Cooking as Armor

I’m about to start two weeks of night shifts followed by a week of travel and weddings. To say I’m stressed would be an understatement. I’m going to be under-rested without as much time to work out as I’d like for both my mental health and my waistline. On top of what, who knows what I’ll be eating, between the weird hours* and the travel and my penchant for eating my feelings.**

One of these things I can do something about. Having healthy meals prepped and ready to go before a difficult week (or two) tends to make me feel a lot calmer. After spending a bunch of time on Pinterest during slow hours at work last week, I decided on an Asian theme and spent a few hours this weekend making it happen. I made three days of kale salad with miso dressing and set aside chopped ingredients and dressing for two more. I stocked up on yogurt for 7AM when my body either wants that or cheese quesadillas.*** I have chicken gyoza burgers on the stove right now (basically gyoza filling in burger form – I plan to eat them with ponzu). And last night I cooked Asian-flavored pulled pork in my slow cooker. This morning I tossed half of it with soba noodles, scallions, sesame seeds and oil, and a bit of the sauce from the slow cooker, which I cooked down. I’ll include the recipe below. This morning I also plan to cook some brown rice to fry with the rest of the pork next weekend.

*They do not call it the ops center 15 for nothing. Also, did you know that in a study done recently, mice who slept my hours gained 20% more weight from the same number of calories as mice who slept normal hours? Also, twice as likely to get breast cancer. Yay!

**Those of you who aren’t familiar, ask me about dating sometime.

***I picked up some 2% milk cheese for when the quesadilla craving won’t be denied.

Asian-Style Pulled Pork

2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder (I used boneless country style ribs)

soy sauce

brown sugar

scallions

sesame oil

salt

sriracha

garlic

ginger

Sorry guys, you know I don’t really measure. Combine the sauce ingredients in a measuring cup or something (you should have less than a cup). Pour over the pork in your slow-cooker, cook on low overnight. Shred the pork, pour the juice into a saucepan and cook it down if you want to. You could also add some cornstarch to thicken it up a bit. Use in tacos, fried rice, or tossed with soba like I did.

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Not pretty, but delicious

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garlic

Sorry guys, you know I rarely measure. Put the pork in the slow-cooker. Combine the sauce ingredients and mix (you should have less than a cup), then pour over the pork. Cook on low overnight. Pull the pork apart with forks. Move the juice/sauce to the stove and cook it down, if you want. You can also thicken it with some corn starch, if you want.

Porchetta

A year and a half ago, I did a little hike through upper NW DC and ended up at 2 Amy’s for some pizza. As one does. Around 4, I noticed that a large array of food was being put out on the bar, the centerpiece of which was a giant hunk of what looked like crispy pork. That got my attention. I was too full of pizza to explore further, but don’t worry – I went back soon. That giant hunk of crispy pork is called porchetta, and it’s made by wrapping a garlic- and herb-rubbed pork loin inside a pork belly and roasting until it’s succulent on the inside and crispy on the outside.

After that, I started seeking it out wherever I could. Back to 2 Amy’s, a food stand in NY, a couple other places. Then I realized I could make this thing myself. Then I found a square of pork belly at the farmer’s market. Since my square of pork belly was reasonably small and I wasn’t feeding an army, I decided to skip the loin and just roll up the belly. I used basically this recipe (http://www.chow.com/recipes/31215-porchetta), using dried rosemary and grinding all the seasoning with the mortar and pestle I almost threw out years ago but didn’t (thereby justifying my pack-rat tendencies forever).

Guys, it was awesome. I served it with roasted carrots and a garlic-chive pesto made with hazlenuts (which is also fantastic on grilled cheese with mozzarella; just throwing that out there).

I can’t wait to make one of these for realsies.

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Memorable Meals: Latvia and Estonia

You guys know I travel for food. I went to Istanbul for the doner kebab, Peru for the chicken, and France for the, well, everything. But it turns out I also travel for cheap airfare — when I found tickets to Riga last summer, I shrugged and said cool, I’ve never been there. Then I found out that Tallinn was only four hours away on the bus, so obviously I couldn’t miss that. But when I looked up what dishes I should not miss, I started to get nervous. I don’t particularly like fish, rye bread, or potatoes. What was I going to eat? It turns out the answer was mostly bacon. Almost everything I had was fantastic, and most of it was cheap. I had some fantastic dumplings, smoked garlic crusted goat cheese, and potato pancakes with bacon and sour cream. The language barrier made things a little interesting, though:* I was pretty sure a giant hunk of nominally smoked (but otherwise raw-seeming) pork that I bought to eat on the bus was going to kill me (spoiler alert: I didn’t die). And I hadn’t had a chance to pick up a sandwich to take to a village to see some castles, so I ended up in a bakery there. I saw some little pastries with what looked like bacon inside. I was pretty sure it would turn out to be some sort of dried fruit, but no, heaven. I’d love to try making something like that myself! Finally, if you ever go to Tallinn, go to Kompressor Pub for 5-euro pancakes. Seriously. I scarfed down my bacon and smoked cheese way too fast to take a picture.

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Potato pancake with bacon and sour cream

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Breakfast cheese pancake with berry compote

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All of this was about $3.50

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Meat pie and soup and currant juice in a medieval tavern in Tallinn. Not pictured: all-you-can-spear pickles.

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Beer and cheese and other snacks in a Riga brewery – a major highlight of the trip!

*Weirdest moment: Sitting naked in a sauna with a bunch of other women beating themselves with birch branches. I was not actually prepared for this, and not just because I didn’t know to bring my own birch branches.

Food on Night Shift

Night shift is pretty rough. You’re sleeping less than you’d like to be (unless you’re this mythical person who can sleep equally well during the day), particularly if you don’t want to spend the entire two weeks nocturnal. You also have almost no access to food except that which you bring with you since the cafeteria is closed until everything is too busy for you to leave your desk in the morning. And let me tell you, tired and hangry at 7AM is not a good place to be.

On the other hand, you kind of feel like you’re eating all the time, which is pretty gross. Especially if your body feels like it should be sleeping instead of eating. When I have it together enough, I try to prep healthy and light but filling stuff to bring with me. Other times I pick up a hoagie from the Italian store.

And of course, there’s the question of what meal you want to eat when. The first couple months, I tried having breakfast around 10PM and then lunch and dinner later. But lately I’ve found that I want to eat something fairly substantial when I get to work, and by 7 all my stomach wants is yogurt. Just enough to get me through the last two hours and to bed.

A 12-hour shift means that I’m eating all three meals at work, for the most part. It can be a little disconcerting to see all the food you plan to eat for the day together all at once. It looks like a ton. So I thought I’d show you what I’m bringing for my last two shifts this week:

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There’ll also be a yogurt for each day, although I don’t have it yet. I’ll be starting each night with a bowl of shakshuka and some leftover cucumber-honeydew salad. Then I’ll have a Latin American-flavored salad with some chicken and eggs in it. If I need a snack, I have hard boiled eggs with hot sauce. Finally, yogurt around 7 or 7:30.

Shakshuka

I never wanted to be one of those bloggers who’s always apologizing for not posting in so long, but here I am. I had some plans to post and then night shift happened and travel happened and a stomach bug happened and more night shift happened. I wanted to tell you about my family’s traditional Easter dinner and ask about your families’ traditions, but I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed for the year. I will tell you about my trip to Latvia and Estonia soon (spoiler: carbs and bacon). I’ll also tell you a little about food on shift, since it’s something that occupies a lot of shift workers’ thoughts (including mine, surprise!).

For today, though, we have shakshuka, also known as eggs in purgatory. It’s an Israeli dish made of eggs baked in a spicy tomato sauce. When I went to Israel earlier this year, a few people told me I had to try it. The problem is…I’m not a huge fan of tomato sauce. At least not on its own. So when I saw shakshuka to which I could add merguez sausage, I thought that would be perfect…except that it was basic shakshuka with a giant link of sausage next to it. But I definitely saw the potential of the dish; I mean, it’s easy, healthy, cheap, and flavorful. I just needed something to cut the tomato sauce a little.

Fast forward* to a couple of weeks ago when I was pinning recipes to try. I came across a recipe on My Jerusalem Kitchen for baked feta with tomatoes and eggs. I had feta and I had eggs, so that sounded good. But I’m not super good at following recipes, so I went a little nuts. I made a tomato sauce with a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, and kalamata olives. Then I layered that over a bunch of crumbled feta and topped it with eggs before baking it. It was pretty awesome! I had plans to make a crazy pita sandwich with that and hummus and some cabbage for crunch, but ended up eating it straight out of the casserole dish. I don’t have pictures, but here’s the recipe (and really, it’s not that pretty a dish):

1 package of feta in brine (I used the one from Trader Joe’s with about 1/4 missing)

1 small-medium onion, chopped

garlic

1 can diced tomatoes

1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped

6 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Crumble the feta and spread it in a casserole dish. Saute the onion until translucent and tender, adding the garlic for the last minute. Add the tomatoes and olives; cook for a few minutes until everything is tender. Whiz it up a little with an immersion blender, if you have one or don’t like it chunky. Pour the sauce over the feta, then use a spoon to make some wells. Crack the eggs into the wells and bake at 400 until the whites are set and the yolks are how you like them.

I can also see this being amazing with some crumbled chorizo and queso fresco instead of the olives and feta. Or with some lamb meatballs thrown in or some tahini drizzled over the top.

*I definitely typed fast food here first.

(Homemade) Bread and Butter

I grew up outside Philadelphia in a heavily Italian area. Our local supermarket had amazing Italian bread for something like $1.99 a loaf. (It was later bought by Safeway and then Weis, and its bread reverted to typical mediocre supermarket bread.) So when I moved down here for college, it was kind of a shock to me that good bread is actually pretty hard to find. One of my best friends and I would go to Bertucci’s frequently (it was on campus and took our debit dollars), get something cheap for dinner, fill up on rolls, and very nicely ask our server to pack us up some rolls to take with us, that we’d have for breakfast the next morning with butter or some sort of spreadable cheese (no, it wasn’t good spreadable cheese – we were undergrads! but I’m from Philly, so I love fake cheese).

A little later, I started getting exposure to artisan bakeries like…Panera. Don’t judge me, they probably sell a decent loaf of bread. But I’d never know because I refused to pay $5 for a loaf of bread. Cheapness runs in my family.

Then, the NYT no-knead bread recipe came out. A roommate tried it, said it was pretty easy. I thought, I should do that sometime. Last year, a good friend mentioned that he bakes bread. For real. And that even though I’m afraid of anything having to do with yeast after a number of traumatic pizza dough experiments in my youth, I could totally bake bread, too! I immediately ordered him to teach me. Well, we didn’t get to it, so for Christmas, he gave me a book called Brother Juniper’s Bread Book (by Peter Reinhart). I did some browsing, and this week, during my very first day off during day shifts, I tried some basic French bread. And it worked! Sure, I have some quibbles – it’s a little dense, could use a little more flavor (salt), but in general it’s the best bread I’ve had outside a French or Italian restaurant in years. A note here: I’m notoriously lax about measuring, so since I really wanted this to work I converted the volume measurements of flour to weight so I could just use my scale and make sure I got it right.

Let’s rewind for a minute. A year or so ago, I read a blog post somewhere that you can make butter yourself in a stand mixer, and immediately resolved that whenever I have a wedding registry or give up and buy one for myself, the first thing my future Kitchenaid will do is make me some butter. Then last week, a friend told me I could make butter in a food processor. I have one of those!

So yesterday I had a pint of heavy cream in the fridge that I had bought for a recipe that hadn’t actually required cream, and I decided that fresh bread really deserved some fresh butter. Since I own an abundance of flaky sea salt, I decided not to salt the butter, which meant that I really just dumped the pint into the food processor and let it run for about five minutes, then squeezed the butter in some paper towels to get the buttermilk out. (Don’t worry, I saved it! But I’m not sure I’ll have time to use it over the next couple of weeks 😦 )

This morning I had a glorious breakfast of fresh bread, creamy fresh butter, flaky sea salt, and shaved radishes, and it would be difficult for me to be happier.

So let’s get to recipes and pictures, yes?!

French Bread

Put 1tsp active dry yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. If it bubbles, you’re good to go (this is called proofing).

Add 9.9oz all purpose flour, 10.1oz bread flour, 2 tsp salt, and 1 5/8 cup water to the bowl. Mix it up!

Turn it onto a floured counter and start kneading (keep flour handy! it will get sticky). Knead about 10 minutes, until it’s elastic and only tacky, not sticky. When I started, I was like “wow, kneading isn’t that bad! this is kind of fun!” and by the end I had decided that my next loaf will be the NYT no-knead. But honestly, it wasn’t that bad.

Put it into the cleaned bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise for 90 minutes.

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(the drama: Will it rise?! Believe it or not, it did!)

Punch it down, then roll it back into a ball and put back in the bowl and cover it back up; let it rise for another 90 minutes (I went shopping).

Punch it down again and form into whatever shape you want. I went with a loaf because I don’t have fancy baguette pans and I find that a round can yield somewhat unwieldy slices of bread. If you’re going loaf, use a rolling pin (or wine bottle, if you’re me) to roll it out into a rectangle. Fold it in thirds. Keep the seam on the bottom and roll it out again. Fold it into thirds again, and pinch the seam with your fingers so your bread doesn’t expand outward too much in the oven. Put it on a baking pan covered in parchment, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 450F. Make some slashes in the top with a serrated knife to let some steam out (or something). Get a spray bottle of water ready – water is what will make it crusty! I didn’t have a spray bottle that wasn’t full of some kind of toxic chemical (hair products, shower cleaner, etc), so I used my largest pastry brush and a bowl of water. Brush or mist the bread with water. Put it in the oven. Every two minutes for the next eight or so, give the loaf another dose of water. Then let it go for a bit. Here’s where the directions get a little muddled. How long you’re going to bake it depends on the size of your loaf, logically. So with the whole ball of dough in one loaf, I left it another 15 minutes. Dose it with water one more time. Turn the oven off but leave the bread in there to cook for 10 minutes. Take it out and let it cool for 20-40, then dig in!

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A clerk at my parents’ local Italian deli gave me a great tip for storing bread while keeping it crusty – for the first 36 hours or so, just put it cut side down on the counter. No need to wrap it up (seriously – this morning my bread was just as good as it was last night!). Once you have an idea how much you can realistically eat before it gets stale, put the rest in the freezer as early as possible. And if any does go stale or you don’t want to freeze it, rip it up, put it in the food processor, and make breadcrumbs (which I’m pretty sure you can freeze).

Butter

Put some heavy cream into your food processor. Turn it on.

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This is a little disconcerting to do – I had a food processor leak once and it was pretty traumatic. Don’t worry, it didn’t happen this time!

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Halfway between whipped and clotted cream. Trust me, I’ll be remembering this for my next tea party!

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Butter!!!!!

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Bliss.

Memorable Meals: Nuremburg Sausages

When I was about to go to Israel, I was telling my parents excitedly about my layover in Frankfurt. My dad asked what on earth I would do in Frankfurt for three hours. My response: “Well, obviously I’m going to eat!”

So if any of you have ever had the pleasure of a layover in the Frankfurt airport, you know that the real answer was that I was going to walk from one terminal to the other.

But still, even with all the walking, I had time for breakfast. I was craving a real German breakfast. The German Breakfast Roll (like a kaiser roll with a glazed top) with butter and cheese and ham. Unfortunately, by the time I got over to my actual terminal, my options were pretty limited. As it was, I had to walk a mile or so to the terminal next to mine to even get breakfast. The place I ended up with didn’t have what I wanted.

Luckily, they had something better.

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I’m not a big sausage person. If I’m going to eat it, I usually want it removed from its casing. Bratwurst was never my favorite German food. Luckily, these weren’t just any German sausages. They were Nuremberg sausages, which I had eaten with delight on a frigid trip to Nuremberg back in 2006. When you buy them on the street, they come in threes in a kaiser roll with mustard. They’re small. I’m pretty sure we called them finger sausages or something (but in German, of course, it sounded a little less gross).

They were just as good this time.

And I got a roll with some lovely German butter to take with me.

Coffee Alternatives

This week is my first week of occasional night shifts at work. Needless to say, it’s a bit of an adjustment. So along with enthusiastic napping, I’ve turned to caffeine to get through the long hours.

There’s one major problem: I don’t drink coffee. I mean, I’ll have the occasional white mocha, but those have more calories from sugar than I should really be consuming for a meal, much less a drink that won’t fill me up. I tried cold brew lattes, but they did such terrible things to my stomach that I gave up after two days.

Tea would be the logical alternative, but it tastes like grassy water to me unless I add enough sugar that I may as well be drinking a white mocha. So I’ve turned to tea lattes. I like the Oregon Chai Latte mix, but again, sugar. So I’ll be brewing my own chai (unsweetened but still caffeinated and flavorful) to mix with that one.

This morning’s project was green tea latte mix. I took three green tea bags and one mint tea bag and about a quarter cup of honey to brew some nice strong mint green tea. (If you switch the tea ratios, it makes a really nice lightly caffeinated iced tea for summer!)

I didn’t stir the honey in well enough for my test cup, but the milk adds a nice bit of flavor (and protein). I think it’ll be a success, and I’m looking forward to drinking it this weekend.

Lentil Soup

One of my family’s go-to winter meals is lentil soup. Very simple but delicious. I’ve made some alterations to the original and don’t really use a recipe, but here are my basic guidelines:

1/2 pound bacon (you could use less, but why?)

Onion, celery, carrot (I use the mirepoix from Trader Joe’s because I’m lazy)

1 can diced tomatoes (I like the fire roasted ones)

1 lb lentils, rinsed and without stones (real talk: I’ve never actually gone through my lentils)

Broth until it looks like enough (I can’t imagine why people get frustrated when they ask me for recipes)

Salt, pepper, thyme

Cook the bacon until not yet crispy. Add the mirepoix, cook about 10 minutes until softened. Add the other ingredients; simmer until tender, about 45 minutes. You can swirl it up with an immersion blender if you want a thicker soup, but it’s not necessary.

Although this is a very nice winter comfort dish, that’s not why I’m telling you about it. My senior year of college, when I was first learning to cook, I made this soup for the guy I was dating. I got it all started, then left it to simmer while I went to study in my room (here’s that multi-tasking again). I’d never had a gas stove before, and I guess it was a little high. When I came back, shortly before he arrived, there was a thick layer burned to the bottom of the pot. Now, if I’d just left well enough alone, this might have been fine. But for some reason I felt like I really needed to scrape that up. When the boy, a much more experienced cook, got there, I, panicking, asked him to save my soup. His response was to add some more thyme, and we sat down to eat.

Boy: This is really good. What are the black beans?

Me: There are no black beans.

Boy: No, these crunchy black things.

Me: There are only lentils.

Boy: …oh.

Comfort food (and why one should not multitask too much in the kitchen)

Early Saturday morning I arrived back in cold, snowy DC from beautiful, warm, sunny Tel Aviv. It was rough. Combine that with jet lag and sleeping little on the plane and my bag still being in Newark, and I wasn’t thrilled to be home (Apollo notwithstanding).

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By Sunday morning I felt a little better. My bag had been delivered, I’d slept 14 hours. But I was still cold, and I wanted comfort food. So I turned to Smitten Kitchen’s beef stew with cognac and dijon.

I’m only linking to the recipe because except for my usual carelessness about measuring, I didn’t change anything. And it was delicious.

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It was pretty frugal, too. $29.30 got me all of the ingredients except for the mustard and cognac, which I already had on hand. And it made seven servings of stew and three servings of kale salad (kale included in the grocery total) with warm bacon vinaigrette. The ingredients, prepped, also gave me (along with 6 eggs and some caramelized onion cheddar from my fridge) a bacon and mushroom frittata…which leads me to the lesson on multi-tasking. After I threw the frittata in the oven, while I was finishing up cooking dinner and making the salad and the noodles, etc., I called my friend Carolyn to catch up. While we chatted, I sat down and ate dinner, then finally went back into the kitchen. And remembered the frittata:

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Whoops.