Friday, September 5, 2014

3 DIY cucumber spa ideas for when you're sick of eating them

It’s late summer, which means that cucumbers are sprouting faster than chin hairs on an old lady. I’ve pickled them, sliced them up for salads, and served them as simple appetizers with olive oil and salt every damn day for weeks. And now, I’m sick as fuck of cucumbers. So here are three things to do with cucumbers besides eat them (no, not that, you pervs), all of which will make you feel prettier, too. 
  • Slice them up for spa water: Slice a cuke into ¼ inch rounds and put them in a pitcher with several cups of water. Let it steep in the fridge for a few hours, and tada! Refreshing, cucumber-infused “spa water” that you can serve to your pals. Wicked fancy and wicked tasty, especially for those who regularly reach for flavored bottled water. Other additions might include lemon slices or sprigs of mint.

  • Slap a few slices over your ojos: Ojos means “eyes” in Spanish for all you uncultured slobs. I’m allergic to my cat, and every so often he makes my eyes turn into red and watery puffs of ickiness. I mean, I look truly scary. This happened to me a few days ago, so I placed a cucumber slice over each eye for a few minutes, and felt the swelling go down. “Can you eat them after you take them off your eyes?” my five-year-old, Chloe, asked. Ummm, I guess you could, but they’d be all warm and allergy-ish, so that’s pretty freaking gross.
  • Make a body scrub: A quick Google search yields tons of recipes for homemade scrubs that consist of little more than pureed cucumber, sugar, and a few drops of oil. Although some of the scrubs call for fancier oils, like grapeseed oil, I’m thinking that olive oil would work just as well.

Happy home-spa day!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Nutritional what?

Let’s cut to the chase on nutritional yeast. Holy gross name. Holy gross-looking. And in a showing of true nastiness, its package has a recipe on the back for something called “yeast cheese,” which sounds like a condition your lady doctor would prescribe a cream for, not something you’d spread on nachos.

Let’s be serious: I wrote this blog post so I could say “yeast cheese”

I’ve been hearing rumblings from my vegetarian friends about nutritional yeast for a few years. They say it’s so awesome! And tastes so cheesy! You’ll totally love it!

Although this “cheese” comparison is supposed to endear me to nutritional yeast, it actually makes me trust it even less. If there’s anything that can make me mistrust a food, it’s describing it as “cheesy” when it’s so clearly not cheese. I’ve been down that road, vegans. Your soy slices are not cheese and aren’t fooling anyone. You know what I say to that?

And yet, nutritional yeast is often compared to cheese by crazy vegans who’ve obviously forgotten what actual cheese is supposed to look and taste like. Nutritional yeast is not cheese. It’s a big sack of yellow flakes.

So anyway, a couple of months ago, I spent an entire blog post hating on kale and ended it with a sincere plea to my friends and readers (who, let’s face it, are really all the same people): Don’t tell me how awesome kale is. I don’t want to hear it.

Well, ya’ll bitches didn’t listen, and instead, my Facebook page was deluged with recipes from friends who promised that kale is “amazing” in soup and smoothies, and whatnot. And I admit: I actually tried one of the recipes in spite of myself. It was from my friend Corinne, who had enough good sense to move to Hawaii that I thought I should trust her culinary choices.

OK, Corinne, you win: Your terrible, punishment-worthy sounding suggestion of sprinkling kale with nutritional yeast is worthy of the “amazing” moniker. Her recipe is a lot more involved (and probably tastier and healthier) than what I did, which is just rub kale leaves with olive oil, and sprinkle them with roughly 1/3 cup of nutritional yeast, ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder, and salt to taste.

It really is yummy. But it's still not cheese.
I eat it right out of the bowl, although I think some people might bake it into “chips.”
If you want that recipe, you’re on your own.

And if you want to know how Hawaii Corinne eats her kale, here is the recipe, in her own words:

Pull kale off the stem and break up into big bite sized pieces. Wash and dry well and put into a large bowl. On the stovetop in a sauté pan heat a couple of tablespoons each grapeseed oil and sesame oil (if you don't have one or both of these, seriously any other oil will do in a pinch) when the oil is super hot and rippling throw in a big old handful of pumpkin seeds. I LOVE the Ayurvedic kind from the bulk bins at Whole Foods because they are already nice and spicy and seasoned. Toast until lightly browned, should only take a minute or so. Pour this hot oil/pumpkin seed mixture over the kale and let sit for a minute or two until the oil is not too hot to touch. Get in there with your hands, and massage the crap out of that stuff, getting the warm oil into all the nooks and crannies. At the end add a dash of soy sauce and a heaping helping of nutritional yeast for a cheesy salty kick and viola! This is so good I can eat nothing but two bunches of kale done this way for dinner.

I was so surprised that kale with nutritional yeast tasted good that I went out and bought a blender so I could make a berry-yogurt smoothie with just a little bit of kale in it. Not only was the blender a piece of crap that caused this to happen…


…but guess what the smoothie tasted like: Fucking kale!

I’ll never trust you lying liars again.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kibbe nayyeh: The meatloaf they forgot to bake

Not the actual culprit,
but you get the gist.
This picture came from here.
The kibbe nayyeh sits by itself on the counter at my husband, Brian's, family reunion, ostracized from the other food spread out on a nearby table.

I am a towering blonde Amazon in his great aunt’s kitchen, surrounded by tiny, stooped-shouldered Lebanese women who shuffle around the table loading their plates with hummus, grape leaves, Syrian bread, and a string bean dish called lubee. There’s regular baked kibbe too, a kind of Middle Eastern meatloaf stuffed with pine nuts and bulger, that’s cut into little brown diamonds.

But it’s the kibbe nayyeh that I keep stealing glances at, an oval of pink paste adorned with little sprigs of parsley stuck throughout the top.

Kibbe nayyeh is unbaked kibbe. That's right. Raw, ground meat piled onto a plate.

“That’s kibbe naye, right?” I ask a cousin. She makes a grossed-out face and nods.

“I stay away from that,” she says.

Brian said his dad, Tony, will eat anything. I made an awful, dry brick of a meatloaf once and he piled on second and third helpings, making happy, grateful sounds throughout the meal.

So it’s no surprise that Tony’s spreading a spoonful of kibbe nayyeh into a little pocket of Syrian bread. He says he always eats it. Brian’s mom, Sharon, whose parents were Lebanese and Syrian, has never tried it.

Naturally, I’m intrigued. So I ask a few Sharon questions, which are followed by vague, and not altogether reassuring, answers.
  • Does it make you sick? (No one’s ever gotten sick that I know of). 
  • What else is in it? (Onions and spices and other stuff). 
  • Is it lamb or beef? (I don’t know, ask my aunt).
“If you’re going to try it, you better get some now,” Sharon says. “It always goes fast.”

“Get me some more too,” Tony adds.

Sure enough, the pink oval on the platter is already half gone. Now it’s in the shape of a pink gravestone. I scoop a little pasty ball onto a plate, grab a few Syrian pockets, and head back to the table.

I spread the kibbe nayyeh onto a pita. I examine every centimeter of it, holding it an inch from my face. I sniff it. Yup, it’s definitely raw friggen meat.

“Just eat it,” Brian said. “Don’t think about it too much.”

So I do. It’s pasty and mild and slippery, but not bad. Pretty good actually. The onion flavor is nice, and it doesn’t have that heavy, musky taste that baked kibbe sometimes has. I fill up another pita, and Tony scoops up the rest.

“Auntie! Alex tried the kibbe nayyeh!”Sharon tells her aunt, an 80-ish Lebanese woman whose hair is still jet black and who calls everyone “angel face” or “sweetie.”

“I’m so glad sweetie,” she says, beaming. “Most people are frightened by it.”

“I was frightened,” I admit. “But it was good.”

I ask her what kind of meat it’s made of. But Auntie Alice doesn’t know either. She didn’t make it. It's from another cousin who Auntie Alice points to across the lawn: An old lady in bright blue polyester slacks whom I've never laid eyes on before. This other cousin lives in Connecticut. A trace of panic follows the kibbe nayyeh into my stomach. Raw mystery meat transported hundreds of miles by a strange old woman. Fantastic.

Tony seems unbothered by this information. He finishes the last bite.

And so, I ate raw meat.

And I’m proud of it. And it was good!

But the next day, I felt sick. Headache, rolling stomach, sweaty palms. My mind immediately jumps to the kibbe nayyeh. No! I ate RAW MEAT? Why would someone do that?

I beg Brian to find out if his dad feels OK. I start Googling information about food-borne illnesses. When Brian can’t reach his dad right away, I conclude that he’s probably already at the hospital with e. coli. Why would I eat raw meat? Why?

Brian finally talks to his dad. His dad feels fine. Come to think of it, so do I. My temperature is normal, and I’m no longer clammy. I take a swig of Pepto Bismol and get back to work.

Yes, I ate raw meat. And I lived to tell the tale.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Burrata: The It-Cheese of the Summer

I’m declaring burrata the It-Cheese of the Summer. It’s the Lupita Nyong'o of the food world: Fabulous, obsession-worthy, and suddenly everywhere.

The divine beauty that is Lupita Nyong'o.
First, what is it? Burrata tastes like the creamy, sexy love-child of ricotta and mozzarella. It’s a fresh Italian cheese with a thin, outer layer of mozzarella, and filled with a crazy-decadent mixture of rich and buttery-tasting cream and mozzarella.

I first tasted burrata last year while I was in Puglia, Italy, the birthplace of this gorgeous cheese. We ate burrata with breakfast, and I almost fainted with happiness when I first put it in my mouth. I ate it every day for a week, and then went home, heartbroken, thinking I’d never taste it again.

When I saw BelGioioso-brand burrata cheese in my neighborhood grocery store a few months ago, I did a double-take.

“Burrata, it’s you,” I thought to myself. “My long-lost love!”
Minutes later, this 4 oz. hunk of cheese was G-O-N-E.
I’ve only bought it a couple of times, because I can’t be trusted with it. Each time it’s been in the house, I’ve eaten all of it with a spoon…by myself… in a single sitting.

And now, burrata seems to have gone Hollywood. I’ve seen recipes calling for burrata cheese in a ton of magazines so far this summer: O, The Oprah Magazine; Every Day with Rachael Ray; Bon Apetit; and Redbook. And it’s not hard to see why. It’s fresh and creamy, and perfect for a summer night. It pairs equally well with honey as it does with bruschetta.

It’s perfectly acceptable to eat burrata all by itself with a little kosher salt, or spread across a hunk of crusty bread. But a nice way to serve it is atop a “salad pizza,” an idea that I adapted from Andy King, co-owner of the amazing A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem, MA. He told me during an interview for Northshore Magazine that one of his favorite summertime suppers is a grilled flatbread topped with lettuce and a drizzle of vinaigrette.

Here’s how I interpreted his idea: I made pizza dough (store-bought is fine, too), spread it out on a baking sheet, and topped it with a mixture of:

  • About 5 tablespoons of olive oil
  • A big handful of dried parsley
  • A minced garlic clove
  • Salt and pepper
I mean, this is good all by itself, but topping it with greens and burrata cheese makes it extra yummy.

First spread the olive oil mixture evenly across the dough, and top that with a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan. Then, bake the dough at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.

It comes out not really like pizza, but more like a very thin cheesy-herb focaccia. Cut or tear it into big pieces, top with fresh lettuce and a simple vinaigrette of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and finally, add dollops burrata cheese across the top. Season with kosher or sea salt.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Kale fail

CSA season is finally here!

Our family signed up for a CSA for the first time this year. CSA stands for community-supported agriculture and is a kind of “farm club:” You pay up-front during the winter for a weekly share of the farm’s harvest during the summer and fall. Our CSA runs from mid-June through mid-October, so we’re in for months of farm fun.

Chloe was so excited for the veggie club to start that she woke up asking about it every morning for a week before the CSA’s kick-off. When the day finally arrived to head to the farm and pick up our first share, she was beyond excited.

I couldn’t believe the size of our half share: We got a huge bunch of kale, a head of lettuce, a bag of mesclun mix, a bunch of scallions, two massive turnips, a pint of strawberries and a jug of apple cider.
The fact that we were bringing all this fresh produce home to eat was beside the point. Just going to the farm was an awesome experience for Chloe. At the farm, she rode tire swings, ate cider donuts, watched in hushed excitement as a little duck family came waddling toward us, and fed lettuce to a flock of very hungry and excitable chickens. 

See that look on her face? That’s pure, complete, strawberry-stained joy.
Everything is right in her world. 
Everything in the share was wonderful. Everything except the kale.

That’s because I hate kale. My whole family hates kale. I know I’m supposed to love kale, this exalted and trendy superfood. It’s in smoothies and salads. There are bumper stickers and t-shirts and throw pillows imploring people to eat more of it. And yeah, I know why. WebMD says that one cup of chopped kale boasts:
·         33 calories
·         206% of your daily vitamin A needs
·         134% of vitamin C
·         684% of vitamin K
·         9% of calcium

I feel like hating it is some kind of moral failing on my part. (Although I suspect the people who say they love it are really full of shit*). But still, I try to listen to the bumper stickers and eat more kale when I’m in the mood for self-flagellation. And when kale appeared in our CSA share, I had to make use of it.

I made a kale frittata. In the frittata’s defense, this was the best incarnation of kale I’ve ever tasted. The recipe had its work cut out for it, trying its best to disguise the offending vegetable with Parmesan cheese and pepperoni. It’s not the frittata’s fault that kale is terrible.

So I served up this frittata to the fam, and was thinking, “Hey, this isn’t so bad,” even though I had to chew every bite the way a cow chews her cud. Brian choked his down without a word. Chloe on the other hand, did have a few words for the kale frittata. She ate the first few bites in silence, and then as if unable to hold it in any longer, burst into tears. This wasn’t a tantrum. This was actual, kale-induced pain.

This is a re-enactment of Chloe’s kale face.  
Chloe and I had also made strawberry-rhubarb crisp out of the berries in our CSA share, so I promised the warm, sweet dessert to anyone who could live through the frittata. Dinner played out like a culinary version of good cop-bad cop. Through her tears, Chloe somehow managed to finish almost every bite of her dinner, and I promised never to do that to her again. If kale shows up next week, I’ll call one of my alleged-kale-loving friends and give it away.

I’m so sorry, Chloe. Mommy really does love you.

*Yo, don't write to me telling me how kale is really, actually amazing, and you really do love it, and so do your kids. Lies.