Monday, September 29, 2008

On Breakfast and the Benefits of Being Well-Read

The cheese drawer can turn on you if you don’t watch it. Some of its residents don’t have a very long life span. Neufchatel cheese is particularly deceptive. Even though it comes packaged in a nice, factory-sealed foil pouch, it doesn’t like being tossed into the cheese drawer and then ignored. It wants to be used early and often until you’re left scraping the last smears of white cheese off the wrapper.

My problem is that my cheese drawer gets crowded. I love cheese, and I can hardly resist a two-for-one sale when it comes to my favorites. But unless I’m making cheesecake, 16 ounces of Neufchatel is just too much. Maybe I should make cheesecake more often? I’ll keep that idea in mind for future reference, as I rather like the idea of making—and eating!—more cheesecake. For now, though, I cast my thoughts back in time so I can tell you the story of my new favorite breakfast.

If I were a type of bread, I would be a loaf of pumpernickel. It’s an odd choice, I know. If loving pumpernickel makes me odd, then I don’t want to to be normal. I like pumpernickel’s rich distinctive flavor, laced with rye and caraway seed. Since I don’t eat pumpernickel every day, it feels like a treat when I buy a loaf. Some days I really need a treat, even if it’s just a loaf of unusual bread.

I was thinking about pumpernickel because the most delicious-looking recipe caught my eye, a recipe for “Breakfast Crostini” (what a great name!) and I found it so compelling that I knew I had to make it. By “make it,” I really mean use this recipe to make something similar to the fruit-and-cheese-covered toasts staring back at me. I figured, Hey, it’s just toast—what could be easier to tweak?

The original recipe mixes softened dried cherries, honey, cinnamon, and a tiny bit of orange zest into mascarpone cheese. Have you ever tried mascarpone cheese? It’s insanely rich—it tastes like very thick heavy cream to me, which is fine and dandy, but it doesn’t do much for me. I like my cheese to have a little more tang to it, so my first thought was to use the Neufchatel that had been languishing in my cheese drawer ever since the two-for-one sale at Jewel. Unfortunately, the Neufchatel had passed its prime, so instead of placing it in a bowl, I placed it in the garbage.

I still wanted my Breakfast Crostini the next morning, but I was running out of options. Here’s where being an avid cookbook-reader saves the day. I’m rather fond of cookbooks with hippie roots—I’m looking at you, Moosewood—and apparently, hippies are really fond of making yogurt cheese. Yogurt cheese is super-simple to make: line a colander with a coffee filter, spoon some yogurt into the filter, place the colander over something into which it can drain (like a bowl), and pop the whole thing in the fridge. Come back 10-12 hours later and you’ll have a thick yogurt with a pool of liquid whey underneath it. The texture of yogurt cheese is really luscious. Looser than cream cheese and with the tang of yogurt, it’s creamy and dreamy. You might even say it’s like masarpone cheese, all tarted up. It’s the stuff of which perfect mornings are made.

Into the yogurt cheese I stirred honey, cinnamon, lime zest, and softened cherry-flavored cranberries. The intention was to spread this mixture on toasted pumpernickel bread, but this yogurt cheese concoction is so utterly, lickably delicious that I’d like to be left alone with it, spoon in hand. It’s both sweet and tart, with hints of spice and citrus and nuggets of soft fruit. I’m totally enamored with it. And it does pair remarkably well with pumpernickel toast, adding crunch and chew to breakfast, just enough to wake you up. If breakfast can peel my eyes open while I fill my belly, then I might be tempted to start calling myself a morning person. Or at least a breakfast person.

Breakfast Crostini
Adapted from Food Network Kitchens Cookbook
Makes ~8 crostini*

These breakfast crostini are a little bit unusual, but they are ridiculously easy to make and eat. I’ve been eating them with a ripe pear and washing the whole thing down with a Chai Latte. This breakfast is a nice change of pace from my usual bowl of cereal.

For the yogurt cheese:
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt (I use lowfat yogurt)

1) Line a fine-meshed sieve or a colander with a coffee filter. Place it over something into which the yogurt can drain, like a bowl. Spoon the yogurt into the sieve and refrigerate the whole thing for ~10 hours. I get about 1 cup of yogurt cheese here.

For the crostini:
8 slices of pumpernickel bread
1/4 cup cherry-flavored dried cranberries
1/2 cup hot water
1 cup yogurt cheese (see above)
2 tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. finely grated lime peel

1) Toast the pumpernickel bread in either the toaster or an oven set to 350 degrees F.
2) In a small, heat-safe bowl, stir the cranberries into the hot water. Cover and let the fruit sit in the water for 5 minutes. Drain the water and add the fruit to the yogurt cheese. (If you are toasting your bread in the oven, now would be a good time to flip over the slices so that they will toast evenly.)
3) Measure the honey, cinnamon, and lime peel into the yogurt cheese. Stir to combine.
4) Spread the pumpernickel toasts with the fruited yogurt cheese and serve at once.

*If you are making breakfast for one, like I usually am, you can make a full batch of the fruited yogurt cheese and store it in the fridge. In that case, toast only enough pumpernickel bread for a single breakfast, perhaps 2 or 3 slices, depending on how hungry you are. The yogurt cheese keeps well for at least several days in the fridge, if not longer.

Monday, September 22, 2008

One Last Zucchini

Today is the first day of fall, and legally, it should be the end of zucchini season. I hear those of you who garden have been losing your minds trying to figure out what to do with your summer squash. I don’t wish to offend, but I have no sympathy for you. Despite my numerous pleas, no one has left any zucchini in my mailbox nor at my front door. I’m thinking about opening up a Zucchini Orphanage in the hopes of attracting some donations.

Despite the promises of fall—its cool breezes, orange pumpkins, cozy sweaters, steaming mugs of hot apple cider—I don’t mind a zucchini or two lurking around my kitchen. I really like zucchini! I like their mild flavor, the way they add texture and bulk to soup, and the way they add toothsome vegetal layers to pizza. I like the way they require minimal prep work—no peeling necessary, and you can cut or grate them in less time than it takes to groan, “Not another zucchini!” But the real reason I’m discussing zucchini with you on the first day of fall is because I’ve got the perfect recipe in hand for one last zucchini: Southwestern Tofu Scramble.

I deserve absolutely no credit here. The recipe is from EatingWell (did anyone else not realize this magazine spells its name as one word?), but I raise my spoon to my friend Nicole, who is brilliant. Nicole gave the recipe two thumbs up and told me I really ought to try it. She is a wonderful source of recipes and cooking recommendations; Nicole clearly knows her stuff when it comes to tofu. This recipe does not disappoint. Seasoned with classic southwestern spices and packed full of vegetables, this is tofu at its friendliest and most delicious. As lunch or dinner, it is light yet filling (always a mysterious combination in my mind) and it reheats well in the microwave for a brown-bag lunch at work. I’ve only made this recipe for me, but I have no problem polishing off all the leftovers. Nicole is usually cooking for two, and she’s even inclined to double the recipe because it makes for such good lunches. If you have to share your tofu scramble, that’s a wise strategy indeed.

Southwestern Tofu Scramble
From EatingWell magazine
Makes 3-4 servings

This recipe is fantastic, and I follow it almost exactly as the magazine published it. The spicing and saltiness are perfect; I don’t tinker with those things here. I do, however, play it loose with the final add-ins: the cheese, salsa, and fresh cilantro. For all of these things, I just add a dollop or a few fresh leaves and call it lunch. I’ve listed both the magazine’s suggested measurements as well as adding my own “to taste” instructions, which, quite frankly, could be added in bold letters to just about any recipe. You should always feel free to play around in the kitchen, but some recipes are more playful than others.

To round out this entrĂ©e into a meal, I like to eat it with corn chips and a green salad or a piece of fruit. Or all three if I’m feeling especially hungry.

3 tsp. canola oil, divided
1 14-oz. package of firm or extra-firm water-packed tofu, drained and crumbled into small pieces (I just break it into small pieces with my fingers)
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin powder
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1 small or medium zucchini, diced
3/4 cup frozen corn (thawed or not—EatingWell suggests thawing it, but I never do because I’m lazy. It’s your call.)
4 scallions, sliced into small pieces
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack or sharp cheddar cheese, or to taste
1/2 cup salsa, or to taste
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, or to taste

1) In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 1/2 tsp. of the canola oil over medium heat. Add the crumbled tofu, chili powder, cumin, and 1/4 tsp. of salt. Cook for 4-6 minutes, stirring frequently. This step infuses the tofu with the spices. Transfer tofu mixture to a bowl.
2) Add the remaining 1 1/2 tsp. of canola oil to the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the zucchini, corn, and scallions along with the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are just tender. Add the vegetables to the bowl containing the tofu and mix thoroughly.
3) At this point, if you are using cheese, you can either add it to the bowl containing the tofu and vegetables or you can sprinkle some cheese on top of individual servings. Add some salsa and cilantro to each serving if desired. Eat.

Monday, September 15, 2008

With a Little Bit of Faith

I’ve never met a falafel I didn’t like. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, falafel is, to me, the reason to patronize Middle Eastern restaurants. Every place has its own spin on falafel: how it ought to be prepared, how it ought to be served. Fast-food joints might deep-fry big fat falafel balls and scoop them into hearty rolls along with some lettuce and tomato and a slathering of tahini sauce. Fancier destinations might prepare you a plate with dainty nuggets of falafel, surrounded by a delicious array of vegetables and a sauce or two with which to accessorize. But my very favorite place to eat falafel is my kitchen table.

Sadly, for many years I was ignorant about how easily falafel—essentially a spiced chickpea batter, shaped into patties or balls and then fried or baked—can be made at home. The only thing required by falafel-making is a little bit of faith. The batter always seems unpromising to me, since it’s all cold and wet and slimy. It bears no resemblance at all to cheerfully fried and gussied-up restaurant falafel. One wonders how on earth is this stuff going to hold together? But with a little bit of faith, it does. And it’s delicious.

I’m so smitten with homemade falafel that I have no fewer than three versions that I make regularly. This recipe is my go-to busy-day staple; it comes together uber-fast with pantry staples—no last-minute shopping required! Rachael Ray’s magazine has published an interesting variation on falafel, very similar in structure to my staple recipe. (Word to the wise: if you use hot fire-roasted chilies in Rachael’s recipe, your patties will be seriously spicy, so choose your chilies carefully! Also, the cooking instructions in that recipe don’t produce the same crunch as this recipe, so I recommend cooking her patties using the stovetop instructions here.) Finally, and this one I want to share with you today, falafel need not be limited by cumin and its cohorts. I stole away with Crescent’s baked falafel. We (the falafel and me, that is) went to Italy together. A splash of olive oil and a few herbs later, I have returned with a specimen that makes a great lunch…and makes me awfully happy.

Baking falafel is an interesting proposition. Usually I pan-fry falafel at home, using a tablespoon of olive oil for two patties in a ten-inch skillet. This strategy makes for a crispy, browned patty that isn’t dripping with oil—a reasonable compromise, I think, between tastebuds and waistband. Baking falafel allows one to consider an even more reasonable number of fat grams, but here’s the thing: baked falafel loves to stick to its pan. Oh, it’s terrible how well baked falafel sticks, even on a pan coated with nonstick spray. I howled in frustration the first time it happened. Every single one of my lovely patties lost their crunchy bottom coat, no matter how carefully I tried to slide my flipper underneath them. The next time, I used my new Silpat. It worked like a charm: no sticking at all. I flipped all six patties effortlessly, crunchy bottoms intact. While I’m normally a “make-do-with-what-you-have” kinda girl, I highly, highly recommend investing in a Silpat. Silpats are great for any situation where you need a nonstick baking surface; I use it mostly for baking delicate cookies. I bought mine for ~$15 with one of those ubiquitous coupons from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, with a little help from Daphna and her glove compartment stashed with coupons (thanks, D!). For anyone who bakes frequently, Silpats make life happy.

These Italian-spiced falafels can be eaten with any number of yummy sauces or tidbits. They can be eaten plain as a comforting, low-key food. I wouldn’t call them bland, but they don’t knock you over the head with flavor. To me, this is a good thing because the patties can become the base of a meal, the foundation upon which you layer additional flavors. I like them with a basic marinara sauce (storebought is fine—just be sure it’s a sauce you like) and a sprinkling of cheese. Another option is to top the patties with discs of snowy white mozzarella, the freshest stuff you can find. Add a scoop of simple tomato salad dressed in oil and red wine vinegar with a pinch of salt and sugar. Have a bite of patty with cheese and tomato: the vinegar brightens the patty’s flavor and makes the mozzarella taste even creamier. For a deeper, more complex sauce, I think this Classic Italian Vinaigrette is a good choice, although it’s one I haven’t tried yet. It’s on the menu for dinner tonight, so I’ll report back on how things go.

And if you, dear reader, put these patties on your dinner menu, report back on how things go!

Baked Falafel Patties with Italian Herbs
Adapted from “Neo-Traditional Falafel” in Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon
Makes 6 patties (enough to serve three if you serve the patties with extras and a hearty side salad)

Two things make this recipe a keeper in my book: one is their texture. Bulgur makes each bite a little nubbly, while baking them gives them a nice crispy coat. The other noteworthy tidbit is their excellent nutritional profile. Chickpeas provide loads of fiber and protein, while a spoonful of olive oil adds a bit of fat and a lot of flavor. The egg binds everything together during baking and gives us a little bit of the good stuff eggs have to offer—choline and all the rest. Best of all, this recipe can be easily tweaked to your taste. Play around with the herbs, the spiciness, and the sauces with which you top your patties. I think they’re open to many interpretations of flavor.

1/4 cup bulgur
1/2 cup water
1 16-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. spicy Italian pizza seasoning
A sprinkling of crushed red chile peppers, optional (use if you like a little heat)
1-2 tbsp. minced chives or parsley leaves
1/3 cup breadcrumbs or oat flour*
1 tbsp. garlic-infused olive oil or regular olive oil

1) Place the bulgur in a heatproof bowl. (I use a thick ceramic soup bowl.) Bring the 1/2 cup of water to a boil and pour it over the bulgur. Give it a good stir and cover the whole thing with a saucer or small plate to hold in the heat. Let the bulgur soak for 20-30 minutes to absorb the water. Drain off any water that has not been absorbed.
2) Meanwhile, place about 1/4 of the chickpeas in a large mixing bowl. Place the remaining 3/4 in a food processor. Add to the food processor the garlic, egg, salt, all spices, and the chives or parsley leaves. Buzz until everything is blended together into a thick paste. You may need to stop and scrape everything down a few times.
3) Using a potato masher, coarsely mash the chickpeas that you placed in your mixing bowl. Add the bulgur and scrape the chickpea batter from the food processor into the mixing bowl. Stir the breadcrumbs or oat flour and oil into the batter.
4) Place the batter in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or longer to let the batter firm up a bit. This step will make it easier to form the batter into patties for baking.
5) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat.
6) Using your hands, divide the chickpea batter in half. Divide each half into thirds. Shape each third into a patty using your hands. I shape mine until they are about as big as my palm, ~3 inches wide and half an inch thick. Place each patty on the Silpat with two inches or so between patties.
7) Bake the patties for 25 minutes. Take them out, flip them over (I do this using two pancake flippers, one to slide under the patty and the other to keep the patty from being nudged away from my flipper), and place the baking sheet back in the oven for another 5 minutes. By this time, they should be firm with a nice, crispy coat.
8) Serve with your choice of sauce and vegetables.

*Oat flour can be made by whirling rolled oats in a blender or a food processor. If you use oat flour, you end up with two whole grains in your patties: whole wheat from the bulgur and whole oats!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When the Stars Align with Basil

Rain fell in sloppy sheets, cold and unrelenting. In the darkness of a September evening, I hurried home, my spirits buoyed by an unusually good day at work. That afternoon, my advisor spoke to me the sweetest words a graduate student could ever hope to hear, words like “graduation” and “publication” and “committee meeting.” We were collaborators, plotting out my year of research plans. He was happy, I think, to hear me declare, “I really want to finish my degree!” I am astonished to see everything falling into place as though we planned it this way.

We did plan it this way, but oh, how easily my plans are thwarted! I have come to expect the unexpected, to expect that things will not go as planned. Life is awfully messy. It takes faith to believe that things will work out, that you will be okay. But on that rainy, cold Monday, a river of good news flowed toward me. Manuscript proofs showed up in my in-box: a Journal of Neuroscience document with my name on it. My name. On proofs. It took my breath away; I could have fainted from excitement! I spent the rest of the afternoon with my proofs and my black pen, editing, correcting, squinting at italics and rolling my eyes at the mistakes added to our manuscript during the journal’s editing process. When my black pen and I were finished, I left the proofs on my advisor’s door and scurried home to my kitchen, where my basil awaited me.

Although I love to cook and I cook often, I’m no rock star in the kitchen. My food is always edible, but it doesn’t always wow me. I don’t tell you too much about those meals, dear reader. Why write about mediocre meals? I want to leave you with something really amazing, so I hem and haw over recipes and stories, looking for a gem that is worthy of your attention. Today I bring you a gem of a pesto recipe.

Despite fabulous food shopping, my weekend cooking was rather unremarkable. I made risotto for the first time ever—very exciting, but the final result was a tiny bit disappointing. The recipe was packed with summer vegetables and fresh basil—hence I bought basil at the farmer’s market—but the final dish lacked a certain sparkle that I was hoping to taste. The flavors were muddy and dull, like there was too much going on in one spoonful. Perhaps the rich vegetable stock I used in place of water plus bouillon cubes overwhelmed the fresh vegetables, or perhaps I’m going through a phase where I want bright, pure flavors with little interference. The risotto was tasty enough, but it was not what I was expecting. I pouted while I did the dishes.

The next night I made garlic breadsticks that lacked even the merest hint of garlic. I was so certain that they would be fabulous, warm and crisp and garlicky, fresh from the oven. But my garlic oil—the same stuff I recommended just nine days ago—did not stand up well to the bread dough. Garlic oil works wonders on roasted potatoes, another starchy food, so I was very surprised at how the oil’s garlicky flavor disappeared without a trace when I brushed it on my unbaked breadsticks. Hmmph! Garlic breathless and unsatisfied, I called a truce with my stove and reconciled myself to eating mediocre leftovers all week.

Even in the plodding rain, all my cooking stars were aligned on the night following the garlic-less breadsticks. The basil didn’t look especially promising; it was starting to wilt and brown in some spots, but who cares when you’re only cooking for you? The pesto recipe had been sitting in my binder of EatingWell recipes for years, but unlike the basil, it was no worse for its age. Out came pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt. Into the food processor they went. A whirl of blades later, out came richly fragrant, salty pesto, spooned into a tiny Japanese tea cup I use as a serving dish.

I proceeded to try this pesto with everything I could imagine. I licked it off my finger. Alarmingly heavy on the salt, I feared I was facing yet another kitchen disappointment. I dipped tiny halved cherry tomatoes in it, and my fear turned to triumph. The pesto’s saltiness became perfectly balanced by the tomato’s sweet-tart juices; it was the essence of a summer garden distilled into a mouthful. I dolloped pesto on my breadsticks, still garlic-less, and found the flavor I had been missing: accompanied by warm bites of bread, the taste of garlic and basil blossomed on my tongue. I piled everything together: tomato, bread, pesto. No three foods ever got along so well or had so much to say to each other as in that moment. It was perfection of the humblest kind.

A perfectly delicious basil pesto may be a small triumph, but when disappointment looms large, a small triumph may be just what we need to rekindle our flame. As summer wanes to a close, may your month be filled with small triumphs and big flavors.

Itty-Bitty-Batch Basil Pesto
Adapted from this recipe in EatingWell
Makes an itty-bitty batch, about 1/4 cup

1/2 cup of well-packed fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
1 tbsp. Parmesan cheese (the cheap stuff is fine here)
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium cloves of garlic, chopped into halves or thirds
1/8 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper or grains of paradise

Place all the ingredients except the pepper or grains of paradise in a food processor. Pulse a couple times to combine into a paste, scraping down the sides once or twice to make sure everything gets combined. Spoon the pesto into a bowl or serving dish and add pepper or grains of paradise to taste. Eat with tomatoes, breadsticks, pasta, or whatever floats your boat.

Store leftover pesto in a tightly covered container in the fridge.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Happy Shopping

I’m very new to this idea of buying locally. The farmer’s market used to scare me. For years I was a timid shopper, unsure of the wild-looking produce, all leafy and stalky and some of it still dirty from the ground in which it grew. The market seemed expensive; I worried about blowing my meager budget. And if I did buy something on a whim because it looked beautiful or tasty, what on earth would I do with it in my own kitchen?

I was a scaredy-cat. Thank goodness I finally got over that this summer.

Evanston’s farmer’s market is my new favorite haunt. The market feels less like a shopping destination and more like a playground with free food. Daphna and I prowl the grounds, picking out tomatoes and peppers, greens and pears. The vendors ply us with slices of fresh apple and samples of berries, or with little squares of chewy, smoky grilled cheese, part melted and still warm with the grill’s kiss. Or if Daphna is hemming and hawing over the flavors of cider sold by a single vendor, a nice young man will pour us samples of all three varieties, letting us sip and discuss, weighing the merits of each. The market is a pre-lunch tasting menu. Having a friend—and not just any friend, but Daphna, my best cooking buddy—with me to sample everything makes the food taste even better.

I know they’re called free samples for a reason, but I feel a little like a thief chewing my way through stolen loot. All this free food makes me swoon with happiness. Farmers at my market exhibit such generosity that I wonder if maybe what they’re really selling is respect and kindness for earth and people. That’s something worth buying, so I dig out my wallet and I fill bags with onions and potatoes, ears of corn, some dainty colorful tomatoes. I fork over my cash and scurry home with my loot.

In my kitchen, I set down my bags. Like a good book-keeper, I tally up the receipt. The total is ten dollars. That can’t be right. I double-check my math. It is right, but I still don’t believe it. I have spent ten dollars for a bag full of the freshest food a city girl can buy. Ten dollars for a morning spent in the open-air sunshine with a dear friend, gossipping about food and new recipes, drinking cider and eating gooey cheese. Ten dollars for a kitchen now fragrant with basil’s grassy perfume. I bought a single bunch of basil for two dollars. “Bunch” is an understatement—it was more like a bride’s bouquet. I walked away with so much basil that I happily added some to Daphna’s loot and yet I still have too much basil! Is there even such a thing as too much basil? Is that like saying I have too much love? I need to give my basil a good home. I’m thinking pesto—a good choice, don’t you think? I can almost taste my sassy homemade pesto, rich with pine nuts and garlic, a green paste bound together by swirls of olive oil. I may consult a cookbook or two, but it will be delightful research—the kind that ends up on slippery pasta and craggy slices of sourdough toast. The kind that makes a person think there really is no such thing as too much basil.

Happy shopping, friends. May your toughest challenge this week be figuring out what to do with your fresh basil.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Cooking Drama

I am a very bad cooking role model. Please don’t tell anyone or they might take my food blog away. On the other hand, I am an excellent model of fitness, relaxation, and quick tasty meals. I like all of those things, and I’m going to assume that you do too. Sometimes it’s good to exchange the kitchen for the living room, the table for the floor, then leave the dirty dishes in the sink while Barack Obama delivers a speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. The dishes can wait while history is being made.

A few days a week, I lace up my sneakers and run to the lakefront paths to listen to the sound of waves crashing on sand while my heart pumps with confidence and my lungs expand to take in fresh air. I run in the evening, an interlude between work and play. I run to be alone with my thoughts, to feel alive and awake. Running is cheap therapy for me. When I finish, I am tired and happy, sweaty and serene. I stretch my feet and calves on a step, then I climb the stairs to my apartment and plop my body on the living room rug for some more stretching and maybe a glass of water.

The television happens to be in the living room, and sometimes I like a little entertainment while I gather the energy to get cleaned up after my run. Last Thursday, I turned the tv on just in time for the opening scene of Grey’s Anatomy, which I used to watch with zealous devotion. I was in the mood for something frivolous and shallow. Grey’s Anatomy, with its sex-drunk doctors and outrageous medicine, was just the ticket. In between lusty scenes, I ran to my stove to whip up the fastest pot of black beans ever made in my kitchen.

The cooking drama went like this:

Commerical break! Measure out garlic oil into pot. Chop onion.

Break! Heat up oil in pot and throw in onion. Saute until softened and smelling good. Turn off heat.

Break! Measure out 1/2 tsp. each of cumin, coriander, and oregano. Turn heat back on and saute spices and onion for a minute. Turn off heat.

Break! Open can of black beans. Drain and rinse. Add to pot along with a 1/4 tsp. of salt. Turn on heat. Stir to mix beans with onions and salt. Mash some beans on side of pot with spoon to mimic texture of refried beans. When beans are hot and mixed well with other ingredients, turn off heat.

Break! Assemble big fat burrito and a quick side dish of trimmed, shredded broccoli stalk. Carry meal into living room and eat on floor while watching tv doctors get it on with each other.

Break! Rummage for dessert and find leftover cookies. Brew mug of decaf green tea and carry cookies and tea into living room just in time to watch campaign video for Barack Obama. Feel sense of pride as rookie senator from Illinois delivers moving speech about changing America. Secretly hope future President Obama doesn’t cut the NIH’s budget. Assure self that NIH grant will be funded and that self will finish graduate school with a PhD. Realize that dirty dishes are not going to wash themselves. Peel self off living room floor and vow to have dishwasher in future kitchen. Wonder if purchase of energy-efficient dishwasher is tax-deductible.

Seasoned Black Beans
Makes about 2 cups

The secret to these speedy, delicious black beans is storebought garlic oil. Daphna and I are both crazy about Boyajian Garlic Oil. I toss potatoes in it before roasting them. Daphna and her husband like to make garlicky popcorn with it. Even if you buy garlic oil for just one recipe, like these beans, I bet you’ll find a million other uses for it. It’s a great pantry staple to keep on hand.

1 tbsp. garlic-infused olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. oregano
15-oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp. salt

1) Measure the oil into a medium sauce pan. Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for several minutes until the onion is softened and deliciously fragrant.
2) Add the spices and saute for another minute.
3) Add the beans and salt to the pot and stir to mix everything together. Cook for a minute or two to heat up the beans. Mash some of the beans on the side of the pot to create a thick, creamy texture.

Serving suggestion: Into a large whole-grain wrap, such as Cedar’s Mountain Breads, pile some black beans. Top them with shredded cheese, salsa, and a mound of lettuce. Close the wrap and serve.