Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lovely Links (February 2013)

February 2013 Favorites

1. Playtime just got a lot more interesting. For both of us.
3. Each homemade loaf is unique, and so beautiful!
4. Gorgeous blue sky on a Sunday morning.
5. My husband wanted to know why I bought dead branches. (They're forsythia, and they're already starting to bloom!)
6. Four inch-deep puddles of nasty slush = the exact reason why I bought waterPROOF, not water-resistant boots. ICK!

We made it through February, the longest shortest month of the year! Go us! Spring is right around the corner. Here are some of the best things I came across online this month:

I keep coming across reminders to stop trying to be the perfect mother; to be instead the mother that my child needs, the best mother I can be.


You know those super-convenient baby food puree packages with the spout? Here's a reusable version (perfect if you're into making your own!).

My love for simple everyday cakes is no secret, but I never think to bake with grapes! This grape, almond, and olive oil cake looks so lovely.

Every time I read the words "does well in containers" I get so excited to plant!!! And a tiny purple flower? Sign me up. Also, this podcast by Margaret Roach about conquering seed-starting fear is really great; I have already listened to it twice, and may listen to it a few more times just to calm my anxiety about this brave new world I'm embarking upon.

Add this to the long list of things I'm looking forward to this summer: Iced Coconut Water Americano.

Tiny ice ornaments! Just the thing to brighten up a dreary landscape!

The way to my heart is paved with Sambuca Kisses. From the new Nigella Lawson book, Nigellissima.

I may never participate in fantasy football, but you best believe I'm excited for FANTASY CONCLAVE Y'ALL.

I've been seeing recipes for hamantaschen lately, which made me want to learn about Purim.

The lifecycle of a garden tomato, in chalk! So cute, and makes me so excited to start my seeds.

A life-changing loaf of bread-that's-not-really-bread? I am intrigued.

Do we need to stop telling lies on Facebook? I don't know. If I'm going to share something, I'm not just going to kvetch about the minor discomforts of my very-comfortable life; not unless I have some insight to share about how I'm dealing with it. I'd rather share something uplifting, something positive. Is that lying by omission? I don't think so. Nobody ever said I had to share each moment of my life on Facebook, and I prefer a little bit of spin, a filter.

I wonder how many more times I will see a drool-worthy recipe for popovers before I will finally succumb to one. more. single-use pan.

A beautiful video about an artist couple who make gorgeous handmade paper lanterns, and thoughts on the intersection of life and art.

When I saw this gorgeous recipe for blood orange margaritas, I wasn't feeling like booze, so I just combined the blood orange and lime juice with a little sugar and sparkling water enjoyed it while I watched the Oscars.

I wish I could gift-wrap this kitchen and give it to Meg for her birthday.

Coconut soup seems to be trending.

Tiny money origami for the inside of a birthday card! MUST DO THIS!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mayan Hot Chocolate

When it looks like this outside (again),


You know it's time for some hot hot chocolate.


(If you whip the cream by hand, the calories come out even. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.)


Mayan Hot Chocolate

2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
a pinch chile powder
a pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup whole milk

Combine first 5 ingredients in a small saucepan and add a couple of tablespoons hot water. Stir until smooth, place over medium-low heat, and whisk in the milk. Heat to steaming, pour into a mug and serve with loosely whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Chicken and Stars

Chicken and stars

Just when I think I am getting the hang of things, something happens to throw me off, humble me, make me realize that ultimately, I am not actually in control. This time, let's call that thing February. This month has been a little rough around here, starting with a nursing strike. Breastfeeding is amazing for a host of well-publicized reasons (it is a perfect, free, easily-digested and fully customized food for the baby, helps you lost weight, delays the return of postpartum fertility, gives several happy- and calm-inducing hormones for you and baby, is totally portable and instantly ready, acts to soothe and comfort in almost any situation...), until something happens that makes it hard. We had a relatively easy start, and while I was always thankful for the ease of our nursing relationship, I definitely took it for granted. Never again! I have a new (albeit slight) insight into how my friend Sarah must have felt when she struggled to nurse her girl, and fresh compassion and understanding for her (totally right, brave) decision to bottle-feed.

But that was just the beginning. Just as things were getting back to normal, Daddy caught a horrible cold, which kept him home from work several days last week. Serves me right for thinking how lucky we were to get through this awful cold and flu season unscathed!! And now Anne has the cold, too. It breaks my heart to hear her congested cough and runny little nose, especially because there's no way to explain to her what's going on, and very little I can do to help.

There have been a few rays of sunshine, literal and figurative. Anne has learned how to laugh. My seeds came in the mail, and garden planning is in full swing. I've been leaning hard on homemade broths in the kitchen, and this superstar of a soup was last week's victory. Really, it's just a very basic, classic chicken soup (there's ginger and garlic in the broth, but not enough to be able to clearly identify either flavor). To boost the Asian flavor and healing power, I added sriracha and fresh-squeezed lime juice to my bowl. I'm doing everything I can to fight off the germs that are lurking in every corner of this house that hasn't seen fresh air for months, and this soup is just the kind of soldier I like to have on my side.

playtime with Daddy

Chicken and Stars

The stock is the star of the show here, so make sure it's high-quality. Homemade is best. Recipe below.

2 quarts chicken stock
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup stelline, alphabet pasta, orzo, or other tiny pasta

In a large pot, heat the chicken stock. Add the parsnips and carrots, and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water (I made the mistake of just adding dry pasta to a soup once... and there was no soup left, just pasta. Oops.) and drain. When the vegetables are about done, add the cooked pasta and frozen peas and continue simmering until heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning (usually more salt; if using homemade, un-salted stock, about a tablespoon of salt is great). Serve with a squeeze of fresh lime and sriracha to taste (about a tablespoon is great for clearing up your sinuses, and also, OH YUM).

Homemade Ginger-Garlic Chicken Stock

Ginger and garlic are both great natural cold remedies.

Bones from 1 whole roaster chicken, picked mostly clean of meat
1 piece fresh ginger, about 6 inches, thinly sliced (peeling is optional)
4-6 cloves fresh garlic, smashed and peeled
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Place all ingredients in a large pot and cover with cold water (about 2 quarts). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 6-8 hours. You can also combine everything in a slow-cooker and simmer overnight. Strain solids out and discard. Use in soup or cool and freeze for later use.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, Brown Butter, and Sage

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, Brown Butter, and Sage

Since I didn't grow up Catholic, I don't have memories of fish fries, tuna noodle casseroles, or cheese pizzas on Fridays during Lent. In fact, Lent wasn't even mentioned (that I can remember) in the church I grew up in. The only hint that Easter was coming was that my sister and I got to pick out fancy new Easter dresses. Easter was no less an important feast in our home for the lack of Lenten fasting and preparation, and we have plenty of our own wonderful Easter traditions. But I have come to really love the 40 days of prayer, contemplation, and more intensive soul-sculpting we do to prepare for such an exciting day. And it's not just a spiritual benefit we gain; Lent reminds us that spring and rebirth are coming, just when we reach the most hopeless, tired part of winter and we're longing for spring. And not eating meat on Fridays gives us motivation to get creative in the kitchen!


Believe it or not, the butternut squash I used in this recipe was purchased in October, before Anne was born (in case you were wondering if hard squashes really do last all winter... apparently so!). The idea for this pasta evolved over a period of weeks, and the most interesting development happened when I started to toss the sweet roasted squash with the butter and pasta in the pan... the squash started to disintegrate! Rather than stop tossing so that the squash stayed intact, I tossed more vigorously, interested to see what would happen, splashing in a little more starchy pasta water when it got too dry, and watching in amazement as it started to resemble a cheesy sauce! Absolutely amazing.

It feels like cheating when "abstinence" from meat turns into the best meal we've had all month.

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, Brown Butter, and Sage

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, Brown Butter and Sage

4-6 servings

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
Olive oil, salt and pepper

1 pound rigatoni
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
Grated Parmesan cheese 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, toss together the squash cubes, olive oil, salt and pepper, and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing the squash halfway through the cooking time. Allow to cool slightly. (You can also prepare the squash up to a few days ahead of time and store in the refrigerator.)

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt it well, and cook the rigatoni (or other short pasta with ridges) about a minute shy of al dente (you will finish it in a pan with the squash, and you don't want it to get mushy). Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking water. Meanwhile, in a small skillet or saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, and then continue cooking it, swirling continuously, while it fizzes and pops, and eventually begins to brown and smell nutty and utterly amazing. The whole process takes about 3-5 minutes. As soon as the butter is brown, pour it into a bowl to cool slightly, and stir in the chopped sage. Be very careful not to burn it!! Let the butter and sage mellow together while the pasta finishes cooking.

Strain the butter through a sieve, pressing the sage to release more flavor, and discard the sage. Add the butter to a large skillet over medium heat, and toss in the pasta and squash. Using tongs, gently continue tossing until the squash begins melting down and coating the noodles, splashing in more pasta water as necessary, and seasoning with more salt to taste. Some larger pieces of squash will remain. Serve with toasted walnuts and grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the top.

To toast walnuts, place them in a dry skillet over medium heat and toss occasionally, until fragrant. Cool slightly and chop.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fresh And Frugal: Homemade Lamb Stock + Tan Abour

This post is part of an ongoing series called Fresh and Frugal, in which I share practical ways to make it easy to eat well on a budget. Eating well can be thought of from a lot of different angles, from good health and nutrition, to mindfulness about the environment, to supporting local economies. We should be able to accomplish all of this without sacrificing pleasure or breaking the bank, and that is what these posts explore.

Fresh and Frugal: Lamb Stock

I think most people know that it's possible (and preferable) to make chicken or beef stock at home, using leftover bones that would otherwise be thrown away. It's so easy, and if you consider that you were going to throw away the ingredients anyway, you're basically making money on the proposition. But what to do if your recipe calls for lamb stock, your husband isn't terribly fond of lamb, and you don't feel like shelling out $20/pound on lamb when you'll have to eat it all yourself, and all you really wanted was soup?

Here's what I did: I went to the meat counter at Whole Foods, and asked if they happened to have lamb soup bones. I could tell the guy had never gotten this request before; he told me they have beef bones for sale (good to know!), but no lamb. I pushed him further, wondering if he might have a lead for me (I reallllly wanted to make this soup), and he said, "Well, we get lamb carcasses in on Fridays and break them down; if you want to come in on Saturday, we could set the leftover bones aside for you."

You know you are getting serious in the kitchen when people start throwing around the word "carcass."


Saturday rolls around, and I am just about giddy with excitement. Five and a half pounds of fresh, amazing lamb bones for... 99 cents a pound! I felt a little like I had won the lottery, and got down to business. I rubbed the bones with olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and roasted them at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, until they were popping and crackling, and looked a little crispy. Then I divided them into two big pots, added onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, and cold water, and simmered them all day long. After straining out all the solids, I had SIX QUARTS of stock! Less than 99 cents a quart, and that's not even counting the approximately 2 cups of leftover meat that I got off of the bones!

In a nutshell, boiling bones extracts all the good stuff from them: vitamins and minerals, gelatin, and tons of flavor. The resulting stock is a healing, nourishing food, and a cooking staple, wonderful for drinking plain, making soups, or enhancing flavor in rice or sauces. Read all about the nutritional benefits of homemade bone broth here.


Remember how excited you got in college when someone offered you free food? This is like that on steroids.


It's funny; I served this soup to a friend for lunch the other day, and she commented that she liked the unusual tangy flavor (from the yogurt, of course). It occurred to me that I had never thought to think about what this soup tastes like, specifically. Like other things my mom made a lot while I was growing up, this soup tastes like home.

Tan Abour

2 quarts lamb stock
1/2 cup barley
3 cups madzoon (plain yogurt, full- or low-fat)
1 egg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon dried parsley
salt and pepper

In a large pot, heat the lamb stock with the barley. Cook until the barley is tender, seasoning the stock to taste; about a tablespoon of table salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. In a small bowl, beat the egg and madzoon (yogurt) together. Slowly whisk in about a cup of the hot lamb stock to temper the mixture, and then add it slowly back to the pot. In a small skillet, melt the butter, and saute the onion over medium-low heat until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the mint and parsley, and then stir the onions into the soup. Serve hot.

Simple Lamb Stock

Yield: 6 quarts

5 pounds lamb soup bones
2 onions
6 carrots
4 ribs celery, with leaves
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

Combine all ingredients in one giant stock pot (or two soup/pasta pots), and cover with cold water. I've heard that adding a tablespoon or two of vinegar aids in extracting the nutrients from the bones; I intend to try that next time (always learning!). Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer for as long as you like; at least 6-8 hours, preferably 12-24. You can also do this is a slow-cooker. Strain out the bones and veggies, chill the stock, and use it in the recipe above or freeze it. Storage tip: if you lay the freezer bags flat in the freezer, they take up much less space, and are easily organized.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Beer-Braised Chicken and Sweet Potatoes

Beer-braised chicken and sweet potatoes

The weather's up and down, raining, snowing, melting, freezing. It seems like almost everyone I know is or has been sick with this terrible flu, and we're starting to get desperate for springtime. Now's the time to decide there's nothing in the world that could get you out of your pajamas, to spend the day watching Downton Abbey. It's time to look at pictures from vacations to warm locales and be glad that even though you're not going anywhere fun, at least you have a few more months until you have to be seen in a swimsuit. Now is the time for comfort food.

Chicken and veggies

This recipe is a riff on some unforgettable mussels I had years ago at a Belgian restaurant in New York. The restaurant has since closed, and good chicken is much easier to come by here in the heartland than good mussels, so here we are. Braising is perfect for cold winter days, warming the house and filling it with delicious smells, and it's perfect for busy weeknights since most of the cooking time is in the oven. And don't worry, there's not much of this winter left. Spring is just around the corner. Braise while the braising's good!

Beer and broth>

Beer-Braised Chicken and Sweet Potatoes

4 chicken thighs, with skin and bones
1 tablespoon rendered bacon fat (or olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup French-style country ale (or similar mild ale)
1 cup chicken stock
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the fat in the bottom of a Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the chicken with the thyme and salt and pepper, add it to the pan and brown it well, 3-4 minutes per side. Scatter the onions, garlic, and sweet potatoes over the chicken, and pour the beer and chicken stock over everything. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate and tent loosely with foil, and use a slotted spoon to remove the sweet potatoes to a bowl. Increase the heat to high and boil the sauce to reduce it slightly, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from the heat, stir in the cream, and return the chicken and vegetables to the pan. Serve with rice or crusty bread for sopping up the broth.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chocolate Chia Coconut Energy Bites


So... sometimes I do this thing. I discover a food I haven't tried (sardines, say, or kombucha), get excited, and the next time I'm at the store, I buy some. I bring it home, and it sits and sits and sits in the cupboard. Every time I open it to get something normal, the new thing stares at me, as if to say, "Excuse me, ma'am, did you just buy me for fun? I am food, you know. EAT ME! EAT ME!!!"

In the case of the sardines, this is doubly disturbing.

(Just a thought: when in doubt, don't buy at Costco.)

A while ago, I read this fabulous book about barefoot ultrarunning. It has inspired me to do a few things, namely buy these goofy-looking (but totally awesome) running shoes, make some unbelievable pancakes with rice, bananas, and yogurt mixed into the batter, and buy a bag of chia seeds, which sat and stared for more than a year before I tried them (in this smoothie).


Chia seeds are a source of complete protein, so they keep you full. They form a magical chewy gel covering (I'm sorry, it doesn't sound appetizing, but if you like tapioca, you understand) when mixed with liquids. They are full of omega-3s, antioxidants, and fiber. They can be mixed into juices or baked goods easily, to add extra staying power and nutrition. And who doesn't want to incorporate an Aztec Superfood into their diet?


These energy bites are made entirely of good-for-you, whole, clean foods, and hey, and did I mention they are delicious? You know I am not going to recommend something to you that is healthy but tastes like feet. Chocolate! Sweet and chewy dates! Coconut! Good.

For breakfast or as an afternoon snack, these tiny bites will help you go forth and conquer your day! (I think that's the Aztec superfood talking...)


Chocolate Chia Coconut Energy Bites

Makes about 18 golf-ball-sized bites

1 cup raw cashews
1 cup firmly packed pitted dates
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

In a food processor, pulse the cashews until no large pieces remain, but be careful not to pulse it into dust (or cashew butter!). Add the dates and continues to process until the mixture seems to be uniformly minced and starts sticking together. If your dates are on the drier side (mine were), you may need to add anywhere from a teaspoon to a couple of tablespoons of hot water to get them to break down. (You can also soak them in hot water before beginning, but if you haven't planned ahead, this is a great way to problem-solve.) At this point, the mixture should hold together if you pinch it between your fingers. Add the cocoa powder, chia seeds, chocolate chips, and coconut and continue to pulse until well-incorporated.

Scoop out the dough into about 2-tablespoon-sized balls and roll between your palms. For added fancy-ness (or to fool yourself into thinking you're eating truffles), roll the balls in cocoa powder.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Orange Cardamom Cookies


A few months ago, I received some Barnes and Noble gift cards. I briefly considered buying a Nook, thinking that it would be easier to use an e-reader while taking care of a baby, and that it would be nice not to have to go to the library in order to pick up something to read.

It's almost like I forgot who I am!


I have always loved libraries and used bookstores. Truly, they are some of my favorite places in the world. I love the musty smell, the cozy cluttered feeling, the sheer feeling of possibility! What will I find around the next corner? What adventures lie between the covers of that well-worn volume? I find the whole situation very romantic.

Did you know that only an estimated 3% of Americans actually use the public library system? That is a shockingly low number. It's like people don't realize that it's completely free, and super convenient! Especially in a large city like Chicago, there's almost always a library within walking distance, and if the closest branch doesn't have the title you're looking for, you can request it online. They send it to the branch of your choice, notify you by e-mail when it's ready, and you just go pick it up! So easy! So completely free, too.


Whether my trip to the library is just another stop in a day full of errands, or the destination of a morning walk with my girl, I usually don't just beeline it to the holds shelf, get my requested books, and head out. I usually take at least a few minutes to take a peek at new arrivals, or browse for fiction I might not have heard of anywhere else. I don't always find something, but sometimes I find little gems like this book, Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen, by Donia Bijan. I'm honestly not that far into it yet (true to form, I'm in the middle of several books at a time), but the first few chapters have been delightful. I love memoirs where each chapter is accompanied by a recipe or two. It's as if the author is using the food to tell the story, which just makes sense. Food is so tangled in all of our stories.


I made these cookies on a snowy afternoon last week, and as they cooled I brewed a pot of black tea with crushed cardamom pods; it was a fragrant and comforting treat. The cookies have a buttery, crumbly texture, aren't too sweet, and are just lightly kissed with cardamom. I hope you'll give them a try!

Orange Cardamom Cookies

adapted from Maman's Homesick Pie


Yield: about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
grated zest of 2 oranges
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until white and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and blend well, another minute or so. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg yolk and orange zest, and blend well again. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, cardamom and poppy seeds and fold in, mixing until the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead a few times to bring it together. Divide the dough in half and shape the halves into 8- to 10-inch-long logs. Wrap the logs in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment. Using a sharp knife, slice the logs into 1/2-inch-thick rounds, and arrange them 1 inch apart on the cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until slightly golden on the edges.