THE RETURN OF THE COOK!

Many things have happened since last I wrote, both in life and apparently in WordPress. Everything looks very scary and confusing. (Am I talking about life or WordPress?! You’ll never know.)

So I have returned from glorious Estonia 🇪🇪 🇪🇪 🇪🇪 🇪🇪 🇪🇪  and am in AMERICA for like a month. I have been enjoying my gluttonous, wicked comforts, such as air conditioning and General Tso’s chicken (haha lol oops vegetarianism). And I bought challah. And the chip-and-pin machines don’t work here. And everyone speaks English, which is terrible, because you have to hear all the very dumb things they say. Personal favorite: “I totally just had the runs in that bathroom!” I heard that on 6th Avenue and 34th Street. And I keep drinking Starbucks, because they don’t have it in Estonia, and in Russia I can’t understand what they say because they speak in Russian. Basically I’m enjoying myself.

I was *extremely* thirsty while I was grocery shopping just now, so I bought, among other things, Gatorade (bright green because I love green), watermelon, and the ingredients for dill pickles (or basically just dill and cucumbers since I forgot all the other ingredients). If we have vinegar in the house, I am going to make them.

After searching for vinegar: Here is a picture of all the vinegars we have in the house. Most of them were donated to my parents by me, two years ago, when I moved out of the Official Relatively Shitty Apartment. And none of them is white vinegar, except for the one that is white vinegar, but there’s like hardly any white vinegar left.

I also found a six-pack of Harpoon Rye IPA, which sounds like the best thing ever, but it was filled with Sam Adams. Ahem, parents.

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Ghanaian stew, kind of

I spent an extremely long time the other day looking for a black-eyed peas recipe that wasn’t lobia or hoppin’ john. I was first led to Red-Red by a Whole Foods post, and then finally I found what seemed like a more legit recipe. (I love that The Spice Island stresses how salty this should be. They know what’s up.) Red-Red is a Ghanaian stew—red for the red palm oil (which I substituted because I couldn’t find any, but then I remembered I could have just gone to one of the West African markets in Harlem and found some, probably) and red for the tomatoes. That’s all I can tell you about it, though; I could not possibly know less about Ghanaian food. Or Ghana, actually. Though I do know multiple people who have lived there.

This recipe has tons of onions, tons of tomatoes (real ones! not canned!), and tons of hot peppers. I used jalapeños rather than habaneros, both because habaneros scare me and because I couldn’t find any. (Well, I found something that looked exactly like habaneros, but it had a different name, and I didn’t want to accidentally feed myself something on the same heat spectrum as Scotch bonnets.) I am now glad about this because my hands are still burning from the jalapeños, and I chopped them more than twelve hours ago. I think I have skin problems. Or maybe I burned myself on, like, a pot or something.

OK, I forgot to mention the black-eyed peas business. I knew I had to soak them for three or four hours, if not overnight, so I put them in to soak and went about my day. Then I drained them, rinsed them, and added more water and put them on the stove. I looked at my previous blog post to see how long they should cook, but it was very unhelpful. I can now sympathize with all of you. (I ended up cooking them for about 50 minutes. When they were done, the liquid was all black. I was freaked out; I assume that if this had happened to me before, I would have recorded it. It almost seemed like they were white beans that someone had drawn a black eye on and the ink had all washed off. But … I mean … that probably didn’t happen?)

After they were done—the timing was a bit off because I was doing all this during/after dinner—I chopped my enormous quantities of onions, then tomatoes. Ugh, and jalapeños.

Beautiful lovely tomatoes, and evil jalapeños. (From my parents’ garden and a farmers’ market.)

Then I put a bunch of dried shrimp (I was aiming to end up with 2 tsp, but I didn’t really measure) into my food processor and ground them (it has a spice-grinding setting; it doesn’t work very well on actual spices). They became a sort of shrimp powder, though in slightly larger bits than I wanted.

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Sichuan/Szechuan/!!! (part 2)

Here is a paragraph I wrote while very annoyed that I couldn’t finish cooking:

I am sitting here unable to finish (or start, actually) making my Sichuan dry-fried green beans because my shrimps have not finished rehydrating. I did not know they needed to rehydrate until I had finished chopping everything else, and now they are sitting in a pool of water glumly. It might take twenty minutes. I am hungry. This is not something that happens every day. (The shrimp, not my being hungry. That happens multiple times a day.)

Now here is the rest of the post.

This all took place in that yada-yada’d area of the first Sichuan post.

I began by preparing my string beans—stacking them on one end, slicing off the ends, and doing the same to the other end, then cutting them in half. I hadn’t been terribly excited about this recipe, but I wanted a vegetable side dish that went with the dan dan noodles. Then, once I opened the bag of green beans, I suddenly remembered how much I love them raw. I ate a few; I love the crunch, the watery sweetness? That they taste green and of dirt. I have half a pound left and I hope they don’t go bad.

Then I sliced my mini-shiitakes, first pulling the stems out (not sure if that’s necessary, but they always seem slightly gross). I should have washed them or wiped them with a wet paper towel, but I didn’t do either. There’s a lot of controversy. Then I read the recipe again and realized I had to rehydrate my shrimp. So I sat around for a while.

Then—still during the rehydrating—I heated the oil in my larger pasta pot and, once a string bean I added began to sizzle, added about half the string beans. They sizzled away for about four minutes, after which time I thought they were shriveled enough to be considered done.

It’s hard to photograph green beans sizzling in oil.

I drained them in my colander on the suggestion of Use Real Butter. By then I figured the shrimp bits were hydrated enough, so I chopped them into smaller bits (they were still rather tough, but I have no idea what they’re supposed to end up like, texturally) and diced more preserved mustard greens.

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This tastes less like Golden Garden than I wish it did.

Golden Garden is your average Chinese-American takeout place in my town on Long Island. I am in constant need of an exact replica of their spicy broccoli in garlic sauce, and this recipe is another attempt to imitate it. I more or less lived on that stuff when I was vegetarian, and have very distinct memories of reading the fifth Harry Potter while eating it. Actually I’m not sure why I was ever able to eat it again after that experience. Those emotional wounds have not yet healed.

Anyway, tonight I made spicy broccoli. Recipe courtesy of Macheesmo (excellent blog name), who adapted it from Cook’s Illustrated, which is always a good sign. The produce-scale in my grocery store has been broken for weeks, so I couldn’t weigh my broccoli, and ended up not buying enough. I did try to weigh it by comparing it to a conveniently labeled hunk of kabocha squash, but then I didn’t feel like adding more broccoli to my broccoli bag even though I clearly didn’t have enough. So I approximately two-thirded the recipe in the end.

This is the size of my broccoli-crown pieces. I like very small, soft broccoli bits.

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Israeli couscous with eggplant and tomato

Here is the very belated second post of the week. While I am writing this, I still haven’t tasted it because of hopefully unfounded stomach fears… but I’ll have some soon and let you know. It smelled and looked amazing, so I think it will be fine.

I had been meaning to make this for several years, but never got around to it, even after Jacqui found and bought me some whole-wheat Israeli couscous (for less than like $8/lb, which is what Fairway sells it for, blehhh).

I don’t know if it’s because this happened so long ago or because it was really easy, but I can’t think of a whole lot to say about this. It was easy.

I take a LOT of pictures of steam by accident.

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Meat salad

I just thought I should check in and let you all know that I am not dead. I have one more post besides this one to share, but I am doing this one first because it’s shorter. I have developed a delightful condition in which eating any food leads to horrible stomach pain, so writing a food blog is intensely unpleasant right now. Nevertheless, here you are.

The bear (a bag clip) seems to want to eat this salad.

I decided I should have salad for lunch this week, because I didn’t want to cook. I found a bunch of contenders (because for some reason I could not come up with my own salad recipe… I now have no idea what was so difficult about it, but I guess I wanted something more interesting), wrote down the ingredient lists for a few of them, and then spent literally an hour at the grocery store trying to decide which to make. I was in a haze of exhaustion (I ended up going to bed at 9 p.m. that night) for unknown reasons and just COULD NOT make a decision. At one point I was in the deli line to buy ham; then I left to check to see if there were radishes for sale; then I went back to the line and bought salami and provolone. This sounds like the setup to a one-minute mystery. (The only one I remember: A man goes into a restaurant and orders pelican soup. He takes a bite, then goes outside and shoots himself.)

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You will regret reading this. It’s disgusting.

A few notes on this post (ugh, this already sounds like a work e-mail):

  1. If you don’t like it, you may blame Fig’s aunt. (I won’t link to her in case that’s weird.) She requested a new post. I was going to write one anyway, but then I started to feel gross, so I changed my mind, but then I changed it back again.
  2. There is a very small chance I am dying. If you don’t hear from me in a week, you may assume I am dead and move on to greener blog pastures.
  3. Everything you are about to read is gross and unpleasant, and will involve conversations with things and creatures that cannot speak in reality. (Update: I was going to relate a conversation with Fitzpatrick, but I won’t bother. It was even weirder than the rest of all this.)

A straggly band of loners. The roots of tomato disease are already visible.

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What I did for food

Woah.

I have just made an unbelievable salad.

I know.

It’s from Plenty (but I modified it; also, wow, the American edition of the book is actually prettier), and it was easy, and it is amazing. Vinegary. Broiled tomatoes. Sweet. Aaaah.

Tomatoes before broiling

(Also, I created a very deep gash in my thumb during this evening’s cooking festivities, and bandaged it up and went right on chopping. It was one billion percent my fault—I’m not used to using knives that can actually cut you and did something truly moronic, and cut myself right after thinking “This may not be safe”—and actually it was while I was chopping for things for r&b for lunch, not for this. But still. Also, no one wants another post about r&b, so I have to tell you about it here.) Continue reading

I theoretically love you

The vegetable dish for the week: potato and pea curry. This sounds like everything I would love (well, I really love potatoes). It is actually very good, but:

1. As with every single thing I’ve ever made, ever, the flavors are muted. Probably the fault of old chili powder and old turmeric and old (well, new, but made with old spices) garam masala. Oh, whoops, I never actually added the garam masala. (Also I just spelled that mamasala, which I like better.)

2. There are way too many potatoes. It tastes more like a carb course than a vegetable course. So it’s sort of weird to eat with rice on the side. It isn’t vegetabley enough.

3. There’s SOMETHING about it. I don’t know. Not enough flavor? DEPTH OF FLAVOR? (That’s a concept I don’t really understand.)

But I do like it, and if you want to, you may make it. Just add more spices. Or fresher spices. I think I’ll probably make it again, and/or experiment with it; it is a good combination of things.

I diced my potatoes and tomatoes into approximately half-inch dice (this is pretty small; I wanted them to be close in size to the peas. They’re bigger, but pea-sized potato pieces would be a little insane).

I have a very hard time taking photos of white food.

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Don’t worry, I’m not calling these tortas

It is so late in the week that I can’t remember why I decided to make non-tortas for lunch this week. I think it was because I found this bread I really like at my supermarket but have run out of things I want to put on it. (One week of turkey is really all I can handle.) So I decided to use them to make totally inauthentic tortas. Or cemitas. I don’t know the difference; I’m very sorry. (You know what’s weird? This is not the first time I’ve looked at that link.)

So I think the main quality of cemitas and tortas is the bread they’re made with, so I completely failed from the start. It occurred to me later that I probably could have done it right—there is an amazing-smelling Mexican bread store literally right next door—but I went the whole-wheat route because I suffer from extreme, constant hunger.

Anyway. These are sandwiches inspired by tortas. I used Goya refried beans, because I was lazy, and mozzarella cheese, because I had a lot left and didn’t think I would be able to get through a whole ball of Oaxaca cheese before it went moldy. (They taste and feel very similar to me—or at least they do when you buy the inauthentic, un-fresh kind you get in supermarkets—so I didn’t worry about it too much. But now I feel like if they are really that similar, I should have just bought Oaxaca cheese and used the leftover for baked ziti. Would that have been weird? I have a feeling I will find out at some point.) I used a quick recipe to make pickled jalapeños rather than Pati Jinich’s recipe, because by the time I realized they would be sitting in the fridge all night anyway it was too late and I had none of the ingredients for Pati’s (probably better) version. Or I didn’t want to scale down a recipe that called for three pounds of jalapeños into one that used no more than six jalapeños.

Pickling. Don’t breathe.

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