cuisine sans cuisine.

mise en place

(that’s “cooking without a kitchen” for you Anglos.)

Even casual readers of this blog probably know I love to cook… and since I don’t think anyone reads this besides my friends and family, hopefully some of you remember a meal I cooked for you, hopefully with fond memories.

When I was accepted into grad school, I knew that a major part of my life was going to change. I’d be moving every six months to various cities around Europe. There would be no more cob ovens in the backyard, no more potluck pizza parties; no more summer nights concocting each new flavor in the hand-cranked ice cream maker; no more spring days sweating over a boiling vat of water as I pressurized cans of newly-cooked-up jams.

I did a farewell tour of my favorite cookbooks, then packed my bags for Europe.

At first it wasn’t so bad. In Sweden I had a great communal kitchen and great hallmates; I’d whip up huge curries and soups that I’d eat for days, and I’d bake strange and adventurous desserts to share with my friends. I’d leave cakes on the counter with a note that said “eat me”; one morning, I found a note back that said, “thanks, mysterious cake baker. you saved my day!” (I still have the note.)

For my friend Katie’s birthday, I made a cake, frosted it, and we had a great time decorating it with pink and purple sprinkles, flower-shaped sugar candies, and Disney princess candles. It was a hit.

Then I moved to France.

Not only do I not have a kitchen in my room – that was fine in Sweden – but the group kitchens are atrocious. There is one kitchen for thirty people; it has no ovens. Just a few stovetops and a few sinks, and one table, and sometimes some chairs. There are no cupboards, so you can’t store anything there; by default that means no communal cooking equipment. You own all your own stuff and store it, with your groceries, in your room. Luckily, we have small refrigerators. But our rooms are tiny enough as it is (mine is just nine square meters). So you don’t keep much.

The one time I have used the kitchen, I made donuts – well, beignets, with a nod to Todd – for my classmates. We drenched them in vanilla sugar. They were delicious. Other than that, the kitchen is just too much of a pain in the ass.

So what’s a gourmet addict to do? Believe it or not, there’s a lot you can cook without a kitchen. Am I happy? No. Am I eating? Yes. Tonight’s dinner:

meal

Pretty romantic. And yes, my whole room, basically, is lime green. It’s not as jarring as you would imagine.

If you are in a similar situation (with the kitchen – not the lime green paint, you’re on your own for that one), the most important thing to do is to buy an electric kettle! You need to be able to boil water. Other appliances are great too, but that’s the bare minimum, and that’s what I did, for not too much money at the Casino Geant. It’s like a Wal-Mart. Yes, first I lost my kitchen privileges, then I started shopping at the French equivalent of Wal-Mart. What is my life coming to!?

So when the shit hits the fan, here’s how to eat. A guide to cuisine, sans cuisine.

Sandwiches

If you’re not American, skip this part. Apparently everyone else thinks sandwiches are stupid. I used to agree with them; I just never liked them that much, and then I went through this summer where I could eat at a dining hall but I was always gone for mealtimes so sometimes I’d eat PB&J three meals a day, and that did not improve the sandwich outlook.

But: sandwiches can be great. If you put no effort into a sandwich, it will suck. But think how much time you put into making a “normal” meal. Now put half that time into a sandwich. It’s going to be great! Even if it’s not even half the time.

In Sweden, I had great combinations of soft cheese, lingonberry jam, chicken, and cucumbers. In France, it’s a paradise with which to make a sandwich. You have great bread. Amazing cheese, of every provenance and type. Mustard? heck yeah! Cured meats sliced thin. Sauces and spreads. Olives and pickles and fresh vegetables. I like to throw in apple slices. You can make a different sandwich every day, practically.

Do not fear the sandwich. Turn it into a meal. The sandwich is your friend.

Cold Things in Bowls

Basically everything else I eat is a pile of food in a bowl. I don’t own a plate; I own two blue ceramic bowls that I bought at IKEA. So, food in a bowl. The first category is cold things in a bowl.

The most obvious answer is salad, but as a single person, I don’t buy greens; they always get slimy before I eat them all. So my cold bowls have other bases, and are usually topped with a homemade two- or three-ingredient vinaigrette that sometimes contains mustard. Some recent ones:

Avocado, pear, hard-boiled eggs (made in your electric kettle!), cheese

Purple cabbage, lentils, apples, nuts

Tomatoes, cheese, cucumber, tuna

Panzanella: bread salad with tomatoes (like this)

Use your imagination and go wild. Vegetables are your friends; so are fruits (fresh or dried); so are canned beans and legumes. Meat and cheese are good additions. I’m inspired  here because soon it will be so damn hot that you won’t want to eat anything cooked anyway; salads are the way to go. If you think at any point, “I’m spending this much effort on a goddamn salad?” think of the Salade Nicoise, which is delicious, famous, filling, and has a ton of stuff in it. Seriously. A meal.

Warm Things in a Bowl (or Cold and Warm Things Mixed in a Bowl)

So let’s go over that electric kettle thing again. There are some obvious things you can make in there, without it even seeming to weird: ramen noodles. Just put ’em in a bowl, pour the boiling water over them, cover, wait. They’ll get cooked. Frozen vegetables, too. Powdered soups.  And more adventurous quick-cooking items like couscous, Chinese egg noodles, dried mushrooms. Pour, cover, come back in five or ten minutes and voila.

But I’ve been working to test the limits of what you can cook in an electric kettle. One thing is for sure: just boil things in water. You don’t want to boil anything else to the bottom of your heating element. Or, who knows, I haven’t tried, but it sounds like a big mess/burn waiting to happen.

So: pasta. Easy. You just have to make sure the water doesn’t boil pasta foam all over your counter, and that you wash the kettle well afterwards so your morning coffee isn’t made out of pasta water. Most even have a sifting spout, making draining super easy.

But also: vegetables. Think of ones that you would usually steam. So far I’ve had great meals with broccoli, green beans, and even asparagus that I cooked in the kettle – yes, asparagus, prepared in the least gourmet way possible. Which leads to lots of options.

Tonight’s dinner: tortellini, tomatoes, and green beans with olive oil

Last night: Chinese egg noodles with peppers (frozen), mushrooms (dried), green beans, and curry sauce (store-bought)

Penne with broccoli, tomatoes, pesto, and chevre

You get the idea.

Breakfast

This is no problem. You can’t fry up any eggs and bacon, but luckily, France has the biggest yogurt selection in the known universe. I could try a different kind every week the whole time I’m here and never get bored. I usually top it with either jam (or marmalade), fresh fruit, and/or museli.

Plus, I can always walk around the corner and get an amazing pastry, because I have the rocking-est local patisserie (bakery) in town. Maybe I’m biased, but I swear La Mie de Pain (get it?) is the best. I don’t even have to tell them what I want, they just give it to me. In other news, I’m probably eating too much pastry…

…. And Junk Food

This makes me sound incredibly healthy. Despite the two-week diet that was pretty successful, I’ve gained all that back… mostly in junk food. Shit. My life is stressful, okay!? You can buy individual-sized tiramisu in the yogurt aisle; that’s a popular dessert, or maybe just a tiny tub of Hagen-Daaz (they sell boxes with one-serving tubs of different flavors… yeah I’m screwed). There are so many kinds of chocolate bars to choose from. I try to snack on fruits and nuts but every time I go to the grocery store, I’m enticed by crap. Delicious, delicious crap. These people take their cookies seriously.

Finally: the two-euro wine in the story is way better than American two-buck-chuck. Heck, it’s often even made right next door. So if you’re food isn’t that great, rinse it down and you’ll be way happier.

Kitchen problem solved.

The End.

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easy super supper soup, with a humorous onion incident in the recipe.

I took a GRE practice test this evening. Ew.

Not ew? This soup that I ate for dinner afterwards.

First of all: it’s winter, and it’s finally time to make hearty soups. I loved my summer soups – especially that squash one with the masa dumplings! – but now it’s time for different fare. I saw recipes for bean and grain soups and thought, hold off, hold off. In the winter you will want those soups. And now it’s winter and I can make them.

Because it really is winter. It’s snowing in the mountains; the Mount Batchelor nordic center is opening tomorrow and I’ll be there skiing. In Eugene, it’s actually not incredibly gray, but the pouring rain has turned into a much colder mist occasionally cut with bursts of sunlight. It chills you to the bone even though the temperature is pretty moderate.

And so: this soup. I made it on Tuesday, froze a batch, and finished the original batch of leftovers tonight.

The recipe originally called for white beans, but I knew how long they took to soak and I didn’t plan far enough ahead, so I improvised with black beans. Would it have been better with white? I’m not sure. It was great with black. And almost all of the black bean soups I make are spicy in some way, maybe even with a sweet element; this was a more traditional, herby, refined soup. The way that the carrots and celery softened into silkiness was amazing. All hail winter soup.

As a side, I cooked up some of my grandmother’s Biscuits Supreme and used crème fraiche for most of the liquid; I also added in a bunch of chopped up chives which I had left over in the refrigerator from another project. Those were GOOD biscuits. I think that crème fraiche might go into all of my biscuits from now on.

So: in conclusion: in many parts of the world, there’s no snow despite the fact that winter is supposed to be here. But even if you don’t have snow and are simply cold and miserable from a neverending autumn that you’re totally sick of – cook up some soup. And dip biscuits in it. And smile.

Black Bean Soup With Parsley

adapted from Vegetable Soups by Deborah Madison

2 cups dry black beans

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 very large onion, that has been sitting in the pantry for so long that there are green shoots coming out of it, but it’s still totally fine and you cry like a baby when you slice it

2 carrots

2 celery ribs

2 garlic cloves

six or seven branches of parsley

salt and pepper

Serve with: Biscuits Supreme, adapted – base recipe here; leave out cheeses, substitute 1/4 cup crème fraiche for 1/4 cup milk, and add 1/4 cup chopped chives

Start by pouring boiling water over your black beans in a large bowl. Let them sit for about two hours, then drain out the water and rinse them. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, chopped medium-fine, and the carrots and celery in large chunks. Cook ten or so minutes until they begin to soften. Pour eight to ten cups of water over the whole thing, then add the garlic (finely chopped), parsley, and beans. Cook an hour and a half to two hours, until the beans are soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Wasn’t that simple!? Enjoy!

oh bacon where have you been?

I know, I know. A post with bacon in the title shouldn’t be about soup. It’s kind of a cop-out. You were expecting something way more bacon-y, maybe just whole slabs of bacon on a plate with some eggs, or some dish that really revels in the full wonderfulness of bacon.

But the truth is that I can’t have that relationship with bacon for a number of reasons. Do you know how effing expensive good bacon is? I mean, even not-as-good bacon isn’t cheap these days. Secondly, like the rest of America, I don’t need to be making pork fat a regular component of my diet.

I have missed bacon, though. I’m fairly certain that the last time I ate bacon was in Elinor’s house back in Vermont. Gosh, that feels like a long time ago. I was still ski racing in a black suit with green stripes. I was still training full-time. There was still snow. Oh, snow, how I miss you.

While I can’t do anything about the lack of snow in the Willamette Valley, I can do something about the lack of bacon in my refrigerator.

The funny thing is that I didn’t set out to buy bacon. I was looking for a soup recipe – I hadn’t made any in a while, and soup is a great thing to have as leftovers. So there I was, flipping through The Scandinavian Cookbook and there! A potato soup recipe. With chives and bacon.

Potato soup sounded great… and the bacon… and the chives… and what really got me was the photos in the cookbook. They were of a nice fall day with the fog hanging in the trees and the sun falling through the branches. I could almost feel the crispness – that morning cold that will warm up into an almost-summer by noon. It’s exactly that time of year in Oregon – the rain has stopped after teasing us briefly and it has been a beautiful fall. The grass is turning golden and some of the trees are even turning red.

So it all fell into place. It was a soup for the season, and I was going to eat my first bacon in more than six months.

The soup? Yummy. It’s a simple but elegant take on potatoes – just a leek and some garlic and cream, a bit like mashed potatoes gone soupy. And I don’t mean that as a bad thing.I left mine a bit chunkier than the recipe called for, maybe half-puréed. I don’t like completely mushy soup where you can no longer recognize the ingredients, so I wanted a few potato pieces to be left in my soup.

The first night, I reveled in the wonder of bacon and honestly overlooked the soup. But I brought some to work the next day, without the bacon but with the chives, and it was still great. The takeaway message is that this is a tasty soup, and you don’t even need the bacon to be have a delicious meal – although it won’t hurt!

Potato Soup With Bacon and Chives

Adapted slightly from The Scandinavian Cookbook

3 pounds of red potatoes

2 leeks

4 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 teaspoon ground pepper

4 cups water

1/2 cup heavy cream

chopped fresh chives

1-2 slices bacon per bowl, chopped into bits and cooked in a pan

Start by cutting the potatoes into large chunks. I left the skin on, but if you wanted to remove it, you would have a more technically refined soup. Place the potatoes in a saucepan with the water and bring to a boil. As the water is heating up, slice the leeks (white and light green parts) into small half-rounds and mince the garlic. Add these to the pot along with the salt and pepper. Once the water boils, leave the pot to simmer for 20 minutes. At that point, the potatoes should be soft enough to break apart with a fork. If they aren’t, keep simmering away. When they are ready, purée the soup in a blender until half or 2/3 of it is liquified and the remaining potato chunks have reduced in size. Put everything back in the pan. Stir in the cream and heat until everything is hot; taste and add salt if necessary. Top with chives and bacon.

bread art.

My favorite kind of Daring Bakers Challenge is one where I am not really sure what hit me. I love learning about food that I didn’t even know existed, food that is exotic and exciting, food where I see a picture and think, I couldn’t make that, no way.

October was a bit like that. I didn’t think “no way”, but I did think, wow! That’s amazing!

The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!

I bake a lot of bread – it’s been months since I bought any from the store – but most of mine is the plain-jane sandwich variety. On special occasions, I used to make fancy bread, but it hadn’t occurred to me in a while. If I make something fancy, it’s usually dessert these days.

But the povitica – man, oh man, did the photos Jenni posted get me psyched. Her bread was beautiful, full of contrasting dark and light swirls. It was like cinnamon bread gone crazy – and I was pretty sure it would taste even better than cinnamon bread, too. She listed several possibly fillings, but I stuck with the most basic, a ground walnut affair with sugar and spices.

So, about those ground walnuts. First of all, they were supposed to be English walnuts. I wasn’t sure what kind of walnuts we usually eat, but it turned out that it’s them, so that was a relief. My next project was to grind them. This is going to be a pain in the butt, I thought; we don’t have a food processor. I looked doubtfully at my housemate’s coffee grinder. I was pretty sure there was a good reason NOT to put the walnuts inside, like that they were too oily and would turn to paste, but it was so tempting…. I poured half a cup in and started grinding.

Guess what. Walnuts are too oily and turn to paste in a coffee grinder. Great!

After painstakingly scraping the quasi-walnut-butter out of the grinder and into a bowl and then washing out the grinder and wiping it clean, I had to move on to Plan B, which was unfortunately chopping the other cup and a half of walnuts with a big kitchen knife. My knife skills are okay, but it took forever. To achieve a texture like ground walnuts, you have to get the pieces really, really, really small. Like powder, basically. So that was fun.

Luckily, everything else went smoothly. I made the filling by adding milk, butter, sugar, vanilla, spices, and an egg to the walnuts, and let it sit while I rolled out the sweet dough very, very thinly. Bread dough is stretchable and the rolling was a lot easier than when I was trying to make baklava! (Also, it probably helped that I only had to make one piece of dough…) It was challenge to get the dough thin enough to see through without ripping it, but by rolling the dough, picking it up to stretch it, and repeating, it actually didn’t take too long before my counter was covered in a huge, translucent sheet of bread dough.

The next part scared me a little. I spread the filling onto the dough, trying not to rip it as I went, and hoped that it wouldn’t be too heavy for the bread dough. I spread and spread, and then tried to roll the dough up, jelly-roll style. There were a few places where the dough was so thin that the filling kind of seeped through and got stuck to the counter, making it harder to roll, and I was really nervous. But nothing ripped and at the end I had a long roll of dough. I actually stretched it to make it longer, and then coiled it up in the pan according to Jenni’s instructions.

After a very brief rise, I brushed the top with a little bit of pumpkin butter dissolved in water – I wanted to give it an orange glow – and put it in the oven.

When it came out, it definitely had a pumkiny tinge to it. Not orange, exactly, but pretty. I was happy with how it turned out, and amazed that the dough had held up so well; I had expected some of the filling to leak out into the sides of the bread pan, but there was no sticky stuff to be found, just a nice-looking loaf of bread that hinted at a surprise inside.

And what a surprise it was. When I sliced the loaf open (it was difficult to wait until it had cooled!) the swirls were there in stunning fashion. I was glad that I had spent so much time chopping those darn nuts, because the filling really had become a paste and showed up in clean, crisp lines against the rolls of the dough.

What about the taste? Even if the bread hadn’t been good, I would have loved it. But it was good. The walnut filling was delicious, which was good since it made up such a high percentage of the bread’s volume! It had a hint of spices, but wasn’t overly cinnamon-flavored, which I thought was really nice; almost all of the breakfast and dessert breads we make seem to be cinnamon-heavy. This was more refined and incredibly tasty. And while it was sweet, sugar wasn’t the dominant flavor, either.

All in all, I was super impressed with povitica. It made me excited about making fancy bread again, and I would really like to try another kind of filling – poppy seed perhaps? This bread is sure to make a reappearance around the holidays. Thanks Jenni for a great challenge, one of my favorites by far!

As always, check out the other beautiful creations over at the Daring Kitchen website.

 

Fried noodles.

This dinner really could be anything. It’s clearly noodles, carrots, and broccoli, but what’s so great about that? It’s impossible to tell, looking at the picture, what kind of a dish this is. What’s it spiced with? Is it just some spaghetti?

Well, my friends, the answer is no. I’m here to tell you that these are fried noodles. It’s a recipe I made up and damn, it is good. Also, there’s a piece of broccoli about to fall out of that bowl. Yeah, I know.

It turns out that there are two ways to approach cooking for one person. There’s the strategy where you make a normal-sized amount of food and then eat it for several meals. Then, there’s the way where you make just enough dinner for one person; needless to say, the one-person dinners usually aren’t too fancy.

I’ve used both strategies, but recently I’ve been even busier than usual and just too disorganized to make a big batch of anything, so I’ve had a lot of spaghetti nights. At some point, you get sick of spaghetti, and I’ve come to learn that it’s really important to have some good base ingredients in the refrigerator. Then, you can grab a vegetable from the store on your way home and have several potential directions for a quick and easy dinner. Tomato sauce? Asian food? Breakfast for dinner? A great sandwich? All of a sudden, you have options for a one-person dinner that doesn’t suck.

A couple of nights ago I decided to end my most recent spaghetti stream and make a different kind of noodles – rice vermicelli. Instead of boiling them, I thought I’d stir-fry them right in the pan with my veggies; but how to flavor everything? I looked on the shelf in the refrigerator and one ingredient jumped out at me. It was some sesame paste which I had bought for a recipe involving homemade ramen noodles. I had not liked the noodles, it turned out, and as a result banished the sesame paste. But as I thought about things more, I was pretty sure that the ramen noodles were what I didn’t like (they were very alkaline). So out came the sesame paste.

It’s important to note: this isn’t tahini we’re talking about. I have that too, and it’s great, but this is completely different. It’s a dark brown paste you can buy at Asian food stores. Don’t try making this recipe with tahini. It, well, it will suck… I don’t actually know that, but I’m pretty sure.

So once I took out the sesame paste, the first thing that happened was that I spilled it all over everything. The paste had separated into a thick, solid lower layer and a lot of oil on top. As I tried to scoop out the paste, my spoon slipped and flung sesame oil everywhere. My nice Salomon jacket now smells like sesame. Eh, well, you win some, you lose some.

The next thing that happened was that I put some of the paste in a pan with my sizzling vegetables. I wanted the sesame paste to sort of coat the veggies. But it was too thick. I tried to stir it in, thinking that the heat would re-liquify it after a long time in the refrigerator, but nothing happened. I still had chunks of sesame paste in my veggies. I poured in some shaoxing wine and some soy sauce, in the hopes that the steam from the boiling sauces would soften the paste and that everything would come together into a uniform sauce. It kind of worked. It took a lot of stirring, but I finally felt like the sesame was coating my veggies. Mission accomplished.

Finally, I threw in the rice noodles, which had been soaking in cold water. They didn’t cook for long, and when the whole mess was done, they were mostly soft with just a few crispy strands from the bottom of the frying pan.

And the mess? It was delicious. Veggies, sesame, a pickled hot pepper, fried noodles. It might not be authentic to any region of the world, but it’s authentic to my kitchen. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters – hot, good food. Dinner. Home. Hooray.

Fried Sesame Noodles With Carrots and Brocolli

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 clove garlic

1 pickled hot red pepper (or another kind of chile pepper!)

1 large carrot, chopped small

1 small head of broccoli, chopped small

2 tablespoons sesame paste

1 tablespoon shaoxing wine

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 handful rice vermicelli noodles, soaked in cold water for half an hour

In a stainless-steel frying pan or a wok if you’re feeling ambitious, heat the oils together over medium-high heat. Chop the garlic and the pickled pepper into a very fine mince, and toss them in the pan; include the seeds of the pepper. Cook for just a minute to soften before adding the carrot and the pieces of the broccoli stem (save the florets for later). Stir everything for a few minutes until the hard vegetables begin to soften up. Then add the broccoli florets and watch as they turn bright green. Stir in the sesame paste, trying to break it up; pour the wine and soy sauce into the pan and use the steam to help stir in the sesame paste. Once everything is uniform and there are no more big clumps of sesame paste, drain the noodles and add them to the pan. Cook three to four minutes or longer, depending on how crispy you want your fried noodles.

Newtons.

 

I have a fig tree in the backyard. How incredible is that? Like apricots, I didn’t even really know you could just, like, eat a fig. It’s crazy world out here.

I started by making some fig jam. And my housemate made some balsamic-fig sauce. And I made a fig frangipane tart. And we ate figs. That used up the figs for a while… and then the second crop came in. They came in and they were almost rotting on the tree. Ack! All of this while we were inundated with blackberries and in the midst of making blackberry jam and blackberry pear sauce. Figs! So good! But what were we going to do with them?

It happened that we had been hiking, and our friend Autumn had been eating fig newtons. Hmmm. That got me thinking… I bet you could make fig newtons. And I bet they’d be really good.

I got kind of curious about what makes a fig newton a fig newton, so I went Joe Pastry all over it and delved into the interwebs. It turns out that fig rolls have been around for thousands of years, and were eaten by sailors around the Mediterranean and Middle East to stay healthy. There’s one myth that newtons are named after a Syrian Jew named Nuhtan who farmed figs in the 15th century, but I’m not sure if I believe it. What is indisputably true is that fig newtons in the form known by American schoolkids were invented in the early 1890s and named after Newton, Massachussetts. The U.S. went from consuming fairly few figs to being the largest consumer in the world based almost wholly on the popularity of the fig newton.

So I didn’t really get my answer about what defines a fig newton, but I did get some interesting history. I based by recipe on one from food52, a wonderful site, and used entirely whole wheat flour in the cookie part.

In the end, they were pretty much what I was hoping for: fig newtony, with a cakey cookie and a sweet, sticky filling, but more grown-up, and a lot more tasty. The fig filling had orange juice and spices in it; I am not sure what Nabisco puts in their newtons, but citrus and spice is a very nice thing to pair with a fig. It was GOOD.

I’m pretty sure that you could make fig newtons using dried figs and just soak them in boiling water until they plump up, then cook them. No promises, but if you have nostalgia for the snacks you had in your lunchbox in elementary school and don’t live in a figgy locale, I’d say try it!

What a great after-work snack. Yum.

Fig Newtons

Adapted slightly from a recipe by vrunka at food52.

Cookie/Cake Dough

5 tablespoons butter, melted3/4 cups packed brown sugar2 eggs1 teaspoon vanilla extract2 cups whole wheat flour1/4 teaspoon baking soda2 teaspoons baking powder

Stir together the melted butter and brown sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour. In the meantime, make the fig filling.

Fig Filling

12 smallish pound figs
1 pear
3/4 cups brown sugarzest from 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Cut the figs and pear into very small pieces and place in a saucepan with all the other ingredients. Heat over low heat at first until the sugar dissolves in the juices of the fruit, then heat over medium heat, at a low boil, until the mixture is thick and jam-like. It will gel further as it cools, so you don’t have to wait until it is completely thick; don’t turn it into cement! Let the filling sit and cool for half an hour at least before proceeding.

When you’re ready, divide the dough in half and roll each half into a large square. From here, you have a couple of options. If you want to be fancy, cut each square into thirds, so you have six long rectangles. Put the fig filling down the middle of each rectangle in a strip and then fold the sides up over the top, just overlapping in the middle. Cut into squares and you have your fig newtons – place them on a greased cookie sheet. If you want to be lazier, line the bottom of a greased square or rectangular baking dish with some dough, spread some of the fig filling on top, and then top with another layer of the rolled out dough. You can cut them into squares after they are baked. That’s what I did. The original recipe instructions say to bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees; I baked mine in a cob oven, so I can’t comment on baking time and temperature!

umami at home.

Today was supposed to be a really long day of work. One of those days where I wake up, leave the house at 5:45, go to Washington, work all day, and then get home around 9 or 10 at night.

But when Lorien, the PhD student and I, got to the field site, she realized that she had left the chamber of the LI-COR machine in her garage, and couldn’t do any of her respiration measurements, which were supposed to take 5 hours. Instead, we were left with two people to do what would have taken me three hours alone, and with twice the labor went even faster. End result, I was back in Eugene at a normal time and wondering what to do with myself.

I had anticipated being exhausted when I got home, and getting takeout. But with so much time I decided to cook instead, using a recipe from Rasa Malaysia, a blog devoted to not-too-difficult but reasonably authentic (I think) Asian cooking. And I discovered something amazing: you can make Chinese food at home which is twice as good as takeout, not too hard to cook, and not even very expensive. Hallelujah.

This dish has many great components. First of all, fresh egg noodles? Completely amazing! So good even compared to fresh Italian-style pasta. Wow. Secondly, the chicken, holy crap. Sweet and spicy and delicious, sticky in that Chinese-restaurant sort of way, and caked in sesame seeds. Finally, the vegetables are still somewhat crisp, not mushy and gross. I’m a huge fan of this dish and can’t wait to eat the leftovers for dinner tomorrow.

Another great thing about this recipe is that once you get a few ingredients from your Asian market (which is way cheaper than a normal grocery store, I promise you), you’ll have them in your cupboard and it will make it even easier to cook up future feasts. I’d strongly suggest getting an authentic, rich soy sauce instead of the watery, salty, bland kind that is a staple in American cooking. You will discover that soy sauce is unbelievably tasty, and not just a way to salt your food. Ditto on the rest of the ingredients, really.

So I present to you, chicken and noodles for one, in your own wok. Enjoy!

Chicken and Noodles with Carrots, Zucchini, and Green Beans

Adapted from Rasa Malaysia

Note: I made three times the amount of chicken, and saved it in a tupperware. The noodles won’t reheat well, so the idea is that you can make a new batch of noodles and veggies the next night and throw the chicken in on top. Everyone likes having a few days worth of dinners (or lunches!) in the fridge!

Marinade and Chicken

1 boneless chicken thigh

1 teaspoon chili oil

1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon oyster sauce

1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Cut the chicken into small pieces and place in a bowl with all the other ingredients. Stir well so the chicken is coated and then let sit half an hour at least, or basically as long as you want

The Dish

Chicken and marinade, above

4 tablespoons canola oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped thin

1 small handful fresh egg noodles

1 medium-sized carrot

1/3 of one medium-sized zucchini

5 or so green beans

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

sesame seeds

Start by placing a wok over high heat with 2 tablespoons of the canola oil. When it’s good and hot, pour the chicken and the marinade sauce into the oil. Cook over medium high to high heat for ten or so minutes; the chicken will at first cook in the sauce, but then the sauce will begin to evaporate. When there is barely any sauce left, the chicken is turning dark, and the tips are just beginning to blacken, take the wok off the heat. Pour the chicken into a bowl. Let the wok cool slightly and then clean it out; there will be some sauce blackened onto it.

Next, rinse the egg noodles in a bowl of water several times, discarding the water after each rinse. Let the noodles sit in a bowl while you prepare the wok for them. Cut the carrots and zucchini into very thin matchsticks and the greenbeans in half each. Over medium high heat, warm the remaining two tablespoons of oil and then add the garlic, cooking until it is soft. Add the vegetables and stir, cooking for a minute or so. Add the noodles, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and water, and cook until the noodles have changed color and are cooked through. Put the noodle mixture in a bowl, place the chicken on top, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.