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In a previous life I probably wouldn’t have made pho at home. I figured someone else could do it better, and cheaper, at a restaurant than I could at home.

Living in Hartford has its hidden perks: the lack of veggie-friendly Vietnamese restaurants has made me less of a snob about what I cook. We made this twice last week and the broth is perfect.

The recipe is at The Kitchn. I followed the broth recipe exactly, and then I followed it imprecisely (the carrots were gone). It’s better when you follow the recipe exactly. Veggies and tofu (broccoli, bok choy, shiitakes, thinly sliced marinated tofu, steamed acorn squash) go in the bowl with the rice noodles (which are best when you soak them in boiling rather than merely hot water). Herbs, lime chunks, and bean sprouts go on the side.  Action soup.

The action extends to the prep: there’s a lot of it. But once you have a stash of clean, dry herbs and greens, the soup becomes easy. I would plan to make it twice in a week.

aerial pho

pho with waning paperwhites

My mom bought two copies of the New York Times Cookbook a few years ago, one for me and one for her. I’ve probably only made two recipes from it since then, but I lugged it to bed for months to read the headnotes, which are universally fascinating.

there's a couch in the kitchen
cats steam and speed
tofu browning

Where would I be without takeout-style sesame noodles? The last time we made it was at the West Point Inn, and we carried the pre-made sauce in an empty jar of B-12 vitamins up Mt. Tam, in one of our backpacks. I had splurged on a packet of Hodo Soy seasoned baked tofu, which slices into these perfectly dense and creamy ribbons.

jut mt tam

Tonight we ate it with a pickled cucumber salad and braised tofu. I find myself saying what my dad always did when I was a kid: “There isn’t anyone in [Hartford] eating this well tonight.” You’re supposed to toss the cucumbers with the pasta and sesame sauce, but it’s easier just to eat them on the side. I’m not that good with my tongs. I forgot the chopped peanuts for the top of the noodles. Don’t forget the peanuts.

welcome to hartford

Takeout-style Sesame Noodles
this is the recipe

It’s so good that I double the sauce and use 16 oz. dried pasta instead of the 16 oz. fresh. (They recommend that you chop the garlic and ginger by hand, presumably because you live in nyc and have no counter space for a Cuisinart, but just throw everything in the hopper and be done with it.) I like the dish best with the “optional” sichuan peppercorns.

Pickled Cucumber Salad
This was just cukes, sweet onion rings, and a dressing of one part sugar, two parts rice vinegar, and some salt and pepper.

Braised Tofu
I fried 1 cm slices of tofu on each side, then added braising liquid (1/4 C broth, 1/4 C Annie’s Shiitake Dressing, plus some soy sauce). It’s not the perfect braising liquid–a little underseasoned and oily–but I’m currently on a vegan semi-homemade mission, so I’ll keep tinkering with the idea.

I’ve made some recent discoveries.

1. Trader Joe’s frozen vegetarian meatballs are delicious. I’m one of those vegetarians that other vegetarians are talking about when they say, it’s a shame that people eat so much fake meat. Obviously I’m on board with real foods. But I also love tofurkey deli slices, and these meatballs. I just ate them in a lunchtime sub, and they’d be great on a platter of plain old spaghetti with jar sauce.

2. Summery cocktails are refreshing in February too. A Campari spritz I made up last night: 1.5 oz. Campari, 1.5 oz. fresh orange juice, 1 oz. sweet vermouth, over ice, topped with soda water. Really mild, both in terms of booze and bitterness, and shockingly red.

I’ve got another quick bread on the docket. The first time I made this it was gone in a day. The next one lasted longer, but that’s just because two people can eat only so much quick bread.

nuts and seeds

mix the dry ingredients

I’m not a sesame-obsessed person, but recently I’ve grown more interested in how it might play on the sweet side of the arena rather than the savory. Especially when combined with other nuts, it brings this rich almost bitter quality to an otherwise mundane bread.

drip glaze

Toasted with butter is the best way to eat it.

sliced bread

Orange Sesame Bread

1/3 C coconut oil, melted
1/2 C brown sugar
2 T flax meal
1/4 C plus 2 T water
1 T orange zest
1 T vanilla extract
1 C soy/almond milk
1 t apple cider vinegar

1/2 C golden raisins, soaked in boiling water for 10 min. and drained
2/3 C toasted nut pieces (walnut was best, cashews very good)
1/2 C toasted sesame seeds, divided (reserve 1 T)
1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C spelt flour
1 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
1 t kosher salt
1/4 t cinnamon
1 t ground cardamom

1/3 C powdered sugar
2 t orange juice

Grease and flour a 4×8 loaf pan and preheat the oven to 350.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the first eight ingredients, the wet ones. In a separate, large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients, the raisins, the walnuts, and all but one tablespoon of the sesame seeds. Using a plastic spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until there are no flour clumps remaining. Go slowly and avoid beating the batter. Spread the batter into the loaf pan.

Bake 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean (45 minutes every time for me). Cool on a rack in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove the loaf and let it cool entirely on the rack.

Whisk together the powdered sugar, orange juice, and reserved sesame seeds, adding a little more juice if necessary to achieve a drizzly glaze. Once the bread is completely cooled, drizzle the glaze over it. Slice the bread and serve.

Two photography resolutions.

Stop using a camera phone.

i take too many pictures of leeks

Eat dinner at breakfast-time.

daffodils

This is the second corn chowder I’ve posted here. I can’t help myself. This one is different; I promise. Both are smokey. Oh wow, both of them even have sweet potatoes. I’m sorry. But this one has collards, and even if you’re not a huge fan of collards you’ll like them here, I think.

Also, this one is vegan. Back then I thought that it was possible to whisk tofutti into soup. Ha.

soup and sandwichDSC_0024

Sweet Potato Chowder with Collards and Roasted Corn
serves 4 generously

1 C sliced, washed leeks
2 T vegetable oil
1 t kosher salt
1/4 C AP flour
6 C vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 t liquid smoke
3 C sliced, washed collard leaves
2 C peeled, cubed sweet potato
1 1/2 C frozen roasted corn
1/2 C soy creamer or half-and-half

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, saute the leeks in the oil with the salt for about 5 minutes, until soft. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in the stock, raise the heat to high, and vigorously whisk some more (any remaining lumps will disappear as you go).

Add the bay leaf, liquid smoke, collards, and sweet potato. (Regarding the collards: I slice them while they’re dirty, submerge them in a big bowl of water, wash thoroughly, then lift them out of the bowl and directly into the soup–no need to dry them.) Once the mixture comes to a boil, bring the heat to low and cook 20 minutes, or until the sweet potato is tender and the collards are no longer quite so green and pretty.

Raise the heat again to high, and when the soup is boiling add the frozen corn. Cook for 2 minutes, then remove from heat, stir in the cream, and taste for seasoning. Serve hot, with some bread or toast on the side.

Kid got a new camera.

cabbage chop

Photographing food for this blog has been bumming me out for a long time. I cook at night — don’t we all — and the lack of natural light makes for blurry foodstuff or (worse, in my opinion) food lit by the garish point-and-shoot flash.

I have not yet become a master of this device, but suddenly it’s possible to have pictures with a foreground and a background. The next photograph does not feature this distinction, but I like it nevertheless.

place setting

Justin and I got back from our annual convention last week, an event whose encompassing cloud of anxiety we avoided for the most part by staying in Chinatown and escaping to my folks’ house as soon as we could. When we got back to Oakland this recipe had arrived in my inbox; about once a month Vegetarian Times really hits the spot with their courtesy emails, and I recommend this soup highly. It’s like a vegan risotto soup, pretty earthy with the cabbage but creamy because of those little white beans. Very comforting.

Veg Times suggest stirring a mixture of breadcrumbs and pine nuts into the soup. In an effort to one-up them I’ve added capers to the breadcrumb mix, for a little tang, and I served the breadcrumbs on the side for maximum individual control over crunchiness. I know pine nuts cost an arm and a leg but they’re worth it here — no nut is quite as creamy.

warm kitchen

White Bean and Arborio Rice Soup
serves 6
adapted from Vegetarian Times

3 T olive oil, divided
half a large yellow onion, finely chopped
2/3 C Arborio rice
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 t chopped fresh rosemary
8 C vegetable stock
2 C sliced green cabbage
1 bay leaf
1 15.5 oz. can white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

2 slices country white bread, torn into 1-inch pieces (about a cup)
1/4 C pine nuts
2 t capers, drained

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of kosher salt. Cook, stirring, until the onions are wilted and translucent, about 6 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until it’s toasty, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, rosemary, and cabbage, the add the stock and bay leaf and raise the heat to high. Once the soup boils, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, make the breadcrumbs. Pulse the bread, pine nuts, and capers in a food processor until mixed together and chopped. (My bread was the tough and chewy sort, so I ended up with breadcrumbs plus bread chunks–this is just fine.) In a small frypan over medium heat, saute the breadcrumb mixture in the remaining tablespoon of oil for about five minutes until the crumbs are crisp.

Taste the soup. Season with salt if needed, and once the rice is cooked add the beans. Serve, spooning the toasty breadcrumbs over the top.

There’s a place to forage mushrooms near Oakland–lots of places I’m sure, but only one I’ve been to several times. Once–the first time!–we left with a huge cache of chanterelles; twice with nothing; and always with a crop of poison oak that lingers for over a week and a half. The spot is not welcoming to foragers, but so far, so good, no tickets.

chantie+leeks

I can’t imagine how much that first cache would have would cost at the store.

sack of mushrooms

Saute the leeks first but don’t cook the mushrooms. Use a tiny bit of cheese or daiya (which is really only tasty when used sparingly). I’ve become lazy and I buy pizza dough at the store. Hottest oven possible, preheat the baking sheet.

crispy edgesteakettle photobomb

Leek and Mushroom Pizza
makes one pizza, enough for two people and a little leftover

one lump of pizza dough (get it at the store, or do this, which makes two lumps)
3 T olive oil
2 C sliced washed leeks
1/2 lb. assorted mushrooms
1/4 C daiya or mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper

If you’re using store-bought dough, take it out of the bag and place it on a floured cutting board. Let it come to room temperature before trying to manhandle it. I use a rolling pin, and let it rest for 10 minutes whenever it seems like it doesn’t want to get any bigger. Turn, flip, and dust the dough with flour regularly.

Put your pizza pan in the oven and preheat to 500.

Heat 2 T of the oil in a frypan over medium-high heat. Saute the leeks for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and some of them are brown and a little burny.

Slice and tear the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.

Take the pizza pan out of the oven. Put the dough on it (I fold the dough into quarters to make it easy to move, then unfold and stretch it on the pan). Brush the remaining 1 T olive oil over the dough, concentrating on the crust. Sprinkle the leeks over the dough, then the raw mushrooms and cheese. Bake for 8-12 minutes–check on it at 8, and remove from the oven when the crusts are golden brown.


Everyone’s telling me to batter these shishito peppers and do a tempura. Or just fry them in a skillet and eat plain with salt.

I think this is a better option. If you drizzle olive oil over the bruschetta before serving, it feels like you’re in a restaurant.

Shishito Pepper Bruschetta
makes 6 little appetizers

6 slices of bread from a nice crusty country white loaf
1 avocado, roughly mashed
15 or so shishito peppers
olive oil, salt, and pepper
aleppo or marash pepper for sprinkling

Toast the bread. I like to drizzle it with olive oil on a sheetpan, broil a minute or two, then lower the heat to 450 until the bread is crisp.

In a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, fry the whole shishito peppers in a little olive oil until they’ve got brown spots on all their sides. They’ll continue cooking after you remove them from the heat, so just aim for the brown, burnished spots and you’ll be fine. Remove them from the pan, salt them, let them cool a little, then slice.

Spread the toasts with a relatively thin layer of avocado. I say “thin” because I would usually aim for 1/2″ of avocado here, but that’s too much. You want just enough for the peppers to stick to, roughly equal amounts avocado and shishito. Season with salt and pepper.

Pile some peppers onto each slice. These are mild, so don’t be afraid. Use them all. Then drizzle with olive oil, and dust with a little smokey aleppo or marash pepper. Serve immediately.

The CSA boxes come from Davis and end up three blocks from me in Oakland, up a hill whose very top is graced by highway 580. The boxes are in the back of the driveway, under an old carport, and they share the space with abandoned kids’ toys and loose Trader Joe’s paper bags. Tick your name off the list, take your stash. The waxed cardboard box gets strapped to my bike rack and it’s almost as tall as the seat, which means I can feel it bouncing under me as we bomb down the three blocks back to my apartment.

Lots of tomatoes these days. Lots of tomato breakfast sandwiches.

My mom used to make these with cheese instead of sausage. They will burn your mouth.


Open-faced Breakfast Sandwiches with Cashew Sausage
serves 2

2 English muffins
one small tomato, sliced
2 slices sweet or red onion
1/3 to 1/2 C sausage (recipe below)
olive oil, salt, and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450. Toast the English muffins. Spread each half with about 1 1/2 T sausage mixture. Top each with a slice or two of tomato, and some onion filigree. Transfer the muffins to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 5 minutes, then turn on the broiler for 1 minute. Serve immediately; when they’re hot you’ll need a fork and knife, but then you can use your hands.

Cashew-tempeh Sausage
inspired by Julia
looks time-consuming, but it’s not
makes about 1 C

4 oz. tempeh, cubed
1/2 C raw cashew pieces
1 T sausage seasoning
1/4 t table salt
1 T olive oil
1 C water

Sausage seasoning:

2 t red pepper flakes
1/2 t ground black pepper
4 t ground sage
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1 t dried thyme
4 t fennel seeds
1 t garlic powder

Make the sausage seasoning; you’ll only need a tablespoon now but you’ll enjoy having it on hand! Make tempeh gravy with it.

In a food processor, pulse the tempeh, cashews, seasoning, and salt together until the mix is crumbly. (Of course you can chop these by hand and stir in the seasoning.) Heat the oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat and saute the sausage for 8 or so minutes, until it begins to get toasty and darker brown. Add the water and simmer until most of the water is evaporated–you want the mix to be spreadable so don’t let all the water escape! Transfer to a bowl, and spread away.

Recently Justine and I have been talking about how much we miss good Chinese-American food. Authentic Chinese food is easy to find in LA. I don’t live there anymore, but maybe it’s easy to find in the Bay Area as well. It’s much harder to find a decent egg roll, the kind with pretty thick skin and lots of cabbage inside, that you spread all the hot mustard on.

Now that I’ve parted ways with meat, some of Chinese-American food dreams have faded. I would love to find a pan-fried, doughy dumpling stuffed with gingery, scallion-studded seitan–but considering that I never found its porky cousin on the West Coast, I’m not holding out.

On summer breaks from college, waitressing and hostessing at the pizza place and being the produce girl at Amber Waves, I would go out with my coworkers after dinner service to the Peking Palace, where we would blow our tips on fried appetizers and flaming scorpion bowls with little reservoirs of highly flammable Bacardi 151. Scallion pancakes didn’t come with the old school Polynesian Pu-Pu platter, nor did we get them on the rare occasion we ate out when I was a kid. But I liked to order them anyhow–savory fried dough is never out of place.

This recipe is a pretty standard one across the internet, but I added black rice to the filling for some visual interest and a little grainy, nutty flavor. The cakes are labor intensive and fatty, and there’s no way around it. If you use coconut oil you’re at least getting some good fats in there, in addition to all the gooey white flour. No apologies. I ate these with a simple bok choy and soft tofu stir fry. They’re a nice accompaniment to miso soup too, if you want to get pan-asian. They fry up just like you remember.

Scallion Pancakes
makes four pancakes
adapted from Ming Tsai

1/4 C black rice
2 C AP flour, plus more for dusting
1 C boiling water
1/4 t table salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
1 T toasted sesame oil
3/4 C sliced scallions
1/4 C sesame seeds
coconut oil

ginger dipping sauce

Bring a few cups of black rice to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the black rice, return to a simmer, and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside (this makes rice with very separable grains–perfect for this application).

In a food processor, blend together the flour, salt and pepper (you can also do all this in a big bowl). With the machine running, add the boiling water in a stream until a dough ball forms. Turn out the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let it sit for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle your work surface (I use my biggest cutting board) with lots of flour. Dump the dough out and flip it around in the flour so all sides are nice and dusty. At this point keep dusting with flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface. Roll the dough out roughly into a thin rectangle (or rough oblong shape…it really doesn’t matter.) Brush the dough with the sesame oil, then sprinkle with the scallions. Roll up like a jelly roll and cut into two equal pieces. Set aside one of them.

Roll out the other piece, using more flour as necessary, into a smaller rectangle (again–looks do not matter here, just roll that dough out). Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of cooked black rice. Press the rice into the dough and roll up like a jelly roll again. Cut that piece in half. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough. Now you have four pieces of dough, and they all have scallions and rice in them.

To recap: you started with one piece of dough. You rolled it out, added sesame oil and scallions, and jelly rolled. Then you cut the roll in two. Then with each of those two pieces, you rolled out, sprinkled black rice, rolled up, and cut in two. Now you have four pieces.

Take one piece and get it floured all over and on both ends. Stand it on one end and push down to form the beginning of a pancake. Using your hands and the rolling pin as necessary, make it into a 6″ pancake.

Preheat your oven to 200 and throw in a sheet pan with a cooling rack on it.

Heat 1 T coconut oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. I used a baby frypan just the size of the pancakes and it worked great. Spread out the sesame seeds on a plate and press the pancake into the seeds, on both sides, so that some seeds are sticking to the cake. Fry in oil, 3-5 minutes per side, checking frequently and flipping with tongs when the bottom is a nice golden color. When it’s perfectly golden on both sides, introduce it to the warm oven. Add another teaspoon or two of coconut oil, and repeat with the next pancake. Keep going until all the pancakes are crispy and ready to eat.

Cut each pancake into four, and serve with the ginger dipping sauce.

Katherine recently mentioned a coconut lime sorbet (served with a friendly helping of tequila on top) and I got a little obsessed. Luckily this is about the easiest thing in the world to make. I have a very responsible, pantry-friendly, delicious pasta recipe on the docket, but I sort of think this needs to happen first.


White stuff is difficult to photograph. But you should know that this comes out better than any dairy- or egg-based ice cream I’ve made (the fattiness of coconut milk is key) and even when it’s frozen solid it has a slightly moussey texture.

Coconut Lime Sorbet
makes about a pint and a half

1 15-oz. can coconut milk (full-fat)
1/2 C brown sugar
zest of 1 lime
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1 T vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the coconut milk and sugar until the mixture is warm and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining ingredients and chill overnight. Process in an ice cream maker, move the sorbet to another container, and freeze 20 minutes. Zest a little extra lime on top, especially if you’re trying to photograph this white mess. Serve.