Spicy Ginger Chicken Noodle Soup

There’s been a bug going around campus the past few weeks, but it was still a shock when this afternoon, I fell asleep for five hours in the middle of the day and woke up with a fever. Yes, two of my friends also got sick last week. So yes, maybe I should have seen this coming. But I’m in college! I’m invincible! I have papers to write and parties to go to, so obviously, as per the rules of the universe, I am not allowed to get sick now!

Come on, universe.

Luckily, I was planning to make this soup anyway, so when I woke up in a confused and sweaty haze at 7:00 PM I had all the ingredients I needed for Jewish penicillin. Or, not…so…Jewish? Though I’m a big fan of my grammie’s version, I love the flavors of this Asian-inspired update. And the ingredients can actually help with some common cold symptoms: ginger is great for an upset stomach, the sriracha will clear your head and your sinuses, cilantro promotes digestion, and of course, any hot liquid is good for a cold.

I’m really glad a made a big pot, because I’m looking forward to eating this (and not cooking dinner!) for the rest of the week.

Brown Butter Banana Bread

Banana bread: ultimate comfort food. This version gets an update with brown butter and strawberries (which we opted not to use. I thought it would have tasted great with dark chocolate chips, but we didn’t do that because my brother is a buzzkill who prefers savory things to sweet things). To be honest, I couldn’t really taste the browned butter, but it was still mighty tasty.

I’m trying to remember the details of why we decided to make this. It was the week before school started. I think it had something to do with being bored at night. I think I remember watching Arrested Development while it baked — it came out of the oven right around midnight and we ate it with fig jam in our den as one of the episodes finished. Then I fell asleep on the couch.

Aww yeah. Nothing like end-of-summer laziness. Now that I’m back at school, there will be less time for baking and lounging, but stay tuned for some recipes for simple, delicious meals you can make in a dorm kitchen.

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Sweet and Spicy Plantain Chips and Tortilla Salad

This meal was something my brother and I threw together. We started with the two plantains that were slowly growing overripe on the counter, which inspired a Mexican theme, and then we combined a bunch of things that seemed to go with that theme. Simple, but successful.

For the plantain chips: Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the plantain into discs, and coat with honey and spices (I used a homemade spice rub that I made years ago, and usually use as a rub before barbecuing meat). Bake for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.

For the salad: Prepare rice according to package directions. Heat up a can of black beans (including the liquid) until gloopy. On top of chopped spinach, heap caramelized onions, TJ’s corn salsa, TJ’s tomatillo salsa, rice, and beans.

For Grandma’s Birthday: White Chocolate Blueberry Cheesecake

Reasons I love my Grandma:

* I never get tired of looking through her wedding album. Check out this cheeky shot of her and my grandpa as they left for their honeymoon:

* She has an impressive knowledge of stocks and sports.

* We have the same taste in movies: we prefer action thrillers to chick flicks, but can handle a romantic comedy once in a while if it’s really good or if Audrey Hepburn is involved.

* When we come to visit, whether it’s for an hour or a whole day, she always has crackers and cookies on the table (and if it’s a birthday, an emergency cake in the freezer).

* She keeps up with all my creative projects, both on and off the internet.

* One time, apropos of nothing, she stepped outside the house one unseasonably beautiful morning, stood on the doorstep, and said, “Good morning, world!”

* She is kind to animals, from her many former cats and dogs to the squirrels who eat at her bird feeder.

* She asks her hairdresser for copies of Teen Vogue, ELLE, and Seventeen, which she then passes on to me.

* She keeps me informed of recent princely scandals.

* She (and my grandpa) spent six years housing my brother and I when we decided to go to a private high school that was far from home. During that time, she drove us to school and picked us up through icy mornings, late afternoons, play rehearsals, cross country meets, and more. She always had dinner and breakfast ready, let me try on her makeup during my more “experimental” phases, made an effort to keep up with the many entanglements of our academic pursuits and social lives, and even started a weekly ritual of watching Supernatural with me on Thursdays.

* She is a kind, loving, and nurturing person with a heaping helping of braininess and spunk.

For her birthday, I made one of her favorite desserts — cheesecake — and incorporated fresh, seasonal fruit and white chocolate (which toned down some of the cheesecake’s typical sourness). I don’t know where I originally found the recipe, because it came from a hand-written recipe book I’ve been keeping for ages, but it is not my own.

Remember to start making this recipe the night before you plan on serving it, because the cheesecake needs to chill overnight in order to set!

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Recipes From the Back of the Box: Farro and Cannelloni Bean Risotto

Usually I try to post recipes chronologically, but last night I made one of the best meals I think I’ve ever cooked, and wanted to share it immediately. And it was literally just the recipe on the back of an as-yet-unopened package of farro. It was my first time preparing farro and I had no idea what to make, and when I realized we had most of the ingredients, I shrugged and figured, why not?

The farro is prepared in a kind of risotto-like way, though it requires a lot less work because you don’t have to add the broth in increments. And it tastes incredible. What I love most about this recipe, and with risotto in general, is the combination of savory flavors. Usually I add flavor to my cooking with spices and other seasonings, but the wine, broth, tomato sauce, and parmesan in this dish come together like magic to create a rich, salty, lip-smacking mixture. I made it my own (and worked with the ingredients I had on hand) by preparing my own tomato sauce, switching beef for cannelloni beans, adding garlic to the sofrito, and throwing in some capers I happened to find in the fridge.

Because all of the sauce gets absorbed into the farro and the vegetables, this dish sits like a stone in your stomach. Be forewarned: you need a lot less than you think you do. Though the recipe didn’t look like it yielded much, it was enough to satisfy four hungry people and still have some food left over.

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Sometimes I Cook Real Food: Cilantro Lime Chickpea Salad

 

Yeah, sometimes I eat things that aren’t cookies or cheesecake. Can’t say that I enjoy it as much, but you gotta get your fruits and veggies in somehow. Actually, to be honest I pack lunch every day, and usually try to make some sort of salad. I like this one because it’s easy to make, it’s got protein built in, and it’s got some of my favorite ingredients: chickpeas, cilantro, lime juice, and garlic. Mmm stinky.

(Actually, thanks to citrus elves science, the lime juice actually cuts the stink out of the raw garlic and onions.)

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Sometimes other people in my family cook stuff

 

It’s true! And no matter how much I like to talk about the ill-fated experiments my family is known for (chopped apples in hamburgers, anyone? Substituting peppermint extract for fresh mint?) a lot of the time they get it right. Above, please witness my mom’s take on a sweet, curry-flavored chicken, and summer vegetables Provençal-style.

Best of all, my parents’ cooking tends to be a lot simpler than my own. The following recipes don’t really have measurements or even set ingredients, so you can feel free to modify them as you please! I would particularly recommend replacing the chicken in the first recipe with sautéed tofu for a delicious vegetarian dish.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Puddle Cookies

You may have noticed that I do a lot of baking for my brother.

Here’s the thing. One of the unfortunate signs that you may be becoming an adult is that almost everyone you know is on a diet. When I was in elementary school, we had a tradition that the birthday boy or girl would bring in treats for the class, and could then spend part of lunch running around the school with one lucky friend, offering the Zebra Cakes or Hostess Yodels or Entemans donuts (you know, the yellow cake ones covered in a coat of flakey, chocolatey icing) to all of their previous teachers. And when May 11th rolled around and it was my turn to procure store-bought treats, without fail, the teachers would always wish me a happy birthday…and then refuse my offering. This made absolutely no sense. I remember thinking that if I were a teacher, I would not only accept the donut or whatever, I’d take two, because being a grown-up means no one is around to monitor your sugar intake. When I was introduced to the concept of dieting, I remember thinking it was still ridiculous, because I didn’t think of any of my teachers as “fat.”

Ah, the innocence of youth.

In any case, though most of my friends and family are watching what they eat — whether for health reasons, weight loss, or because they just don’t have the same appetite for sugar that they did when they were seven — I have a brother with the metabolism of a hummingbird who’s happy acting as a garbage disposal. Thus, when I get the urge to bake, I can send some baked goods off in a care package with the knowledge that they will be consumed and appreciated.

A few notes: I didn’t have any parchment paper on hand, so the cookies kind of fell apart a little when I took them off the cookie sheet. They still tasted great, though. Alex doesn’t like nuts combined with chocolate, so I replaced the walnuts in this recipe with peanut butter chips. The result was a chocolatey cookie with meringue-like lightness combined with an ooey-goeey center from all the melted chips. And as an added bonus, these babies are gluten-free!

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I Made Pickles!

Of all the strange things I have made and written about on this blog, bread and butter pickles are probably the strangest. Baked goods and dinner items can obviously be altered according to personal taste, but the recipe for pickles is pretty standard, and you can just as easily buy them in a jar. So why waste the energy to make them yourself? Well for starters, pickling things is really easy. Most of the pickling process is waiting, so the hardest part is really just restraining yourself from eating the pickles before they’re done. Also, like most homemade food, they taste better. You don’t taste the can and the preservatives, so the pickles have a fresh, crispy, juicy bite that’s noticeably different from their store bought counterparts. Other, more honest reasons include: it’s fun, and why not?

However, none of these reasons were adequately explained to the cute guy at the Apple Store who was fixing my computer, and while he was trying to get my iPhoto to stop doing weird things, happened to see all of my pictures of…pickles. Lots of close-ups of pickles and brine and chopped cucumbers. It probably didn’t help my case that the next most recent uploads were of Yiddishfest 2012 (a two hour klezmer festival in Central Park) and New York’s Gay Pride Parade. So to Mr. Genius Bar, my photo library looked something like this:

Which just goes to show that no one will ever know you like the random strangers who have complete access to your computer.

Anyway…let’s talk pickles, shall we?

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Bon Voyage Brownies

I turned 21 in Europe, which was somewhat anti-climactic. After years of anxiety about “being carded,” my passage into American adulthood felt no different from the four previous months I had spent legally buying alcohol in France. I had a small celebration on the beach, where friends drank wine and champagne and we all headed home before 2AM. A few people made jokes, asking me with mock sincerity what alcohol tasted like, but otherwise, life went on as usual. It was only after returning to the US that I began to notice some differences. For one thing, no one thinks my ID is real; I chalk it up to being short and being way more tan than I was when my ID photo was taken, in February 2007.

And then there are the little things, like Connecticut liquor laws, which haven’t changed much since the days of the Puritans.

My brother, Alex, left about a week ago to chaperone little kiddles at a camp in California, and I wanted to make him some brownies to take on the plane. The original recipe was for bourbon and brown butter brownies, so I put “bourbon” on my grocery list and didn’t think anything of it.

First I stopped at Trader Joe’s. Nothing. Then I tried Whole Foods, where I found lots of local organic micro-brews, but still no bourbon. I assumed that these two stores were too classy or something to sell hard liquor, but figured that they must sell whiskey at Stop & Shop, which stocks practically everything. Still no luck. When I came home, I mentioned to my mom that I couldn’t find bourbon at any of the grocery stores in our area. She looked at me like I was crazy, then reminded me that in the US, hard alcohol isn’t sold in grocery stores, only in liquor stores (in France, hard alcohol is sold behind the cash register at most, if not all supermarkets). But she graciously offered to stop at a liquor store to pick some up…only to discover that liquor stores here close at 8:00 PM. Thanks for nothing, Governor Theophilius Eaton.

So I had to improvise. I was wary of substituting scotch or Canadian whiskey for bourbon, as the taste is much stronger and might make the brownies taste bitter or sour. But, we did have an old bottle of my grandpa’s Kahlua (which has a really cool label), so I used that instead for more coffee-flavored Kahlua brownies. Needless to say, from scraping the bottom of the pan, I can report that they came out deliciously.

As for my inexperience with buying booze stateside, stay tuned for further episodes, like the first time I see the price of wine here (in France, wine is heavily subsidized, and you can buy a bottle of cheap wine for less than a bottle of juice).

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