There are a bunch of instant coffee taste-test posts floating around online, so I’m going to ignore all of them and conduct my own. It will probably depend on which one is cheapest at the supermarket that week. I am not bothering to buy a drip machine because last year in Glasgow I did, and it sucked (it was like ten pounds and it came with a German plug, which was weird, and sometimes it would just open by itself while it was coffeeizing), and the ground coffee was too expensive, and sometimes they didn’t have filters in stores and I would have to go to like three or four supermarkets and finally only found them in WAITROSE (omg too many good Waitrose links). So I’m going instant this year. I did it all summer in Russia and didn’t even mind, so this means: 1) I’m way less of a snob than I thought and 2) I have terrible taste in coffee. Café Bustelo 4 lyfe.
HI FROM ESTONIA! I got here almost a week ago and have been subsisting on: “Mexican” wraps from a very small store on the main square where they sort of speak English but which is also unfortunately frequented by loud American teenagers; cheese and Estonian black bread; Nutella, spread with a steak knife because my apartment came with all utensils except butter knives; frozen vareniki and smetana (well, I cooked the vareniki first and the smetana was not frozen); instant coffee (I will totally do a taste test sometime); and овсяная каша с малинами. I bought that last one over cheaper options because the main label was in Russian and I was homesick. Or something. In a land where the main labels are in Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Polish, Finnish, German, and Spanish (in more or less that order), anything Russian is friendly and comforting.
So now it’s a late Sunday afternoon, exactly cooking time according to my habits the last time I regularly updated this blog, and I have an Estonian cold or maybe allergies, and I finally finished washing the pots and pans that came with the apartment and the dishes I bought for fifty cents each from a departing graduate student, and I’m going to cook something.
I’m going to cook something my Russian host mother made for me at the beginning of the summer. Whenever she made something I really liked and I asked what it was, she would say, I don’t know! I just made it up. I haven’t even tried it yet. I don’t know if it will come out. And it always did; but I never got her to teach me how to cook. So I’m making it up, channeling my inner Russian babushka (who may or may not exist), and we’ll see. I thought during this summer that I wanted to cook more without recipes, just inventing with whatever vegetables I wanted to eat, so we’ll see how it goes.
This is going to be a vegetable soup/stew/mixture/thing of cabbage, beets (I like beets now!), potatoes, onions, and carrots, since that’s more or less what was in the one she made, as far as I remember; and I have some vegetable broth things (identical to the ones I bought in Glasgow except in Polish … so actually I don’t really know what they are); and I have salt and pepper, and that’s all. Oh, and some bread, and some cheese that’s in Estonian. It’s called maasdam. I would Google Translate it, but that’s not fun.
IT IS HAPPENING.
Since three people read this blog and they all know that I moved to Glasgow for grad school, I will not update you about how I moved to Glasgow for grad school. But I did. And THEY DON’T HAVE BAGELS HERE. They have most other things that are necessary, but I am, for lack of bagel, starting to become a small, weak, WASPy white-bread of a former human being. So this shit is happening.
I am watching Master Chef Australia. It is Friday night, and I feel pretty good about that. Oh no, Master Chef Australia just stopped working. Pause. Never mind, it’s back. Anyway. I measured warm (???) water, barley malt (which I actually HAD IN MY POSSESSION ALREADY because the spirit of bagel is strong within me), yeast, and salt with my beautiful kitchen scale that came from home with me.
And it’s in my one and only pot (not even a bowl) because I just like didn’t buy cooking supplies when I moved here. And then I measured in the bread flour, and then I mixed it with my pink wooden spoon that is falling apart such that bits of things get stuck inside it and it’s disgusting. And now the dough is resting. Now it’s time to knead. Hold on.
Because I had a grotesque and horrible cold last week (well, I don’t know when I’m going to post this… so let’s just say sometime in the recent past), I needed a dinner recipe for the week that involved no cheese. This was very tragic for me. My first thought was something Asian, but ultimately I chose a Spanish tortilla, and then went to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. (I was sick and in no mood for doing any further research.)
I first spent ninety-seven years slicing three enormous Yukon Gold potatoes (or U.K. Gold, if you are my supermarket and speak imperfect English) and one small onion. I can thereby attest that you should not make this on a weeknight unless you have a mandoline, which I do not. I am, however, an exemplary slicer. But it still took forever.
I cooked the potatoes and onion in a terrifying amount of oil
(most of it gets discarded later, though; so I now have a totally solidified Grey Poupon jar of potato-y, onion-y olive oil in my fridge) for about ten minutes; I should have done slightly less, since the pan I was using was far too big and thus most of the potatoes were in direct contact with the heat source. (SK tells us to use a nine-inch skillet, but I only have one skillet and it is enormous; I didn’t want to risk using a frying pan and having an eggsplosion. This seems like the sort of thing that would happen to me.)
I drained the oil using a colander over a bowl, added s&p, and let them cool a bit while I beat my seven eggs (!!!!). I added s&p and then poured in the potato/onion mixture. They mingled for ten minutes while I did my Russian homework. Я учу русский язык.
I added some oil back into the skillet, then added the egg mixture; I cooked for a bit, trying to let the egg run around the sides as she said, but the pan was so oily that the entire tortilla kept moving whenever I tried to do this.
Once the top was mostly solidified (I’m sorry but I don’t even remotely remember how long this was… five, ten minutes??), I spatula-ed it onto a dinner plate. That part wasn’t too hard—it came right out.
Then I turned the skillet over the plate.
Then I went, what in God’s name do I do now.
I think I just sort of stuck my oven mitt–encased hand under the plate, and then, with my other oven mitt–encased hand on the skillet’s bottom, flipped it over. It was actually not as hard as it sounds, but it was anxiety-provoking.
I put the skillet back over the flame, and learned that the bottom of my tortilla was way too dark. I either overcooked it or had it over too high a flame. (I think the latter; I am overall satisfied with the amount of cooking.)
Then it was done shortly thereafter.
I didn’t think it would be that exciting-tasting, but it was REALLY GOOD. It was like… potato omelette… but in cake form… and it was weirdly addictive and I couldn’t stop eating it. That said, I can’t really imagine ever doing this again, but it was a good experience. And yummy.
I ate it with arugula-and-cherry-tomato salad.
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen; not adapted, so just look at it on her site.
This blog is basically defunct, so I’ll just admit that I’m only posting this to make the recipe easier for me to find. (I got it from a Talk thread on Serious Eats, and it is annoying to keep going back to it.)
These are breakfast bars. They are good. Actually, I had a horrible cold all last week and couldn’t taste them, but I think they’re good. (The first iteration, which I made two weeks ago, had Craisins and smaller chocolate chips and was definitely good, so I assume this one, which has apricots and large chocolate chips, is also good.)
I have some awesome tips for you.
First, mix your dry ingredients—whole wheat flour, ground flax seeds (I’m not sure this serves a purpose other than health; I’ll let you know when I run out of flax seeds and have to start experimenting), oats, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Then, put an open container of honey next to the dry ingredient bowl. Scatter some dried apricots on a cutting board.
Chop the apricots into small pieces. (I think I chopped each apricot into six pieces or so.) Apricots are sticky and this is rather difficult.
Add your chocolate chips, dried fruit, and nuts (I love hazelnuts; use whatever you like) to the dry ingredients.
In a smaller bowl, add about 3/4 c applesauce. (I’m still experimenting with this; but since I use only w.w. flour instead of some w.w. and some white, the dough is much drier and more applesauce is needed. I tried adding some milk last week, but I’m not sure that was a good idea. Still, there is no clear evidence ether way.)
Add 3 tbsp canola oil.
WITH THE SAME TABLESPOON, add 2 tbsp honey. This way the honey will just slide out of the tablespoon; you won’t have any getting-honey-out-of-the-tablespoon crises. It’s awesome.
Mix together, then add to the dry ingredients. It’ll be kind of impossible to stir. I’m going to use my hands the next time I do this.
If baking bars, put in a 9×9 cake pan and bake for about 20 minutes.
If making cookies (probably the superior option), form cookies, put on a sheet pan, and bake for 12-ish minutes.
Adapted from Sourdough, a Serious Eats user
3/4 c whole wheat flour (or 1/2 c whole wheat and 1/4 c white)
1 1/2 c rolled oats
3/4 c ground flax (this is expensive, so you should find a replacement)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 c combination of dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate chips (I just make things easier and do 1/2 c each)
1/2 – 3/4 c unsweetened applesauce
3 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp honey
Mix dry ingredients together, including the add-ins. Mix wet ingredients together in a separate bowl, then combine.
Bake at 350°, either in a cake pan for 20 minutes or as cookies for 12 minutes.
If you intend to keep them around for more than a few days, put them in the fridge.
I am continuing my West African kick with jollof rice, the national dish of a variety of West African countries. I don’t feel qualified to say much else about it; I have no idea if my version was authentic (and if it was originally, it wasn’t after I messed with it); etc. etc. But it is yummy and only gets better as time goes on. I wasn’t thrilled with it on Sunday, but by Tuesday it was really good, all melded together, flavor synthesis, blah blah. I am also so impressed by how the chicken came out that I’m willing to overlook all the other deficiencies, such as excessive tomato flavor such that all the other flavors are sort of lost and… well that pretty much sums it up. I browned, braised, and microwaved the chicken at various points over the last few days, and it’s still moist and yummy and tender and non-dry. And it tastes good. I think this is a function of using thighs and not cutting all the fat off? Or it’s because I used relatively happy chickens? (Let’s just say their lives probably had their ups and downs, but things could have been worse.)
Anyway. I messed up most of this recipe and barely took pictures because I was Skyping the whole time, and it was very stressful going back and forth from the chickeny cutting board to the computer to the recipe etc., and I spent a lot of time staring at the recipe while my sisters wondered what I was doing because it just looked like I was staring at them close-up and creepily. But I wasn’t. (Oh, and there was this one moment where I was getting an incoming Skype call and I got extremely stressed and clicked “accept,” but then I realized I hadn’t washed my hands after cutting some chicken, so I proceeded to spray my computer, mouse, and basically everything nearby with all-purpose kitchen cleaner. Ew. Ugh.)
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.
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.
I have been reading Dorothy Sayers novels all week. I’ve now run out of all the ones I had at my disposal and have to wait until Tuesday [I wrote this on Sunday; I have since gotten another book] to stock up. I feel bereft. All I can think about is when Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane will finally get married. (IF YOU KNOW, DON’T TELL ME!!!!!) It’s like Jane Austen, only with murder. It’s awesome. (Basically it’s posh British people solving murders and being charming and riding horses and driving cars with their gentlemen manservants in the 1920s and 1930s. They say “what ho” sometimes, and things of that nature. It is wonderful. I may devote my life to reading detective novels.)
Anyway, I’m really distracted because of my need to read more Dorothy Sayers. It kind of reminds me of those horrible two weeks after you finish the latest Harry Potter and you know you have to wait two or three years for the next one and you can’t think about anything except Sirius Black and stuff.
I’m making roast beef sandwiches for dinner. That’s not related to Dorothy Sayers, but you can’t really make a post out of roast beef sandwiches (well, that’s not true; I read a number of them, but I don’t have much to add). (You also can’t make a post on a food blog about Dorothy Sayers.)
I almost bought an actual horseradish at the grocery store because I couldn’t find the jarred stuff, but then I found the jarred stuff, in the sketchy aisle in the back with the chicharrones (at least that’s what I thought they were, but there are giant sheets of it so now I’m not sure), hot dogs, and bacon. I do not understand the function of that aisle. It opens into this back area of the supermarket, and things happen back there, but I don’t know what. Sometimes a man watches you while you investigate the hot dog situation. (They don’t have Hebrew National.) It’s uncomfortable. But they had horseradish.
I have created a delightful-smelling but confusing kitchen object. It is like an oatmeal cookie, but for breakfast, and in bar form. They’re sort of like baked oatmeal + cookie + better. (That’s a lie. Cookies are better. These are more breakfasty, though.)
I needed a portable breakfast thing for the foreseeable future, so I did extensive research on granola bars and such and settled on the one that looked the most like a cookie and included chocolate chips. (But she says that it is not very sweet and is suitable for breakfast, and I like her blog title—Big Girls, Small Kitchen—so all in all it seemed like the correct choice.)
The hardest thing about making this was preheating the oven. I REALLY did not want to preheat the oven. I waited until I had basically finished assembling them, and then decided I couldn’t put it off any longer. (And I even turned the air conditioner on to offset the oven, so now global warming is my fault and I feel bad. Sorry, world.) But anyway, what I actually meant was that these are extremely easy—you just put things in a bowl and stir them. I guess the other hard part was opening my jar of peanut butter, and then getting the peanut butter out; it had been all the way in the back of the fridge and had sort of frozen, or at least really intensively solidified.
This is all out of order now. First I assembled the dry ingredients: oats (regular, not instant; maybe this is an unnecessary caveat for everyone but me, who prefers breakfast in 2.5 minutes rather than 6 minutes); whole-wheat flour (store in the fridge or freezer to avoid rancidness); salt; baking powder.
Then I whisked together the wet ingredients—the peanut butter (which did not want to be whisked, but I made it be whisked), sugar (I had to make my brown sugar first, which was annoying), oil (I used peanut because it seemed like it would be less weird than olive). Then I added the egg and then the milk.
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.
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.