Saturday, September 29, 2012

Quick Hits: Herb Garlic Parmesan Potato Wedges

A sure sign of fall: potatoes are back! Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew! Perhaps the biggest source of the potato's meteoric rise to culinary ubiquity in Europe has to do with how little need be added to reach being comfort food: little more than heat, salt and maybe butter. You can definitely add more (see last fall's breakdown of Potato Gnocchi with Leek, Kale & Sage Butter), but, as demonstrated by the recent excitement about Waffle-Iron Hashbrowns, the spud requires little help past heat.

Here, cheese and garlic help play up the warm, toasty potato goodness, adding a flavorful crustiness to a simple roasted spud.

Herb Garlic Parmesan Potato Wedges

vegetarian, gluten/grain-free
serves 4-5, about 30 minutes, start to finish
  • 3 lbs potatoes (red ones are nice, but not essential)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Topping:

  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6-10 sprigs thyme (or about 3-4 T)
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Cut potatoes into wedges (6-8 per spud) and toss with olive oil. Spread on sheet pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake wedges for 10-15 min.

While wedges are roasting, mince garlic and mix with other topping ingredients. Turn potato wedges, sprinkle with topping, and return to oven for about 5 minutes.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mole Gringo, with only a dozen(ish) ingredients

Reading about traditional moles makes me feel like a total poser, but it also makes me hungry. My students are currently reading What the Moon Saw, a thinly veiled ethnography of a rural village in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, for another one of their classes. I snagged it to read one day last week in the name of integrated curriculum and devoured it more or less in one sitting, give or take snacks. Oh, YF books, you go down so smooth. It is also a fairly good coming-of-age story about a teenage girl from the burbs of DC meeting her Mexican grandparents for the first time, finding out her grandmother is a curandera (shamanistic healer), and falling for a local boy who sings revolutionary songs real pretty. Moles, though never mentioned by that name are, along with hot chocolate and corn tortillas, essential to the story. In one of her grandmother's stories, a friend recalls a situation in which she planned on killing herself, but decided to make chicken with chocolate-chile sauce as a final meal and decided life was worth it after all. Mole proved to be her reason to keep living.

The word mole comes from a Nahuatl word, molli, which simply means "sauce," though it lines up interestingly with the direct-from-Latin Spanish verb moler, "to grind," an essential process in making mole. Nahuatl, a group of
languages from across southern Mexico, is the source for a surprising number of English words: chocolate, avocado, guacamole, tamale, chili, coyote, and tomato are all of Nahuatl origin, filtered through Spanish. Seeing as the term of origin is as broad as it is, it's unsurprising that there are a wide variety of moles across southern Mexico. They vary in complexity and focus, but have a few things in common: all begin with a variety of chiles, and from there are built out of spices and ingredients that make it sweet, like dried fruit; sour, like tomato or tomatillo; and thick, like nuts, seeds and starch. Oaxaca, where the book takes place, is known in some circles as the "Land of Seven Moles" but it's much broader than that - think of the seven moles a little like the five classic French mother sauces. They're more like guidelines. The most complex of these moles have nearly 40 different ingredients and can take days to make, so it's easy to see where folks might be overwhelmed by the idea of making it on their own for anything short of something very special, and miss out on the joys still available from a simplified mole.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Chocolate Magic Cookies (gluten & dairy-free)

One of my early jobs in education was as a paraprofessional in an intensive special needs program. A number of the students with autism were on the gluten- and dairy-free Autism Diet, which purportedly ameliorated some of the regressive behaviors associated with the Autism Spectrum. I had—and continue to have—reservations about the effectiveness of this approach, but I'm neither an autism specialist nor a nutritionist, so it's not really up to me, and I don't think it's going to exacerbate the issue. However, I had one co-worker who insisted on calling it
the "fun-free" diet in a way that I found aggravating. The "fun-free" description seemed to riff on the infuriating, pervasive illusion that if something is good for you, there's no way it will taste good and its equally problematic corollary that if food tastes good, then there's no way it's good for you.

Similarly, there's this illusion about teachers that they can either be nice or demanding, and that only one of these qualities is effective. I remember reading one article which contrasted "the kind of teacher who brings in brownies" with "the kind of teacher that demands results." Seriously, who comes up with this festering load of flapdoodle? I bet it's the same people that think tasty and healthy are mutually exclusive. This isn't to say that there aren't teachers who mistake being liked for being respected, and end up foregoing academic rigor for fear of not being liked, but let me tell you this: brownies—or any other kind of food—have nothing to do with it. On the other side of it, there are also teachers who mistake being disliked for being respected, and brownies have nothing to do with that either.

Any time you share food with someone, it's an acknowledgement of your shared humanity. Even if it's just passing around a tin of Altoids, as a couple teachers I've had were fond of doing, you are demonstrating a simple need and enjoyment that you have in common. Beyond demonstrating that you're not a robot who sleeps standing up in the broom closet, you are breaking down the perceived otherness that keeps students from becoming invested in a subject. Even in a fairly concrete, objective topic like math, a student's ability to invest themselves in a topic, to work hard and internalize it is linked to their sense of being seen as a person. So yes, I am one of those teachers who brings edible treats in for my students on occasion. I am also one of those teachers who demands a lot of hard work. I see no conflict between these.

This year, I have several students with dietary restrictions, so most of my go-to treats leave someone out. Enter these mouthwatering, crackly-topped, fudgy cookies, which happen, by my old co-worker's definition, to be totally "fun-free." No dairy, no gluten, no flour at all in fact. No need: the sugar, cocoa and egg whites around which they're built contain none of those things.

My sister's been making this one where she works, and scrawled down the recipe for me. As long as I leave the nuts out, this addresses all of the dietary restrictions I face at school, without any weird ingredient replacements. Even better, it is an incredibly simple recipe. A little Googling tracks this recipe back to one by Fran├žois Payard in Gourmet's April 2002 issue, as digitized by Molly Wizenburg at Orangette, though I'm not sure where specifically my sister got hold of it. Wizenburg calls them "Featherweight Cookies"; a very similar recipe circulates as "Chocolate Puddle Cookies." I'm going with "Magic Cookies" because they are pretty damn magical. Besides, who needs "fun" when you have magic?

    Chocolate Magic Cookies

    gluten-free, dairy-free, nuts optional
    25 minutes, start to finish, makes about 32 three-inch cookies

    Dry Mix:

  • 3 cups (12 oz) confectioner's sugar
  • ¾ c. cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 c. mix-ins (toasted nuts, chocolate chips, cacao nibs, etc)

  • Wet mix

  • 4 large egg whites (~1/2 cup), preferably at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°. Mix dry ingredients together until well blended. Separate eggs and add vanilla. Add egg and vanilla to dry mix and stir until well-blended. Scoop about a tablespoon at a time onto parchment-lined sheet pans with plenty of room to spread (which they will start to do immediately) and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are puffed up and cracked on top. It possibly goes without saying that to keep these gluten and dairy free, your mix-ins must also be, and that label reading is up to you (especially on chocolate chips!). You also may not care. I actually wonder how salted pretzel bits would work in here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Co-op's Korean Spinach

I'm pretty sure that the reason I would happily down this entire bowl of spinach has more to do with it being tasty than about it tasting like good memories, but it can be hard to tell the difference sometimes.

This is a great spinach dish for people who think they don't like spinach: it has a mild, savory flavor that enchants all kinds of palates. It's also, starting with frozen spinach and adding very little, highly nutritious and cheap as chaff.

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