Monday, October 6, 2014

Cheesy Apple Spice Noodle Kugel

CHEESY APPLE SPICE noodle KUGEL // a jewish fall casserole
Better late than never. That's what they say. And, I guess, sometimes they're wrong.  

In this case, they're very right.

The Jewish High Holidays may have come and gone, but there's always room for kugel on your Thanksgiving table, no matter your class or creed.  My mission is to make kugel a seasonal dish for the masses, and I declare it "Kugel Season." (And it's kuh-guhl, not koogle).  There's really no better way to celebrate the coming of the fall chill, and the dusting off of your post-holiday meal sweatpants.  I believe last year I fully explained how nonsensical and genius this "casserole" is, but let's do a recap: 

Mac & Cheese 
Graham Cracker Crust Cheesecake 

It's math.

Add to that formula the classic fall favorite, spiced apples, and you're going to be the Einstein of your holiday feasting. If you're just jumping on the pumpkin spiced everything bandwagon, you can check out last year's modification: Pumpkin Spice Noodle Kugel.  But, pumpkin spice is so 5774.

And, to be honest, I liked this apple spice version better than last year's pumpkin experiment.  If you're into apple pies that feature cheese, you're going to be into this.  Plus, I thought the apples did a great job of cutting the very rich and sweet cheesy noodle custard filling (whereas the pumpkin enhanced both).  Another modification to last year - and to my Aunt Bean's original recipe - was to cut out the center layer of graham cracker crust. I did this completely by accident, immediately thinking "YOM DISASTER 5775 IS GOING TO BE AWFUL THIS IS WORSE THAN THE FACT THAT I'M NOT EVEN TRYING TO FAST" but really preferred the end result.  It also cut back just a little on the immediate need for sweatpants after consuming.

May 5775 be the year of happy accidents, and many more kugels.  But, truly, if you're new to the kugel concept, or if you're just not from the South or Midwest, don't be turned off by the prospects of making this ten-pound dish of guilty pleasure.  Nothing rivals kugel, and you won't know it until you try it.  The point is to celebrate the sweetness of life from time to time, especially on holidays with family and friends.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Moroccan Braised Chicken with Apricots and Citrus Couscous

MOROCCAN braised chicken with APRICOTS // ORANGE ZEST couscous 

Each week I revisit my list of travel-inspired dishes I want to recreate to post on the blog with some witty/inspired story behind them.  It includes Basque salted cod pintxos, Turkish simit, Peruvian lomo saltado, and French pork rillettes smeared across a tartine and topped with little gherkins, to name a few.  The beautiful images of food are paired with even prettier pictures I dig off of my external hard drive, exporting all the readers to a different place and time (like 2009, or something) where life is always simple and food is always good.

And then I just make another Moroccan dish instead.

While I actually have been to Morocco (truly one of my favorite places and I break a little inside thinking I might never see it again), I never had a dish like this when I was there.  But, instead of this being a dish tied to rosy memories of exotic locations, it's tied to one of those memories which triggers a visceral nose-scrunching embarrassment - the surprise party for my 30th birthday that I handled poorly, to say the least.  While the birthday girl was not very gracious, the food was delicious and I'm glad I walked away with this recipe to make 6+ months later.

I guess Moroccan is a frequent go-to cuisine for me because it combines the hearty warmth of dishes like a Mexican posole or Thai noodle with the flavor profile of the Middle East.  In general, anything that combines braising and warming spices is a win for me.  In many ways this dish is perfect for fall in that it combines braised, tender meat with citrus and spices you might find in Western seasonal meals.  It's also a quicker, less spice-intensive version of a North African tagine, and probably would be fantastic with the addition of Moroccan preserved lemons.  If you've just been looking to take your side dish game up a notch, the orange zest couscous is a good one to add to your repertoire.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thai Basil Pork with Coconut Rice

Between the months of August and September my life usually involves a significant amount of limbo, caught between one travel cycle and the next.  There are school years and fiscal cycles, business quarters and one's standard Gregorian calendar year (or lunar calendar, if you prefer), but I measure my time in journeys and the time spent waiting in between.  But, August and September I spend wondering, with some anxiety, if another year will be measured out in global distances.  Only this year, I was nearly quite certain it would not.  For one, Bree (my travel sidekick) is having a baby!  Garrett (my backup travel sidekick) has a new job!  And, I had settled on retiring my days of travel with students.  It was looking like my Labor Day weekend in Milwaukee would be the last summer excursion for a while.  What a way to end a era.

I knew this day would come.  When travel happened, as for most, as a vacation instead of a lifestyle.  For most, travel as a lifestyle is unsustainable.

But then I sort of came to my senses, remembered my priorities, and broadened my perspective a bit.  For one, I have a little getaway to Mexico scheduled this winter for a wedding.  Two, I'm likely New York City bound for spring break to meet Bree's little person.  And, three, I pulled a Michael Jordan and came out of my briefly self-imposed student travel retirement, deciding to go for another AP Euro trip.  Our planned itinerary won't be taking me anywhere new, but at least I can get my Paris fix for a 7th year in a row (obnoxiously fortunate, as I am) and give London another fair shot.  None of it is quite the same as living out of a dirty backpack and walking the world until your feet bleed, but it's closer to the road than home.

Of course, I haven't yet written on my experience traveling solo last summer.  For now, I'll sum it up by saying that it's definitely on the table.

And, of course, Thai Basil Pork is also on the table this week.  First school year cold came earlier than usual this year, and luckily passed quicker than usual, requiring some good sinus-clearing spice.  I've also become obsessed with cooking rice in coconut milk - a great pairing for any spicy topping and a good alternative if you like coconut milk-based soups.  If you're harvesting your home gardens before the first big chill, it's a great opportunity to use up that basil (Italian would probably work just fine, as well).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Spekkoek (Dutch-Indonesian Spice Cake)

SPEKKOEK // Dutch-Indonesian SPICE CAKE

Back home, back to work, back to blogging.

I know I've been away from the kitchen for a while, spending most of my summer reading and traveling, but I've collected an exciting list of foods to make from all over Europe.  First up this week is a Dutch spice cake I discovered in Amsterdam called spekkoek.  It's been fun trying to track down the name of the cake and how to prepare it (I couldn't understand the exact word when I initially asked the waitress).  Sure enough, a search for everything I knew about the cake - "layered spice cake, Dutch" - turned up precisely the results I needed.

Of course, I was tickled by also learning that the cake is a cultural diffusion recipe, because all historian cooks love those.  For the non-historians out there, the rich and heavy mixture of spices is historical evidence of the Dutch East India Company's seventeenth-century command of the spice trade with the East Indies, and particularly the Dutch colony of Indonesia (which they nabbed from the Portuguese).  I actually intend to use this recipe as a classroom discussion piece this week, since we dive right into the rise of Europe through control of spice routes during the "Age of Exploration."

But back to the present, and present-day Amsterdam.  Believe it or not (which is obnoxious for me to say), I had never been to Amsterdam before this summer, and spent much too little time in this friendly place.  Amsterdam is probably the most "user friendly" city I've ever been to, and by that I mean its so evident that the planners of Amsterdam (past and present) have the human - the pedestrian, the cyclist, the child - in mind at all times.  The spaces are designed to engage humans with the space, and with each other, and in this way the city births society.  I'm hard-pressed to find outdoor seating at even the most cosy cafes in Chicago that are free from the visual, auditory, and olfactory pollution from cars.

It was on one of the quiet pedestrian streets that I discovered spekkoek.  It was the first "I'm making this when I get home!" moment from my travels.  

As a warning, this recipe only appears complicated, and is actually really fun to make.  So, don't be deterred by the process of cooking each alternating layer (or that it calls for lots of butter and eggs).  It comes together more or less like cooking many crepes on top of one another.  And, again, I had a blast doing it, as if I was partaking in some cooking challenge (that you can't really mess up).  If you're ready for fall, this is a perfect recipe to try (and if you stow it away for later, that broiler will really keep the house warm once the weather cools).  

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Moroccan Braised Kale over Wheatberries

(with a poached egg)

This summer, my coworker and I decided to keep a shared daily log of everything we ate and all the exercise we've done in order to feel a sense of accountability for a healthy lifestyle.  You've probably heard of this as a method of establishing better habits, but if you haven't tried it you absolutely should!  I also highly recommend pairing up with someone who is a gluten-free vegetarian...seeing that every meal on this log he's keeping is super healthy omelettes and salads.  I may return to school in August to find a rabbit sitting across from me in the office.

One of the benefits of this experiment has been a sort of mirroring effect.  Looking at PA's progress has been really impressive, and it has rubbed off.  So now, I find myself wanting to create more meals that are vegetarian, for example.  I've also found myself eating lots of eggs for protein, because that's his main protein source.  So, while this particular post includes wheatberries, the basic recipe for this braised kale is one I've been coming back to over and over again this summer.  It's a bit of a variation of both my Kale, Spinach, and Meatball Soup and Shakshouka, but without the meat.

I've found keeping the log is motivating enough to try and continue with it while I'm abroad for almost the remainder of the summer.  I know that sounds a bit crazy - and believe me I'll still allow myself a good lemon and sugar crepe in Paris, a waffle in Belgium, etc. - but I think it will be a good way to prevent a dietary nuclear meltdown.  Hopefully it also turns out to be a good way to document some great flavors I discover across the pond, and then bring them home and back to the blog when I return.  I know this is already only the second post of the summer, but surely I'll pick it up again with more regularity in August.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Greek Yogurt Almond Crust Tart


As much as I've been enjoying this summer of sunning on the deck, reading books, practicing my French for upcoming travels, running, and even trying to work a bit every day, it's been difficult to get myself back into summer form.  Despite the fact that there regularly seems to be a family or friend event that includes great food (at which I would never say, "No thanks, I'm on a diet," simply due to willpower, or lack thereof), I'm starting to get a creeping feeling that trimming down is getting increasingly harder as I ripen on the tree of life.  Either that or my daily runs simply don't compensate for sitting on my ass with a book the rest of the day, compared to standing and moving pretty much all the time when I teach. 

Whatever the case may be, I've always been a person that needs to put myself in situations where the bad options don't exist.  Because when they do - and as they will when I spend nearly the next month in Europe - I'm going to opt for them. I am human.   So, I decided to bring this Greek Yogurt Tart to a BBQ yesterday hoping it wouldn't disappoint those looking for some gooey cherry pie or something.

I really liked the ways this tart came out, but I love mildly sweet desserts.  It is reminiscent of cheesecake in its texture and tang, but not nearly as rich.  You could even do a graham cracker crust if you truly wanted to imitate a cheesecake, but I love almonds and this crust is also gluten free.  Also, like a cheesecake you could flavor the custard filling with whatever flavor you wanted (consider what fruit you like best with your yogurt).  Either add chunks of fruit right into the custard, or swirl in a good fruit compote/curd.  In fact, if you wanted to use this as a brunch/breakfast recipe, an oatmeal crust would be perfect.  So, it's certainly adaptable to your likes and needs.