Fresh Ginger Cake; OR, Sometimes I'm My Mother

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 My mother, since I've known her, has always been a very spontaneous woman. One morning, when I was probably in junior high, parked in front of school with my brothers -- we were all a year and a half apart, with yours truly smack dab in the middle -- my mother casually decided that Instead of school today were are going to Magic Mountain, how does that sound? Incredible, of course. Don't get me wrong, she's the most stable woman you will ever meet. She sat with me when I was sick, scared, bored, or needed help with math homework. She made me go to school even on organized ditch days; in fact, I had perfect attendance in high school. You see, it is such stability which makes her spontaneity even more spontaneous -- you would never expect these things from this sweet little woman, now would you? This, I am certain, is how she came to have so many skills and hobbies. Anything with her hands, those restless hands: gardening, or sewing, or fixing the plumbing, or installing shelves, or reorganizing the entire garage just because, or, more importantly, creating delicious delicious meals and desserts.

My mom very rarely uses recipes. She is a natural in the kitchen. Yes, even with baking! She grew up in a big family, which I'm sure is a great excuse to cook, as there is always someone around to eat what you make, probably even, if I may say so, the disasters. This is why she is able to just whip something up like a cake, out of thin air, like magic.

 

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There were days my mother would start baking at some unreasonable hour in the morning, when the sun was still very much asleep. A mix of spontaneity and culinary desire, perhaps? They were usually bundts or loaves, with citrus flavors and cardamom and sifted confectioners' sugar on top. Each cake was consistently perfect, with the crust just a bit crispy, while the inside was fluffy, like magic. And the whole house would smell like cake. Along with two brothers, the cake would never make it through the day, or more accurately, through the morning.

I think I am like my mother in these moments. In these moments I want to bake just for the sake of baking, even if no one pays any attention to it, even if it just sits there. Alas, usually, I am fearful of baking for no one. It makes me feel lonely. It makes me feel like I should own at least ten cats. So, I usually don't. This, my dear friends, means, when it comes to cakes, which are big by nature, I rarely bake them. What a sad world, n'est-ce pas? 

Last night, I decidedly ignored the usual anxiety-ridden dialogue, and was instead heavily distracted with the thought

Why doesn't my apartment smell like cake? 
 

It's a little place, the smells will spread quickly. 

I'm not yet quite like my mother, able to just whip up a cake with the ingredients in my pantry. I have to plan these things out. I have to find a recipe. And given how fickle I can be, I need to find a recipe just before I bake it, before I get a chance to change my mind. This is how it came to be that I finally attempted David Lebovitz's Fresh Ginger Cake, and, naturally, how I came to love it. As you will, too, once you decide it's okay to bake for yourself. Especially, this cake. Apparently you can keep it in the fridge for about 5 days, or better, freeze it, without losing its fluffiness! This is amazing. I had never even conceived of not eating the whole cake within the same day. What a revelation! 

In keeping with the theme of my mother's bundts and loaves, which eventually I will post recipes for, I used a loaf pan for this cake pan recipe. It was perfect. I used a 9 x 5 loaf pan, in case you were wondering. Also, I do not have a proper cake pan. Details, details. 

Note: I changed the ingredients from the original recipe a bit, based on what I had in my pantry. For example, I only had blackstrap molasses and preferred pumpkin spice. I will highlight the new ingredients. If you want to follow David's recipe exactly, which is probably as amazing as he is, you can find it in his book Ready for Dessert. Next time, I want to add lemon juice and zest and cardamom. I think my mother would find those ingredients to be fitting.

 

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Fresh Ginger Cake

 adapted from Ready for Dessert by  David Lebovitz

ingredients: 

4 oz fresh ginger 
3/4 cup organic blackstrap molasses
1 1/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup organic canola oil
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice
1/2 tsp ground black pepper 
1 cup water
2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs, room temperature

directions:

Before we begin, I must say that there will be a time, after mixing some of these ingredients, that you might say to yourself, as I did,What is this goo? But trust me, this goo becomes something delicious. Do not be afraid!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with oven rack in the middle. 

Butter OR line with parchment paper a 9 x 5 loaf pan. 

After measuring 4 oz, take the ginger, cut off the skin, and chop finely. I would have used a food processor, which I recommend, but I really just dislike cleaning it. So, I chopped it by hand, which is what I usually do when I have time on my hands. 

Bowl #1: Mix together the molasses, sugar, and oil. Let the gooeyness commence! Don't mix in an attempt to change the gooeyness, just mix. You'll see the magic soon. Set aside. 

Bowl #2: Mix the flour, pumpkin spice, black pepper. Set aside. 

Magic time: Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off heat, and mix in the baking soda. POUR the hot water mixture into Gooey Bowl #1, and mix! Voila! Not so gooey anymore, huh? In fact, is it anything but beautiful? 

Stir the chopped up ginger into Gooey Bowl #1. 

Gradually mix Dry Bowl #2 into Gooey Bowl #1. The outcome will not be thick, it will not be gooey, but it will be something wonderful. 

Now, add the eggs into Gooey Bowl #1. Mix well. 

Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan, and bake for an hour -- Actually, I wish I had baked it for about 5 or so minutes longer, so the top would be magically crispy. Next time! Insert a toothpick through the center to make sure it comes out clean. 

Let sit for about 30 minutes before serving this fluffy ginger magic. 

Chicago & The Best Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie

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There was the time early this summer I spent in Chicago. Mostly it was Ari who cooked for me, or we'd find ourselves at restaurants like the Chicago Diner; but, at some point, I'm not sure when, I made some pretty killer vegan chocolate chip cookies. 

 Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside – the only kind of chocolate chip cookie for me. We had them for dessert. That was the day Ari had made the incredible Veganomicon Jambalaya – ooh la la! Oh, and for those of you who simply refuse to try anything vegan – quelle dommage! – I'm sure butter is a wonderful substitute for the Earth Balance. Although, I would just like to point out, while we're on the subject, that one does not need to be vegan to eat vegan, oui?

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Vegan – Gasp! -- Chocolate Chip Cookies

inspired by tons of recipes

ingredients

  • 5 tbsp Earth Balance
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup oat flour (I use Bob's)
  • 1/2 tsp organic baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

directions:

Preheat oven 350 degrees.

Bowl #1: Earth Balance, sugar, vanilla. Mix well. Add water. Mix well.

Bowl #2: Flour, salt, baking powder. Mix well.

Slowly and in batches, add the contents of Bowl #2 into Bowl #1. Mix well.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Scoop cookie dough onto baking sheet.

Bake for about 15 minutes.

Let sit for a minute or two before transferring to cooling rack. 


Iraqi American Cooking in a Tiny Kitchen in North Hollywood: a memoir

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Do you remember Slip n' Slides? Or the roll of garbage bags you used after you ripped your Slip n' Slide on a jagged rock? How about blowing bubbles? Running through the sprinklers? Paddle boats? The smell of charcoal on the barbecue? Burnt hot dogs, long before you knew what was in a hot dog and never wanted to eat one again? In other words: Summer.

It occurred to me this morning that as I get older I, perhaps, try too hard to recreate the summers of my youth. Packing a picnic at the beach. Riding a bike, and being carefree. Barbecuing everything. Ice cream. Alas, I'm a grown-up now, in my mid twenties. Who has time for rolling down grassy hills and getting green on your nice work clothes?  I mean, for the desired effect, you need friends to share these moments, right? Sure, I'll give it a go alone, but it's not the same! 

Yesterday I wanted that nostalgic summer so badly! I went for a carefree bike ride, until my asthma kicked me off the bike. Instead of iced tea, I started making cold-brewed coffee -- 

clearly adults drink coffee

 -- but it takes about 12 hours before you can drink it, so I didn't even get to enjoy a nice, refreshing iced-coffee on this particularly beautiful summer's day. (Actually, I'm drinking it now, the next afternoon, while writing this, and it's everything I wanted it to be... yesterday).  

How does this relate to a food blog you ask? Well, it's in these very moments that food settles you, calms you, gives you peace. So, to have summer, I clearly had to eat summer. I took out my dusty George Foreman grill and started grilling everything in sight in my tiny kitchen. This is what this post is about.

This post is not only about summer nostalgia, it is about grilling in your tiny apartment, when you don't have a barbecue. It's about grilling the vegetables you got locally from your CSA and the plump tomato your roommate gave you from her father's garden. It's about grilling a sliced ripe peach for dessert, just the peach, and adding a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top. This post is about the perfection in simplicity. And since I had no one to share my grilling adventures with -- as lately, without work, I am home alone quite often -- I am sharing it with you. Won't you be my friend in the sunshine?

 

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Grilled Tofu, with Potatoes, Onions, 

Bell Peppers, and Plump Tomato

serving size: one. sigh.

You will need a George Foreman Grill, 2 cutting boards, 

4 paper towel pieces, and a balcony or yard.

 Ingredients:

  •  3 oz slice of tofu (extra firm, water-packed)
  • 1/4 lb of fingerling potatoes (about 4 of them)
  • 1/2 a yellow onion
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 large, plump tomato
  • a couple tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • a couple tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • sea salt to your preference
  • ground black pepper to your preference
  • balsamic reduction to top
    sliced avocados (optional)

THE VEGGIE PREP:

 1. Make the marinade. In a medium sized bowl, mix in the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Set aside. 2. Slice the potatoes, onions, bell pepper however you like. Add to marinade. I don't make a lot of marinade because I'm broke and don't want to waste all my ingredients, so instead of soaking them, I just make sure to brush the marinade on the veggies, covering them completely. Let them sit in the marinade 3. Slice the tomato in half, preferably not from the top down, but from the center across. I don't know why, but I just like it that way. Brush with marinade, and let them sit in the bowl, with the rest of the veggies. 

THE TOFU PREP:

 4. Cut a 3 oz slice of tofu from the block you purchased; that's about 1/5th of the block, or about 1/2 an inch thick. If you want a thicker slice, by all means, go for it. 5. Now, listen carefully. The tofu is wet as it has been soaking in water. You need to drain it of some of that water. No worries, there is an economic way to do this, if you can afford to spare 4 pieces of regular sized paper towel. On a cutting board, place one piece of paper towel. Place the slice of tofu on top. Wrap it up in the paper towel as best you can. Now, take another paper towel, and wrap it up from the other side. Take another cutting board, and place on top. Put some pressure on the cutting board, and squish the water out! Not too much pressure, or your tofu will look a bit misshapen. Good, good. Unwrap your tofu. Are the pieces of paper towel soaked? All of it? If there is any dry piece, re-wrap it so that it is touching the tofu. 6. Take a couple more pieces of paper towel and repeat the process, making sure to use every part of the paper towel so as not to be wasteful. Unwrap. That should be sufficient. Sure, there's still water in the tofu, but that's not a bad thing. Do not put the tofu in the marinade, or it won't grill the same. You will do that when it's done grilling. 

THE GRILLING: 

7. Turn on the Foreman Grill. Place that little plate in it's appropriate spot, just in case. Wait about a minute. Start with the tofu. No need to oil the grill. Leave it on for about 6 to 8 minutes. Place it on your plate. Pour the marinade on top. Drizzle with balsamic reduction. 8. Now place the potato, onion, and bell pepper slices evenly on the grill. About 10 to 12 minutes. Place on top of your tofu. 9. Now, grill the tomato halves, only for about 3 to 4 minutes. Place on top of everything. Drizzle some balsamic glaze, et voila! 10. Eat outside in the sunshine with a cold beer or iced tea.

 

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Grilled Peaches for Dessert

serves one. again.

ingredients:

 1 peach, 1 scoop of vanilla bean ice cream
 

directions:

slice em' and grill em', top em' with ice cream

  and introducing...  My Tiny Kitchen

and introducing... My Tiny Kitchen

That Co-Op Life: a Potluck

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We gathered together in the kitchen all morning, cooking, baking, assembling; all for such a special person on his very own birthday! Oh how I love picnics in the summer time. It feels nostalgic. It reminds me of my childhood. On this special birthday we sat on blankets in the sunshine, smiling like children. While sharing food with friends, which, of course, makes the food just taste better.

 

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the menu

aaron's mushroom & spinach quiche

my sesame & broccoli salad

laura's yogurt with cherrie sauce

dory's hamantaschens!

my peach & plum crisp with vanilla ice cream

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Baba's Iraqi Makhlama Made Vegetarian

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Growing up, my mother did most of the cooking. I didn't have any other friends who had a home cooked meal as often as I did. Sometimes I would even get jealous -- and obviously confused! -- when all my friends at school had frozen TV dinners and I didn't! Of course, this was remedied the day my mom took me and my brothers shopping for frozen dinners to stop our whining, the day we realized we had been wrong.

On rare occasions, my father would cook. It was usually on lazy Saturday mornings, after the decent cartoons had finished. He had his specialties, usually Iraqi versions of traditional Middle Eastern dishes. Every region has its own unique cooking methods, and as desperately as it is attempted, not one of these regions can claim these dishes as originally their own. (The Tunisians, for example, make a similar dish called Shakshuka or "to mix together"). So when I think of Iraqi food and Iraqi methods, I think of the words hearty and meaty. With that said, my father usually made something very hearty and very meaty for our lazy Saturday breakfasts. But what happens when you decide to eat a primarily vegetarian diet, and yet still want to experience the nostalgia of your childhood?! Well, obviously, you get creative and recreate those dishes! So, here is my vegetarian take on Baba's Mehlemeh. 

 

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7. Serve with breadlebneh, and cucumber/tomato salad if you want to accurately relive my childhood!