soy ahoy, part one: banana milkshake

IMG_3740

The most recent excursion to Flushing saw me going a little soy crazy. I came home with soy milk, frozen edamame, and tofu. The latter two went into a recipe that’ll be up here in a few, but I was a bit perplexed about what to do with the soy milk. I bought because, hey, I’ve never tried it and for $1.19, I can afford the experiment. But once the initial tasting was complete, that still left most of the quart left over.

As for that experiment, I cannot imagine how anyone with functioning taste buds could confuse unsweetened/unflavored soy milk with anything that came out of a cow. Or a goat or a sheep, for that matter. It’s not awful. It’s not even bad. It’s just… not milk. It tastes like plants. And I would never consider pouring it over my generic-brand Lucky Charms, let alone pouring it into my coffee.

That does not mean I couldn’t find other uses for it.

IMG_3735 

It was close to a hundred degrees in NYC for much of the week, so it’s no surprise that my whim took the form of something cold – frozen, in fact. I have a selection of fruit hanging out in the freezer – blueberries, cranberries, and a bag full of overripe bananas because I always buy more than I can finish before they start to go.

There is no recipe because I didn’t measure anything and, really, it will all depend on what you’ve got going on and how sweet your fruit is and how sweet you like your smoothies. But this is all I used, except for a splash of vanilla.

 IMG_3739

Possibly by blind luck, this came out spectacularly. It was creamy beyond any reasonable expectation and there were no grassy undertones. Also, it held together as a thick, smooth liquid until the end, not separating out the way my usual milk-and-yogurt shakes do – it held together like a fast food shake with its added stabilizers and emulsifiers and whatnot. Except it was smoother and tastier and definitely kosher to accompany a hamburger.

(I didn’t have a hamburger; this was dinner. But you could have it with a hamburger and it would be okay with a rabbi.)

On a day when it was still 92F at midnight, this was a win.

 

As a related aside, since I’ve burbled happily about a vegan treat, let me briefly mumble less than happily about vegan cookbooks, since I’ve taken out a few from the library over the past several months. I skipped the (in)famous Veganomicon because it weighs a ton, but I did borrow books separately written by the two authors of that, Terry Hope Romero’s Viva Vegan and Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Appetite for Reduction. I don’t know what the two of them are like together – I had no patience to sit through their old public access show – but separately, they take wildly different paths to reach their audiences. Viva Vegan, focusing on Latin American cuisine, is very inclusive: here are tasty recipes you might like to try and oh, by the way, they’re vegan and I don’t think you’re going to miss the meat and dairy. There are also a bunch of interesting recipes to try. Appetite for Reduction, which is a healthy-eating book, is… not inclusive. It takes for granted that you think “meat is murder” and all of the other tropes that make PETA look like goofballs when they take it too far. I found the author’s tone extremely off-putting to the point that I didn’t even finish browsing it for ideas. There are many reasons to choose a vegan meal either in isolation or as part of a lifestyle choice and most of them aren’t based on personal ethics. I don’t need my dinner with a side order of shame.

leaving it to the experts

IMG_3704

I own rye flour. I own caraway seeds. But sometimes, it’s better to leave it to the experts.

I went into Zabar’s for coffee and while I usually skim past the cashiers straight to the coffee and tea section, this time I took the scenic route to check out their supply of block chocolate. (Result: Fairway is much better.) And between the desserts and the coffee is the bakery section, which is usually blockaded by a queue. Except it wasn’t. And there was the lady depositing hot loaves of rye bread into the basket. And so I bought bread for the first time in a few years.

IMG_3709

I have no excuse for the smoked whitefish spread; I had to double back for that.

Saveur recently did an article on the best rye in the US and Zabar’s earned special mention. For good reason.

food to google

 

I consider myself to be a fairly adventurous eater within my normal boundaries. I’ve got no interest in offal or other ‘fun’ parts of snout-to-tail eating, but that’s entirely because I’m not a big eater of the more standard parts of our meat animals. But give me a new cheese or fruit or vegetable or starch, and I’m totally game.

Downtown Flushing is a great place to spread one’s wings in any direction, animal, vegetable, or mineral. Mostly it’s because they’ve got a very wide variety of stuffs that aren’t familiar to Western palates, almost none of it labeled in English.

For vegetables, my usual method of post-purchase identification is to pull out Bruce Cost’s book and flip the pages until I find a picture that matches what’s on the counter. For fruits, however, the search can be a little harder and, occasionally, impossible.

In other words, I have no idea what these are:

IMG_3697

They look like pears, but there is nothing pear-like about them. They feel like a succulent almost, like they’d be the fruit of some kind of cactus. But they come from something leafy – the pile at the market had a few attached to stems with long green leaves.

Tastewise, they’re pretty mild with a little bit of muskiness and sourness. Of course, I don’t know if you’re supposed to eat them raw or if they’re incredibly underripe. I tried half of one raw and the other half I steamed along with some greens.

The register receipt called these kamtai, but Google gives me nothing related to food on that front, so I’m still not sure.  

So the story goes like this: Pal S took one look at that picture and went “oh! Jamrul! We got that in Calcutta!” and from there, the mystery rapidly came to a successful conclusion.

The rest of my mystery pile was a little more straightforward:

IMG_3691

These are both gaya melons. Or, at least, they were both labeled as gaya melons on the grower’s sticker.

IMG_3703

They might both be gaya melons, since this is clearly not some mutant cantaloupe nor is it the right color to be an Israeli melon. (Although what an Israeli melon would be doing in a Chinese market anyway is beyond me.) Very sweet and tasty, like a honeydew.

 

The groceries by work also have interesting fruits on occasion, but I’m as likely to pick up a new cheese there as anything else.

IMG_3687

This is called buenalba, which is a raw sheep’s milk cheese. It’s purple because the rind’s been washed with merlot. It’s tasty, although I don’t think it’s a life-changing cheese. It’s certainly a striking element for a cheese plate.

 

And thus concludes this week’s investigation into the weird stuff in my fridge.

a collection of lesser ideas

The problem with trying to write regularly on a food blog is that it presupposes you always have something to say. And that you’re always trying something new, or at least new to the blog, and that something has some merit in being shared. And for me, that’s not always the case.

IMG_3689

An egg mcmuffin with cheese and a salad is a tasty treat for dinner, but hardly worth a post on its own.

IMG_3684

There was yet another attempt at a respectable rice pudding that doesn’t involve a pint of heavy cream and lots of egg yolks, but I have not yet arrived at the One True Pudding, so detailing the ‘certainly edible but not yet there’ attempts is also not an effective use of blog space.

IMG_3701

I’ve made mapo tofu a few times with the same recipe, but a lot of my changes to it involve swapping out what’s asked for and substituting the various brown pastes that have been hiding in the back of the fridge for a decade. And while obviously I’m okay with how it comes out, it’s not exactly a method I can or should advocate to others.

IMG_3680

There’s actually kind of a funny story about the first time I made my own crème fraîche. It’s a very straightforward concept and seemingly impossible to goof up… except I sort of did. It’s supposed to take 12-24 hours, but it took me almost a week and involved adding all kinds of cultured dairy products to finally get it to set. Why? Best I can figure out is that my house was too cold – it was February and my oil burner is more than half a century old and, well, it took forever.

The second time, of which this is a photo, it only took a little longer than it was supposed to. Both times, however, it was very tasty.

Passing over passover

IMG_3677

Pesach has come and gone, although there’s still matzoh on the table. In general, I’m responsible for two elements of my cousin’s seder, the charoses and dessert. The former is why I’m really invited – I make a quart for a small seder and it’s never enough. The latter is an annual experiment with my family as the willing guinea pigs. This year, I made almendrados (lemon-almond macaroons) and some frosted brownies from Marcy Goldman’s book, neither of which I remembered to take pictures of because I was running around like a headless chicken at the time of their creation. I thought the brownies came out all right – with that much chocolate, how can it be bad? – but I think they could have been better.

But after the seders are done, it’s time for more pedestrian fare. Normal people can look forward to a week of meat and potatoes, but I will admit that I sometimes struggle with what to prepare. It’s not the bread or pasta that I miss, it’s the rice and beans and tofu and the spices that are verboten because of one reason or another.

Also, there was corn on sale at the grocer and every day that I passed it, I started really craving the corn-and-mung-bean salad I sometimes live on in warmer weather. But, of course everything but the basil is chametz, so there was none of that.

Of course, some parts of Pesach aren’t so bad – the first matzo brei of the year is always a treat.

IMG_3674 

I’m in the wetting-the-matzo-beforehand camp – yes, this is a point of contention – and I generally use a 1:1 egg to matzo ratio. I’ve made both sweet and savory matzo brei; this is a sweet one – a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a lot of cinnamon.

 IMG_3676

Something I tried for the first time this year was to make a kind of pancake – I was really going for crepe-like pancakes I could slice up as noodles for soup, but they ended up with a little bit of lift as they cooked – they flattened out once they got off the heat.

IMG_3672

They tasted nothing like pancakes, but they could fake it from a distance.

 

Something that had to wait for Passover to end:

IMG_3666 My cousin who hosts the seder just got back from a trip to Australia. In an attempt to head off the possibility of a kangaroo plushie or koala baby-doll t-shirt as a souvenir, I told her that I wanted Tim-Tams. I’d had them years ago when some Aussie acquaintances brought them along to a gathering; I presume they’re sold somewhere in NYC, but I’m sure these are fresher. And so much better than a stuffed kangaroo – imagine a chocolate-covered oreo except the cookie and cream are both tastier.

My cousin and her friend were most generous and I have a selection to snack from:

IMG_3664

Considering that I have baked my own treats for years and have never been a consumer of supermarket cookies… I have rarely been this excited by processed food.

lazy person’s pasta primavera

IMG_3659

So lazy, I didn’t even take a picture of it plated.

 

I went into Zabar’s for coffee the other Friday evening and, halfway between the cheese and the dried fruit, I realized that I didn’t feel like cooking dinner. Luckily, halfway between the cheese and the dried fruit is the fresh pasta, so I picked up some tortellini.

It’s not quite spring, no matter what the calendar says, and so this is not quite pasta primavera, although I suppose it is because there’s no such thing as a definitive recipe, is there?

IMG_3649

One zucchini, having come up against the box grater and lost.

IMG_3651

The last of the spinach I had lying around; this is not the knife to chop spinach with, but it was the one that was already dirty.

IMG_3657

One very messy stovetop as I sauté the veggies with some olive oil, garlic, and capers. I added some freshly grated pecorino later, but forgot to photograph.

IMG_3656

I think this was tomato and gorgonzola tortellini, the former explaining the orangey tint. It was tasty, as most of Zabar’s fresh pasta is.

IMG_3648

Dessert was kiwis. The ones on the left are golden kiwis, the ones on the right are the standard variety. Golden kiwis, at least the ones I got, are a little sweeter and don’t have a fuzzy exterior.

666 is the number of the entree

IMG_3626

I have a very mixed history with food pretending to be other food – or, at least, non-meat pretending to be meat. Historically, I’ve disdained it. It’s like the bread and cereal and other items that appear around Passover so that you can still have your Cheerios for breakfast without eating chametz. If you’re going to give something up – especially for a non-medical, non-required reason – then give it up and stop weaseling with technicalities.

But that was a position staked out largely before I gave up pig products, which explains why I have a vegan chorizo recipe photocopied and waiting to be tried. Also, it explains this post.

This is technically my second experiment with seitan, the first being the little curds I picked up the other month and tried to figure out how to use without any sort of directions or suggestions on the package. In my vegetarian Thai cookbook, there is a recipe for making seitan from scratch, the end steps being to either deep fry (preferred) or bake the results. I got something edible out of toasting the store-bought version, so I figured I’d try again.

IMG_3628

These may put anyone on the path to carnivorous behavior. They felt exactly the way they look – like rubber.

Thankfully, they look a little more like food and less like mistakes from the tire factory after toasting, even though I believe this type is supposed to be steamed:

IMG_3637

As for what to do with them, I opted to go for a Chinese-Thai mishmash (it’s not elegant enough to be called a fusion): a Thai green curry stir-fry.

IMG_3635

This is my new-ish wok, by the way. It’s one of those flat-bottomed types for western stovetops. I actually have a proper Chinese wok, complete with a crown that rests on the burner grate, but this is easier to work with. It was originally a bright, shiny stainless steel, but while my seasoning has been irregular, the important part – the bottom – is well done. It’s gigantic, though, and one of the reasons my next home cannot have a tiny stove.

IMG_3632

Food that looks exactly like what it’s supposed to be. More or less; the coconut milk is reconstituted from powder.

IMG_3639

This is a lot of food and yes, I was eating it all week.

IMG_3641

I didn’t make it as soupy as a Thai curry that you get in a restaurant would be – I love that style, but that’s an awful lot of coconut milk to be consuming. It was saucy enough, though, and very tasty.

Dessert was from the other end of the globe: a poppy cake made with the remainder of the mun filling from the Purim hamantaschen. 

IMG_3643