Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Salads, Bowls and Books

Many of our everyday meals these days are less about cooking one big dish and more about assembly. There's definitely cooking involved- of beans and grains and eggs, and roasting of vegetables and baking of tofu, and chopping, lots and lots of chopping and grating of raw veggies, and blending of quick sauces and dressings. But all that prep work pays off when you can then mix and match ingredients to make custom bowls for several meals. It is also a rather nice way to feed a family with young kids; they get to pick and choose the components they want to eat. This post has a few examples of what I have been making.

To flavor these bowls, I have a good selection of condiments on hand. The latest addition to the condiment shelf is called laoganma spicy chili crisp that I discovered via this article on Serious Eats. The article describes it quite accurately as spicy, salty, crunchy, tingly, and good on everything, and provides a DIY version. I found a bottle quite easily in my local Asian store- the same bottle with the somber looking lady on the label (she created and marketed this sauce)- and oh my, it has been a grand discovery for adding "that Chinese restaurant flavor" to my homemade meals.

This is a bowl with cooked rice and roasted vegetables (mushrooms, carrots, peppers, broccoli), topped with the aforementioned spicy chili crisp sauce, crushed peanuts, soyaki sauce from Trader Joe's (a blend of teriyaki and soy), a fried egg and a scattering of minced scallions.

Next up, a salad mix (spring greens mix, shredded carrot, strips of red pepper) topped with (same combo as above) spicy chili crisp sauce, soyaki sauce and crushed peanuts, and sriracha baked tofu slices

As an aside, the plates in this post are a very special gift. My friend C in St. Louis is an architect turned ceramic artist, gearing up to launch her own pottery studio. When we saw each other last month, she presented me with a set of 4 dinner plates and 4 salad plates that she made herself. They are so beautiful. And they go in the dishwasher! 

Another new flavorful addition of the condiment variety- to my fridge this time- is Trader Joe's zhoug sauce. It is a dhania (cilantro) chutney, basically, but the Yemeni version of it. It is surprisingly spicy with a hint of cardamom, cardamom being something I've never thought to add to my homemade chutneys but I love it. I mix it up with some homemade yogurt to make an instant sauce.

Here is the zhoug yogurt sauce atop arugula, pickled carrots and chickpeas. As an example of the kind of recycling I do for these meals- we had some cauliflower potato dosa filling left over from Sunday brunch. That got patted onto bread and grilled to make "samosa toasts" to be served with the salad.

The chickpea arugula salad again, in lunchbox form.
The pickled carrots are a quick recipe that you will find buried somewhere in this post. They are a wonderful addition to salads.

One final salad on top of a salad- bed of mixed greens topped with roasted veggies and fake chickn strips, a cucumber avocado salad (yogurt, tiny bit of mayo, lemon juice, diced avocado and cucumbers, salt and pepper), with a handful of tortilla chips on the side.

* * * BOOK REPORT***

I've been exploring some of the tasks on the 2019 Read Harder challenge. Just like last year, it is brought some new and interesting reads into my radar. For Task 21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator, I read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. In this graphic memoir, the author/illustrator traces her complicated and uneasy relationship with her father. Bechdel's father was difficult and fascinating- he did a stint in the military, was a high school English teacher, ran a funeral home and was remodeling a mansion. All this, and he barely lived into his 40s.

I admit it, graphic memoirs are like Pringles and you can't just read one. For Task 4. A humor book, I read another graphic memoir- Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast, a warm and hilarious love letter to the city where Chast grew up. I was lucky enough to live in NYC for over five years and this book made me laugh and made me nostalgic. “Manhattan is a narrow island surrounded by various miscellaneous items.” 

Task 19. A book of nonviolent true crime ended up being a riveting read, a true page-turner. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou is a case study of corporate fraud and tells the story of Theranos, the biomedical start-up launched by an ambitious young college drop-out, Elizabeth Holmes. I first read about Theranos in this New Yorker profile, and I remember being very intrigued at the idea of the technology to do dozens of blood tests on a single drop of blood from a finger prick. But it was never explained how they were able to do this. Diagnosing diseases in humans is very different from making consumer electronics- there's a great deal of validation required, and comparison to existing tests and such. Where was the data? Theranos sounded unbelievable and too good to be true. Turns out, it was, and Carreyou describes just how fraudulent this whole business turned out to be. The whole story is really mind-boggling and very much worth a read, especially if you are interested in biomedical stuff.

Task 1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters was Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. Written in 1912, it tells the story of a plucky orphan girl who is given a chance to go to college by a mysterious benefactor, on the condition that she write him regular letters about her educational progress. It is a gentle and enjoyable read.

For Task 22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009, I read Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson. What a story this is. I dare you not to cry while reading this simple picture book. A child named Emmanuel is born with only one leg in Ghana, grows up in a very tough situation and nevertheless, learns to ride a bicycle and rides across Ghana, raising awareness for disabled people everywhere. My kid refused to believe that this story was true. That's the whole point, I told her, that humans are capable of doing things that sound literally impossible. Our kids need more of these stories, showing how real people have turned differences and challenges into opportunities.

One of the tasks in the Read Harder challenge is a cozy mystery and I'm quite a fan of that genre. However, in my search for good cozy mystery series that are new to me, I've had no luck so far. The first one I tried was Pekoe Most Poison (A Tea Shop Mystery #18) by Laura Childs. Theodosia Browning runs a tea shop and solves crime. I was taken aback by how casually Theodosia accuses people of murder with no shred of evidence. Not a series I'm likely to get into. Next up was A Spoonful of Poison (Agatha Raisin #19) by M.C. Beaton. I didn't like the main character and quit the book. Ditto for A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder (Inspector Singh Investigates #1) by Shamini Flint.

Next came A Morbid Taste for Bones (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #1) by Ellis Peters. Brother Cadfael (a medieval crime solving monk) really is very likeable- wise and full of good humor. The book was slow and I wasn't in the mood for it, but I have a feeling I will come back to this series.

I did read another book in a series I am familiar with- A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12) by Louise Penny and it was a cozy and satisfying read.

Coming to the last book I read in the first quarter of 2019, it was The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat by Stephan Guyenet. This is a thoroughly researched and engagingly written book getting to the question of why, living in bodies that have evolved exquisite homeostasis, do modern humans often eat more than they should. My notes are here on Goodreads if you want a quick summary of this book.

* * * 
I can't resist sharing this bit of schoolwork that my first grader brought home last week. Her class has been working on persuasive writing, learning how to use words to make logical arguments. This assignment was something along the lines of having to name their favorite breakfast and convince the reader about why it is the best breakfast. So here's some food writing from a 7 year old...(the original has charming spellings as you can see in the pic).

"Your mouth waters as your mom cracks a egg over the pan. That's a sunny side up. Sunny side ups are the best type of egg ever. First, they taste good with bread. Second, the bread soaks up the yolk and drizzles out when you bite it like a sponge. So sunny side ups are the best egg. (Scrambled eggs are my second favorite)."

Are you convinced yet?

Tell me what you've been eating and cooking and reading! Also what is your favorite breakfast and why is it the best? :)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The House Granola Recipe, and Hanging with Kitties!

Open my kitchen pantry, and the first thing you will see is an over-sized jar of granola. Every couple of weeks it gets replenished and every morning, all year round, my husband eats a big bowl of granola for breakfast. This has been going on for years. So here it is, the house granola recipe that I have made a hundred times.

The house granola recipe has in fact evolved over time. In fact I've posted a standardized granola recipe a decade ago, and now I chuckle that that recipe used 3 cups of oats. These days, I go big and make a huge batch that fills 2 sheet pans to the brim- having said that, you could certainly scale this recipe down.

Granola is inherently a calorie dense food, but nutritious and satisfying with whole oats, seeds and nuts. This granola has a little oil and a little sweetener, just enough to make it toasty and golden and give it a touch of sweetness. Dried fruits add another sweet-tart pop. This recipe makes a "loose granola". If you prefer clumpy granola, there are other recipes that would work better- they often include egg whites and/or sweet syrups for clumping.

One Hot Stove House Granola 

1. Lightly oil (I use spray) two sheet pans (about 18x13 inches).

2. Preheat the oven to 300F. If your oven has a convection setting, use it. It will reduce cooking time.

3. In the biggest bowl you own, mix together:

14 cups old-fashioned oats. This is almost a whole big canister of oats. I use all but one cup of oats from the big canister. The one cup is saved as an ingredient for other recipes where I use oats, like smoothies and pancakes.

Seeds and Nuts (Adjust these amounts as you prefer)
2 tbsp. chia seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1- 1.5 cups chopped raw walnuts
1- 1.5 cups chopped raw almonds
1 cup raw cashew pieces

Packaged nut pieces are often cheaper than whole nuts, so they are a good option for granola, particularly since you won't need to chop them either. Use any of your favorite nuts and seeds here.

1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. kosher salt

Oil and sweetener
1/4 cup maple syrup or 1/4 cup chopped jaggery dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup olive oil (or other oil of choice)

4. After stirring all ingredients together, spread them in an even layer on the two prepared sheet pans.

5. Toasting the granola:

  • Bake for 15-20 minutes. 
  • Switch pans top rack to bottom rack, and turn left to right. Continue baking for 15-20 minutes.
  • Turn off the oven and let the pans sit in the oven for 10-15 more minutes. 
  • Let them cool completely on baking racks.
  • No need to stir the granola at any point until it is completely cooled.

6. At this point, add a handful of dried fruit such as raisins/ cranberries/ dried cherries to the granola. I sometimes put in a handful of cereal (e.g. cheerios or cornflakes) for added crunch. Toss everything together and store in an airtight container.

Enjoy with milk (dairy or non-dairy), or yogurt and fresh fruit.

* * *

The best thing that happened in 2019: In the very first week of this year, my 7 year old and I drove to the local animal shelter one cold Sunday morning for a volunteer orientation. We walked out an hour later as official shelter volunteers- allowed to go the shelter whenever we please and volunteer with the cats and dogs.

I have wanted to do this for a couple of years but hesitated. There was a new baby in our family, I wanted my daughter to grow up a little more before taking her to volunteer. But really, a big reason holding me back was that I was afraid that going to the animal shelter would be depressing. I am glad I got over myself and decided to give it a shot.

Our shelter in fact is a very cheerful and welcoming place. The staff is friendly and there are always volunteers and prospective families milling around. The animal housing is clean and there are plenty of treats and toys available.

Kiddo and I go for a couple of hours almost every weekend. We stop by the puppy and small dog room, and then spend most of our time with the cats. Our chosen job is cat socialization, so we choose a cat and take it from its cage and into an interaction room, where there is space to play and cuddle with the cat. We do this with as many cats as we can.

It is amazing to see the different personalities of the cats- there are shy ones and cuddly ones, some purr like engines, others are singularly focused on climbing everything they can. Some play fetch like dogs. They are hopelessly funny and cute. Watching my child tenderly play with the cats is the sweetest thing and I know that it enriches her life as much as a music or sports lesson would, and certainly way more than screen time or random toys would.
A few of the adorable shelter kitties 
Animal shelters are places where you get to see some of the horrible things that humans do- neglecting, abusing and abandoning pets who live at their mercy, but you also get to see the best side of humanity. I met an older couple who volunteer every single day with the cats. They took it upon themselves to buy really chic, comfortable cat beds for every cage. Shelter life is stressful for animals and creature comforts and human love go a long way in making their lives better.

Please consider visiting your local animal shelter and helping out when you can. I am amazed at how easy it was to fit this volunteer gig into my pretty-well-packed life. We go while baby brother is napping, and get groceries on the way back. Hanging out with shelter cats is our mother-daughter quality time and I hope we can keep doing this for a long time.

Duncan (former shelter dog, current king of the castle):
Not amused when we come home smelling of cats

* * *

April is just around the corner. As the weather is warming ever so slightly and the daffodils and tulips are popping up from the ground, I am ready to step out of my comfortable winter kitchen rut (and blogging rut, let's be honest) and try some new recipes.

My kitchen theme for April is big salads and bowls- recipes with raw and cooked vegetables and saucy dressings, and hearty enough to eat as a meal. Those are already my favorite things to eat- like this dumpling salad and this tofu/paneer tikka salad, and there are many more ideas out there.

I have salad and bowl recipes pinned and bookmarked and torn out of magazines and waiting patiently in cookbooks. Maybe I'll make some of them this month.

Join me if you like and try some new recipes for big salads and bowls in your own kitchen. If you do, send me an e-mail at onehotstove at gmail DOT com with a description and picture, and I'll feature it on this blog!