Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Muffin Interlude

Shades of Gold and Green

Swooping down over Detroit last week, the first thing I noticed was how very green Michigan was.  It was a carpet of green, rich and lush and inviting.  The picture above was taken in my brother’s backyard, which is starting to show signs of autumn gold amidst the greenery.  It’s a little wild back there, which I love, and there’s a grassy path that you can follow to walk all the way around the back of the yard.  I walked it a few times and found it to be a very peaceful way to stretch my legs.

One of the hardest parts for me about living in Texas is how long it takes for me to get out of Texas.  I was in transit for about eleven hours as I was traveling to Michigan.  I think I held up pretty well during the trip.  Not too long ago, I asked a travel-loving friend of mine what she does to stay sane during the long trips, and she said, “Lots of music, books, and food.  Lots!”

Of course! I thought to myself.  My last trip had ended in tears—I was exhausted, starving, and mad as hell at the incompetent driver whom I was paying to get me from Houston to College Station.  I’m sure my patience would have lasted longer had I eaten something, anything, to keep hunger at bay for just a few more hours.  But I was also bored and anxious to get back to my home and my routines and my food.

With all of this in mind, I tried to do a better job at taking care of myself during my travel to and from Michigan.  On the way to Michigan, I did such a good job packing breakfast and lunch that all I bought along the way was water and coffee.  A coffee at Peet’s is becoming a ritual of mine at the Houston Hobby airport; it wakes me up and gives me something to sip while I enjoy free internet.  (Hobby, I like you!)  My airport breakfast is usually a bowl of overnight oatmeal that I eat before going through security.  For lunch, I pack a meal with lots of little things, usually a vegetable or two, some cheese, bread or crackers, some fruit, and something sweet.  It’s that last part of the meal I wanted to tell you about today because it was really something: a multigrain muffin bursting with soft, sweet chunks of apple and topped with sparkly sugar.

Muffins in their Pan

These muffins got their start in my kitchen as an easy way to use up a big scoop of sour cream.  The original recipe, from the always lovable Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, calls for a cup of buttermilk, but my blog friend Shannon has convinced me that cultured dairy is somewhat interchangeable.  She’s a huge fan of Greek yogurt and often uses it as a substitute for sour cream.  I think of buttermilk as a thinner version of yogurt or sour cream, so I replaced that cup of buttermilk with half a cup each of milk and sour cream.

The result is a sturdy muffin with a velvety crumb that melts on the tongue.  And when that crumb is delicately flavored with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, it’s just begging for apples to cozy up to those warm spices.  It’s a muffin that says, “Welcome to fall.  Pull up a seat and stay awhile—we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”  If you find yourself airplane-bound, this muffin will be a great travel companion that keeps hunger at bay while you dream about fall and warm cider and leaves changing color.

Happy, happy, happy fall, dear readers.

Multigrain Muffins with Apples and Sour Cream

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

Makes 10-12 muffins

A few last-minute notes: these muffins are rich, not too sweet, and freeze beautifully, which is great if you happen to make them before leaving town and have a few leftover muffins to save for later.  Eat them plain or smeared with peanut butter.  I like them both ways.

Nonstick spray

1 large egg

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sour cream (I used the real deal here—full-fat sour cream)

1/2 cup milk (any kind will probably work here, including nondairy milks)

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup quick-cooking or regular oats

1 cup white flour

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and diced

1-2 tbsp. coarse sugar, such as demerara or turbinado

1)  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray.

2)  In a bowl, stir together the egg, oil, sour cream, milk, sugar, and oats.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, stir together the flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. 

3)  Scrape the wet ingredients into the dry and stir together until just combined.  Do not overmix.  Fold the diced apples into the batter.

4)  Fill each muffin tin well with a scant 1/2 cup of batter.  Sprinkle the tops of the unbaked muffins with coarse sugar.

5)  Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes, until puffed and golden.  These muffins rise quite impressively, giving them a showy, rustic appeal.  When the muffins are done, a knife inserted in the center should come out clean.  Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in their tins, then remove and let the muffins cool on a rack.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Where the Apple Trees Grow

A Reason to Look Up

Though I lived in Michigan for 21 years, I’m not sure it has ever looked as spectacular as it did this month, when I spent six days with my family, celebrating my niece’s birthday.  Together, with lots of friends, we drank hot mulled cider and ate birthday spice cake with cream cheese frosting and melty scoops of ice cream.  The birthday girl wore a snazzy pink-and-purple dress and a party hat while she opened presents  When I wasn’t eating or drinking or playing with the birthday girl, I was marveling at the wonder of autumn in Michigan, taking photos and asking myself how many years I would spend away from the Mitten State before I’d get to live in that kind of seasonal beauty again.

In the deep recesses of my mind, I’ve been trying to figure out what compelled me to move so far away from home, home being Michigan and my family.  The answer, I have come to believe, is that I had to move away so I could appreciate what I had.  That’s not to say I had no appreciation for the Midwest and its people; I’ve been cultivating a grateful heart for years.  But from where I sit now, that appreciation feels small.  These days, my heart feels full to bursting with love.

As I get older, I feel more of a pull toward my biological family.  My niece Lydia was born four years ago this month, and she’s like a magnet to me, drawing me back to the clan, reminding me of our shared roots.  I’ve been able to celebrate three of her four birthdays with her in person, surrounded by our big, feisty, loving family.  Last week, I made the long journey out of Texas and up to Michigan, where I was greeted by the most stunning fall weather, the kind that made me want to weep with gratitude with its cool breezes and sun-dappled days.  Never have I missed autumn as much as I do right now, living in the land of forever summer, where the sun is always shining and the temperature seems to bottom out at 90 degrees F.  I thought I loved Texas, and I do, but we needed some time apart. 

Michigan and my lovely family welcomed me with hugs and fresh apples, hearty nacho dinners and cups of morning coffee.  I spent an entire day with my niece, and she proceeded to run the show, moving us from one activity to another without skipping a beat.  We played Chutes and Ladders and built a playground for marbles.  With her daddy, we inspected the garden, eating yellow cherry tomatoes straight off the vine and picking squash to bring into the house.  And we went for a walk around the neighborhood together, where we petted her favorite doggie and I took pictures of our feet among the leaves.

On a Walk Through the Neighborhood

I wore pants for the first time in three months and shivered in the deliciously cool air.  I ate apples that tasted like candy and looked at trees, tall and regal.  Party guests called me by my sister’s name, like they always do because we look so much alike, and I just smiled, knowing they’d figure it out later and come back to tell me, laughing at themselves.

What I tried to do most of all was be there, in the moment.  In a way, it was easy to be there, as I had no desire to think about work or Texas or anything I’d left behind, with the exception of Matt, because he’s never far from my mind.  Unfortunately, I came down with a cold right before I left town, rendering me spacey and sniffling with a sore throat.  Hanging out with Lydia, I could have fallen asleep a few times, but I soldiered on and hoped that she didn’t notice how I wasn’t quite as perky as I usually am when I’m with her.

Being present and fully attentive let me see Michigan and my family through fresh, wide-awake eyes.  I could not stop staring at the trees, with their leaves just starting to turn fiery shades of red and gold, on the cusp of letting go in anticipation of winter.  The pine trees stood tall, stoic, majestic, ready for the chill and snow.  One morning, I sat outside in the backyard with my brother and Lydia, shaded by the trees.  We talked while Lydia played with her new Play-Doh set, pressing out pasta for us and asking us to “pretend eat it.”  That she can ask us to pretend to do something makes me think she really is a big girl now, able to give us these precise instructions about what is real and what is pretend.  Another time, Lydia and I were reading her new Little Critter books—my present to her, as I loved Little Critter as a kid and thought she might like him too—and she pointed to the grandma and said, “Big Critter.”  Just like that, out of the blue, no prompting from me.  My goodness, she gets it.  She’s a big girl now.  When did that happen?

There were urban treats as well, chances to enjoy the food and shops and people that I miss because I relocated to a Texas town where most of the residents are undergraduates.  My mom and I had a shopping date at Kohl’s, where she bought me a pair of black heels and I bought my sister a fabulous high-sided skillet.  We ate lunch at Panera, which used to be a regular dinner spot for me in grad school and is now a special treat when I travel.  I love their creamy tomato soup, the one that comes topped with asiago bread croutons and tastes velvety rich on the tongue.  My mom graciously let me steal quite a few sips of her pumpkin spice latte, which was perhaps greedy of me, but she didn’t complain.  Next time, I owe her a latte!  But what I loved most about our mama/daughter date is that it gave us time to share—not just a pumpkin spice latte, but our news, our joys, our fears and anxieties.  The sharing part is why I find it so important to spend time with people one on one.  It gives us both a chance to open up in a way that isn’t always possible when other people are around.

My sister and co-auntie, Theresa, took me out for another lunch-and-shopping date.  We ate burgers at Max & Erma’s and gossiped about our love lives and our hopes for the future.  I planted the idea that she should come visit me in Texas, and we should also visit San Francisco and Washington, D.C., both cities that I have yet to see in person.  We shopped at the Gap, a store that I grew to love while living in Evanston because it was just down the street from Panera and an easy stop on my way home from the lab.  Theresa bought a beautiful black sweater with this abstract beaded design on one shoulder, and I bought a grey-and-white striped shirt.  Then we took a cruise around the aisles of Whole Foods, where I admired the beautiful produce and resisted buying a cart’s worth of food, knowing that I’d be leaving the next day.  I did buy a bag of green beans and a head of cauliflower, which I’ll tell you more about very soon.  I also stocked up on food for the long journey home: almonds, dried cherries, cinnamon raisin bagels, and crunchy peanut butter (to be checked in my luggage, yes, but available afterward for the road trip from Houston to College Station during dinner time).  I adore Whole Foods peanut butter; it has this subtle caramel flavor that I find irresistible.  I bought two jars and will stock up again when I’m back in Michigan in December.

The storyteller in me knows this post is a grab bag—eating, drinking, shopping, and celebrating with lots of people and lots of love.  But it seems like the perfect vacation, filled with all my favorite things.  It was a happy, relaxed trip, and somehow six days away from home felt much longer than that, in the best way.  I can’t wait to return, only next time, instead of shades of green and gold, the land will be painted in tones of blue, grey, brown, and white.  But the love will be the same, which is the most important thing.

Lydia in Garden with Squash

PS  I haven’t forgotten about our apple muffins!  I shall return in a few days, recipe in hand, which gives you just enough time to go to a cider mill to pick some apples and eat some doughnuts.  If you go, take me with you!  Please?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Not a Moment Too Soon

A Leaf in Hand

I don’t know about you, but I feel like my life becomes completely INSANE when I’m about to leave town.  Things intensify at work as I try to keep everything afloat while I’m gone, laundry and packing have to get done, and there always seems to be a million little things to do before I board my plane—rides to arrange, trash to take out, birthday presents to buy.  In the midst of all this madness, I had two peaceful moments that I’m trying to savor.  The first was standing in the kids’ book section at Barnes & Noble, cooing over all the adorable children’s books and picking out a few good reads for my four-year-old niece.  I could have just plopped myself down right there, with a big stack of picture books, and read until they kicked me out of the store.  Some days I miss being a kid.

The second moment was ironing clothes for my suitcase.  My mind slowed down as I pressed the wrinkles out of shirts, and I thought about the happy moments at the end of our family parties, the moments after dessert has been served, and everyone is full and happy, relaxed and laughing.  Those moments, I thought, are when I really feel like we all belong together, me and my family.  And when I feel like it’s almost impossible for me to be there with them, it’s the after-dessert moment that keeps me going.  It’s knowing that there will be a chance to relax after all the travel, the party prep, the excited kids, the presents, the unicorn pinata(!)—after all that, we will take deep breaths and relax.

I’m taking a deep breath right now.  You should, too.

Before I hop on my plane, I wanted to leave a list for us.  Over the past few weeks, I came up with five delicious things to do with a tub of sour cream.  Perhaps you, like me, can’t resist a sale and find yourself carrying home a pint of sour cream and only the vaguest idea of what you might do with it.  Here are a few ideas, all of which I taste-tested—for your sake, of course.  Only the best for my readers!

* Mix together a tablespoon of sour cream plus half a teaspoon each sugar and cocoa powder.  I ate this with a banana for dessert—delicious!  It’s also yummy straight off a spoon.

* Mix sour cream with unfancy yellow mustard and ketchup.  Eat with oven fries.  My sister and I call this sassy sauce!  And it is sassy—a little sweet, a lot tangy, and a bit creamy.  It’s even better if you’ve got a cold hard cider or a beer to drink with your fries.

* Put a spoonful of sour cream on top of a red lentil soup, especially if the soup is very low-fat and virtuous.

* Add a tablespoon of sour cream to scrambled eggs to make them creamy and delicious.  I had this for dinner tonight—it was a mighty fine last-night-in-town meal.

* And finally, make some apple muffins!  Not too sweet, laced with warm spices and a sprinkling of sugar on top, one of these craggy-topped, soft-crumbed goodies will be accompanying me on the plane tomorrow.  I can’t wait.

Another Harbinger of Fall

I’ll be back in a week or so, with the recipe for these baked beauties.  In the meantime, be good while I’m gone, take care of each other, and float on into fall.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sage Advice

A Fresh Sage Leaf

Not too long ago, my friend Nicole told me about one of her organizational secrets, which I happily adapted in my home.  We’re both subscribers to EatingWell; it was, in fact, Nicole who got me hooked on this magazine.  Any magazine subscriber knows that you’ve got to have some sort of system for dealing with a publication that shows up in your mailbox 10-12 times a year.  A single magazine poses little threat to order, but 10 of them?  Times multiple years of subscribing?  It gets to be quite a stack.

Nicole told me that she likes to organize her issues of EatingWell by season—all the summer issues together, all the autumn issues together, and so on.  The way the system works is that when it’s time to pick out new recipes, Nicole goes to the stack that matches the current season, pulls down her magazines, and flips through them to find what will become that week’s meals.  I think this is a wonderful idea.  For a long time, I’ve felt kinda funny about how magazine publications always come out well ahead of the seasonal shifts.  Like it’s September right now, still summer according to the calendar, and the October 2010 issue has been on my table for weeks, featuring recipes for wintry things like casseroles and Brussels sprouts.  But to me, it definitely still feels like summer.  I know my latitude plays a big part in this, but even when I lived in Chicago, early September was a time to hold onto summer, not dive head-first into a wintertime feast.

The seasonal approach to magazine organization makes so much more sense to me.  It’s a way to catch all those great recipes at the right time of year, which is probably not the time when you first saw them in print.  It’s how I caught today’s recipe, a simple and very flavorful saute of seasonal vegetables, made heartier with the inclusion of a can of white beans.  It sounds humble—indeed, it is humble—but I’ve made it twice in the last few weeks, and I wouldn’t mind making it again this week.

A Weekday Lunch

This recipe, Summer Squash & White Bean Saute, comes from the August 2008 issue of EatingWell.  I probably would have never made it had I not been inspired by Nicole’s example.  But flipping through my old summer issues, it caught my eye, then it bounced onto my grocery list and into a skillet on my stovetop.  It’s a great weeknight dinner, perfect for those nights when you want to cook but need a simple, easy recipe that will give you plenty of time to sip some wine with dinner and unwind after a long day.  This recipe is also really versatile.  Here I must confess that I have yet to make it the same way twice.  The original recipe calls for fresh oregano and two fresh tomatoes.  I’ve decided I like fresh sage better than oregano, so I use sage instead.  And about those tomatoes: the first time, I used one fresh tomato because it’s what I had on hand.  The second time, I added the tomatoes after the saute was done, and I used four of these totally delicious slow-baked tomatoes.  Really, you should use what you have or follow your heart.  If you’ve got time to slow-bake some tomatoes, do it: they are amazing.  But fresh tomatoes are great too.

One last thing: I think this dish is at its best on the first night.  It gets a little juicy/soggy as it sits around, which I don’t like as much.  But for leftovers, I think it would be great over hot pasta, especially if you take a few minutes and cook off some of that juiciness.

Summer Squash and White Bean Saute

Adapted from EatingWell

Serves 3-4

At its best, this dish has lots of wonderful textures.  The vegetables go tender-crisp in the skillet, the white beans are soft and creamy, and the whole thing is infused with just the right amount of salt.  Here it wouldn’t be a bad idea to use a really great olive oil, like the extra-virgin olive oil from Pasolivo.  You only use a tablespoon for cooking, and I think it adds a lot of flavor to a simple dish.

1 tablespoon very flavorful extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, halved and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 summer squash: zucchini, yellow summer squash, or one of each, halved lengthwise, then halved again and chopped

2 leaves of fresh sage, chopped finely

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 15-oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed

1-2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Parmesan cheese, either 1/3 cup grated to stir into the saute or a block you can shave with a vegetable peeler

1)  In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, then cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, until the onion begins to soften.  Add the summer squash, sage, salt, and pepper, then stir, cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender-crisp.  Stir once during this time.

2)  Stir in the white beans, tomatoes, and vinegar.  Increase the heat to medium and cook until everything is heated through.  Remove from the heat.

3)  If you like, stir the grated Parmesan into the finished dish.  Or use a vegetable peeler to make long shavings of cheese with which you can garnish each plate.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Am Ready

A Pink and Dreamy Sky

I am dreaming of a fall that will never arrive, at least not here in Texas.  Of all the things that I gave up to move to this land of forever summer, I think autumn, at least my ideal of autumn, is the one I miss the most (excluding people, of course.  I love you, readers!).  It’s cliche, I know, but fall is my favorite season in Chicago and Michigan, and I imagine most Midwesterners, natives and transplants, feel the same way.  The season is addictive in the best way, a series of delicious contrasts.  There’s the air, rich with the smell of leaves and earth and alternately warmed by the sun and chilled by its absence.  Then there’s the light itself, rich and golden in the mornings, pale in the evenings as it casts long shadows in anticipation of night.  The food is, of course, fabulous—apples and squashes and pears and a good excuse to turn on the oven and bake.  All of this adds up to a feeling of fall that is cozy and refreshing, delightful and heartbreaking all in one fell swoop.  It’s hard not to be in love with fall.

Interestingly, until Matt came along, my romances always started in the summer.  With him, we’d been building the fire, so to speak, for a while, but sparks flew one October that I’ll always remember fondly for a weekend that felt magical and so right to me.  Like a Midwestern fall, I was a jumble of contrasts.  I felt nervous and safe, happy and scared, confident and anxious.  I wanted to hold him tight, even as I knew I had to let him go.  When I think about that weekend now, I wish that I could transport myself back in time and tell my 26-year-old self, “Everything is going to be okay.  And I mean everything—not just things with Matt.  Everything.  Keep enjoying your everyday life, even when you are anxious or scared or mad as hell.  Keep cooking.  Keep eating.  In the end, the life we live every day is our life.  Oh, and buy yourself some smoked paprika.  You’re going to fall in love with that stuff!”

It’s been a long summer, harder than I thought it would be.  There have been moments of crisis at work, a summer spent not writing any grants because my data just didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped and planned.  I feel much less secure in my job than I did in May, which is alternately scary and liberating.  Mentally, emotionally, and financially, I’ve been taking stock in the event that I do not stay in this position for much longer.  Now, I’m not giving up—oh no.  I’m much too stubborn for that, much too hopeful even in the face of failure.  And I love the people with whom I work, the ones who make me laugh and offer advice and whose faces are the bright spots in my workdays.  But my sense of security has been shaken, and I remain vigilant about the unknown-ness of the future.

There are, however, other things about which I feel increasingly certain.  For example, I am confident, absolutely confident, that whatever happens with my job, things will work out for me.  I will make it work.  I feel more secure in my relationships with Matt, my friends, and my family.  I feel more sure of myself in the kitchen, as though my cooking intuition is blossoming and guiding me every day.  These certainties feel like gifts, like they are the ground on which I stand and the force that steadies me as I try to regain my footing in this new phase of my life.

It’s time for me to go home and see my family again, to remind them that even though I live very far away, I have not abandoned them.  I am to my family what Matt is to me: the loved one who is set free and always returns.  I haven’t seen the family since December, since those days when I slept under the blue lights and outside there was snow on the ground.  We’ll be celebrating my niece’s birthday, and I’m even scheduled for a night of baby-sitting before I leave!  This weekend I get to purchase a birthday present and new wrapping paper and begin making my preparations for a week spent out of town.  I can’t wait.

And when I return, the calendar will tell us that autumn has begun, but it will still feel like summer in Texas.  But maybe, just maybe, with enough apples and roasted squash and woodsmoke drifting on the evening breeze, I’ll be able to convince myself that another fall spent in Texas won’t be so bad.  At the very least, I will look forward to a visit with my favorite dining companion in October.

Oh Those Clouds!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

From the Cornbread Files

Ooh Cornbread!

This cornbread was one of the first recipes I made from Passionate Vegetarian.  Seven years later, I have a hard time making any other cornbread recipe.

Actually, this cornbread and I have been through some twists and turns together.  The basic formula remains the same, but now I’ve been converted to the way of the cast-iron skillet, as the original recipe instructed.  I’ve used it to court the love of a certain Southerner, who asked me for the recipe after a friendly evening of chili and cornbread.  Later, much later, I convinced him that cornbread would be an excellent go-with for his signature curried okra dish and spicy roasted chickpeas.  That evening, the cast-iron skillet was a total rock star: the cornbread went into the oven first, and when it came out, in went the chickpeas.  The skillet kept our cornbread warm and delicious while it waited for the rest of the meal to come together.  After that, I never went back to my glass pan, though I still think fondly of those early years in my first apartment, making do with what I had and loving every minute of my kitchen time.

I still love baking cornbread.  I don’t make it very often, truth be told.  Nevertheless, seven years is a lot of cornbread, and I’ve had time to tinker with the ingredients, for better or worse.  For one thing, it’s not a good idea to use baking soda instead of baking powder.  That was an accident, a very salty one.  But other substitutions are really delicious.  I think my very favorite version of this cornbread uses melted butter in place of the vegetable oil; the result is so rich and flavorful that it’s hard to go back to oil afterwards.  But oil is still tasty, especially if one feels better about using oil instead of butter.  For the liquid, I’ve tried all sorts of things: straight buttermilk, yogurt thinned with a little bit of water, or even a combination of yogurt, plain almond milk, and heavy cream (ooh!).  The version with heavy cream has this velvety texture and a sort of custardy richness—it’s very nice.  I always try to have something sour in there so that the cornbread will get a nice rise from the acid + base of sour liquid + baking powder.  But you can really mix and match depending on taste and what’s in the fridge.

I really believe that cornbread is meant to be shared, and I love making it for other people.  But I think it would be cruel of me to deny myself cornbread just because I’m having a solo dinner.  Sometimes cornbread is just the thing to make an evening at home feel special.  What I do now is help myself to seconds when the cornbread is hot and buttery, then I tuck the leftovers into a plastic bag and use them in a savory cornbread pudding.  I make these puddings in single-serving ramekins because I think cornbread pudding is at its peak when it’s warm and fresh out of the oven.

Dig In

The best part is that they are really easy to put together.  This recipe (if I may call it that) is becoming a weeknight staple for me: cornbread pieces enriched with egg and salsa, then topped with cheese.  The egg and salsa soak into the cornbread, adding richness and flavor.  And the cornbread on the very top gets a little crunchy from the heat, so you get some textural contrast.  I’ll make one or two of these for myself and then eat them alongside a big pile of vegetables or a bowl of soup.  It’s a satisfying, delicious dinner that I think you would enjoy too.  Without further ado, the recipe!

Savory Cornbread Pudding for One

Serves 1

My inspiration for this came from two authors: Crescent Dragonwagon (author of Passionate Vegetarian) and her Featherbed Eggs and Mollie Katzen and her Cheddar-Shirred Eggs, which led to my recipe for baked eggs.  I love baking eggs in ramekins; they make my dinner seem so neat and cozy.  They also make for minimal clean-up—always a blessing on a weeknight.  After dinner, I usually just soak my ramekins in some soapy water for a while and then scrub them clean.

Cooking spray

2 tbsp. tasty salsa

About 1/2 cup cornbread crumbs and small pieces (I just break a wedge of cornbread into smaller pieces with my hands)

1 egg

Salt and pepper to taste

About 2 tbsp. shredded cheese, such as cheddar or something similar

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a small ramekin (6-8 oz. in volume) with cooking spray.  Spread the salsa on the bottom of the ramekin.

2)  Pile the cornbread crumbs into the ramekin on top of the salsa.  Beat the egg in a separate bowl, then pour it over the cornbread.  You can move things around a little bit with a fork to make sure the egg gets into all the nooks and crannies.  Sprinkle the top with some salt and pepper.

3)  Place the ramekin on a cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes.  I err closer to 20 minutes because I like the texture to be moister, more like a custard.  At 25 minutes, the pudding can be a little dry.  Top with the shredded cheese and serve.

Audience Participation

Reaching Up

Hello and happy weekend, dear readers!  Thank you all for the wonderful summer cooking and eating ideas last week.  The list we compiled is really inspiring.  Right now, I’ve got all the ingredients for Daine’s fried okra in spicy yogurt sauce in the refrigerator.  I’m looking forward to working my way through all the suggestions!

Without further ado, I want to announce the winner of the CSN giveaway.  Using the random integer generator at, I came up with this:


Number 16!  There were 25 official entries into the contest, and number 16 was Sarah, who wrote,

“I love salad with fresh strawberries, almonds, and poppyseed dressing.”

Congratulations, Sarah!  Please e-mail me at lifeloveandfood [at] gmail [dot] com, and we’ll get the ball rolling so you can claim your prize.

Thanks for playing, everyone!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Late Summer, with Hints of Fall

Kinda Dreamy

Rumor has it that we are in for a sneak peak of fall weather this weekend.  Last night, I left work and the temperature felt almost cool to me!  It was awesome.  Of course, “cool” is a relative term around here—I expect it to be steamy hot in the evenings, but last night, it was just…nice.  Pleasant, and there was a gentle breeze tickling my skin.  I was so prepared for the steamy blast of summer that I felt cold in the evening air.  I’ve become such a wimp.

But I quickly recovered from the chill.  At home, I pushed open the heavy glass door to the patio, and the evening air drifted inside, making the whole place smell amazing.  What is it about fresh air coming inside a home that feels so good, so right?  For most of the summer, I feel like I’ve been living inside a hermetically sealed, air-conditioned apartment.  It was so liberating to break the seal and welcome the fresh air of late summer.  I could get used to this.

I had a good week.  As always, I live in the shadow of continual doubt because I am an experimental scientist, but still, it was a good week.  I did a big important experiment that gave me ambiguous results, but the good news is that it didn’t kill my project!  I’ve decided to look on the bright side and not worry too much about this.  Sometimes killer experiments turn out to have no claws, just a few broken fingernails.  I’m getting a lot done in the lab these days, which is always a good thing.  And somehow, I’ve been able to preserve my sense of home life.  There’s been lots of kitchen action as I’ve been churning out blueberry jam, digestive biscuits, red lentil soup, and wok-seared cabbage.  The nectarines have been outstanding; I keep running to the store to buy more for the fruit bowl.  I’m turning into what Nigel Slater calls “a ripeness anorak.”  He says it better than I do.  You must read:

At home, the melons go straight into the larder to sit on the marble shelf, where they will be subjected to a daily ritual of turning and sniffing.  Listen, some people make a big fuss over choosing their wines, I get a buzz out of bringing fruit to its point of perfection.  I do it with mangoes, papayas and pears, too.  Okay.  So I am a ripeness anorak, there are worse things to be.”  Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries

Tonight there will be pasta with a roasted tomato sauce and maybe, if I’m lucky, a couple bottles of hard cider shared with a friend.  There will be some reading on the couch and, heaven willing, a nap because I am exhausted today.  Also, I’ll be thinking about what to share with you tomorrow because there are at least a few options.  Lentil soup?  Digestive biscuits?  Chocolate morsel cookies?  My savory cornbread puddings?  We’ve got lots of choices here—such delicious possibilities.

Happy Labor Day weekend, friends.  Hopefully your weekend is heavy on the happy and light on the labor.  Enjoy these last few weeks of summer.