Blogs I Like: All the Curry (And Key Notes with Becca Joins Twitter)

Are you a curry newbie and can’t seem to remember how to distinguish between green, yellow, and panang?  Check out All The Curry, a site developed one night by friends Brendan and Justin.  The website is a one-trick pony, but does so engagingly well.  With a striking graphic of 5 different curries (green, massaman, red, yellow, and panang), you can scroll over each for an explanation and evaluation of flavor.  Mmmm… those tubs of curry are giving me a craving.

Also, I recently joined the world of Twitter for the food-blogging gig.  You can follow me at @keynotesbecca, if you’re Twitter savvy.  Which leads me to my next thought, this: Twitter on Paper.  Ingenious.  And very tongue-in-cheek if you think about it.  The creator of the site, which launched yesterday, will literally take your chosen tweet, write it down in some artful manner, and mail it to you.  For free.  For the cost of exactly nothing, he will make you a beautifully designed paper version of your tweet.  I’m entirely entertained by this idea!  I think it’s endearing and a totally welcome harbinger of the whole technology-backlash I envision taking place sometime soon.  But more on that later… I need to eat.

Memorial Day Dinner: Red, White, and… Green?

First of all, I want to take a moment to pause and thank all of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our nation’s freedom.  Mitte, Domine, operario in mensam tuam. Messis quidem multa, operarii autem pauci.  Thank you.

On my last book-buying rampage at my local independent bookstore, I picked up a marked-down copy of a cookbook that is quickly becoming a part of my daily ritual.  Italian Two Easy: Simple Recipes from the London River Cafe is a gorgeously photographed compilation of executive chefs Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ simplest Italian dishes.  The menu at the LRC focuses on freshness and simplicity: rarely does a recipe in the book contain beyond six or seven ingredients.  I pull this from my shelves on a nearly daily basis, usually just to look at the pictures.  Tonight, though I know it’s probably blashphemous to do anything but barbecue on Memorial Day, I tried my own variation of one of the recipes.  In the book, it’s called “Orcchiette, tomato, ricotta” (all recipes are named by their main ingredients), and instead of orcchiette pasta and basil, I substituted fusilli and baby arugula, respectively.  I.  Loved.  It.  The creamy cheese, tomato and arugula blend reminded me of one of the meals I ate when camping (yes, camping) in Rome during college.  The site we stayed at had a small restaurant attached to the lounge.  After a particularly exhausting day hiking back and forth across the city (we’d neglected to plot our site-seeing out and instead decided the wander method would be best.  I lost a good pair of shoes that day to the Roman cobblestones…), we plopped down at a table and ordered a tableful of pasta.  One dish that came out was a creamy ricotta or marscepone topped pappardelle with tomato sauce.  Tonight, this recipe catapulted me immediately back to that table, back to the gallon of house wine, and back to our waiter’s (Vincenzo… at least that’s what I called him) brilliant gutteral laugh.  The best meals are the ones that link you to moments of your past and bring them to live in your present.

Fusilli, Tomato, and Ricotta (serves 1)

3 small Roma tomatoes

1/2 tbsp olive oil

1 small clove garlic

1/4 cup baby arugula

1/2 cup full-fat ricotta cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup fusilli pasta

1 tbsp freshly grated romano cheese

 

1)  Chunk Roma tomatoes, drain juice and seeds.  Chop baby arugula, finely mince garlic.  Combine with tomatoes in a bowl, olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside for at least 15 minutes to marinate.

2)  Season ricotta with salt and pepper, set aside.

3)  Bring salted water to a boil and prepare fusilli according to package instructions.  Meanwhile, simmer tomato mixture over a low heat.  Combine pasta and tomatoes.  Mix in ricotta last.  Serve with freshly grated romano cheese on top.

 

ugh, I need new plates.  Still: so. good.

ugh, I need new plates. Still: so. good.

 

Cookie Porn: Alfajores

photo by Matt Armendiaz via mattbites.com  If needing this is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.   photo by Matt Armendiaz via mattbites.com

It’s been a busy week, so apologies for the lack of updates.  Instead, to add a little spice to your Friday, I thought I’d offer a bit of cookie porn.  Mmmm… just look at that dulce de leche and powdered sugar.  Imagine the crunch of that buttery sweet cookie on your tongue.  If that’s not love at first bite, then I don’t know what is.

This sensual siren of a confectionary treat is an alfajores.  I was first introduced to this sweet by my best friend, Vanessa.  Her mother used to make it for her by the dozens, and when we lived together my first year in Boston, I would be all over that tin of goodness like white on rice.

If you want to make them for yourself, you can find a recipe by the fabulous food-photographer-cum-blogger, Matt Armendiaz.  Check out his site, it’s definitely one of my favorite food blogs out there.  His pictures are breathtaking and his personality can be described as positively joyful.

Now, alfajores are perfection without needing to make any changes.  However, I’ve always wondered what they would taste like if you made the cookie part chocolate.  Or added a layer of raspberry jam along with the dulche de leche in the middle.  If you try these, and doctor them up a bit– please let me know!

Garlic: It’s What I Like

Mmmmm, garlic.  On nights where I’m not particularly worried about who (or is it whom?) I’ll be getting up-close-and-personal with, garlic is my go-to spice/condiment/deliciousness of choice.  It adds such a punch to any meal– though I do feel that many people use garlic improperly.  They add just a touch to get a hint of garlic flavor in a dish.  Wrong.  Case in point: garlic is not meant to be a meek ingredient.  It is not an afterthought, it is not an additive, it is something that is essential to the flavor of whatever dish you are preparing.  If you’re going to use garlic, use garlic.  Embrace the fact that it tends to have an overwhelmingly potent flavor.  Don’t add other random ingredients to tone it down; treat it with honor: roast it, brown it, marinate it.  Let the juices of each bulb seep out and into your dish.  If you’re going to have garlic, then have garlic!

Rant over.  So today, I arrived home after a particularly (though unintentionally) long bike ride, absolutely famished and craving garlic.  Remembering my pledge to cook more, I pushed aside the box of instant risotto and instead made a marinade of olive oil, salt, ahi (yellow pepper) puree, and (of course) roasted garlic to soak some chicken in for about half an hour.  

 

hullo, deliciousness

hullo, deliciousness

Meanwhile, I made myself a Caesar salad and a hunk of foccacia from Clear Flour Bread with some Castello cheese.  It was enough to satiate the post-ride hunger, as well as prepare my palette for the taste of garlic.  Castello cheese is richly pungent, and I believe that introducing a strong flavor in preparation for the garlic gets the glands revved up.  This is not, mind you, scientifically tested, but I would certainly be a willing subject!

So, after an episode (or two) of Made… I mean, the History Channel… I slathered my chicken in a bit more garlic and ahi, and set it on the grill over a medium-high flame; enough to cook the chicken through, crisp the skin, but leave it juicy.  What resulted was a meal that was satisfying, nutritious, and garlicky good.  The spice of the ahi complimented the pungency of the garlic nicely.  It gave the chicken a bit of a kick, but still allowed the flavor of the roasted garlic to take center stage.

et voila

et voila

An Evening with Michael Pollan

Sitting down to write this post, I was trying to think of the many ways in which I could set-up my story.  How I could relate this serendipitous find to some made-for-movie moment, or attempt to draw conclusions between thought and action and discovery.  But, honestly, that would probably be boring to all of you and I’m just not feeling particularly creative.  So, potentially long story short:  I got to meet Michael Pollan.  MICHAEL.  POLLAN.  Author of In Defense of Food and Omnivore’s Dilemma.  American Idol to every urban hippie with an Aerogarden and a Prius.  Here’s proof:

Just look at that devilishly handsome dome.  Put on by West Roxbury Reads, Pollan was in town to talk to the good people of Boston-proper about eating locally and sustainably, and about his book, In Defense of Food, which recently came out in paperback.  

A lot of what he threw out there, I’ve heard before.  In Defense of Food is extremely thorough in the way it presents information about just how severely “nutritional science” and the Western diet have corrupted our health, lifestyle, and environment.  However, there is always a certain thrill in hearing an author read his own words

One point Pollan mentioned in passing that I was particularly drawn to was his assertion of the importance of cooking.  This is something he is absolutely passionate about.  And it makes sense: if everyone would just cook more– and I mean cook, not heat up a bag of Green Giant Steamers– we would see a revolutionary change in our society.  People would be healthier, there would be less waste because it would eliminate a lot of the packaging, and I would even go so far as to say: we’d change the face of American culture.  

American culture, right now, is centered around foods that are cheap and fast: the McDonald’s burger, DQ Blizzard, KFC bucket-o-chicken.  They satisfy this intrinsic need we have for instant gratification, for flashy advertising and brand-recognition, and for existing in a constant state of sensory-overload.  We are so removed from our food (hey, I have no idea how this apple got here, I just know that if I want a Red Delicious on a frigid Tuesday in March, you can for sure bet I can get one); therefore, food becomes this thing.  It becomes an interrupter in our lives (hence the prevalence of on-the-go food) or something associated with enormous amounts of guilt (i.e. every low-fat, no-carb food product or diet book that assaults our eyes every time we walk into a grocery store).  

If we start cooking, we would unearth a new culinary spirit, one that is focused back on the farms and gardens that sustain us, rather than the brands and packaging that market to us.  We would realize that the meal is not only the food, but the time it requires to prepare the food, the elements required to tease out flavor and texture, and the physical effort required by our own hands to physically make a meal.  So, I’m challenging anyone who may read this (as well as myself) to cook just one more meal a week than you normally would.  Just one.  Mix up some pasta agliata at home on a Friday, then show up for margaritas at your local spot.  Pull together a quick Australian Grilled Swordfish for friends while watching the baseball game.  There’s a little more planning and effort involved, I know… but if you want to break away in any small step from our go-go-go, now-now-now American cultural (non)sensibility, I honestly believe the first step will be with food.

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All in a Day’s Work

As some of you may remember, on Earth Day of this year, I vowed to devise and adhere to a more eco-friendly, green lifestyle.  That has manifested itself in the exclusion of refined carbohydrates, relinquishing my freak Splenda supply (22 days, 10 hours, and 45 minutes since my last packet), cooking at home, being less wasteful, and using public transportation.

Today marked a milestone in my progression into eco-living: I’ve given up driving my car.  My beloved 1997 Dodge Avenger.  Those who know me might be shocked by this, because they know I love my car.  I even have a theme song for it.  A climactic Whitesnake-esque, 80′s ballad that expresses my endless adoration for this magnificent set of wheels simply by singing out, “DODGE AVENGERRRR!” in my best hard rock falsetto.  However, it’s been getting a bit too expensive to tool around in ol’ Foxy.  She’s a little worse for wear and not getting the mileage she once did.  I’m keeping her around for the long hauls, but my new ride of choice is the sleek Stella:

 

hey there, fellas

hey there, fellas

 

 

Again, here I go with the naming of inanimate objects.  Stella is my relatively-new chariot for the streets of Boston.  Last year, I bought her as a birthday present to myself; rode around for a bit; took her up to Vermont; but never made the commitment to use her on my trek to work.  This week, that all changed.  And she’s holding up pretty well, even after a few rough days on the job.  Someone should really talk to Mumbles Menino about those pot-holes.  Sheesh.

Now what does all of this have to do with food?  Well, for one, it is another way in which creating a lifestyle around a diet effects other aspects of your life.  If I strive to eat more organically and locally, in an attempt to help save the environment, how can I justify driving the 5 miles to work in a gas-guzzling sports car?  Also, using my bike limits the amount of food (and therefore packaging) that I can buy.  I am no longer wasting produce or meat that I simply can’t finish before it expires.  I’m not wasting precious backpack space on bags of Cheez Doodles or Hagen Daaz.  Because I carry less, I buy less, and therefore stick with the foods that are going to feed me, i.e. be healthful, rather than pick-and-go foods.  For example, today I bought fresh tomatoes for Roasted Tomato Sauce, rather than the sugar-laden jarred variety.  Also, plain yogurt and fresh berries for smoothies, rather than jugs of Odwalla.

P.S.  I’m always interested in hearing about other ways to live more greenly.  Please leave a comment if you have a tip or two!

Just How Does Your Garden Grow: Meet Hubert

I dream of one day having a backyard garden.  Tall stalks of corn, rows of squash and potatoes, carrots springing from the ground, tangles of tomato plants, bushels of parsley and thyme… someday that will be my reality.  But while I’m living in the city, my gardens will have to be contained to small clay pots and consist of species that thrive in little-to-no sunlight.  And so, meet Hubert:

hello, world!

hello, world!

Hubert is my budding lil’ chive plant.  He’s hardy, diligent, and forgiving (I don’t have the greenest of thumbs, and so far have managed to bring him to the brink of death from thirst a total of 3 times in 2 weeks).  I’ve nursed him to the best of my abilities from a few seeds to this lively young herbal specimen.  I’m hoping that in just a few weeks time, he’ll be fit enough for me to sprinkle over some grilled tilapia or mix in with cheese scones.  Just like all girls need a starter purse or a starter boyfriend, Hubert will be my starter garden.

Celebrating Mother’s Day

a Mothers Day meal

First of all, a very Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there (aka my mom, because I know she reads this thing religiously and probably accounts for about half the site views).

Mother’s Day has always been a special holiday for my family.  When we were kids, my brother and I would treat my mother to breakfast in bed.  We’d waltz in with her tray and omelet-sized grins on our faces.  Then, instead of leaving her to eat her breakfast in peace, we’d sit at the end of her bed and stare as she cut through her (overcooked) scrambled eggs and (relatively burnt) toast.  Yet, she’d smile and “mmmmm” and compliment us on our culinary feat, making us feel like top-rate chefs that had just presented her with a perfect cushion of souffle and truffle-topped frittata.  And we’d perch there and watch, entirely satisfied with ourselves for accomplishing the grand task of breakfast.

I used to wonder why we never took Mom out to a fancy, special Mother’s Day brunch like my friends used to do for their moms.  You know, treat her to a three-course prix fixe with Belgian waffles covered in fig compote and slow-churn butter, sausage links made from acorn-fed pigs and tarragon, and fresh-squeezed orange juice mimosas.  When I asked her about this, my mother gave the classic mom-answer, “I wouldn’t trade a single one of your homemade breakfasts for a million fancy ones.”  See, that is what being a mom is all about: it’s about finding the pleasure in eating even the most inedible of pancakes just because the little hands that made it and the little eyes that watch you eat it have poured more love into that Bisquick batter than any four-star chef ever could.

Obviously, things have changed a bit now.  Both my brother and I no longer live at home, so those Mother’s Day breakfasts-in-bed are a thing of the past.  And even if I had wanted to surprise her with a morning breakfast today, my perpetual lateness made me sleep through my alarm and I was flying down the Mass Pike a full hour-and-a-half later than I had planned.  So, instead, I offered to spearhead tonight’s dinner in celebration of my mother and grandmother.  The meal was simple: salad, barbecue chicken, crispy yams, rice and orzo pilaf, and green beans with almonds.  For the BBQ sauce, I combined Annie’s Organic Original and Smokey Maple sauces, honey, garlic salt, and salt and pepper.  On top of the yams, that I thinly-sliced and placed on a baking sheet, I drizzled extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled on a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic salt, and sugar.  The chicken was so gloriously sticky with just a touch of sweetness that reminded me of summer barbecues on our back porch.  And the yams were a crowd favorite.  In fact, I think my grandfather ate half the plate before it even reached my side of the table.

Thankfully, my culinary skills have improved significantly since I first began bringing Mom those breakfasts-in-bed.  But, no matter how old I get, I still find myself watching her, waiting for some sort of confirmation to escape her lips that says, yes, I have pleased her and, yes, what I’ve cooked for her is delicious.  Every time, I am back to being that 6-year-old, precariously perched at the end of her bed, in my Sleeping Beauty pajamas and fuzzy pink slippers, waiting for her to go, “Mmmmm.”

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

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