Espinacas con Garbanzos

I don't have anything terribly thoughtful to say today.  I realized that it's been almost 2 months since I reverted back to pescetarianism (which has mostly been vegetarianism plus fish sometimes when I can get my hands on it), I've been in college for almost 3 years now (which means I am approaching The Beginning of the End, when I will be expected to know what I'm doing with my life and how I'm going to do it), and I'll be going to Chile in 129 days (no, I don't have a countdown on my lapt- okay yea I have a countdown).  It's funny how these things sneak up on you when you're not looking, or when you're just keeping your head down and trying not to watch the clock.

Espinacas con Garbanzos 
(Spinach with Chickpeas)
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 pound dried chickpeas, cooked until soft, or one 29 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound spinach, washed
1 inch slice hearty bread or about 2 slices from sandwich loaf bread, crusts removed and cut into small cubes
1/2 c ground tomatoes or tomato sauce
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (or regular paprika is fine)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice, to taste (this was half a pretty juicy lemon for me)

Place a large pot over medium heat and warm up half of the olive oil until hot and rippling (but not smoking).  Add the spinach with a pinch of salt and wilt the leaves, stirring, until just tender.  Drain in a colander and set aside.  Dump out the remaining spinach liquid from the pot, then wipe it out with a cloth to remove any excess moisture.

Heat 2 more tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.  Fry the bread for about 5 minutes or until golden brown all over, then remove from the pot.  Add the remaining tablespoon of oil with the garlic, cumin and pepper flakes. Cook for about a minute, until the garlic has begun to brown, then add the bread back in and toss with the aromatics.  Turn off the heat and add in the vinegar (stand back unless you want to clear your sinuses out), stirring to lift all the yummy crusty bits off the bottom of the pan.

Transfer to a food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle, and mash to a paste. Return the mixture to the pan and add the drained chickpeas and tomato sauce.  Cook until the chickpeas are hot and have begun to absorb the tomato and spices, 5-10 minutes.  If the consistency is too thick, add a little water (I used ground tomatoes instead of tomato sauce for mine, and had to add about a 1/3 c water, but use your judgment).  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the spinach and paprika, cooking until everything is combined and warmed through.  This would be lovely on some toasty bread, or a baked sweet potato, or just with some broccoli slaw like I did.

Dark Molasses Cake

This cake.  This cake right here.  It is awesome.  You should make it.  All the ginger haters have probably stopped reading this blog by now (except for my mommy because she's supposed to love me unconditionally and read everything I write *mischievous smile*), so I have no reservations about adding crystallized ginger to the original recipe.  Feel free to make some sort of glaze too, perhaps with coffee or espresso involved, or lemon, or both?  Let me know how it turns out.  Like for real though -- I would love it if you would write comments on my posts.  

In other news, we're launching our new Arete website on Monday!  Short story version of Arete is that we're the research development branch of UChicago's research administration, and we launch complex initiatives that enhance UChicago's research enterprise (our mission statement that will feature prominently on our new site, spoilers).  This whole business of restructuring our website has been an interesting, exhausting exercise in psychology: from identity, branding, vision, what have you, to issues of perception and usability.  Is it intuitive to scroll here?  How do you feel about this color?  That font is horrible, disgusting, awful, what were you thinking.  Too many clicks to get here.  What do we do exactly?  How can we talk about ourselves?  How much are people actually going to read?  It's amazing how many aspects of human cognition you have to consider when you're just trying to tell people what you do.  

Dark Molasses Cake
adapted from The Kitchn

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 c (12 ounces) unsulphured blackstrap molasses
3/4 c brown sugar
1/3 c white sugar
3 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c whole milk
~1/2 c crystallized ginger, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly butter and flour a Bundt pan.

Place the chunks of butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the molasses, brown sugar, and white sugar.  Once the butter has completely melted and the sugar has dissolved, set the pan aside to cool.

In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and espresso powder.

Whisk the vanilla, eggs, and milk in with the molasses and melted butter, then incorporate slowly into the bowl of dry ingredients. Whisk thoroughly to combine, making sure there are no lumps.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the crystallized ginger.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick or knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Let cool for 30 minutes, then run a thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake from the pan. Remove the cake and let it cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing.  Or just cut into it immediately and suffer the consequences reap the rewards.

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina

We often speak as though we must earn the right to enjoy our lives.  The pleasures of being alive are couched in this language of deserving.  It can be as innocuous as thinking I've been working really hard this week, I deserve to buy this thing -- dress, bottle of olive oil, what have you -- or it can be as dangerous as This person has hurt me deeply, (s)he doesn't deserve to be happy.  Who am I to say what I, or anyone else, deserve?  My buying whatever thing isn't really connected to how hard I've worked this week, and someone else's happiness isn't really connected to what they've done to me.  I want to buy X, so I moralize why I should have it -- and I want X person to be unhappy, so I moralize why it should be so.  

No matter the extent to which we are religious or philosophical, we as individuals hold our own moral codes -- and we can see them in action when we talk about what we, and those around us, deserve.  This moralizing becomes tricky when we look at these scenarios another way.  What happens when I want this thing, but I don't have the money or This person was horrible to me, but look at how happy (s)he is.  What about what I deserve?  What about what that person deserves?  I've decided that, for me, it's healthier to stop myself from moralizing, and ask the real questions behind what I deserve.  Is this (buying X or wanting X to be unhappy) worth my money/time/effort?  Do I have the money/time/effort to spend?  If I am completely willing and able, I don't need to couch my decisions, to buy something or put something behind me, in this language of morality.  I make the decision and follow through -- that's it.  

I'm sure you didn't come here for my philosophical musings, and so, I present you with cake.  This is no ordinary cake -- it starts like a bread, with yeast.  It's a traditional pastry from Florence, ubiquitous in bakeries around the time of Carnival, in late February.  It's scented with orange and vanilla, and is an excellent snack with coffee for these sunny, melty days, when the air feels more like spring -- wet and smelling like new grass -- but still holds on to the chill of winter.  This also happens to be the perfect time to buy yourself tulips, because you can, and you are more than completely willing.

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina

2 1/2 c (300 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 ounces (20 grams) fresh yeast dissolved in some warm water (or 7 grams instant dry yeast bloomed in some warm water)
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) lard (or, less traditional, softened butter)
1/2 c (100 grams) sugar
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
Powdered bittersweet cocoa for dusting (optional)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and yeast (along with the water) until you have a dough.  The original recipe didn't specify a specific amount of water, but you can start around 1/2 c.  Cover with a clean towel and place in a warm, dry spot to rise for about one hour or until it has doubled in size.

In another bowl, beat together the lard (I went the less traditional route with butter), sugar, eggs, orange zest, vanilla and salt until well combined.  Add the butter mixture into the yeast dough and beat until combined.  Place the dough in a buttered rectangular tin, cover with a clean towel, and let rise for 2 more hours.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F before the dough has finished rising.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn onto a wire rack to cool.  Once cooled completely, dust liberally with powdered sugar.
If you are feeling crafty, cut out a mask of the Florentine lily and dust with cocoa powder. 

Baked Sweet Potato Falafel

Friends, it's spring break.  And Chicago says: WOOHOOOO SPRING BREAK TAKE YOUR HOODS AND SCARVES OFF YEAHHHH!!!!  Because can I tell you something gross?  It snowed here last night.  What even.

Also, I can't take credit for the anthropomorphism of Chicago -- my roommate Alexander gets all the snaps for that one.  It's just so fitting that I had to use it.  We've been bro-ing around the apartment this weekend, watching Netflix and eating and pretending that we don't have papers we should be writing (for my fourth year roommates, their BA deadlines are approaching, and I have grant proposals to be working on -- oh well).  And I've been on a cooking spree of epic proportions.  Last night's gem was an awesome apple cake from Luisa of The Wednesday Chef, which was completely devoured before I could even take pictures.  I also made a traditional Italian orange-scented, yeast-based cake called Schiacciata alla Fiorentina yesterday that you'll see a post for soon.  Homemade ricotta cheese and pasta will be turned into lemon herb agnolotti from Kelsey of Happy Yolks tonight for dinner (I'm terribly excited to see how this turns out, it's involved a lot of labor), and I plan to make the super delicious sesame bread I made last spring break again.  And, of course, the star of this post, sweet potato falafel were made and devoured for lunch today.  

Like I said, a cooking spree.  And not soon enough.  I've been so neglectful of my need for cooking this past week, with studying for finals and writing grant applications and generally soaking in the depression that seeps out of all the campus libraries during this week of every quarter.  I came home on Friday after all of my responsibilities were done for the week, and cleansed myself by cleaning all 3 of our apartment's bathrooms with an alarming amount of bleach (but damn, those showers are sparkling now, let me tell you).  These are small victories that snap me out of the too-lazy-to-function zone I can fall into when finals week hits, and remind me that cooking is something integral to my being a well-functioning human.

Baked Sweet Potato Falafel (for 4 people)

2 medium sweet potatoes, cooked, cooled, and peeled (I roasted mine at 425 degrees F for an hour or so until soft)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 small cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 big handfuls of fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Scant cup (120g) chickpea flour
Splash of olive oil
Salt and pepper

To be served with:

4 pitas, warmed
2-4 avocados, sliced length-wise
2-3 carrots, peeled
2 handfuls parsley leaves, whole
Juice of half a lemon
Splash of olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini
Couple dashes hot sauce 
Salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, mash the cooked sweet potatoes with cumin, garlic, coriander, fresh cilantro, and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the chickpea flour and mix until completely incorporated.  Let the mixture chill in the fridge for at least an hour.  If the mixture seems too wet (it should be sticky and hold its shape when you mold it), add a little more flour.  The sweet potatoes vary in how much water they contain, and yours may not be the same size as mine were, so use your judgment.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Drizzle a baking sheet with olive oil, then roll heaping tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place on the pan.  The original recipe said it would make 18 falafel, but I ended up with 28 pretty good-sized ones, so it's really up to you what size you make them.  Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-25 minutes, until the falafel are firm and the bottoms are golden brown.

Meanwhile, prep the sides.  Warm the pitas in the oven during the last couple minutes of cooking.  In a medium bowl, use a vegetable peeler to create thin ribbons of carrot.  Toss the carrot ribbons with parsley (I left the leaves whole, just pull them off the stems), a squeeze of lemon juice (around a quarter of the lemon), a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Slice the avocado and set aside.  In another bowl, whisk together the tahini, the remaining lemon juice, salt and pepper, and enough water to create a sauce.  

When the falafel are done, cut the pitas in half and stuff them with the carrot-parsley salad, avocado, and a couple falafel, then top with the tahini sauce.  

Cannellini Bean Pasta

I felt incredibly inspired to cook and photograph today.  Even with the fleeting promise of spring buried under yet another snowfall, and the illusion that I am on top of my work confronted with the reality of finals week, there was so much gentle, beautiful sunlight this afternoon.  I couldn't wait to be barefoot in the living room, styling my food, taking pictures.  As I walked home, splashing through slush and bowing under branches laden with snow, the light streamed through the trees and warmed my face, lifted like a sunflower toward the sky.   

I set my groceries on the counter and went to work, fixing dinner.  I felt the weight of the chef's knife in my hand and the warm, tomato-infused steam against my face.  There was nothing else, just me and my hands and my meal coming to life in the late sun.  

The tall windows in our living room captured the soft edges of the afternoon light and scattered them across the floor, across the tables and chairs, across my arms and hands.  My world was still and quiet, and bright.  I was so at peace. 

Cannellini Bean Pasta

1 pound pasta (I used the gemelli shape, but it doesn't really matter)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, sliced in half moons
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Palmful of capers
1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
~1 c ground tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
~1/2 c water
1 bunch beet greens and stems, washed and sliced
Shaved parmesan cheese, to taste

Put a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, in a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add in the sliced onion with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 5-10 minutes until softened and beginning to caramelize.  Toss in the beans and capers, cooking for ~2 minutes until they've begun to incorporate with the soft onion, then add in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and water.  Simmer until the sauce has begun to thicken and reduce, and the onions are beginning to melt.

Once the water has come to a boil and you've begun to cook the pasta, fold the beet greens and stems into the tomato mixture.  Stir frequently to wilt down the greens and incorporate them into the sauce.  With the pasta cooked and drained, add it back into the hot pot and cover with the bean mixture.  Serve with shards of parmesan cheese (unless you want this to be vegan or are not keen on cheese).  

Pudla with Cauliflower and Thai Chili Chutney

This too shall pass.

Until then, Ghirardelli chocolate squares are on sale at CVS.  So there's that.

Llevame lejos desde aquí.

Pudla with Cauliflower and Thai Chili Chutney
(Chickpea Flour Crepes)
from The Kitchn

1 head cauliflower, de-stemmed
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon whole caraway seeds
~1/4 c olive oil, divided
1 1/3 c chickpea flour
1 c water, plus more
1 1/2 c fresh parsley leaves, divided
1/4 c fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, divided
1 tablespoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons lemon juice, divided
3 Thai chilis
3 medium garlic cloves
1-2 plum tomatoes

In a medium bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour, water, 3/4 c parsley, mint, 1 inch ginger (grated), 2 teaspoons salt, chili powder, and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.  The original recipe called for 1 c water, but I ended up adding at least another 1/2 c to my batter (Maybe because my flour is old?  I have no idea.) -- just use your judgment.  If you think it's going to be too thick to spread easily in a thin layer in a hot pan, you should add more water.  Let this mixture sit for at least a half hour, or up to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Slice the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces, then toss in a bowl with a couple tablespoons olive oil, cumin, caraway seeds, and a teaspoon of salt.  Roast in a sheet pan until softened inside, crispy and browned on the outside.

Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes into a small dice.  Let them marinate in a bowl with the other teaspoon of lemon juice while you finish preparing the rest of the dish.  In a food processor, blend the remaining 3/4 c parsley, 1/2 inch ginger, chilis, and garlic into a paste.  Set aside in a bowl for serving

Once your batter has sat for long enough and your cauliflower is almost done cooking, heat a nonstick pan coated with cooking spray (or canola oil) over high heat.  Once it's screaming hot, reduce the heat to medium-high and add around 1/3 c of batter into the pan.  Tilt it around immediately to distribute the batter in a thin, even layer.  Cook for 30 seconds to a minute on the first side, then flip and repeat on the other side.

To serve, you can rip the crepes like naan bread and use it to pick up the veggies, or use the veggies to fill the crepes and roll them up.  Either way, they're really satisfying.

Fig and Date Swirled Cookies

Hey kids, I'm sorry that I've been quiet for a while.  I've been feeling particularly apathetic lately about expending effort on activities other than eating and learning Spanish; so, while I've been making all sorts of food and going on all sorts of adventures, I haven't been motivated to write about any of it.

Last night, though, I made a glorious molasses bundt cake with my amazingly lovely crew sister Suzanne that I want to share soon.  Also, I recently decided to return to pescetarianism - I've been going strong for a week now, huzzah - but don't panic, it's only for a little while, there is still bacon in my future.  For all the happiness (and sleep, my goodness) that has filled me up these past couple months, I've still had those anxious, overwhelming days where I don't feel like I have any control at all, where I just want to curl up under my blankets and magically be older, settled and peaceful and strong.  I suppose those moments won't ever leave me, no matter how well I am.  

During when I was pescetarian a couple years ago, I found that removing meat from my diet inspired me to be more creative and thoughtful about the food I make.  Cooking is so therapeutic for me because it is simultaneously a creative exercise, an assertion of control over my existence, and nourishment for both my mind and body.  It's really easy to make something delicious with meat (baaaacon); but it's an entirely different thing to compose something that's hearty and interesting mostly from vegetables (I can't afford to eat fish everyday, let's be real).  I enjoy that challenge.  It makes cooking even more of a creative exercise, which is something I've really been craving.  My coursework this quarter isn't terribly stimulating, and I've been hammering away at the same project at work for a couple weeks now.  I've run into a wall with Spanish where I know enough vocabulary and constructions to try conversing with my friends, but I don't have enough experience to be intelligible, so I end up having to be corrected most of the time.  Of course that's a crucial part of learning a new language, but I feel like I'm accumulating all of this knowledge without being able to use it.  It's frustrating because I just want to be proficient already.  This is all quite unreasonable of course, but I'm impatient.  

I can't complain for too long, however, when I remember that I have such wonderful people who care about me, and cookies.  Mostly cookies.

Fig and Date Swirled Cookies
adapted from Gourmet via Lottie + Doof

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 c soft dried dates
1 c soft dried figs
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 c water

Whisk together flour, allspice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  In another bowl, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar for 3 minutes until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the vanilla and egg yolk, then add the flour mixture.  Once the flour has just become incorporated, split the dough evenly into two pieces and wrap each one separately in plastic.  Chill for an hour.

Meanwhile, puree the dates, figs, honey, and water in a food processor until smooth.

Roll out one half of the dough at a time into a 9x7 inch rectangle, 1/3 inch thick or so, between two sheets of either wax or parchment paper.  Remove the top layer of wax/parchment paper, then spread half of the fig-date filling over the dough, leaving a 1/4 inch border on the sides.  Starting on one of the long edges, use the bottom layer of paper to help you roll the dough into a log (like you're making cinnamon buns).  If you want, you can coat the outside of the log in Muscovado sugar at this point.  Either freeze or refrigerate it until solid (~4 hours in the fridge).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut the roll crosswise into 1/3 inch-thick slices and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown, then cool slightly before devouring.