DIY JUST-ADD-AGUA TORTILLA SOUP

19th April 2015

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The perks of freelancing are many, the biggest perhaps being the ability to make your office wherever you feel like working. For this I am incredibly grateful, but it also makes organizing the day a bit more problematic. I attempt to enforce some structure – waking up at the same time, doing morning stretches, changing out of pjs, sitting an actual desk instead of the couch – but without a consistent coworker or a large office clock keeping me on routine, I end up with a pretty varied work day. Again, usually not a problem, because I ardently believe that variety is the spice of life, but it means that I often forget to do other things. Like eat lunch.

When I’m alone and left to my own devices, I typically eat like a toddler – think apple slices, peanut butter, carrot sticks, and popcorn – but I know I would feel more satisfied if I ate something a bit more substantial and “meal-like.” I recently came across an article on Serious Eats for DIY Just-Add-Hot-Water Instant Noodle Cups to make an office desk lunch a little more exciting (and perhaps a bit more economical). While I have a full fridge and kitchen at my daily disposal, this kind of DIY prepackaged meal might get me to eat better and more consistently. But, of course, I needed to make things a little spicier and little more in my preferred flavor profile. And that’s how this DIY Just-Add-Agua Tortilla Soup came to be.

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I can make a handful of these jars and store them in my home fridge, but they are really designed to be taken out of the house and into an office or even out on a picnic. The only thing you need to add is hot water, either from a kettle at work or a packed thermos from your picnic basket. Using a trick from Serious Eats, store the more fragile ingredients – like fresh herbs and other finishing flavors such as lime wedges – in a separate zip-top bag so they don’t get muddled with the other bits in the jar.

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In this recipe, the classic instant noodle is swapped out for similarly starchy corn tortilla strips. And while I added black beans and a few fresh vegetables, you could easily add leftover shredded chicken, pork, or any other protein that goes well with the Mexican flavor profile. Or pretty much whatever you can fit in the jar.

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DIY Just-Add-Agua Tortilla Soup

in the jar:
1/4 cup black beans
2 tablespoons onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons carrots, thinly sliced
1 heaping spoonful canned green chiles
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 heaping teaspoon chicken stock or vegetable stock bouillon concentrate
generous pinch cumin

stored separately:
1 corn tortilla, cut into thin strips
fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
lime wedges
salt and pepper to taste

equipment:
pint or half pint glass jar with lid
method for boiling water (kettle, thermos, etc)

1. Add all the ingredients to the jar and store the tortilla strips, cilantro, and lime wedges separately in a zip-top bag. You can tuck this bag into the jar as well to store while traveling.

2. When ready to eat, remove the zip-top bag and fill the jar with hot water, stirring to combine. Add the tortilla strips, top with the lid, and tighten. Set in a warm spot for 3 to 4 minutes until everything is warmed through. Remove the lid, add the fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime, and salt and pepper to taste. Lunch away.

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Happy lunching, y’all.

COCONUT MATZOH ICEBOX PIE

12th April 2015

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How is April already halfway through and how have I managed to stockpile so much matzoh? These are the deep philosophical questions plaguing my thoughts these days. I have always tried to practice, and more recently so, a waste-not-want-not mentality. Blame it on our recent record-braking winter, but I feel like I have to eek every ounce of warmth and sunshine out of these new recently fair-weather days. Even if I’m busy or just not feeling it, I force myself outside and instantly feel better. Then I return to my house and my oddly stocked pantry – the one with the plethora of matzoh – and realize I have work to do inside as well. And that’s pretty much how this coconut matzoh icebox pie came about. A need to take advantage of the seasonal change, lots of bits and pieces from the pantry, and a good chill in the icebox (or on the still chilly late night porch if you’re up in New England).

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There’s a great pantry cleanse on the horizon and I feel the sudden need to make way for canning jars. Can’t spare the space for bulky matzoh when I’ve got homemade pickle jars to prep. Or maybe I should just sit in the sun and nibble at this pie, which simultaneously reminds me of the delicate French tarts we tasted in Paris and my grandma’s impressively fluffy coconut cream pie.

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While I eat, I wonder why more things aren’t made with coconut. It instantly makes me think of Chaco weather, regrettable tan lines, and the sound of box fans. I crave this now, but I know I’ll be griping about it come August.

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This icebox pie is messy – thanks, matzoh. It really should be eaten out of the pan, family-style on the porch, like a box of otter pops after a day at the beach. So plan accordingly if your porch is too cold or in the shade and you need to relocate inside. This is a tablecloth pie, for sure.

Coconut Matzoh Icebox Pie
makes one 10-inch tart or pie

FOR THE CRUST:
1 1/4 cup matzoh crumbs (about 6 large matzoh squares)
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

FOR THE FILLING:
14 oz (about 1 3/4 cup) coconut milk
1 cup whole milk
1/2 of a vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup cornstarch

whipped cream
shredded coconut, toasted

1. Set the oven to 350 degrees. Place a tart shell or pie pan on a baking sheet and set aside.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the matzoh crumbs, butter, and sugar. Press into the bottom and up the sides of the tart shell, smoothing with the bottom of a flat glass. Place in oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until slightly set and the matzoh barely begins to brown.

3. In a heavy bottomed saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine the coconut milk, whole milk, vanilla, sugar, and salt. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the milk mixture, whisking continuously to incorporate. Bring to a low boil and continue to whisk until the mixture has thickened and is the consistency of thick pudding. Remove from heat and transfer to a glass bowl. Set on the counter to cool.

4. Once the mixture has cooled considerably, whisk the filling till smooth (you can make an extra smooth texture by running it through a blender or food processor for a few seconds) then gently pour into the cooled matzoh crust. Smooth the top as necessary. Place the entire pie in the refrigerator (or freezer!) to set overnight.

5. When ready to serve, let the pie sit at room temperature for a few minutes (a few minutes more if frozen). Top with fresh whipped cream and toasted coconut. Slice with a warm knife and have at it.

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Happy Sunday, y’all.

NO-KNEAD COLLARD BREAD

4th April 2015

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Biscuits, collards, RC Cola, repeat. A summery of our schedule and our goals for last weekend while we toured Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was there on a campus visit and was lucky to attend the State of the Plate conference, which featured several panels and presentations on the very foods we hoped to eat our fill of over the next few days. Two days of talks with a room full of academics, foodways scholars, and the occasional curious undergrad – all of them connected through the need to eat and likely the love of food. The Q and A session after each panel was cordial – as academics tend to be – and often ended on a philosophical or rather just poetical back and forth about recipes, favorite dishes, and grandmas method of making things. After a panel on the history and longevity of collards – and how much butter than kale they are – one woman asked why we don’t make collard bread? After all, collard sandwiches are a normal dish served throughout the South – although they are usually served atop some type of cornbread – but why not put the collards right in the bread? I never caught her name, but here’s your collard bread, curious conference attendee.

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The purpose of collard sandwiches, like so many other dishes and foods of the South, is frugality and ease. The collards are cheap and can be left alone on the stove and cornbread is perhaps the most forgiving of baked goods. This collard bread needed to be similarly simple – that meant no-kneading – and require few special ingredients or pans. While cornmeal is king back South, flour is used for special occasions – think pie crusts and fluffy coconut cakes – so I figured this bread could also be considered an every-once-and-a-while treat. Perfect for lazy Sunday brunches of toast and eggs when family comes round or the perfect accompaniment to Easter ham and leftover Easter ham sandwiches.

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I sauteed the greens in a bit of garlic chile oil that I picked up at a new specialty shop down the road. Keep the skillet white hot and they cook down in a flash. The dough is sweetened with just a touch of sorghum, another Southern staple, and the cast-iron skillet is sprinkled with a bit of coarse cornmeal to keep things from sticking. After its rise, the dough can be saved in the icebox until ready to bake or made right away and kept on the counter to cool.

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The insides are soft and craggly, the crust a deep golden brown. The collards keep their shape and lend a speckled green to each slice. And while this bread would pair with many dishes, a simple pat of melting butter works well, too.

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No-Knead Collard Bread

makes one 2 lb loaf

1 cup packed cooked collard greens (about half a bunch, cut into thin strips)
1. 5 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 heaping tablespoon sorghum syrup (or sugar)
3 1/4 cup flour
cornmeal for the pan

1. In a large bowl, combine the collards, water, yeast, salt, and sorghum. Let sit for about 5 minutes.

2. Add the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon (or more easily in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook) until combined into a ball. Place into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let sit in a warm place till the dough rises and flattens back out on top, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

3. Dust the surface of the dough with flour and shape into an even ball. Place on a flat surface and allow to rise for another half hour or so.

4. While the dough rises, set the oven to 450 degrees and place a cast-iron skillet or pizza stone in the oven to warm.

5. Remove the skillet from the oven and sprinkle a little cornmeal in the bottom of the pan. Add the dough ball to the middle of the pan, sprinkle the top of the dough with a bit more flour, and slash a few cuts across the top of the ball using a serrated knife. Return the skillet to the oven. Fill a small rimmed sheet pan or cake tin with warm water and place on another rack in the oven. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown all over and firm to the touch. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

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Happy almost Easter, y’all.

WEEKLY SUNDRIES

22nd March 2015

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top row: the newest location of Tatte in Beacon Hill, a few arrangements in my kitchen, a helpful hand model on my newest photo shoot for Pantry Stores; bottom row: a scene from Pi Day, another snowy piece of history, the pinnacle of my baking, the “Come and Take It” Skillet Cookie Cake.

sundries, n.

Pronunciation: /ˈsʌndrɪz/
Etymology: plural of sundry adj. used subst.: compare odds n.
Definition: Small articles of a miscellaneous kind; esp. small items lumped together in an account as not needing individual mention.

Though its definition can be a little misleading, I really enjoy the term sundries. It fits well within the Southern vernacular and seems to be a word that is slowly coming back into style. It has an assortment of applications and more or less means a collection of bits and pieces. Which is exactly what this post entails. Bits and pieces from around the world, web, and my frame of reference that I thought might be good to share. I’ve always been fond of little collections – stamps, vintage books, bottle caps, ticket stubs – this is just another one of many (albeit a much less cluttered curation). This week’s sundries are all fairly recent pieces of news, but sometimes an old standby might slip through. The term weekly is also subject to change because weekly is sometimes just too aspirational.


This week on Morning Edition, NPR discussed the fact that most Brits don’t brew their tea for the proper amount of time. Goodness knows, what would happen if they looked at how Americans brew their cups. In other tea-related news, NPR has also started a “weekly” series called Tea Tuesdays in which they look at all things tea. The latest post was on tea’s close cousin, yerba mate, and how it fares against the traditional brew.

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I recently learned of this nifty kickstarter for a deck of artistic paper-cut playing cards (see picture above) called Delicious. Artist Emmanuel Jose has created several other decks – with themes like Curator, Clipped Wings, and Sawdust – but his newest one is entirely food themed and just the kind of deck you’d serve at a dinner party. Be sure to follow the link to his kickstarter and help out if you can!

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Easter is almost here and while I’m perfectly fine with good ol’ vinegar dye eggs, these lovely, lovely DIY Watercolor Easter Eggs from Inkstruck Studio might just make me pick up a paintbrush. Makes me wish I wasn’t the only adult who still likes Easter Egg hunts and getting sweets-filled baskets from their grandma. I’m not, am I?

This next week we’re heading to visit University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and while we’re there I’ll be attending the State of The Plate Food Conference put on in part by my potential future PhD department. So many wonderful Southern voices will be in attendance and I’m especially looking forward to a presentation entilted “From Colewort to the New Kale: Collards and Global Connections in the South.” I’ll be live-tweeting and instagramming the trip and the conference so stay tuned for details. If you happen to have any suggestions about places to eat, things to see, or fun activities in the Research Triangle, do let me know!

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There’s still no grass and no sight of naturally grown flowers for miles, so, of course, I’ve become smitten with this Lavender and Vanilla Bean Cake bespoke with fresh spring time flowers from ForktoBelly. And when I first came across this post, I thought “what a lovely cake stand, so unique.” and that’s when I realized that it’s just a short Mason jar turned upside down and topped with a plate. Extra points for creativity, ForktoBelly, all the extra points.

Happy Sunday, y’all.

HORCHATA ICED COFFEE

19th March 2015

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Nearly a year ago, I attended a Texas-style breakfast pop-up put on by my friend and local Boston chef, Josh Lewin. As a Tex-pats, I’ll jump at any chance to taste the food of my homeland, especially when it’s partnered with old Western movies and bottomless iced coffee and homemade horchata. When we arrived at the event, we were greeted with a table of pitchers and all the regularly coffee fixins. The milk and cream were gone, so I tipped a bit of creamy horchata into my cup of iced coffee. And then my life changed.

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I’m still not sure if Chef Josh intended for us to spike our iced coffees with the homemade horchata – which he spent hours preparing from scratch – but I think he deserves a lot of the credit for this recipe. Whatever his intentions, more people should know about mixing these two warm weather beverages. So I thought I’d create this little PSA recipe for those who haven’t learned about this life-changing combination.

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The real trick to this recipe is to make the horchata from scratch. It’s really quite simple, it just requires a bit of time and planning. And by making your own, you can add as much or as little sugar as you like. Do yourself a favor and buy blanched almonds (you don’t need too many anyways). You can save yourself even more time by using these nifty Grady’s Cold Brew Iced Coffee Bean Bags that I found over in the well-stocked Birchbox Home and Food section. I know I usually suggest you do things from scratch, but you’re already making the horchata and these cold-brew bags are foolproof and make a better cup of coffee than I (and maybe you) ever could. Plus, these bags come pre-spiced with a bit of chicory to make a bolder brew. Make the whole lot late one evening and sip the results of your hard work all week long.

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DIY Horchata
makes about 2 cups concentrated horchata

1 cup blanched almonds
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups water

1. To the bowl of your food processor, combine the almonds, cinnamon stick, and sugar and grind until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Pour this mixture into a large Mason jar and top with 2 cups water. Shake to combine and let sit in the refrigerator overnight – or about 8 hours.

2. Remove the jar from the fridge and pour the contents back into the food processor or into a blender, pulsing until smooth (unless you have a Vitamix, the cinnamon while remain in small pieces). Using a fine sieve or a few layers of cheese cloth, strain the horchata into a clean jar. Discard the remaining almond-cinnamon pieces. Store the horchata in the refrigerator until ready to use.

NOTE:
– This horchata is more of a concentrate to use in the coffee, but a bit more water – up to two cups – makes it a stand-alone beverage.
– I don’t like my coffee or my horchata too terribly sweet, but please add more sugar to the beginning of the horchata recipe as you see fit.
– Some separation of the horchata is normal, just shake to combine.
– The horchata should keep for about a week, if it lasts that long.

Horchata Iced Coffee
makes one drink

ice
homemade horchata
cold-brew coffee
extra cinnamon for garnish (optional)

Fill a glass with ice. Add preferred proportions of horchata and cold-brew coffee. Top with additional cinnamon. Pretend like it’s warm outside.

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And there’s your new warm-weather breakfast brew, y’all.