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Archive for July, 2009

Puke in a Pot

Black beans and tofu make awkward bedfellows on their own.

Black beans and tofu, awkward bedfellows.

Call me confessional, but I occasionally feel the need to share my most orchestral of bad calls and so direct your attention to the accompanying photo:

No, an obese seagull with the trots did not waddle into my kitchen under cover of night to painfully relieve itself in my crockery. I simply made the unfortunate mistake of crumbling firm tofu into a pot of black beans, with a dash of cumin and garlic salt (no redemption there), for dinner one night.

Now, I usually like to think that I have something of an instinct for what can, and what probably should not, be combined, flavor-wise. Given this spectacular failure (that may seem obvious to some), I tried to put my finger on what exactly went so wrong, what particular factors elevated this meal from a vaguely unsatisfying one to such a virile gestalt of culinary horror?

Beyond the much-discussed visual aspect, the texture of the dish was all wrong: the wateriness of the bean mixture coupled with the graininess of the actual beans–which would usually be tasty, and convey wholesomeness–together with the lumpy slipperiness of the tofu was textural overload. I don’t think it helped that from a nutritional standpoint, I created a veritable protein Frankenstein: there’s just no call for that much protein, especially with so little fat and carbs to soften the edges, and create a varied and balanced meal.

So, lesson learned: Beans and tofu. Just say no. Or be sure to add lots of salsa and some corn (and maybe some sour cream, and chopped spinach?) to the mix and eat it with an oven-toasted tortilla, or some kind of carb, for god’s sake.

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A friend turned me on to http://www.101cookbooks.com recently, which I hadn’t realized was the creation of one person (and just one facet of the very enviable life of blogger Heidi Swanson) because it comes up so high in search rankings when I lazily troll for recipes involving specific ingredients (versus going to an actual recipe site like http://www.epicurious.com). I was impressed by how cleanly executed and recipe-driven a food blog it is while still being quite personal. I was even more impressed–and by way more senses–by the revelation of a savory muffin recipe I found there.

Now, your regular savory muffin isn’t much to write home about: same basic ingredients as the sweet breakfast standard, but with blueberries swapped out in favor of, say, gruyere and grated zucchini. I don’t turn my nose up at that kind of muffin (though my torrid muffin phase did crest and taper off after age 15) so much as I’m uninspired by them, transparently composed cakelets that they are. So what’s so special about these muffins? They are really mini-quiches, for one, and are aggressively tasty and receptive to flavor experimentation. Secondly, they have cottage cheese and ground almonds as the base: not a combination I would have ever predicted, but the spongy density and general heft and richness were so right, I couldn’t believe I’d never used that kind of mixture as a base for anything before. Also, the fact that this is a “throw everything in the bowl and stir” recipe makes it really easy to make. A good hangover breakfast for the somewhat ambitious (grocery store trips can be prohibitive)!

I don’t even like cottage cheese, usually: it reminds me of the anthropological distance and wistful, lightly naseauating time travel that happens when I scan the diet plates section of the menu at old-fashioned diners. Cottage cheese, tomato slices, served on a bed of romaine with a fruit cup. Or cottage cheese served with bun-less burger patty which, even as a non-meat eater, makes my heart sad.

Ok, back to low-carb muffins. (Low carb for variety, not for low carb sake! I weary of my bread-as-first-fiddle sometimes.) Heidi suggests lots of different flavoring options from chipotle to pesto, but I was taken with the simplicity of chopped thyme and lemon zest. The original recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes, but those chewy monsters–whose late 90’s omnipresence I’ve still not forgiven them for–are best substituted out. Even after day 3, I was only borderline weary of eating these, and the shredded broccoli and carrot slaw I made to go with them. (NB: 2 parts greek yogurt to one part sour cream with a little sugar and whole mustard makes a great mayo-free dressing for coleslaw-type chilled salads.)

Without further ado, here is the recipe, now twice-removed, from Rose Eliot’s Vegetarian Supercook. My notes are in somewhat alarming caps throughout (can’t find the font color option…):

Sun-dried Tomato Cottage Cheese Muffin Recipe

You can use the flour of your choice in this recipe. The original recipe calls for soy flour (great for people looking for a gluten-free option), I use white whole wheat flour – unbleached all-purpose flour will work as well. To grind the almonds I gave them a whirl in my food processor. You are looking for a flour-like consistency – be sure to stop short of turning them into an almond paste.

1 cup plain cottage cheese (low-fat is fine) TRUE
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated I’M A CHEESE GLUTTON, AND YOU CAN USE LESS HAPPILY
1/4 cup flour (see headnotes)
1 cup almonds, very finely ground ALMOND FLOUR, 3/4 CUP, WORKED GREAT
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (in oil), finely chopped
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup water
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Line a muffin pan with medium-sized paper baking cups, you’ll need nine of them.

Put the cottage cheese into a bowl with all but 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, water, and eggs, and season with salt, then mix all together.

Spoon the mixture into the muffing cups 3/4 full, scatter with the remaining Parmesan, and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until set, risen, and golden brown. Serve as hot or at room temperature.

Makes 9 muffins. MY MIX MADE 12. I HAVE NO THEORIES ON THAT, THOUGH.

Here’s the link to the full recipe, post, and comments: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/cottage-cheese-muffins-recipe.html

The urge to make a wince-worthy thyme/time-related joke for closure is almost too much…Um, yay for a most welcome new (to me) breed of muffin?

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baskinA girl sitting next to me on the F train to work a few days ago was reading a faded paperback, with old marigold darkening the corners. I was intrigued by the age of the book, and also what looked to be an odd list-like formatting, so peered over a little more intently and saw…a recipe for a Saucy Snowball?!

To my greater alarm, the recipe was prefaced ominously with a short preamble titled, “First Snowball,” apparently intended to put the first-time Snowball maker at ease by way of some general notes about this particular style of culinary preparation before delving into the dizzying details of Snowball recipes and variations.

I suppose it goes without saying at this point that the girl was reading a cookbook on the train. After some understated but spastic pelican-type neck motions, I was able to get a quick, partial look at the cover: it was a super old-school Baskin Robbins cookbook! In case you’re not from the West Coast–I can’t remember how far East the brand has penetrated–Baskin Robbins is probably the biggest ice cream shop chain, and has been advertising their wide frozen confection selection via a “31 Flavors” tag line for years.

So it was exciting to see a whole paperback, in the typical teensy type of mass market fiction, devoted to ice cream recipes.

Beyond wondering where she’d found this odd gem (and thinking of my good friend who worked at Baskin Robbins during high school after quitting ballet who developed a pronounced and asymmetrical scooping bicep and later went on to include ice cream flavor choice as the lead metaphor in her valedictorian speech), I wish I’d been able to visually eavesdrop long enough to absorb the recipe for a “Scorpion,” the only other recipe title I was able to catch.

The other funny thing about this run-in was just how deadpan the girl’s face was, as if she wasn’t reading a book that was a veritable fountain of hilariously named dishes, embellished upon in earnest prose. Maybe the act of being watched quashed her fun?

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