Peter Piper and Me

pickled peppers

Let’s just call this a peck, shall we?

Never had I stopped and considered exactly how much of something constituted a peck until I was out in the garden in the dark, wiping cold rain out of my eyes and trying to locate hot peppers with a flashlight.

This project had started, of course, with grander visions. I had gotten nostalgic about the giant jars of whole chili peppers swimming in vinegar that used to grace every table in Cambodia, and I had convinced Jason to stick a single hot pepper plant in the corner of our community garden plot. Then, Peter Piper-style visions dancing in my head, I waited. And waited. And waited. Our pepper plant grew to mammoth proportions but was an exceedingly late bloomer. Finally, just this month, it sprouted loads of peppers, though most of them remained green, probably because of the chilly weather.

pepper picking

Trick or Treeeeat!

But then again, the peppers in Cambodia had always been a wide variety of colors, and ours were, indeed, hot, as evidenced by the weird panting noises that Jason made after I fed him a little piece of a raw one, so I decided that maybe the greenness wasn’t that big of a deal, and I should proceed with the pickling as planned. But the clock was ticking; it had gotten awfully late in the season, so late that it’s dark by the time I get home from work, which is why, last night, I was arming myself with a flashlight and trying to convince myself that it would be kind of like trick or treating, before heading out to lurk around the muddy garden and probably creep out all of the neighbors.

Man, it sure seemed like I picked a lot of peppers, yea, perhaps even a peck of pickled peppers. A peck is a quarter of a bushel (or eight quarts, for those of you who don’t regularly buy things by the bushel). My crop ended up filling two tiny jam jars, so I may have come in a little shy of my target. But boy, do they look delicious.

Here’s how you can pickle some of your very own: Continue reading

A Double Dose of Allium Soup

IMG_1555Is there anything better than walking in your front door and being greeted by the scent of garlic and onion sautéing in a pan? For one, it smells delicious, and it also means that someone else is on top of dinner. Jason and I both took a turn at cooking up the ol’ alliums this week (the family that includes both garlic and onions), he with a healthful, cold-fighting garlic soup, and I with a not-so-healthful-but-seriously-super-delicious French onion soup.

Jason got the skinny on the garlic soup from his yoga teacher, who made it for her sick child. Garlic has long been a home remedy for warding off the sniffles, to say nothing of its reputation as a worthy adversary of arthritis, heart disease and some kinds of tumors. You could argue that garlic is not a miracle drug…or you could just eat some of this garlic soup and be happy. And you can trust me on this count: the garlic in it is well-cooked enough that you won’t leak garlic from your pores. I was sort of looking forward to getting a seat to myself on the subway afterward, but I smelled no more like a salami than usual. You can find the recipe at this very earnest website.

french onion soupHealthfulness is a noble ambition, but I had other things on my mind when I made my allium soup. Namely, the fact that the day I figured out that most French onion soup is made with beef broth was a very dismal day in my vegetarian life. Once, I was listening to an Australian woman rant about her travels in America. I was with her until she said, “My God, you put cheese on everything! I ordered soup and it came covered in cheese!” That’s the moment I discovered I had nothing more to say to this woman. If you can’t see the beauty in a heap of melted Gruyere, well, then…perhaps you better scoot on back to your former prison colony of a nation.

So when we got a couple big ol’ white onions in our farm share, I looked up a recipe and changed it a little for vegetarians. It involves making big Gruyere-coated croutons that you float on top. This might not be quite as impressive as blanketing the bowl like restaurants do, but it’s easier and it ensures that not a shred of cheese is wasted. Good for a cold? Maybe not, but it’s good for the soul.

Vegetarian French Onion Soup Continue reading

There’s Only One Way to be a Beer Snob and You’re Doing It Wrong!

This is the kind of bad attitude I'm talking about! But we could...

This is the kind of bad attitude I’m talking about! But we could…

My husband and I, who both consider ourselves solid beer snobs, took a trip to beer Mecca last year: Vermont. We had a very tightly packed vacation schedule, which looked something like this:
To Do & See
1) Beer

While in Burlington, we took a beer tour of the city, visiting at least four breweries that I remember. Somewhere after the third beer the other couple on our tour invited us to come with them later that night to visit the brewery that makes Beer Advocate’s top rated beer: Heady Topper, an imperial IPA from The Alchemist. They are located in Waterbury, Vermont, a bit of a drive from Burlington. When Ben and I both admitted we’d never had the beer, the woman let out a somewhat inappropriate moan as her eyes rolled back in her head.

Numero Uno

Numero Un

While she recovered her husband let loose a long string of superlatives to describe The Alchemist’s beers that gradually took on a British air. “Oh dear,” he fussed. “My accent comes out when I’ve been drinking!” Ben asked if he was from England, to which he answered, “no, but my grandfather was born there.”

The further into the tour we went the less either of us wanted to be stuck for hours with these people in a confined space. They epitomized every stereotype of beer snobbery that I hope dearly I do not myself embody. They breathlessly turned red in the face telling me everything they knew about any beery topic at hand. They started many of their responses to me with, “Well, actually…”. They snubbed certain beers and breweries that did not somehow live up to their vertiginous standards. (Except Magic Hat? Posers.) Continue reading

Umami and the Apple in the Tomato Slayer’s Eye


“Stop embarrassing yourself.”

We have made it through an entire tomato season having only woken up a handful of times to a mauled tomato on the living room floor. This is progress. I think the progress is mostly due to the habit we’ve developed of hiding our tomatoes like Easter eggs rather than any real rehabilitation on the part of Oscar (a.k.a. The Tomato Slayer). But progress nonetheless.

The other day, while Oscar was busy seducing the top of a soy sauce bottle, I hatched a new theory about his unnatural tomato love. Maybe he is so nuts about them because of umami, that mysterious fifth taste that English has hard time capturing in words. Most people say it corresponds to savory, the taste of meat and MSG and ketchup (and…tomatoes?!) A quick Google search had me feeling smug; there were multiple reports of carnivorous housecats attacking non-meat items that are rich in that umami taste, particularly mushrooms. Oscar has never shown a particular taste for mushrooms, even the ones that I grew on my windowsill, but he does have a discriminating palate, so I decided to rehydrate one of our fancy Chinese black mushrooms and run a little experiment. Perhaps I had finally plumbed the secrets of the Tomato Slayer’s inner workings.

But the response was… Continue reading

A Pepper Reeducation


Black bean sliders with chipotle mayo and all the fixins? Yes, please!

A confession, dear readers: I was recently brought face-to-face with my own alarming level of pepper ignorance. I don’t talk about it in mixed company, of course, and I try to give all peppers the respect they deserve, but I do harbor some latent anti-bell-pepper feelings. But that isn’t the half of it. A couple days ago, I realized that I didn’t know one of my pepper darlings (a model minority pepper, if you will) half as well as I thought I did.

And before you get all high and mighty, take this little test. Is the following statement true or false: the chipotle pepper is a variety of pepper (just like bell peppers, banana peppers, Thai chili peppers, etc.) If you said true, you are WRONG, my friend, as wrong as I was. Chipotle peppers are actually a preparation of pepper, not a varietal. They are jalapeño peppers that have been dried and smoked. I know! Crazy! Our little pal the jalapeño has been going incognito! And he’s been smoking his way into chipotle-dom ever since the reign of the Aztecs.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the mega-successful fast food chain, which is probably the reason most of us learned the word “chipotle” in the first place. I became acquainted with my first massive Chipotle burrito as an undergraduate, and if there is a time in your life when it seems like eating your weight in guacamole might just solve all your problems, then that is it.


Meco chipotles

But it wasn’t too long after that when I met the real chipotle and started buying the little cans of chipotles packed in adobo sauce (a marinade of tomatoes, vinegar, spices, etc). These are the easiest ones to score in America; they’re almost certainly in the canned food aisle of your local grocery store. It’s typically the smaller morita kind of chipotles that you find packed into the cans, rather than the larger, smokier, pricier, and more-coveted meco kind. But let’s be honest: meco chipotles look like cigar butts, and I probably wouldn’t quite know what to do with one even if I could find it easily. The canned kind, on the other hand, are super easy to use, and so, so good. If you haven’t yet tried them, here are three terrifically easy ways you can add the smoky kick of the chipotle to your own cooking. Continue reading

Jalapeño-Rosemary Lemon Chard Baked Potatoes

IMG_1533Baked potatoes are the bomb.  Rub the potatoes down with oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and stick ‘em in the over, and I am happy.  And that’s why, at a job where food not eaten by students is inexplicably dumped in the trash, I advised the chef to give the leftovers to me, rather than the garbage.  And so I ended up with a huge Ziploc freezer back full of baked potatoes.

Which was fine because I had too much work to do last night to try to figure out some way to make that CSA squash palatable to Shannon, who ranks squash somewhere along the lines of gruel.  Still, we had a bunch of new CSA greens, too.  What to do?

Jalapeño-Rosemary Lemon Chard Baked Potatoes, that’s what to do.  Shannon was skeptical of the flavor profile, but part of my job is to propose ideas and suggestions Shannon is skeptical of and then overcome the odds.  It took about forty-five minutes to make (mostly due to washing and chopping everything), a time frame that would probably have been shorter if I wasn’t listening to All Things Considered and just kind of unwinding, and the end result was a brightly flavorful and filling dinner with a little bit of heat and a fresh, slightly crunchy aspect to the expected earthiness of the potato.  It was kind of a nice new take on the stolid tuber.

Jalapeño-Rosemary Lemon Chard Baked Potatoes

  • 1 large green jalapeño, finely chopped, with 7 or 8 of the seeds retained
  • 5 sprigs rosemary, leaves finely chopped
  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard, leaved separated from stalk and roughly chopped and stalk cut into ¼ pieces Continue reading

I Feel the Need, the Need for Mead

Mead: it's really old!

Mead: it’s really old!

One week ago I stood in my pjs and wielded a red suede loafer against the hoard of evil flying, stinging bugs who welcomed me that morning. Ben was asleep until I stepped on one and was stung in the arch of my foot: “*&^$! BEES! #*%@ these BEES!” Ben sat up straight in bed as I howled and was immediately stung in the arm. A blue cloud of foul language hung low over our apartment building that morning.

And as the bugs did me a wrong, so did I bees, for in fact, those were yellow jackets and not bees at all. (For wasps, they sure were impolite!) Sure, bees can sting you, but they also do other wonderful things those flying vermin from Hell cannot: namely, make honey. And from honey, we make mead.

Mead is simply honey fermented in water, so it has only three core ingredients: honey, water, and yeast. There is this ongoing debate over whether mead is wine or beer, when really it’s obviously neither. It’s good and all, but I’m not going to get in a twist over it when I could be enjoying a real beer instead. I do give it a bit of respect, though, as it is thought to be the first alcoholic beverage EVER. Continue reading

Baking in a Blender

Pie close-upO come, all ye baking inept, and I will show you the way, for its name is Buttermilk Pie and it will make you feel better about your poor pie-making skills.

Okay, so it’s no secret that I’m not really that great of a baker (see: my idea last year to “bake my way through the alphabet,” during which I gave up at about D when all the good stuff that started with Chocolate was behind me). So when my mother-in-law made us a delicious pie during a visit to Virginia a few weeks ago, I didn’t really harbor any illusions that I would be able to emulate it. Imagine my surprise then, when she sent us the recipe and it actually looked like something I could handle. It involves throwing a lot of things in a blender, and after a summer of making gazpacho and pesto, I am in tip-top blender-operating form. And that’s pretty much it! There’s Bisquick in the blended concoction, which forms a sort of crust, so you don’t even have to pretend that you made the crust yourself. I tried the recipe out last night, and it turned out so tasty that I might even try to engineer a smaller, tartlet version for the Sugar Sweets Festival that is coming up on October 25 (mark your calendars!)

buttermilk pieLet’s give credit where credit is due: the recipe comes from a friend and fellow teacher of my mother-in-law, but the almond kick-it-up-a-notch flourishes are all Katie Leahey. Leave it to teachers to set you on the right path, toward education and pie.

Bonnie Thompson’s Impossible Buttermilk Pie Continue reading

These Potatoes Shall Bear Your Name Quiz

white truffles in winterNot so long ago, I was listening to the audio book of White Truffles in Winter by N.M. Kelby. It’s kind of a perfect book for audio, since everything in it is so sensuous and tumultuous and very, very French. Anyway, one of the central conflicts is between the great French chef Escoffier and his wife, Delphine, who spends a lot of years fuming in a French kind of way while her husband sleeps with Sarah Bernhardt and names dishes after her and generally acts like a jerk. And after much eating and cigarette smoking and a couple wars, the dramatic climax hovers around the question of will he or won’t he name a dish after Delphine? But, no joke, it must be pretty awesome to have a food named in your honor, so I’ve cooked up this little quiz about eponymous foods. You need only name the food item, not the person, though I’ll put both in the answers. This is a tricky one, guys, so if you can get eight or more, feel free to name whatever food you want after yourself.

  1. A salad named for its probable creator, a chef at a famous hotel in Tijuana, Mexico
  2. A cracker named for a tee-totaling Presbyterian minister and health advocate
  3. A dish that incorporates the colors of the Italian flag, named for the country’s Queen consort upon her visit to Naples
  4. An oyster and shrimp-sauce concoction named for the founder of New Orleans
  5. A lemonade and iced tea beverage named for the an athlete known as “The King”
  6. A spicy Szechuan dish involving peanuts, named for a palace guardian during the Qing dynasty
  7. An egg dish named (probably) for a New York stockbroker who stumbled into the Waldorf Hotel one morning requesting a hangover cure
  8. A flavor of ice cream named for a counterculture icon, a guitarist missing a finger on his right hand
  9. A bakery item named for a Holy Roman Emperor (his profile was once stamped on the top of each one)
  10. A brand of wine named for a French Benedictine monk, the maker of the first true champagne
  11. A raw beef dish named for an Italian painter who used a lot of beef-colored red paint in his work
  12. A candy bar probably named for a famous baseball player (though the candy company said it was named for a president’s daughter to avoid being sued by said baseball player)

Don’t scroll down or click Continue until you’re ready for the answers… Continue reading

Snow Cap Bean Soup with Veggie Sausage Meatballs

snow cap soupThis past weekend, I was talking to a woman who made her own cactus fruit juice. Where, I queried, did she procure cactus fruits? “Oh, you know,” she said. “Down the block.”

This is one of those New York things that I love: the weird ingredients you find whether you’re looking for them or not. Years ago, as an impoverished new owner of an MFA degree, I was introduced to the East Village Cheese Shop (3rd Ave between 9th and 10th), a wonderland of steeply discounted cheese, obviously, but also all sorts of other oddities. On a recent trip there, I found these beautiful Community Grains Snow Cap heirloom beans, and if the price tag did not convince me to pick them up ($1.50 for a whole pound!!), then the description on the package certainly did: “Known for their jaunty white caps, smooth texture, and surprisingly potato-like flavor.” Jaunty white caps?! Sold!

jaunty white capsOf course, I’m often guilty of, say, buying something because of the eloquent description on the label and then not knowing what to do with it. So I made up this easy soup recipe for my beans, hearty and good for curing you of this new chilly nip in the air. Sure, you could substitute white beans, but why not scour your supermarket for something you haven’t used before, something…jaunty, perhaps?

Snow Cap Bean Soup with Veggie Sausage Meatballs Continue reading