Sunday night miso

I have a binder full of recipes. It’s a mix of family and friend’s recipes, recipes that were copied down on napkins, tear outs from magazines and newspapers, and old/new recipes I have yet to try. Sundays are usually my menu planning and grocery shopping day (although today was also coupled with yard work). Although I was feeling tired, hot, and not very hungry, I was hungry enough to eat dinner. So I took this recipe out of the binder – Traditional Miso Soup, which was given to me by my friend Kris about 10 years ago. The only change that I made is that I used Oyster mushrooms instead of Shitaki and I added soba noodles for a little more substance.

Taking a break from meat this week; this was a good start.

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Cochon de lait

I traveled to Brattleboro, Vermont last weekend in celebration of the birthdays of my friends, Marco and Shawn. I went up there with 2 major things in mind – to celebrate birthdays and to roast, in the ground, a pig (and eat it). There were many things to be done prior to the party and pig roast, such as shopping, cleaning, decorating, and painting signs. We all knew that there was some work ahead of us, just not how much.

First we swam in the nearby lake, drank a few beers, bar-b-qued, and made fennel and arugula salad. We played lawn games, giggled with babies, watched dogs play, and talked among one other. It was after all of this that Marco, our host, and Nick, the farmer from TBA Farms who raised the pig (a 59 lb. Tamworth cross, a heritage breed) ventured out to find a spot for roasting. With rain in the forecast they chose a spot under some trees that seemingly had enough of a canopy. Then one by one those of us from the party ventured into the wooded spot and started to join in on the big dig.

Once the digging started it was promptly realized that there was an intricate system of roots not far beneath the surface, making our dig a bit more work than expected. Where there weren’t roots there were rocks. We dug and dug until dark, when we finally reached our goal – one foot (slightly over). Next step in the process was squaring out the corners but, as it started to get darker, we decided to stop working and light a fire in the pit to clear our excess root debris and to dry out the hole. We lit the fire, sat back, and enjoyed our workmanship along with some whiskey.

A 50% chance of showers turned into an all night long pounding rain storm. Upon waking, a few of us from the digging party found our newly dug hole to be a large muddy puddle. As a result, the first task of the day (which was supposed to be prepping the pig for the pit) turned into hanging tarps, scooping water, and trench digging.

Eventually, we did get to the prep, which to some may have seemed utterly grotesque, but for those who were involved it was like we were paying homage to the pig we would later eat that day. First, the dry rub was applied to the hog that had already been marinated with brown sugar, vinegar, and paprika. The pig was then sandwiched between two metal grates that were wired together from all sides. Marco, Shawn, Joe, and Nick then picked up the mass of pig and steel and gave it a flip before placing it on the charcoal pit. The temperature was expected to rest around 275 degrees for the duration of the roasting (around 8 hours).

Despite the rain, the roasting station quickly became the central location of the party during the rest of the extremely wet afternoon. As our Tamworth cross roasted, there were collard greens cooking, coleslaw and salads being assembled and cakes being baked. After the pig was taken off the pit, it rested for about a half an hour in the shed outside of the kitchen in which we were all cooking, drinking, and socializing. This was the only time during the entire process where I felt a tinge of sadness for the creature we were about to feast upon. However, when I went inside the warmth of the cabin with all of the guests who were cooking, plating food and drinking, the sadness dissipated. Perhaps it was just exhaustion.

Our final meal of roasted pork, pesto with pasta, tomato and mozzarella salad, coleslaw made with yogurt, collard greens made with the cured ham from the pig, pickled onions, and a baguette was exceptional. It may have been one of the best meals of my life, so far.

Must not forget our dessert: strawberry rhubarb pies and orange cake with lemon butter cream icing.

I loved Vermont.

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A Sunday shower

This weekend was the beginning of the wedding festivities for our friends Rebecca and Dave.

Today we threw them a shower.


The question was… what to cook for 40 people on a budget? We solved it perfectly.

We wanted our menu to be simple yet delicious. Since it was a brunch time shower we decided upon a vegetable frittata (potatoes, eggs, spinach, red peppers, red onions, cheese, garlic).
A very minimal but very flavorful salad of mixed greens and vinaigrette.
For dessert – cream biscuits with vanilla ice cream and strawberry/rhubarb compote.
To drink – homeade bloody marys garnished with olives and pickled jalapenos.
It was all quite simple yet very colorful and delicious.
We ate, drank, and were merry.
Cheers to the both of you.

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Laab

Every week I plan a menu. It helps me eat better, save money on groceries, and allows for me to try out new recipes without running to the store after work for last minute items. It makes cooking semi-complicated dishes on the weekdays possible and a lot more enjoyable.

Last night I decided upon Laab, a northeast Thai dish that is typically served as a part of a set, which makes me love it even more. There is something about compartmentalized meals that need assembly right before you eat them; it is the icing on the cake. A nice pairing for the Laab would be green papaya salad and sticky rice. In the case of last night’s dinner we had the Laab and the sticky rice but due to a lack of green papaya at the H mart the papaya salad will be another day.

Laab generally consists of lemongrass, shallots, garlic paste, fish sauce (3 crabs preferably), fresh lime juice, mint, cilantro, ground turkey (or pork,chicken, lamb, even liver)

and topped with chopped peanuts and fresh basil.

Cabbage leaves can also be served with the dish. You can roll the sticky rice and laab into the leaf like a summer roll or serve it like a salad atop the greens. Either way, the cabbage adds a cool, fresh crispiness to an otherwise spicy dish.

*Tonight we tried the same recipe, only with ground tempeh (pictured below) and I must say it tasted even better. I have had this recipe on file for quite some time from Use Real Butter.

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Happiness is at 20th and Market

I’ve walked by this cart countless times. Usually I am in a rush so all I can manage to do is to take in the delightfully smoky air as I pass it by. It is quite easily spotted as it has a constant billow of smoke churning out of the top. It is also hard to miss a cart adorned with hanging plants, garlic bulbs, giant containers of imported olive oil, bountiful piles of fresh bread. Did I mention the smells? What is this cart about?

Today I set out specifically to find out. Since I work only three blocks away and was in need of some fresh air I decided to go with my gut instinct and follow that smell. Had I just googled “20th and market food cart” i would have found countless posts, photos, even videos cataloguing ‘Christo’s Falafel Cart’. I’m glad I didn’t as the element of surprise is such a foreign concept to me these days.

And surprised I was. As I walked up there were five or six people standing around waiting to order, in the process of ordering or else peering into this somewhat mysterious food cart that at first glance appears to be a little out of its element. That’s the beauty of it though; once you walk up to it you begin to understand that the placement of the cart, the decor, the food, everything has been painstakingly strategized. Then you see (or hear) Constandinos.


First, let me say he is impeccably dressed in a black chef’s coat. He is a very loud talker and it is best that he doesn’t catch you off guard because his prideful boasts could very well be mistaken for anger. His bombastic rants mock you for even considering going somewhere else for lunch today.

He constantly tends to the marinated chunks of chicken sizzling on the grill using an antiquated copper pot filled with some special sauce. Each time the sauce hits the grill and smoke lifts the smell that originally beckoned me wafts into the air.

What I learned from the others in line is that he prepares one dish per day. Usually he gives you a taste of chicken and a taste of falafel along with bountiful sides du jour. Maybe it is because I told him it was my first time there or maybe it was just miscommunication but he decided to start me off with just the falafel. It’s sort of unspoken that you don’t question Constandinos. He asked me if I would rather have a sandwich or platter. I went with the platter. Price: 7$

The oregano encrusted falafel fried in such a way it was blackened but without being burnt. This gave it an even more interesting texture and flavor than other falafel I have tried. After splitting one of the crunchy little balls open it exposed a bright green center.The falafel themselves seemed to be missing a key component, the chickpeas. The filling looked and tasted like a mash of parsley and garlic. It was served with hummus and an even creamier tahini garlic sauce over noodles with garbanzo beans thrown in, all of which was served on top of crunchy (yes crunchy) romaine lettuce. It was a veritable pasta salad extravaganza. Oh! And the bread, the meal comes with not only pita but a fresh challah roll, for soaking up every last bit of the platter. Finally, red and green grapes for dessert, which acted as a perfect palette cleanser since my mouth was still tingling from all the garlic I had consumed. When I asked Constandino if is was okay if I photographed him and his cart he answered “you do whatever makes you happy”. Which appears to be exactly what he is doing and doing it well.

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A fine chop suey

What is the first thing one would crave after an uninspired veggie burger for lunch? Why this of course.

Not only did I choose the veggie burger because I really wanted a meatless lunch but I was attempting to make a healthy lunch selection. Why not a salad one would ask, and rightfully so. My lunch really turned out to be more a samosa on a bun rather than a patty made of vegetables. Keeping on my quest for a healthy lunch, I ate a grapefruit for dessert. That said, I decided on a tofu chop suey of sorts for my dinner tonight. Veggies, veggies, veggies- Grains, grains, grains! This shall be my new mantra.

Tofu selection is very important, the firmer the better. It makes it more of a versatile cooking ingredient and doesn’t turn whatever you are making into a tofu scramble. I was recently introduced to this tofu, Fresh Tofu, Inc. It’s local and obviously made with love. How can you not love that? It stays together better than any other tofu I have tried and the flavor is somehow richer. It’s tofu, is that really possible? Yes.

Always remember to press out the tofu.Use whatever method works best, just get as much water out as you can.

I had a few cremini mushrooms in my refrigerator (you may remember the previous post regarding the mushroom risotto that never materialized). Add some garlic (3 cloves) a thumb size of ginger (grated), some swiss chard, red pepper, and zucchini purchased yesterday on a whim.

Mix together a tablespoon of sherry, a tablespoon of soy sauce, pinch of salt, two teaspoons of sesame oil, some honey and a teeny bit of corn starch. Make some brown rice and voila, health in a bowl. Now I can take this for lunch tomorrow and samosa on a bun won’t even be an option. Oh, and as always don’t forget the hot sauce.

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How we begin the weekend

There is only thing that I love more than cooking and that is shopping for food. It is Saturday morning and the first thing on my mind? Breakfast. What am I going to eat? I head out to the co-op  and my favorite neighborhood bakery. Pick up some eggs, bread for the week, bagels, and apple and peach turnovers for later tonight.

The errand running is all me, I find such pleasure in it. During that time there is always a chance I may come across something I have never seen or tasted before and because of that it is always a treat.

Our morning really begins when I return home with our dog, Birdy, greeting me at the door. Eggs, bagels, fresh juice, coffee, and us.

There is nothing sweeter than this.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Happy eating.

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