Archive for March, 2011

March 19, 2011

Chick-a-pea

During lent last year I would make creamy tomato sauce by adding plain Coffeemate or soy creamer to the pasta sauce. It actually tasted pretty good and would temporarily make you forget that what you really craved was a nice heap of grated parm. During my recipe searching this year I found an interesting pasta dish in the February 2011 issue of Bon Appetit – Pasta with Chickpeas and Charred Tomatoes. Since the beginning of lent about two weeks ago our chickpea intake has increased dramatically, but I thought I would give this a try anyway.

As your penne is cooking, heat some cherry tomatoes in a skillet, stirring occasionally until some spots are blackened.

When you drain the pasta the recipe says to reserve some of the cooking water and whisk in equal parts plain hummus. Sounds weird (and it doesn’t look very appetizing) but  I am telling you, after you add the hummus mixture (your skillet now should have tomatoes, chickpeas, garlic, paprika and the drained pasta) the juices from the tomato mix in and you create this creamy sauce – no fake creamer with scary chemicals in it needed! Ingenious – thank you, Bon Appetit! Finish off with some kalamata olives and chopped cilantro (so the parsley won’t be totally alone when you toss it to the curb in a week or two).

The dish came together in about forty minutes. I imagined all day how great this pasta was going to look in my white Crate &  Barrel bowls. They are more shallow than my everyday set and a little more sophisticated than my giraffe print ones. I only have two of these bowls and one was in the sink, soaking in the beet soup pot from the other night. So I opened the cabinet to reach for my everyday, but hesitated. I 100% believed that this pasta was going to look, and in turn taste, better out of the white bowl. It couldn’t possibly be as good in anything else. After standing there in deep contemplation and reflection of myself as a cook, I realized I could have washed the bowl already 10 times (it wasn’t that I stood there for that long, I just don’t wash dishes very thoroughly). I pulled the bowl out of the murky pink water, gave it a quick soapy rinse and was ready to serve.

After several carefully composed forkfuls of penne-chickpea-tomato-cilantro-olive, I paused for praise from my husband. He commented on the flavor and genuinely looked pleased with his dinner. That was it. No excited bewilderment of how a vegan dish could taste like this. No discussion on how the hummus-hot-pasta-water and tomato juice combo developed a miraculous cream sauce. Men.

“You REALLY didn’t use any fake creamer?…Amazing!” I wanted to hear. “None at all! Can you believe it?” I whispered to my empty bowl. I know he enjoyed it though. And much more because of the dish it was in.  I savored every last bit of it – literally, I was sticking my fingers in the bowl and licking the leftover sauce off them.

Pasta with Chickpeas and Charred Tomatoes (4 servings)

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces penne pasta
  • 1/2 cup purchased plain hummus
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 12-ounce bags cherry tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 cup halved pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preparation

  • Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Whisk hummus into liquid.
  • Meanwhile, heat oil in large heavy skillet over high heat. Add cherry tomatoes; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until blackened in spots, shaking skillet occasionally, about 8 minutes. Mix in chickpeas, garlic, and smoked paprika. Crush some of tomatoes to release juices. Add pasta and enough hummus mixture to coat. Mix in olives and cilantro; season with salt and pepper.
March 19, 2011

Plastic Carts & Parsley

I wish I could take a class on how to be the perfect grocery shopper. This is what I think as I push those bright red plastic carts through our town’s Shop Rite – the hatred towards these plastic carts I have inherited from my mother. It would be hypocritcal to call myself a food snob (my friends back in the Bay Area surely have blackmail photos ready of my drunken grubby hands happily shoving a Sourdough Jack into my smiling mouth at 3am after begging our DD to pull through the drive-thru), but really, why the plastic carts?…and the neon yellow plastic bags? And if a store has enough coupons that you have to have a sign at every register outlining the coupon rules with underlines, and bolded, red, and italicized statements, then I think you have too many coupons. And too many people that suddenly remember they have coupons they have to fish through their purse for when it’s already time to pay. And then inevitably the coupons are for the OTHER size of that item that you don’t even really need – I mean didn’t you read the fine print? No? Ok, sure I’ll wait while you go run and get the correct item. Oh no don’t worry about the psychotic woman behind you who looks like she might set her plastic cart on fire because she can’t believe that she chooses the line where this happens every time…

But I digress…back to the grocery shopping lessons. I try to plan my recipes for the week accordingly so that I limit the amount of fresh herbs that go bad in my fridge. I wish the stores would sell those items in smaller bunches (this store actually tries to but the one I want is always sold out or half brown). I mean, hello, are you suggesting we all be feeding 3 kids at home? (the grocery store is suddenly every old lady at church). Perhaps I could just use more parsley in my cooking. Right now there is a nice big bunch of it leftover in my fridge. Don’t get too comfortable, Parsley, I’ll be reluctantly throwing you out in two and a half weeks when I finally realize that “oh, but I might need it tomorrow” won’t even matter when you are brown and sitting in dead herb juice. I imagine this every time too when I stand there staring at it, lovingly smelling it, pondering if I want to go through this again. I know how this is going to end. But I can’t help myself. Not garnishing my dish with parsely is worse than throwing most of it out. “Andy won’t judge me for it…or won’t notice it’s missing,” I think to myself. But Mama will. She would be so ashamed. I will call her after to tell her about the delicious soup I made and she’ll be able to sense it in my guilty tone – “Oh, you left out the parsely…hmmm”. I can’t disappoint my mother. Parsley goes in the cart.

The parsely is for garnishing the first item on this week’s dinner menu – a Beet and Tomato Soup with Cumin from the April 2011 issue of Food and Wine (to which I subscribe along with Bon Appetit). Our Great Lent before Easter has begun (Russian Orthodox Christian) and I am promising myself that this time around I will rely less on tofu and imitation meat products and celebrate the beauty of, well, real food. So I compiled a list of recipes from my latest magazines and posted them on Facebook for my Orthodox (and vegan) friends. I am actually quite excited about this 7 week experiment, even though I don’t understand being vegetarian or vegan – ever heard of steak? rack of lamb? blue cheese? roast chicken? Just too delicious.

The soup was relatively simple to make and ended up quite tasty. It was also the dinner that kept on feeding – I took the soup to work for lunch and ate it for about 4 more meals after that. And in case you wanted pink countertops, boiling and peeling beets is defintely the way to go! Boiling, peeling and chopping the beets is the first step. While those cool to the side, you heat up some thinly sliced shallots in the saucepan.

Add chopped tomatoes,  the beets and salt and pepper. Once the juices release a bit, you add cumin. Smells amazing! I opted for vegetable stock (vegan), put in tomato paste and let it simmer, covered, after bringing it to a boil.

Then came the part where I realized that I definitely need a bigger food processor: puree the veggies and then return them to the sauce pan to develop the flavor and heat up the soup more. My Cuisinart is teeny tiny and the puree was coming out the sides through the lid. Disastrous. But I am a messy cook and I just accept these situations as facts. And to me it wasn’t a dirty kitchen, it was a perfect excuse to shop around for new kitchen gadgets. My suggestion is to puree less of the liquid and more of just the vegetables. I don’t think mine pureed enough, and I could taste some tomato seeds.

Of course I skipped the dollop of creme fraiche, but proudly sprinkled the parsley on top. As I stood back and watched the parsley sit gloriously atop the deep magenta-ish soup I glanced quickly at the herb saver I bought over a year ago in an attempt to save the poor parsley. I’m lazy and toss the rest of the parsely in the fridge. Herb saver remains as interesting trinket on the kitchen shelf and parsley takes its rightful place in the fridge until I pull it out again to put straight in the trash.

 

 Benjamin Leroux’s Beet & Tomato Soup with Cumin (F&W April 2011)

Ingredients

    1. 1 pound medium beets
    2. 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    3. 4 medium shallots, thinly sliced
    4. 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
    5. Salt and freshly ground pepper
    6. 1 teaspoon ground cumin, plus more for garnish
    7. 1 quart vegetable stock or chicken stock
    8. 1 tablespoon tomato paste
    9. 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
    10. 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, cover the beets with water. Bring to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until tender, about 1 hour; if necessary, add more water to keep the beets covered. Drain the beets and let cool slightly, then peel and coarsely chop.
  2. Wipe out the saucepan and heat the olive oil in it. Add the shallots and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chopped beets, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes release their juices, about 5 minutes. Add the 1 teaspoon of cumin and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the vegetable stock and tomato paste and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
  3. Puree the soup in batches in a food processor. Rewarm the soup in the saucepan and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with dollops of crème fraîche. Sprinkle with a little cumin and the parsley and serve.

March 17, 2011

Packaging Designer…

Ok, so it looks like this is going to be my first post, which feels weird. I am starting right in the middle of my life. I am feeling like it should all start at the very beginning. Like I should talk about how I got here. My history, what school I went to, how event planning turned into invitation design, that turned into greeting cards and blah blah blah. But that would be boring and I guess you have to start somewhere. These greeting card bands just happen to be the project I am working on today/this week. If I had figured out how to use this blog last week, I might have had more exciting event planning stuff going on, but oh well.

Hmmm… Maybe I will start with the things I would like to be when I “grow up”.

This is a list I put together and it is in no particular order…

event planner
florist
travel writer
author
photographer
owner of a bakery or restaurant, or baker
bar owner
textile designer
Martha Stewart
mom
newspaper columnist
lounge singer
American Idol host
pilates instructor
graphic designer
letterpress printer
packaging designer

I think I’d have to live at least 10-15 lives to really do all the things I would love to do. But I guess I am happy dabbling in some of these things as much as I can. I am an event planner and that really lets me do a lot of the other things on my list.

Also, I have been designing Russian and/or Orthodox greeting cards for the past couple of years. I just recently turned to printing on a letterpress printer. (That is material for a whole slew of posts at a different time) Mainly I have been printing Easter and Christmas cards. I could never find a Russian Easter/Christmas or Namesday card that reflected a more updated style, so I figured I should just start making them. It’s been an organic process, evolving as each season comes around. Although, one thing that keeps changing, that shouldn’t, is how I package my cards. Each season is different, but I really want to get it consistent and recognizable.

One of the problems is that as much as I like to design invitations and greeting cards, I like to design how these things are packaged. (I happen to believe that good packaging sells the item) So much so, that I am afraid I sometimes lose my focus. Am I designing greeting cards or packaging? I noticed a similar thing when I started my event planning company. I would get lost in the “creating a business” part. Creating a logo, creating a website and creating an over all identity. I sometimes wondered if I enjoyed that process more than the actual business itself. Not so… but I guess it is part of the passion for design. There are so many avenues to get creative, it’s easy to get sidetracked.

ANYWAY, today I get to be a PACKAGING DESIGNER

I have been working on packaging ideas for my cards for quite some time. It seems to change every season, but, like I said, I have been trying to find something consistent. I am really excited about these bands… although I can’t decide between the bolder flower border or the smaller/softer border.  Also,  I am still debating whether to use boxes or clear bags in which to keep them. I have ordered samples of both and hopefully they will be coming in the mail today or tomorrow.

I am sure it will evolve as time goes on, but I am really trying to pick something and stick with it. I have done ribbons and wrapped the cards with tracing paper. (I love(d) the look of tracing paper for some reason) I was also trying to do something with glassine paper, but that just wasn’t working.

So let’s hope that these new bands stick!