ratio of ingredients in deli/store-bought vegetable cream cheese:

towards the Xanadu of schmears, which I have determined to be a 1:1 ratio of cream cheese to stuff.

Within the "stuff", you can play around with whatever you have on-hand, but I really like equal ratios of carrots to other assorted crunchy vegetables to flavorful components (half oniony things, half herby/salty/spicy things), and rounded all off with a generous amount of freshly ground pepper.  Much cheaper, more interesting, and fresher-tasting than anything scooped out of a deli pan. And! Keeping this on-hand will cut down your Friday morning bagel detour time by at least 50%.  

Loaded Vegetable Cream Cheese

Makes 2 cups
Total time: 5-10 minutes 

  • 8oz (225g) lite or regular cream cheese (I like Neufchatel)
    • 1/3 cup shredded carrots
    • 1/3 cup finely diced colorful/crunchy veg (any color bell pepper, celery, fennel, radish, cucumber)
    • 2-3 tablespoons finely diced onions or white parts of scallions
    • 2-3 tablespoons finely diced miscellaneous flavorful bits (olives, capers, fresh soft herbs, green parts of scallions, jalapeno or other spicy peppers, pickles, crumbled up bacon)
    • black pepper
    Heat cream cheese in a few 30-second increments until it spreads easily.  Mix with other ingredients and add freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Cream cheese will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks.

    Sunday, December 2, 2012

    Sandy: Executions of Refrigerator Contingency Plans and Lessons Learned

    So we're now a month out from megaultradestructostorm Sandy kicking the tri-state area in the teeth, leaving a blood-spattered trail of incisors and vomit in her drug-addled wake.  Hopefully you expose yourself to some media other than the Bravo and E! networks and are not learning about this for the first time here.

    Am I going to talk about the post-surge destruction, public health hazards, and the struggle to rebuild?  The flooding and devastation that disproportionately affected the elderly and low-income residents in my town?  Not even going to mention the creative generosity of area volunteers that have rallied to assist those in need.

    Nay, the issue that has prompted me to emerge my half-year Trash Salad sabbatical is that of resourcefulness and preservation in a time of crisis.  By which I mean, what do to when your fridge loses power, and how to prepare for this in the future.

    To refamiliarize you with the Sandy timetable, the storm rolled in on Monday afternoon, taking out the nonsensically above-ground power lines by Monday night.  As many who sat back with rolled-eyes during Irene, I had assumed that either I wouldn't lose power at all, or in the worst-case scenario, that being connected to the same grid as the main commercial district in town would make for a limited powerless period.  Cut to five days later: I'm freezing in the dark, compulsively eating down the fridge, and am otherwise devolving into a late-1940s Howard Hughes situation.

    Living on the fifth floor outside of a flood-zone, I was very very lucky.  Some folks lost everything, including loved ones.  But also heart-breaking?  The people who were totally unprepared for a power loss, not knowing how to feed themselves without at their beck and call.  Sure the clock starts running when the power goes out, but does that mean immediately throwing everything out?  Absolutely not.  You can survive and thrive on decaying food, if you approach it strategically.

    So behold, an overview of how I lasted through week without spending a single dollar in the dark and post-apocalyptic wasteland (before I lost my mind and hopped a bus out of town):

    Friday:  A non-work day.  Frankenstorm is a mere buzzword at this stage.  Access to a car on an empty stomach begets a $200 trip to Trader Joes, including several bags full of frozen food.  You may have guessed that this will soon reveal itself as an unwise move.

    Saturday/Sunday: Standard weekend of costume party booze cruise coupled with a lazy SVU-marathon hangover day.  Work for Monday is called off.  I make hurricane preparations by organizing scented candles, locating matches, and grinding up all of my coffee beans.  Priorities!

    Monday:  Stuck at home with a city-wide curfew, I determine the best way to cope with being cooped up is via four thousand hours of Netflix and elaborate kitchen projects.  Down all of my yogurt and milk by way of chocolate granola.  Focus on the current MVP of the freezer, an organic chicken (flat roast day!), but an initial power loss around 3pm before it properly defrosts foils the plan.  Power comes on briefly and we take advantage of it to organize a responsible vegetable lasagna and salad.  Spend the rest of the evening listening to jock jams with vodka sodas by candle-light while the storm rages on.

    Tuesday: Alone, day 2 sans electricity, and now without any cell phone service (ugh AT&T).  I sleep until, who knows, 11?  Thank god for gas stoves and the french press.  Reality sets in, and I sit down and prioritize the fridge situation: the super perishables include the chicken of gold, turkey burgers, random bits of meat and veg, frozen pork dumplings, almond milk, mozzarella, and hummus.  Breakfast of turkey burgers and salad (there is no space for carbs in a situation this dire).  I go for a long walk to scope out the situation.  It's WAY worse than anticipated.

    The chicken must be dealt with.  I sear it in a cast iron pan and pop it in a pot on top of chunked up onions, parsnips, carrots, and cabbage and leave it on low for an hour or two.  Cooking a chicken in by candle light is challenging to say the least.  I feast on my chicken and chicken-fat vegetables and leftover salad with hummus, listen to WNYC, and contemplate how not dissimmilar the situation is to a zombie apocalypse

    Wednesday:  Still no power, and man it's starting to get cold.  Breakfast of more chicken and chicken-fat veg that sat out on the counter overnight so I wouldn't have to open the fridge.  Think I'll go out and get power and internet at Starbucks, but get word that the ENTIRE city and even bordering areas are under powerless lockdown.  Question the nature of existence in this electrically-deficient wasteland. 

    But then I get a surprise visitor!  And my first reaction is disappointment that he has brought a cooler containing the super perishables from his own fridge: jersey shore crab cakes, edamame, a thousand veggie burgers, and half a pizza.  Oy!  We experiment with cooking a mammoth crab cake in a cast iron pan.  It become a weirdly dense crabby pancake.  A delicious late lunch with sides of chicken and pizza.  It occurs to me that the survival diet is rather calorically dense, but that I will need those calories to outrun the zombies.

    We go for another long walk to survey the scene, the only available activity these days.  The sewage water does not appear to have receded at all from the day before.  Discover that we can get cell service near the water, so use my remaining cell battery for a facebook life update (priorities).  We cook the remaining crab cakes back at camp, and I make a giant pot of stock with the chicken carcass.  Sides of veggie burger/edamame stirfry surprise.  Hey, it's halloween!  We celebrate by more WNYC and whiskey by candle light.

    Thursday: This morning the building has started to develop a terrible smell from the rotting food in the restaurant refrigerators in the basement.  Apparently they had a large stock of seafood.  Ugh.  Haven't seen or heard a soul in the building all week.  Where does everyone go when there is no transportation infrastructure or way to get gas?  Fancy breakfast today of crab cake hash topped with an egg and mozzarella.  Second breakfast of dumplings.  I stop worrying about opening the fridge since all coolness is completely gone.  But what if we're not able to finish the crab cakes before they go off?  This thought causes an inordinate amount of stress.  I'm absolutely losing it.

    On the daily long walk, I encounter several sets of family members and get an answer to my earlier question: mom and dad have come to fetch all the babies.  Piles of garbage have started to accumulate everywhere as folks start cleaning out their businesses and ground floor apartments.  The National Guard is rolling past rescuing folks from building still surrounded by sewage water.  I have conflicting emotions of feeling incredibly lucky and absolutely losing my mind.  Power appears to have come back along two blocks to the northwest so I head over to join a "juicing party": a new social experience of shared power outside the homes of generous individuals who extended power strips for the wandering refugees.  I catch up on my correspondence for a few hours before my fingers freeze up and I am forced back into my dark and stinky garbage apartment.

    The cooking by candle-light project this evening is about three gallons of Meat Trash Soup which consists of everything left in the fridge (soy chorizo, kielbasa, rashers of bacon, chicken carcass stock, frozen spinach bricks, cabbage) topped with cod fillets.  The fish was seriously questionable, but I lemoned and garlicked the hell out of it until the funk was gone.

    Friday: Woke up with some serious depression upon realizing nothing had changed, yet pleasantly surprised to have not become sick from the fish the night before.  Leftover trash hash for breakfast featuring the rest of the crab cakes, veggie burgers, a pepper, and a very sad attempt at pan-fried tater tots that were super soft and greasy.  I think the failed tot experiment was the final straw in whatever remaining sanity I had at this point, because shortly after breakfast I heard the buses running outside and promptly formulated a plan to pack everything up and get the hell out of dodge.

    Some seriously sad tots.
    I scooped up and salvaged: unopened packages of smoked salmon, goat cheese, tempeh, and pre-cooked sausages, several meatless frozen pizzas (that were surprisingly just fine when baked up!), hard cheese, a pound or two butter, and the remainder of the meat soup.  Did I feel like a foolish bag lady schlepping all of that on the bus? Sure, but I'm positive the stress of leaving it would have been worse. 

    For some lessons learned:

    1) Know your utility situation.  Gas stoves and hot water heaters seem way more robust than anything involving electricity, but only if you know how to light a burner without an electric starter.  Is this knowledge that is going the way of the stick shift?  Similarly, go get yourself a french press if you don't have one already.  Even if you don't have a gas stove you can still make cold-brewed coffee happen.

    2) Take a picture or make a list of your fridge contents and make a plan.  I prioritized with an algorithm of what was most expensive/what was going to go bad first.  Things loaded with preservatives were just fine, even five days later.  As a consequence I only had to chuck maybe $10-15 total of frozen fruit, a couple of waffles with the the structural integrity of pudding, a spinach pie, and a wedge of brie that was a million years old.  Under normal circumstances the brie would have been fair game, but I was so cheese/saturated fatted out by that stage that I couldn't even look at it by the end of the week.

    3) Get to know your neighbors - more specifically, their skill sets and resources.  It's much easier to knock on a door and ask for help (even help eating down the fridge) if you've at least introduced yourself ahead of time.  Further to this, I need to maybe move to a place where the community has an average age above 22 and everyone doesn't skip town the second they lose power.

    So there we have it.  If I could do it again, I would do it all the same, but will for the future always maintain a larger stockpile of alcohol on hand.  Whiskey never goes bad!

    Sunday, April 15, 2012

    Pink Lady Cake, Bunnified

    Living so close to an amazing city like New York certainly requires a bit of a lifestyle change when adjusting from a car-centric, more suburban existence.  In theory, you are in no better place in the world to be for shopping, dining, and culture.  In practice, you're SOL if you want to make a quick trip to a large one-stop shop to stock up on toiletries, home goods, or pantry staples, spend less than $20, and be able to schlep everything home without your arms falling off (I'm getting increasingly close to picking up one of these Nana carts - it's only a matter of time).  And with our tiny city apartments, stocking up to any significant degree is unwise.  The result of this is a lifestyle where you're more inclined to support small local businesses and shop sustainably for as little as possible.

    On a day-to-day basis this is obviously a positive thing, however, this means that the infrequent trips to big box stores are marked by an excitement and desperation more typical of, say, running of the brides.  Wanting to take advantage of the key trifecta of car access, the spacious shopping experience, and the perhaps false impression that I'm getting a good deal, I've been known to impulse purchase my way to owning a fog machine, a full kg of guava paste, and a ruffled dress from Avril Lavigne's clothing line.  No, I do not have any business wearing anything with ruffles, or anything produced by the same person responsible for this.

    For the first time ever, though, one of these impulse purchases has truly improved my life instead of just cluttering up my closet and inducing guilt.  A $10 investment in a Wilton starter cupcake-decorating set that I picked up at Target awhile back has infused me with a confidence for baking that is starkly disproportionate to my actual experience or abilities.

    My cookie career spans almost two decades at this point, but there is something about the high stakes world of cakery that has always made me hesitant to dive in.  If you overshoot your baking time with a batch of cookies, you still have a 75% chance of fixing the problem and having an edible product at the end of your efforts, but cakes!  There are just so many ways for it all to go horribly wrong, as I have personally demonstrated for you at least twice.

    So I'm trying to remedy this situation now, and in the process become a more popular friend, family member, and coworker who can be relied upon for a celebratory showstopper if the occasion calls for it.  This Pink Lady Cake is a great starting point; a subtle fruit flavor and glorious girly pink with a recipe that is nearly impossible to mess up.  Of the two cake iterations that I've tried in the past few weeks, I like my adaptations below much better than the original Smitten Kitchen recipe that I used for cupcakes.  Separating out the liquid/dry ingredients until the last minute makes for a much lighter cake that is also easier to mix.

    The only other advice I would impart is to make sure your butter, strawberries, milk, AND egg whites are at room temperature, otherwise the butter will chunk up and leave some steam holes in the final cake.  Fortunately, covering the entire cake in a tangy cream cheese frosting and shaping it into an Easter rabbit can make up for a lot.

    Pink Lady Cake
    Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

    Serves 8-10
    Total time: 75 min plus cooling and decorating time (Active time: 45 min)
    • 1/2 pound (230g) unsalted butter, softened*
    • 2 cups (400g) sugar  
    • 1 cup (240mL) pureed strawberries (fresh or frozen and thawed), about one box 
    • 5 egg whites at room temperature (about 1 cup [240mL] if you use the boxed stuff)
    • 1/2 cup (120mL) milk
    • 1-2 drops red food coloring (optional)
    • 3 cups (115g) cake flour (see here to make your own using AP, corn starch, and a little legwork)
    • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened*
    • 1/4 pound unsalted butter (115g), softened* 
    • 2 cups (200g) sifted confectioners’ sugar
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • assorted things for decorating (e.g. shredded coconut, food coloring, chocolate chips, jelly beans, strawberries, julienned carrots, twizzlers, m&ms... the possibilities are endless)
    For the cake:  Preheat oven to 350F (180C).  Butter two 9" rounds, parchment paper, and butter the paper.**  Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer on low speed for a few minutes.  Add strawberry puree, egg whites, milk, and food coloring, mixing well after each addition.

    In a separate bowl, combine cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet bowl in three additions, mixing until just combined.  Divide the batter into the two prepared pans.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

    Cool for 10-15 minutes in the pans.  Invert onto wire racks and peel off paper liners.  Cool completely before frosting and assembling cake.

    For the frosting and bunnification process:  mix cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until well-combined.  Add vanilla and gradually blend in powdered sugar.  Set about 1/4 aside if you want to add a few drops of food coloring for decorating.  Keep in the fridge until ready to use (it is much easier to work with after being chilled for 30-60 minutes). 

    Arrange one of your cake rounds in the center of a large pan.  Carefully cut out the ears (the sides of the second round) from the bow-tie (the center).  You may have to make further adjustments to make it look symmetrical; this means more cake for you to snack on.  Arrange your ears and bow-tie, and cover the entire thing in cream cheese frosting.  I won't infringe upon your personal creativity, so you should decorate this however you want.  But do take a note from some of the more frightening examples out there.

    * Successful, mildly healthier substitutions I have tried:  swap half of the butter (in the cake and frosting) for a light cholesterol-free veg oil spread, and use reduced fat cream cheese for the frosting.  You cannot tell the difference.  Now, if there was only some way to get the sugar down..

    **I tried to cut corners here and not use the parchment paper, and was left with a good amount of cake stuck in the pan.  Do not cut corners.  Alternately, you could make cupcakes which take about 20 minutes in the oven, give or take.

    Sunday, February 19, 2012

    Spicy Peanut Noodle Vegetable Salad

    Recent familial circumstances have initiated an interest in the notion of a "heart healthy" lifestyle in the Trash Salad kitchen.  I realize I'm very late to the party when it comes to focusing on low-sodium/sat fat foods, but I do so love my salty cheeses and cured pork products.  So it's something I didn't really want to think about until, you know, I had to.  Which by proxy, I do now.

    Did you know that February is American Heart Month? I really admire the PR person who came up with this cleverly timed public-awareness opportunity.  The AHA website has lots of interesting and accessible articles about nutrition, exercise, and warning sign recognition as well as a great risk calculator for the scientists among us who need to slap a number on a situation in order for it to become a reality.

    Nutritionally, this is going to be an ongoing research product on my part, and something rather new for me since I've only ever paid attention to calorie and fiber counts on nutrition labels (what? I'm still under 30 and more concerned with short term impacts).  From what I can gather so far, salt and animal fats are no bueno, though I'm sure there is more nuanced information to be gleaned here.

    The Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad recipe from Serious Eats jumped out at me as a good entry point into vegan heart-healthy cooking since it has a LOT of flavor, little of which is added from salt.  The original recipe as written had such a kick, I needed a box of tissues nearby to plug the nasal faucet.  And this was for someone who finds eggs benedict unsatisfactory without a healthy dose of Sriracha.  So take it easy with the chili sauce at first, and maybe cut back on the hot peppers if you're especially sensitive.

    Otherwise I made it a little more ingredient-flexible and you can certainly mix up the vegetables for whatever you have on-hand.  For a full meal, this would be great topped with grilled tofu or chicken. Pretty great actually for my first consciously-vegan effort, and I can't believe I'm actually looking forward to more in the future.

    Spicy Peanut Noodle Vegetable Salad
    Adapted from Serious Eats

    Serves 4-6 as a main (much larger than pictured here), 8-10 as a side
    Total time: 30-45 minutes (all active)

    • 8 oz (225g) dried noodles (I used rice noodles here, but you could substitute any including linguini/spaghetti, whole wheat or otherwise) 
    • The dressing:
    • 1/2 cup (135g) chunky natural peanut butter (natural meaning one ingredient, no salt/sugar/fillers added, substitutions include tahini, sunflower seed butter, or any nut butter [just check the ingredients])
    • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
    • 1-3 tablespoons chili garlic paste (or Sriracha or other chili sauce with one clove of minced garlic, just check the sodium levels), more or less to taste
    • juice from 2 limes (about 2-3 tablespoons) or rice wine vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, honey, or maple syrup
    • a few tablespoons warm water (optional)
    • The vegetables:
    • 2 large red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
    • 1 large cucumber, sliced into thin half moons
    • 1-2 large handfuls mung bean sprouts
    • 1-2 large handfuls of fresh basil, mint, or cilantro leaves
    • 5-10 scallions, finely chopped
    • 2 jalapeƱo peppers, seeds and ribs removed, minced
    • 1/2 cup (50-80g) roughly chopped nuts for garnish (optional)
    While you are chopping the vegetables, cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside while you make the dressing.

    In small bowl, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, chili sauce, lime juice, sesame seed oil, and sugar.  Whisk until homogeneous and add a splash of warm water if the mixture seems too thick.  Taste the sauce and adjust accordingly (depending on how juicy your limes are, you may need to add more sugar here).

    Add noodles to a large bowl and pour over the small bowl of sauce.  Add bell peppers, cucumber, bean sprouts, basil leaves, scallions, and jalapeƱos. Toss to combine. Serve topped with chopped nuts, if using.

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    Winter Veg and Grain Trash Soup

    It's pretty rare that I reach for a recipe to cook from twice, especially something as adaptable and forgivable like soup.  A repeat of this Orangette vegetable soup was probably more due to curiosity than anything else - how could something so simple be so delicious?

    Fortunately for you all, I'm a regular Poirot and deduced the secret in no time: good stock, fresh herbs, and cubed winter veg.  And by "fresh herbs," all I mean not the dried kind, since I'm still using up my mammoth bunches from Thanksgiving that are having some bronze age discoloration issues (but taste fine).  Otherwise, the recipe lends itself well to tinkering and veg-drawer cleaning, incorporating all of the bits and pieces lying around your fridge into a real snuggie of a stew that you actually want to eat, even though it's incredibly healthy.

    So tinker to your heart's desire.  I originally made this with the proper leeks, parsnips, and cabbage, though the second version with turnips, butternut squash, and kale was a little more sweet and bitter. I probably wouldn't do all potatoes since it would be too starchy, but otherwise let your fridge contents be your guide.

    Because this time of year we can all use a little redemption, can't we? I, for one, am still recovering from my second annual trip to the Beer, Bourbon, and Barbecue festival.  So stay tuned for lots more on the vegetable front.

    Winter Veg and Grain Trash Soup
    Inspired by Orangette

    Serves 6-8
    Total time: 45 min-90 min (Active time 10 minutes)

    • 2 tablespoons fat (olive/vegetable oil and butter are best)
    • 1 large onion, diced (any kind)
    • 3 or 4 ribs of celery, diced (OR the skinny core of the celery bunch, leaves included)
    • 3 skinny carrots, diced
    • 1(ish) pound (450 grams) mixed diced winter veggies, such as:
      • potatoes/sweet potatoes
      • parsnips, peeled
      • turnips/rutabagas
      • winter squash
      • leeks, the white/light green parts rinsed and thinly sliced
    • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
    • 1ish tablespoon fresh hard herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme, or a mix)
    • 1 ½ -2 liters (6-9 cups) low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock (veer towards the low end for a stew)
    • 2 bay leaves (optional)
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 1/4-3/4 cup (50-150g) uncooked grains such as (in order of cooking time): 
      • couscous
      • bulgur
      • small pasta
      • quinoa
      • white rice
      • pearled barley (best for chew)
      • farro
      • brown rice
      • wheat berries (will take at least an hour of extra cooking time)
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Few handfuls of shredded leaves such as:
      • savoy cabbage
      • brussels sprouts
      • kale
      • chard
      • spinach
    • To serve (optional): grated hard cheese, squirt of Sriracha

    Heat the oil/butter in a large pot.  Add the onion, celery, carrots, and other winter veg, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic, herbs, and a few pinches of salt, and cook for a few minutes more.

    Add the stock bay leaves (if using) and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Stir in whatever grains you're using, and cook as long as indicated on the package (20 minutes for pearl barley [my favorite]), stirring occasionally. 

    Finally add your shredded leaves, and simmer for 5 minutes more.   Taste, and add salt as needed. Serve with freshly ground black pepper, or gussy up with Sriracha and shredded cheese.

    Wednesday, January 4, 2012

    Top Posts of 2011 That Never Came to Pass, a Vision Quest

    In the spirit of attainable goals for the new year, I set out in 2011 to keep up a modest blog average of one post per week.  I thought I was well on-track due to a flurry of inspiration in February until I realized that Blogger also includes unpublished posts in its total stats for the year.  Drat.  In the end, I had only a 96.15% achievement.  Horseshoes and hand grenades, I say.  Let's do better this year.

    I've actually been stricken by a crippling writer's block in the last few months, induced by a complete and utter lack of time to write/take any photos or cook anything besides kale and eggs.  You know the feeling when you want to relish a moment of free time by rounding up the snuggie and watching marathons of Law and Order?  That was my September-December.  It might make sense in these circumstances to half-ass a bad post just to get one in the books.  But why?  I never want to click back through this site and cringe at something that was poorly written.  I'm cringing just thinking about that.

    I try to portray a jaunty, devil-may-care attitude in most Trash Salad posts, but I'm actually quite editorial when it comes to deciding what to put up here.  Food is everywhere and on my mind constantly so I should in theory be provided with endless inspiration.  Sadly, I struggled for that 96%.

    When you first start a blog (Phase 1), you want to do it ALL - give a thorough and witty analysis of every single thing that strikes you throughout the day [Phase 1a: Be sure to include lots of time-consuming visual aids made in Paint].  Phase 2: wait, everything? There isn't any timePhase 3: I can't pick and choose. Guess I'll give up.

    So now I'm moving on to Phase 4, in which I sketch out the posts I didn't finish in order to determine what I want to do more and less of in the future.  A creative vision quest, if you will.  There will obviously be no fasting involved, but I haven't yet ruled out a trip to the sweat lodge.

    Here are three of my favorite post ideas that never came to fruition and the various reasons that led to their demise.

    Topic: Daikon and Carrot Mixed Pickle (also: Baked Oatmeal, Mini Sweet Potato Pies)
    Cause of death: Didn't keep track of ingredients and proportions.

    I went to a pickling event at the Brooklyn Brewery last January in which most of the presenters gave out recipes, and all of them got drunk on winter ale.  And so I thought, if these clowns can not only pickle, but earn a livelihood at it, surely I could too.  Indeed, it is insanely easy.  I matchsticked daikon, carrots, and cucumbers, salted them, and stuck them in a jar with vinegar, sugar, and some spices to create a fantastic sour and crunchy sandwich topping.  Yet didn't write anything down, and continued to shove more veggies into the same pickling liquid for months afterward.  Looking at this photo, apparently cilantro and radishes were involved.  Needless to say, this didn't make for a great pickling tutorial as I originally intended.  Maybe I'm due for a Trash Pickle post?

    Similarly, my approach with baked goods is sometimes a little difficult to capture on paper.  Anytime a recipe looks like it's going south (or even a little bit boring), I'll swoop in and make 17 changes (Trash Baking?).  But then I can't remember these changes and make the same mistakes the next time.  Just write it down girl.  

    Topic: Breakfast Tacos, Truck Style
    Cause of death: Overly complicated recipe

    I had outrageously awesome breakfast tacos sometime last year on a Saturday morning, and set out to recreate them over an entire Sunday.  This effort included an elaborate red onion pickle, sauteed mushrooms and chipotle peppers, roasted potatoes, three-bean/corn salad, fluffy scrambled eggs, and a mango pico de gallo.  And when I finally ate at 5pm, it sure was delicious.  But I was so exhausted from the effort that I couldn't bring myself to write about it.  For what audience would the recipe be for anyway?  Ridiculous.

    Topic: Actual South Dakotan Food, (also: Various Food/Beer Festivals, Trips to Las Vegas/Michigan/Ohio/Florida/Maine/Upstate NY/Cape Cod)
    Cause of death: Experiencing life trumps capturing it

    I really admire people who can give exhaustive rundowns of every restaurant they eat from, fastidiously documenting every second of a trip.  While I have on occasion been coerced into reporting on certain outings, planning to blog about an event, meal or trip means that you spend heaps of time photographing/note-taking when you could be spending time, you know, enjoying yourself.  So I'll take a picture here or there, but for the most part I will do just that and not bother making notes on beer nuances.  Let's get real, my memory is too poor to remember what I've had and enjoyed before (especially, uh, beer), and more importantly, I'm too cheap to buy fancy craft beer outside of a bar anyway. 

    I also never wanted to restaurant reviews in the first place (with the possible future exception of highlighting an awesome local restaurant or great deal).  There's no way you can judge a restaurant by a single dining experience, and it always seems kind of douchey to be taking photos by candlelight.

    So, going forward: write stuff down, focus on the everyday, and don't waste time worrying about it.

    Anything you'd like to see resurrected?