Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Two for one special.

When you cook for two (or more), you engage in a gradual process of discovering what the other person (or people) will or will not eat. I know some of you have children--this is probably not news to you. But when I moved in with Laura, I figured I would have to go through this process of feeling out different spices, vegetables and recipes to see what she would eat and what she wouldn't.

I have learned this: Laura will eat just about anything, except for (1) things that are hot/spicy and (2) sundried tomatoes.

I love sundried tomatoes. I didn't always. But now that they've outlived the trend, I can say that I could consume a whole bag-full in a sitting. I like the Whole Foods brand for snacking, and the ones packed in olive oil are really best for cooking (though we rarely buy them).
So when I went to make this goat cheese pasta sauce, I figured sundried tomatoes would be a natural accompaniment. This, however, probably would not stand with my roommate.

Laura, however, loves red peppers. So, in compromise, I made two separate dishes with the same sauce--one with sundried tomatoes and one with red peppers. The recipe couldn't be easier.

Goat Cheese Pasta (two ways)
Serves 2

1 1/2 oz. goat cheese
8 oz. bowtie pasta
1/4 c pasta water
Fresh ground black pepper and kosher salt
5 sundried tomatoes, sliced; 1/2 red bell pepper, julienned

Cook and drain pasta, reserving about 1/2 c pasta water. In large bowl, combine 1/4 c pasta water and goat cheese. Whisk cheese and water together, adding more water to create a sauce. Season with salt and pepper and toss with pasta.

For sundried tomatoes, simply place in the bottom of the strainer before draining the pasta. Saute the red bell peppers in olive oil until softened but still crisp. Add to pasta.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pie party.

Laura and I love to entertain. One Tuesday night we decided to have a Pie Party--pizzas and apple pie. Since the apple pie recipe is Mrs. Hunter's French Apple Pie recipe (and my favorite apple pie recipe of all time), I cannot share it. But I can share the incredible pizza dough recipe, which really knocked my socks off. It was sweet and flavorful, but not overpowering. It's a little on the thin-crust side, but not hard or overly crispy.

I don't know why I don't make pizza more often. It's so easy, and, we discovered, a great way to clean out the fridge. I tossed leftover olives and cheese from a previous dinner party on mine; Laura sliced up some leftover zucchini; and Julia topped her pizza with pepperoni. I thought about making my own tomato sauce, but instead settled on buying two jars (2 for $5!) from Viva Roma. I was pleasantly surprised with their Cabernet Marinara.

Here's the pizza dough recipe courtesy SmittenKitchen, and Mario Batali. I really love the conversational way Deb wrote this recipe, so I've left it as I found it. I'll leave the creative pizza toppings up to you.
Pizza Dough
Makes one small thin-crust pizza, serves two.

6 tablespoons warm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more water)
2 tablespoons white wine (We use Goya White Cooking Wine, because you can't beat a $3 bottle you won't drink)
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups flour

Whisk wine, water and yeast in a medium bowl until yeast has dissolved. Add honey, salt and olive oil and stir. Add flour and no matter how dry it looks, work it with a spoon and your fingers until it comes together as a dough. Add more water one tablespoon at a time if you need, but in my experience, this is almost never necessary (I seem to always need it, though).

Sprinkle some flour on the counter and knead the dough for a minute or two.

If you’re like me and always trying to reduce the number of dirty dishes left at the end of the night, wash the bowl you made the dough in, dry it and coat the inside with olive oil. Put the dough in, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise for an hour or up to two, until it is doubled.

[Easiest way to tell if a dough has risen enough? Dip two fingers in flour, press them into the dough, and if the impression stays, it's good to go. If it pops back, let it go until it doesn't.]

Once the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured counter and gently deflate the dough with the palm of your hands. Form it into a ball and let it rest on a floured spot with either plastic wrap over it (sprinkle the top of the dough with flour so it doesn’t stick) or an upended bowl. In 15 minutes, it is ready to roll out.

Do so on the floured counter until pretty darn thin, then lift it onto a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. Add the toppings and slide into a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.

If you're adding vegetables to the top of your pizza, be sure to sprinkle some olive oil on top. Otherwise, the vegetables will simply dry out.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Me encanta el jicama.

In elementary school, I was in a Spanish immersion program. I learned everything in Spanish through 5th grade, making me pretty much fluent (thanks, mom and dad!). A side effect of this program was the development of a really unique culture. The "English kids" loathed Spanish immersion due to our outshining them at every Field Day (and, well, everything else, too. We were smarter, faster, stronger and more likable). The separation caused us grow up a little differently than our peers. I own Chavo del Ocho (a Mexican children's television show from the late 70's, early 80's) on DVD, since we watched it in class. I learned to dance merengue in third grade. I have spent many an afternoon searching for this Ecuadorian potato pancake recipe (something I ate in fourth grade). I read the first Harry Potter in Spanish. And at some point I became addicted to jicama.

The jicama is a root vegetable that falls somewhere between the potato and the apple. It is massive and ugly, and as I've noticed, readily available in supermarkets. This salad is the result of an impulse jicama purchase.

Jicama is just delicious raw, so a salad seemed a good way to go. I don't normally get too excited about salads, but this can almost be considered a slaw (without the mayo), and would make a great accompaniment to a burger or tacos. It also is great atop a pile of romaine. I can imagine it just heaped on a bed of lettuce as the starter to an impressive dinner--the presentation is just effortless thanks to the colors of the ingredients.

Jicama Salad
Serves 4

This salad is made possible by a mandoline slicer. If you don't own one, Christmas is just around the corner! Do yourself a favor. You'll use it, I promise.

1 jicama, peeled
1 lime (may need 1 1/2 limes, depents on the size of your jicama)
2 carrots
3 radishes
1 navel orange (though would be phenomenal with blood oranges)
1/4-1/2 t Chili powder
Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

Cut jicama into shoestring size pieces using mandoline slicer. Top with juice of one lime to prevent oxidation. Cut carrot in half through the middle and slice same as jicama. Chop radishes as carrots or jicamas, or (in retrospect, this would have been easier) in paper-thin slices. Peel and segment orange. Toss and sprinkle with chili powder, salt, and pepper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The most important part.

All this talk of squash, and I forgot the most important part: Seeds.

It was Alex who turned me on to roasting squash seeds. You can roast all kinds of squash seeds, not just pumpkin. The seeds pictured are from acorn squash, which I just eat whole.

While cleaning them is kind of tedious, the results are well worth the effort--a ridiculously good snack from something you would have otherwise thrown away!

Roasted Squash Seeds

Seeds from any squash (butternut, acorn, etc.)
Olive Oil
Seasonings of your choice*

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. After removing seeds from squash, transfer into a bowl filled with water. Using fingers, free seeds from pulp and transfer to a dry paper towel. Cover a cookie sheet with a sheet of parchment or foil. Distribute the seeds evenly on the pan, and coat with olive oil (I found a little bit less than a tablespoon, depending on the amount of seeds, to be about right) and seasonings. Roast for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown.

*We use all-seasons salt, but have experimented with kosher salt and black pepper and cumin, chili powder and cayenne. The batches are small enough to have fun with. If something doesn't work, it wasn't like you wasted a whole lot of effort, time, money, or materials on it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On World AIDS Day:

Dear Friends,

I wanted to post a reflection that's become very dear to me. Simple and honest, with a "duh" message for many of you--this is my offering for today. December 1st is World AIDS Day, and I invite you to remember those living with HIV/AIDS for at least a few moments today. Pray, meditate, do whatever you do to bring peace into the world, and then get tested. Getting tested makes it okay for other to get tested, and helps take away some of the stigma associated with the disease. You can read my reflection on my time in Africa here.

In His Peace,


Help Me Be Like You, from The Awake Project
Mary Graham
President, Women of Faith

AIDS is a global problem, and it affects us all whether we know it or not. What once seemed an isolated issue has become a challenge for the whole world. Especially the church.

There was a time when everything I knew about AIDS was in a textbook or a movie. Sometimes a headline in the newspaper was bold and caught my attention, but I don’t think I ever made it through the whole article. Ashamedly, I admit it didn’t seem essential information for me. It applied to a people in a sub-culture in my own world, or in another world far from my own. Through the years, my indifference has changed dramatically to both care and genuine grief.

Last year while traveling abroad with World Vision on behalf of Women of Faith, I visited an HIV/AIDS clinic. I was not prepared for what I saw. The rooms were filled with women, mostly very young. Some had small children who were also HIV positive. Others were in full blown, final stages of the dreaded disease. Some looked healthy but were walking around with a death sentence flowing through their veins.

As I met and talked with each of these women, I felt more and more compassion for their need and passion to scream at the top of my voice, Somebody do something! In a nutshell, the stories went something like this: Young girls, from the ages of eight or ten, had been sold into prostitution by families needing money for life’s basic essentials. The women were sold again and again by their “masters,” becoming sexual pawns, held hostage to the dirt-cheap desires of men. Ultimately, they became infected with the disease, and gave birth to fatherless children who were born with the infection. Then, as young adults, they were tossed aside as rubbish.

I thought about all the discussions and stimulating conversations I’d had through the years with friends regarding “a woman’s choice,” and I felt heartsick. Regardless of who we are or what we believe in America, our choices are myriad. I couldn’t get my heart and mind past these desperate women and their need. They had never had a choice of any kind, and they have non now. My heart was broken, which was God’s gift to me.

A recent headline in USA Today took my breath away, “AIDS to Orphan 25 Million.” Think of it. We cannot bear to think of one child losing her mother. Twenty five million motherless children? And of those, many carry the virus themselves. This is not an isolated issue—nothing remote about it, and it will not solve itself. As has been the case for twenty years, it will get worse and worse. Who will help? Who will do something?

It has to be the church. We must be on the leading edge of those who care. Jesus clearly called us to this kind of action. He burdens our hearts for the needs of others, gives us grace to care, hope that makes a difference, and the courage to step up to the plate, even when the need is overwhelming.

He is the one who ignored the prejudice of his culture and reached out to those who were rejected and forsaken. Religious leaders—right and left—in the time of Christ were make pronouncements about the lack or responsibility of the church and its people. “Wrong!” Jesus seemed to say. Out of his compassionate heart, he looked beyond what was easily perceived, to the deeper issues of the plight of people. He touched the outcasts, the lepers, and those unable to help themselves. He went about doing good. He helped and it changed lives.

And he’s the one we follow. Unfortunately, many of us have not just been oblivious to the problem of AIDS worldwide, including our own country, we’ve just been objectionable to it. We’ve felt offended, critical, judgmental, and averse to the issue. The problem is, it’s not just an “issue.” It is people we’re talking about. People are hurting and dying now by the millions.

I personally know many believers who have given their lives to this cause. They work every day somewhere in the world nurturing and caring for those whose lives are ravished by this plague. Their work is saving lives, protecting women and children, and they are being the tangible love of Christ to those who suffer. Millions have secured life eternally because someone care enough to do what Christ would do. May God give them grace in abundance.

Last year in that clinic there was a woman whose face glowed like the Shekinah Glory—it was as if the divine presence of Christ was in her countenance. Although only in her early twenties, Lydia will live just a few more years. As her story unfolded, we realized her entire life had been spent being tossed form one garbage heap to another…until now. With the love of Christ, someone brought her to this safe place. She found love, kindness and peace. In addition, there was provision for her physical needs. She sand with a little choir at the clinic and even when she was singing she never stopped smiling. She said to me, “I am so lucky.” I cried.

I remembered the words of Isaiah, “Whom shall I send who will go for me?” I silently prayed that the Lord would help me know what to do. Anyone in my place that day would have responded as I did. The love Christ ‘constrained me’, and it would you. I challenge you to get in touch with the reality of the AIDS crises. It is a global problem that cannot be dismissed. Ask God to give you his concern for those whose lives are broken by the disease. Pray boldly that he will give you some personal contribution to make. Frankly, one of the most important first steps is that our hearts will be tender about this emergency. That could be the most crucial turning point for the church. And then do something. Do something. As Christians, we know there are three things to consider: we can pray, or give, or go. Or all three. Nobody can do everything. But everybody can do something. If we won’t, who will?

Oh, God, give me your heart for these who suffer. Protect me from ignorance, indifference, and hostile, judgmental statements. Help me be a part of the solution. Help me be like you.