1. Poor Tiny Kitchen Blog! I have been a neglectful blogger for pretty much all of 2014. I’ve been cooking a lot, though, and trying to learn some new skills along the way. One skill I’ve been really wanting to acquire is poaching an egg. My friend Chelsea does it a lot, with impressive results. I took a stab at poaching a few eggs last week, but didn’t fare as well. One can only learn by doing, I suppose!

    There are lots of factors that go into a great poach, I’ve learned. Water boiling too much? Too little? Egg dropped in haphazardly? Egg left in for too long? All of these things happened to me for Poach #1. Oops! I followed tips from Alton Brown and ended up cooking the egg all the way through. Thanks a lot, Alton!

    Poach #1: a fully-cooked yolk

    Before Poach #2 I read through this article from the Huffington Post. HuffPo is hardly my go-to cooking resource, but their instructions (combined with some helpful tips from my mom) resulted in a far better poach. Perhaps it’s because of the GIFs? Is this how my generation learns now? Through two-second looping animations? It’s highly possible.

    Poach #2: mostly runny middle, slightly cooked outer-edge of yolk

    The saving grace of both attempts was the beans on toast underneath. I simmered a can of white Navy Beans with a bay leaf and some white wine for 5-8 minutes, then added freshly shaved parmesan and spinach. Then I heaped the beans on a piece of toast covered in goat cheese. And of course, grated some more parmesan on top of the whole dish. This was a really easy (well, assuming one can poach an egg properly!) and quick weeknight meal that was delicious and filling. 

  2. I’ve been following my fellow NCSU-alumna Heather Hardison’s blog Illustrated Bites for a while now, and really enjoy every entry. Each recipe is illustrated in a delightful yet still clear and simple way, and is always accompanied by wonderful hand-drawn typography.

    Heather’s definitely a talented lady, and I’m glad the rest of the world thinks that way, too — she’s releasing a book based on Illustrated Bites in the spring of 2015! After enjoying Illustrated Bites in the digital realm, I’m looking forward to seeing a bunch of new seasonal recipes from Heather in print form.

    I jumped at the chance to test a recipe for Illustrated Bites — what a cool way to help out such an exciting project! I’ve also always wondered how cookbook authors (or ghost writers!) perfect their recipes. The answer is lots of user testing, trying things out in different kitchens (read: old weird ovens), and seeing how easy it is to find various ingredients in New York vs. San Francisco. 

    I’ll leave you with this close-up photo of the Savory Summer Galette I recipe tested and made for our recent Easter Feaster. Heather’s recipe was super easy to follow, and the galette was really delicious (and well-received by friends). You’ll have to look out for the recipe in the book next spring!

  3. Lauren and I hosted Easter Feaster this year. I’m not sure when this tradition originated, but I’m glad it’s become an annual occurrence for our friends. There was quite a spread — deviled eggs, two kinds of homemade bread, honey roasted ham, brussel sprouts, a cherry tomato tart, a savory summer galette, pound cake, and chocolatey peanut butter pudding.

    The kitchen looked lovely, despite the broken floor tiles:

    We started the party off right with some awkward and adorable portraits:

    Team Meat did not disappoint, and no one was surprised:

    Cameron and I were also there in our patterned Sunday finest:

    And then we ate. And ate some more. And then ate dessert. And it was all delicious. I’m already looking forward to the next holiday slash communal potluck feast!

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    Ah, the macaron. Small and sweet, perfectly prim, and a force to be reckoned with. I made a batch of these last night, and I’m still trying to figure out all the ways I went wrong — but at least they taste delicious! I’m not much of a baker, preferring the trial-and-error type of prep involved with savory dishes over the mathematical precision needed for baking. However, I’ve been watching MasterChef, a reality show (hosted by the ferocious Gordon Ramsay) where ambitious home cooks compete in various cooking challenges, so I felt inspired to try something outside of my comfort zone. I also wanted to use the beautiful new hand mixer my mom gave me for Christmas, and test my meringue abilities.

    Long, long story short, I’m optimistically calling these macarons a 75% win and a 25% failure. They look absolutely nothing like the photo in the recipe I followed (and definitely nothing like macarons in the windows of Financier and other fancy bakeries), but they do taste really, really good.

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    Looking back, it is laughable how simple the recipe made these cookies seem. When I was piping the batter out of a ziploc bag (yep, not a pastry bag, just a ziploc bag), I realized I had no idea how tall to pipe the macarons. After hurriedly Googling “tips for macarons,” there are entire WEBSITES devoted to all the problems you can encounter. I pressed on and ended up with some deflated and dense cookies to sandwich around a delicious lemon buttercream frosting.

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    I think my biggest issue was not beating the eggs enough. “Stiff peaks” did not exactly form before I folded the dry ingredients in, so that probably prevented my cookies from being as tall as they were supposed to. I was supposed to start beating on Medium, but it was probably more like Medium-Low, before working my way up to High. Oops.

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    Thank goodness they taste delicious. It was a lot of effort, but I’d much rather have a good-tasting cookie that looks bad rather than a bad-tasting cookie that tastes good. I think that’s what Gordon would want as well. Right, Gordon?

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    Or maybe not.

  5. I couldn’t not share these photos of the wonderfully weird treats my talented friend Jamie whipped up for her holiday party a few weeks ago. The desserts allude to the theme of the night — the fictional defeat of Lessie the sea monster, as told in an epic story by Jamie’s boyfriend Chris. The treats below were all parts of the fallen Lessie’s body. I assure you, however, they were much tastier than you would expect a sea monster to be.

  6. This year I celebrated Thanksgiving three times over: with friends, with work, and with my mom. I definitely did a lot more eating than I did cooking, but did manage to whip up this Vegan Pecan Pie from Food 52. It was very well-received, especially with a big dollop of whipped cream on the side.

    Lauren and I hosted a delicious Friendsgiving. Our house was full to the brim with savory and sweet treats, as well as friendship and mulled wine. There were lots of tasty vegetarian casseroles, but the boys expertly cooked a huge turkey to round out the meal for us meat eaters.  

    My favorite dishes were Alison’s Eggplant & Squash Moussaka and Ed’s Sriarcha-glazed Brussel Sprouts — pretty much the only green element on the table!

    A wonderful celebration with wonderful friends.

    At work we had a Thanksgiving-themed bake-off. The photo above is of the LEFTOVERS, after our team luncheon where we presented the desserts. I think we all enjoyed a pumpkin cheesecake brownie or two for breakfast that week!

    And lastly, I had Thanksgiving dinner with my mom in North Carolina. Her roast parsnips and potatoes are always so delicious. The turkey was cooked to perfection, complete with tasty stuffing and crisp bacon on top.

    My mom also made an amazing hazelnut roulade with pumpkin cream filling. Light and airy but still creamy and indulgent, it was the perfect follow-up to the main meal — after waiting a few hours to digest, of course! For this photo I art directed the turkeys (who are actually salt and pepper shakers) to strike this pose. 

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    I’m not generally one to make New Years resolutions, but at the beginning of 2013 I resolved to read more (though “more” was not quantified in any particular way). Looking through my library checkout history of the past year, I discovered I’d read 29 books this year! Not to mention the handful of books I’ve borrowed from Maggie and Chelsea. That’s about one book every other week! 

    One genre of books I gravitated towards was food memoirs, unsurprisingly. There’s always a plethora of them at the library, and a few of them I recognized from reading about online. I definitely liked some more than others. Memoirs can come off (to me at least) as a bit tedious if you don’t like the author’s voice, though that’s not necessarily the author’s fault. Anyway, all of the above were generally good reads, and it was interesting to be learning about food in a different format than my usual food blogs, online articles, and cookbooks.

    I’ll start with my favorite: The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway. This book appealed to me because Cathy’s lifestyle is so similar to mine — attempting to eat in (and save money) as much as possible in a city where eating out is the norm. She decides not to eat out for two years in an effort to be healthier and hone her cooking skills (and her willpower). I liked her anecdotal writing style, and her description of Brooklyn-centric dinner parties and food events. I would definitely recommend this book for someone who wants to be motivated to eat in more.

    I also really loved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver’s fiction books are wonderful, and this memoir was written just as beautifully and humorously. The book centers on her family’s move from Arizona to rural North Carolina (!) where they vow to only consume food they have grown themselves, or purchased from a local (and usually seasonal) vendor. This new lifestyle presents many challenges, as you can imagine, but their food education and exploration is fascinating to read about. 

    A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan was also very good. Overwhelmed by her life as a New York fashion writer, the author retreats to Singapore to learn authentic family recipes from her grandmother and aunties. The memoir outlines her learning curve of the foreign recipes, in a language she doesn’t always understand, while reconnecting with her family and heritage.

    Though I enjoyed Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, I felt the latter half of the book focused too much on her personal life and marriage.  It was really interesting, however, to read about how all her food experiences (observing her childhood kitchen, working in catering, cooking at a summer camp, and learning from her Italian in-laws) converged to influence the style of her famed NYC restaurant Prune

    I also found Heat by Bill Buford to be slightly tedious, though the story is  fascinating. Buford volunteers as a line cook in Mario Batali’s kitchen, slowly learning the fine points of food prep and cooking — making many mistakes along the way. The book highlights the crazy kitchen culture, and goes into a lot of detail about Batali’s history. Sometimes the chapters and individual stories felt very long, though the detail is great. 

    And finally, though I enjoyed Julie and Julia by Julie Powell quite a bit, I felt it didn’t live up to all the hype. I love the premise of the book — setting out to cook all of Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking recipes in one year, and blogging about it — I just didn’t love the author’s tone. However, I did appreciate her honesty about kitchen failures (and difficulty procuring various ingredients), and how much of a learning process it all was. Much of the detail is great, and I would definitely watch the movie.

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    Sumac berry photo courtesy Wikipedia.

    I’d been on the lookout for a spice called Sumac for a while, hoping it would take me out of the cooking rut I was stuck in. I read lots of recipes promising that Sumac would deliver an acidic punch to pretty much any salad, fish, or chicken dish, and I was looking forward to trying out this Middle Eastern staple. Sadly the Sumac, a fine red powder with a tart flavor, was proving difficult to track down.

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    Powdered Sumac photo courtesy Jules: Stone Soup.

    I saw it on wholesale websites, and in Williams-Sonoma (for $7.95 per tiny bottle!), but knew there must be some small authentic market that would have it for cheap. After some extensive googling I learned about Sahadi’s — a magical Mediterranean grocery store in Brooklyn Heights. Sahadi’s stocks bulk bins of grains, dried fruits, nuts, olives, candies, any & all Middle Eastern provisions (hummus, babaganoush, etc), has a small baked goods section, and most importantly: Sumac. Best of all, everything in the store is super cheap. My generous container of Sumac was only 93 cents! I was in spice heaven:

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    After wandering around for way too long, I ended up walking away with the following: bag of spinach cous-cous ($2), a can of chickpeas ($0.90), Sumac ($0.93), a “nutella wheel” ($1), and a spinach and feta boureka ($0.75, sadly consumed on the way home, but photographed on the street).

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    Sahadi’s also stocks hummus in a can. I wasn’t brave enough to try it (why is it ready to eat? should it be refrigerated first?), but I wish I had been — it was only $1. Next time, for sure:

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    After all that effort, I was worried the Sumac would let me down. Was it really worth the special trek, despite the cheap price? 

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    Well, I’m pleased to report that the Sumac flavoring definitely lived up to my high expectations. It’s lemony and sweet, without overpowering the dish, and complements pretty much anything I’ve put it on. It’s interesting that it’s acceptable to sprinkle the Sumac on both during and after the cooking process. There’s a lot of spices (say cumin, for example), that I think would be unpalatable when sprinkled on at the table (would be way too dry on your tongue). But apparently it’s quite common for a small bowl of Sumac to be served at the same time as dinner, as if it’s a condiment.

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    So far I’ve had the Sumac on chicken, chickpeas, and eggplant, and it’s really enhanced each dish. I’ve been sprinkling about a teaspoon amount on while sauteeing the chicken, etc. The light and tart flavor has been a great addition to my summer dinners, especially when paired with wilted spinach, cooked couscous, or chopped fresh veggies.

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    Sunday continues to be my “food prep” day — yesterday I made a bunch of falafels to see me through the week. Combined with a tomato and cucumber salad, shredded broccoli and carrots, plus tahini sauce, I’m very much looking forward to lunchtime today.

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    The falafels themselves are pretty light — they’re pan fried, but at least not as deep fried as falafels you’d get from a cart (though let’s be honest, those are the best). And they’re packed full of dark leafy greens, plus a whole can of chickpeas, so they’re nutritious and should be fairly high in protein. 

    I’ve made falafels several times in the past, but this time I cut out the egg and breadcrumbs. I had to add a few tablespoons of chickpea flour to make them stay together — the falafels were just too wet and hummus-like otherwise, and fell apart in the pan.

    I also added more than a cup of kale…maybe closer to a cup and a half. Plus a teaspoon of cumin and a teaspoon of celery salt, and no soy or worcestershire sauce. The falafels were pretty tasty, but the tomato and cucumber salad definitely completed the meal:

    Tomato and Cucumber salad is:
    (basically tabbouleh without the grains)

    ♥  1 box grape tomatoes (about two handfuls), cut into quarters
    ♥  1 small cucumber, chopped into bitesize pieces
    ♥  1/4 bunch parsley, minced
    ♥  1/4 white onion, minced
    ♥  1 tbsp red wine vinegar
    ♥  1 tbsp white wine vinegar
    ♥  salt and pepper, to taste.

    I drizzled tahini sauce on top of the falafels, salad, and broccoli/carrot slaw (from a bag) to complete the meal:

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    I made a simple beet sandwich this weekend, and roasted enough beets for Monday and Tuesday lunches at work. After tossing the beets in olive oil and rosemary, I roasted (really, “toasted”) them in my toaster oven for about twenty minutes, flipping them over at the halfway mark.

    Since the toaster oven isn’t as powerful as our regular oven, I made sure to slice the beets very thinly so they would cook all the way through. 

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    I toasted half a whole wheat roll, then spread a thin layer of goat cheese. On top of that I layered some pureed white beans (really just mashed up with a fork, combined with lemon juice and more rosemary), then the beets.

    For my work lunches I stuffed a bunch of salad greens inside the sandwich, instead of having the salad on the side. Whenever I eat salad at my desk at work I am always spilling balsamic vinegar on my keyboard/desk/clothes so figured it was easier to just have the greens tucked away inside the sammie!

    I love making lunches for work that are low-effort but still tasty, healthy, and filling — so this sandwich is going into the work-lunch rotation for sure.

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