I've been really struggling with this low-gluten diet, readers. It seems at every turn there are delicious breads and croissants and beers to consume in recent weeks, and my arthritis is flaring up as a result. Yes, I've been indulging -- thank goodness I don't have celiac or a gluten allergy -- including last week, when my 5th grade classes had a chance to make pasta at the hip and delicious Urbana restaurant in Dupont Circle. The butter and herb smothered fettuccine and spinach/kale/ricotta stuffed ravioli almost brought tears to my eyes.
Pasta, how I've missed you!
I know that gluten-free variations are heretical to some (including me, up until about two years ago, and just about every Italian person I've ever met), but there must be something good out there. I have yet to find it. Readers, this is where I do a little crowd sourcing: anyone know of good gluten-free pasta recipes? (Or at this point, I'd even be open to buying pre-made gluten-free pasta. God, I miss noodles....)
[This is actually a photo from a post I wrote for the FoodPrints blog last week. See? I have not been neglecting writing altogether. Just here, apparently. You can read the post on making pasta with 5th graders and an awesome local chef here.]
There are few things as delicious as a good mushroom. Last week, I was honored to be a part of my friend Jonathan's "test kitchen" dinner party, which featured some of the most delicious fungi I have ever sampled. That's not just the prosecco talking, either (though there was plenty of that, chilled, on hand.)
I've known Jonathan -- local cookbook author and lover of all things farmers market -- for a handful of years now. He's the real deal: a man who talks to farmers in detail about their crops, who talks at length with market shoppers in search of new recipe ideas or cooking tips, who talks to me for hours about making food more fun and accessible to everyone. My people, this one. For years I've known he hosts regular recipe testing gatherings at his house, yet last Tuesday night was the first one I'd joined. I'm wondering why the heck it took me so long. I have no good answer to this question. What I do have is another great recipe, courtesy of Jonathan and the good folks at Mycolumbia Mushrooms -- James and Natalia were our culinary co-conspirators for the evening, as we brainstormed, chopped, and tasted our way through the evening, along with my gentleman friend, Harlan.
Actually, we made a few different recipes -- chicken and mushroom dumplings with three trial dipping sauces (all delicious), a spinach salad with oven fried mushrooms, a seared steak with sauteed oyster mushrooms and bleu cheese (who knew I liked bleu cheese that much?), and, the one I begged the recipe for afterwards, a hearty mushroom and barley soup. My tummy was rumbling for it for days. This weekend I'll be picking up ingredients to make more....
Mushroom barley soup Recipe notes courtesy of Jonathan Bardzik
3 oz dried oyster mushrooms soaked in 4 cups boiling water
2 TBSP butter -- I'd brought some leftover from the day's classes, handshaken by 1st graders
1 onion, diced
1 cup uncooked pearled barley, rinsed
6 cups chicken stock
2 TBSP yellow miso -- I'm obsessed with this stuff, be warned
Rice wine vinegar
1/4 lb fresh pea tendrils, tough stems removed
4 TBSP butter
2 TBSP yellow miso -- see what I mean?
Place dried mushrooms in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water. Let rest for 20-30 minutes to reconstitute. Drain mushrooms through cheese cloth, reserving both mushrooms and liquid.
Melt 2 TBSP butter with 2 TBSP olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add barley and cook an additional 5 minutes to toast, stirring occasionally.
Add mushroom liquid and cook approximately 1 hour until barley is tender.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400F. Separate reconstituted mushroom stems and caps. Shred caps with a knife and thinly slice stems. Toss with remaining 2 TBSP olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast until mushrooms are deep brown and crisp. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
Add mushroom stock and miso to the barley mixture and simmer for 5 minutes longer allowing flavors to blend.
Remove soup from heat and stir in pea tendrils. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a splash of rice wine vinegar.
Make miso butter: Melt butter and yellow miso in a small pan over medium heat. Whisk together.
Serve soup garnished with miso butter and toasted mushrooms. OMG, so good!!
This spring is so wonky lately, it's actually, strangely, soup weather again. So get yourself out to the farmers' market to get your oyster mushrooms and get cooking! (What's that? Oh! Mycolumbia will be at the 14&U market and the Bloomingdale market on alternating Saturdays and Sundays this season... starting this weekend!)
So I may mutter unkind words as I swerve around cars double parked in the Q Street bike lane -- ahem, bike lane, not parking spot! And I have been known to let certain gentleman callers know about my propensity for headbutting lest they get any funny ideas about putting a hand somewhere inappropriate on a first date. But overall, I'm a lover, not a hater. I love people, and plants, and animals. Even bugs, so long as they are not cockroaches. (Ick.) And yet there are some critters that have been getting a little too comfy in the beehives I've been helping to tend this year.... I'll give you a hint: it's not the bees that have gotten into my bonnet.
My beekeeping mentor, Kevin, suggested this past fall that we keep an eye on the hive beetle numbers, and squish any of these pernicious pests that we came across while inspecting hives. We also periodically refilled the hive beetle traps with baby oil. (Weird, right? But it works. Drowning in baby oil, what a way to go.) The beetle numbers dropped somewhat, but after finding one hive significantly weakened this spring, Kevin decided we needed to take more aggressive steps. Enter nematodes -- my kindergarten students would be SO excited, but these are different than the nematodes we found in class -- and diatomaceous earth.
I am learning so much about organic pest management this year, I tell you. A key piece of managing pests is understanding their life cycle. (Wow, that sounded very professional. Don't be fooled: I'm still a total novice at this.) Anyway, I learned from Kevin that hive beetle pupae -- the stage after those little jerks hatch -- need soil to burrow into so they can grow into adults, and messing with the soil underneath the hive, where pupae drop down after feasting on honey and bee brood, is the best place to take them out of commission. First, we cleared all debris from around the hives. Then we sloshed a solution with millions of microscopic assassins -- yep, the beneficial nematodes -- all around the base of the hives. Any hive beetle pupae foolish enough to drop down out of THESE hives would die a horrible death. (I won't describe it here in great detail lest I give my readers nightmares, but the short version is that the nematodes enter the pupae, release toxic bacteria, and the pupae turn to goo inside of about 48 hours, at which point the nematodes eat the goo and lay eggs in the corpse. Okay, that was maybe a little detailed. Sorry. Read the comics or something before bed tonight.)
Of course, in order to even get to the soil, the loathsome beetle pupae need to make it past the diatumaceous earth we scattered around the hive. What's that? You haven't ever heard of diatumaceous earth? Basically, it's ground up, fossilized phytoplankton. But the important thing to know about it is that, according to one fairly graphic source I discovered, "When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton" -- or, like the hive beetle pupae, without a skeleton -- "it compromises their waxy coating so that their innards into teeny tiny bug jerky." Take THAT, hive beetles. And if you make it through, well, we've got some nematodes dying to meet you....
And you thought The Sopranos was violent? Try beekeeping.
I came home from work the a few days ago to find a little easter treat from my landlady, left for me on the steps up to my apartment:
One is never too old to enjoy a chocolate bunny and jelly beans. And tulips -- I adore tulips. (I do think I'm a little old for easter egg hunts, so I'm glad mom hasn't planned one for this year. My brother and I almost injured ourselves and each other the time she organized one in the back yard a few years ago....)
As I explained to a friend recently, Easter is everything I love about Thanksgiving, but with better weather and no football. It just might be the perfect holiday. Now, home from the annual easter festivities, I have a 7oz bunny to attend to. In what delectable form will he be eaten? I'm thinking a variation on the classic chocolate torte... nibbled on with a bottle of the recently ready coffee bourbon porter homebrew.
Chocolate Rabbit Torte
7 oz milk or dark chocolate rabbit -- I'd break it into pieces
12 TBSP butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup cocoa powder
a splash of vanilla
5 large farm fresh eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Brush an 8 or 9-inch cake pan with butter and dust with flour. Alternately, you can use parchment paper in place of butter/flour coating.
Melt chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently.
Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa powder and vanilla.
Let cool for about 10 minutes.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar together until thick (6 minutes or so) with an electric mixer.
Gently fold chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until just mixed (uniform color).
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 40-45 minutes.
Cool in pan, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen if needed, and then turn out on a wire rack or plate to slice.
Now, which grown up kids-at-heart can I invite over for dessert?
Many years ago, when working downtown for a global health nonprofit, my friend Jeanne came into the office one afternoon with the most divine smelling takeout container ever. Rich, lemony, chicken aromas wafted through the office as my colleague strolled past my desk with her pint of soup from the Greek deli around the corner.
This was my first encounter with avgolemono soup, and it was love at first scent. I believe this was in 2006. I've been in love with this soup for ten years. And just tonight, I perfected making it.
Oh, there were some bumps along the way. Nothing ever ended up being completely inedible, mind you, just odd textural disasters that I did not foist on dining companions. I ate lots of that over the years. But tonight's velvety, lemony victory was pure bliss. And a good thing, too: what's this freezing rain coming down on the first day of spring? Did Mother Nature not get the memo?
I think the secret to tonight's gustatory awesomeness was the homemade chicken broth (where I usually used delicious but definitely different veggie stock). And the fact that I kept the heat low enough while cooking was key for tempering the egg yolks. Upon reflection, I suspect that the latter is where I strayed during earlier batches. Live and learn.
Right. You want the recipe, eh? Well, here you go:
Easy Avgolemono Soup for Two
(or for one, with leftovers)
1 TBSP butter + a good glug of olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 handfuls cooked brown rice
1-2 handfuls shredded, cooked chicken (optional - I had some left from making stock)
1 quart or more of good chicken stock, warmed
2-3 cups freshly chopped spinach
Juice from 2 lemons
2 egg yolks
Salt and pepper
Saute the onion in butter/olive oil until soft.
Toss in the garlic, rice, and chicken bits and stir well.
Add the chicken stock, spinach, and lemon juice, and simmer over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. (Don't bring it anywhere close to a boil! This is where I went amiss...repeatedly... usually when I was starving and trying to make this soup quickly and thus ended up with lemony eggdrop soup.)
In a small, heat-proof container, beat egg yolks. While whisking, slowly dribble about 1/4 cup of the warm soup broth into the yolks. Then slowly whisk in another 1/4 cup. And another. Now you're ready to slowly whisk the tempered egg/broth mixture back into the main soup pot. So whisk it, carefully, and over low heat.
Taste, then add salt and pepper as needed.
Voila! Your velvety, lemony, nourishing pot of deliciousness is ready for immediate consumption in less than 20 minutes from start to finish.
Now I just need to find a charming, single Greek man who can appreciate my cooking skills.... Know anyone?
I'm starting to lose my sense of humor here. Who are these people who never learned that it's wrong to take other people's things?
I finally bought a decent bike light about two months ago. Within a month: stolen... when Ollie was locked up right next to the farmers' market!
So I bought another of the same light. Within a month: stolen. When locked to a tree in the courtyard at one of my schools!! (And a week later, both my bungee cord and my extra bike lock cable were stolen...while I was at the farmers' market again!! Now, that's just rude.)
I went without a front light for about a week, in a silent protest that really only seemed to make me more unsafe, until I relented and bought -- you guessed it -- that same bike light a third time. And now I take it off every single time I am not on the bike. Even when I lock Ollie up to go into my apartment for 10 minutes between errands. You can't be too careful in this city full of kleptos....