Tag Archives: kitchen

Conversatin’ Fridays: Mama, I’m Movin’ Out

After a quick three-day jaunt out of town, I am back in Pittsburgh to finish what I really started last week: Moving out of my lovely apartment in the loveliest lil’ borough of Dormont. I packed up the books (Eighteen boxes! Not counting the cookbooks!), then the movies, then the records, which  meant, of course, that I’d have to eventually get around to packing up my kitchen.

Which I’m still in the process of doing. I spent nearly all day in and out of the kitchen, wrapping up glasses and plates in newspaper, stuffing boxes full of random utensils, stripping off the worn and dingy shelf paper, finding the right box to hold all of my spices and baking accessories. In one little kitchen there seems to be so much that needs to be done. You have to wonder how it only took two years to pack this much intricacies into a room. It feels like there’s something in every corner.

Tomorrow movers come in to transport my beloved yellow kitchen table (known as “Goldie”) and chairs to its new home in Shadyside, where the affluent and intellectual will surely sense that I do not match the delicate inner workings of the neighborhood and reject me, sending me right back into the arms of the South Hills.

It’s not that I’m not looking forward to trying out Shadyside. I sort of lived in that area while in my undergraduate years at Chatham, but I always stuck to the Squirrel Hill side of the campus. I know of good places to go, but mostly specialty spots, places that I wouldn’t necessarily visit on a regular basis. I need the rundown on the staples.

While I attack the rest of my apartment, I ask you affluent, intellectual types out there: What is there to do in Shadyside? Best coffee shop? Best restaurant? Best place to grab a cheap lunch? Any suggestions?

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Coversatin’ Fridays: Music in the Kitchen

Just a quick conversation starter for your Friday morning:

Last Christmas, me and my roommate considered setting up speakers in the kitchen, extending our living room stereo system into the second half of our apartment. For some reason plans for the project fell through, but whenever I’m slaving over any kind of meal, whether it be a quick cold salad or a four course Southern feast, I regret dropping the idea.

To be able to hear whatever is playing in the living room in my kitchen, I have to crank up the system loud enough that our downstairs neighbor is probably getting an unwanted free concert in her living room. When it’s old soul or jazz, I don’t think she minds so much, but I’m sure she’s getting sick of Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life, or Fugazi’s Repeater or any of the smattering of more abrasive music we regularly listen to.

So I’ve taken to wearing headphones and either listening to the radio or my iPod. There’s also always the chance that I might want to listen to something loud enough to the point that I’ll bring my computer speakers down from my room and into the kitchen, but that’s almost as big a chore as cooking, so that’s pretty rare.

Music makes everything a little easier, though, and in the case of cooking, it makes an activity I do enjoy that much better. So the next time I’m setting up a new home, I can guarantee that there will be a set of speakers in the kitchen, carefully and safely hooked up to whatever dominant stereo system is in the household.

So the question: Do you have a system to play/hear music in your kitchen? Do you like listening to music while cooking/baking away? If so, what is on your current kitchen playlist?

Talk amongst yourselves and leave answers in the comments. I’ve got to get to work.

Good Morning, Muffin Mania!

All this muffin talking the past few days has got me curious about the latest and greatest in food-blogger muffin recipes. If I’m going to go through a crisis of muffin preference, I might as well travel the road to an answer that is paved in possibilities. Maybe I’ll start with these recipes:

– I don’t know if English muffins count in this discussion, but how can I deny this tasty-looking offering from This Wisconsin Life? A little time-intensive, maybe, what with yeast being involved and all, but the sound of a homemade English muffin toasted with a poached egg… I mean, just LOOK at those… Maybe this muffin road is the way to go.

Zucchini-Carrot Muffins from We Be Running

– Ah, the zucchini muffin. Poor neglected thing. Usually smaller than other muffins (and mostly devoid of the famed “muffin top”) and not as showy, it gets passed up for its flashier, sweeter brethren in the bakery case. I love making and eating zucchini bread, but have never made zucchini muffins. I think I’ll start with these recipes, the sturdy and slightly intimidating Green and Mean Zucchini Muffins from Baking’n’Books and the dainty, ugly-cute Zucchini and Carrot Muffins from We Be Running. On behalf of the zucchini muffins, I say sincere thanks to these blogs. To the zucchini muffins, I say, “Suffer in silence no more, my slightly sweet, slightly veggie friends!”

– If I could swing it, I’d put coffee in ALL of my food. Whitney in Chicago has taken an ordinary banana nut muffin and made it all the better with a tablespoon of fine-ground espresso. So you get the protein, the potassium, and the full POWER OF CAFFEINE! And do you know what she drank to wash down these powerhouses? A big ol’ mug of Intelligentsia coffee. Damn, straight, Whitney. You are my kind of person.

– I completely forgot how awesome Isa Chandra Moskowitz is at muffin recipes. Thankfully, E.T.F.C has reminded me of the fantastic Cherry Almond muffins from Vegan with a Vengeance. So what if she had a little problem removing the muffins from the tin? Her almond-placement on top of the muffins is nothing short of perfection. (By the by, love E.T.F.C’s elegant minimalist presentation. There’s something so appealing about a vegan-focused blog that doesn’t overly cutefy. Nothing against the sweethearts and kitsch-queens of the vegan blogging scene, but it’s refreshing to have something simple and quick and appealing to look at.)

– Lemon poppy seed muffins. Been there done that. But The Working Wok has baked up a special twist: Lemon Poppy Seed Yogurt Muffins. Desiree even includes a helpful reminder: “Be sure not to let these muffins make you fail your drug test.” Honestly, Desiree, drug test shmug test, I’m going to eat as many of these as I please. Consequences be dammed, I’m in a Muffin Renaissance!

Good Morning, Tamale Casserole!

A while back, I made an argument for taking back the microwave, and I stand by that argument. While not appropriate for cooking most dishes, it can be really effective in the throwing together of a meal in under thirty minutes. I’m not necessarily one of those 30-minute-meal types: I like to languish in the kitchen, relax, chop and slice and cook at leisure. This is, understandably, why most of my meals clock in around 45 minutes to an hour, and also why, reasonably, I don’t tend to do a lot of cooking mid-week. Unless eating out or being cooked for, I tend to subsist on whatever is readily available in the kitchen.

Thankfully for my appetite, The Garden of Vegan not only contains wonderful vegan recipes, it features an entire chapter on microwaveable meals. Coming across a recipe for “Tamale Pie” I was immediately entranced – all the goodness of a cornmeal-crusted casserole in exactly half the time I would usually make something like this. Despite a minor error with the cornmeal topping, this came out delicious, hearty, and very, very quickly.

Best of all, this dish is perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner time. It’s so fast, make two and save the other one for later in the week.

Tamale Casserole

Ingredients
– 3/4 cup cornmeal
– 1 tsp salt
– 2 cups water
– 2 cans beans, your choice, drained and rinsed (I used black and pinto)
– 1 cup corn
– 1 small onion, chopped
– 1 small green pepper, chopped
– 1 cup tomato sauce
– 1/2 tsp cayenne
– 1 tsp cumin
– 1 tsp chili powder
– 1 tsp dried basil
– 1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning (optional)
– 1/4 cup jalapeno, sliced (optional)

– In a bowl, stir together the cornmeal, salt, and water. Microwave for 6 minutes. The cornmeal should be a firm mush.
– In a microwaveable casserole dish, add the beans, corn, onion, and pepper. Cover with sauce and spices. Cover the whole dish with the cornmeal mixture and add the jalapeno on top, if using. Microwave for 8 – 12 minutes, until the cornmeal is crisp on top and the entire dish is heated through.

(Recipe adapted from “Tamale Pie” in The Garden of Vegan by Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard)

Good Morning, Mini Almond Tarts!

My boss loves burnt almond tortes, so for her birthday, I thought I would whip up something similar, but a little different. I was hoping to get the essence of the almond torte without the overwhelming amounts of sugar and cream. Also, because the treat was going to serve as a sort of birthday gift, I was hoping that the recipe would be fairy simple to make. After a busy Tuesday, the last thing I wanted to be doing at ten pm was attempting a second batch of tarts.

I used a regular metal cupcake dish for my tarts, which resulted in some rather substantial “mini” treats. For true bite-sized confections, definitely pick up a dedicated mini tart or mini muffin pan. I know I will be doing so as soon as possible, because I have a weird fondness for small, dainty sweets.

Mini Almond Tarts

Ingredients
For the crust
– 1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter, melted
– 1 cup all purpose flour
– 1 tbsp sugar
– Pinch of salt
– 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the Filling
– 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
– 1 cup sliced almonds
– 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 1 large egg
– 1 tsp almond extract
– 1 tsp Grand Marnier (You can do it without the liquor, but I’d recommend using it)
– Pinch of salt

To assemble the crust: Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a cupcake tin (or if you have a mini tart pan). You should fill about seven cups in a regular sized cupcake tin.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. In a separate glass bowl, stir together the melted butter, vanilla, and a 1/2 tbsp of water. Pour the wet into the dry and combine until dough is formed. Knead for about 30 seconds.

Section off the dough into seven even-sized balls. Press each ball into the prepared tin, pressing it into the bottom and sides of the tin. You’ll want a little bit of the crust to come up from the top, but make sure the bottom is thick enough to hold. Put the tray of crusts into the oven for 7 minutes.

Turn oven down to 350 degrees.

Make the filling: Whip together all filling ingredients until well combined. Pour filling into each of the tart cups, just beneath the top of the crust.

Bake for 22 – 25 minutes. Let stand and cool before removing from cups.

(Recipe adapted MarthaStewart.com)

Bonjour, French Toast!

Last Saturday, I bought a giant round of bread at Mancini’s then proceeded not to use it. The blessing and the curse of fresh bread. It’s a pleasure beyond nearly anything else on the table, but its expiration date is imminent by the time you bring it home from the store. Even wrapping it up tight and storing it in the fridge will only keep it for so long.

Luckily for us, a large, sturdy loaf of fairly stale bread was just what we needed for some terrific vegan French Toast this past Sunday morning. (Well, stale bread and a couple of ounces of fresh blueberries.)

Sunday Morning French Toast

Ingredients
– 1 1/4 cup silken tofu
– 3 tbsp pure maple syrup
– 1/3 cup water or orange or apple juice
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1 tsp almond extract
– 2 tbsp oil
– 6 or 7 thick slices of stale bread

– In a blender or food processor, blend tofu, syrup, extracts, oil, water, and cinnamon. Process until smooth, then transfer into a large shallow bowl.

– Dip slices of bread into mixture. Make sure to scrape down the excess.

– Heat a non-stick or lightly oiled pan. At medium heat, cook the slice until the side is golden brown, then flip. (As in pancakes, you don’t want to flip more than once. If you need a glimpse of the underside, peel up one corner with the flipper.)

– Pile finished slices on a plate, then lightly dust with powdered sugar, blueberries, maple syrup, etc.

Chocolate Chip Cha-Cha-Cha


While seemingly every sell out in Hollywood is busy adapting some 70’s television show or 80’s Atari game for some hack film project, they’re missing a prime opportunity to tell a (possibly) riveting story: The invention of the chocolate chip cookie.

The story is that one night, Ruth Wakefield, proprietor of the Toll House Inn, desired to make chocolate-butter drop cookies for her visiting guests. Upon finding that she was short of baker’s chocolate, Wakefield substituted fragments of semi-sweet chocolate, believing they would melt in the oven. They didn’t. What was should have been almost a dense chocolate shortbread was instead the rough draft of what would become the signature chocolate chip cookie recipe: The Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Who else would be the leading provider of semi-sweet chocolate but Nestle, of course. After Wakefield’s accidental recipe caught on, the two entities, baker and chocolate entrepreneur, came to a bargain. Nestle would print the Toll House recipe on the back of every package of semi-sweet chocolate. In exchange, Mrs. Wakefield would receive free chocolate for the cookies made at the Inn. Thus, a cookie empire was born.

Woudn’t that make a decent movie? Okay, you’d probably have to add some kind of corporate intrigue. A sinister executive at Nestle trying to screw the Wakefields out of their invention, or something. But you could call this “Chocolate Chip Cookie: The Movie” and people would most likely come to see it. They’re just that popular. (For instance, while the actual number is disputable, it’s estimated that nearly seven billion chocolate chip cookies are eaten annually.)

I try to do my part to contribute to the world popularity of the chocolate chip cookie. It’s not hard to understand why it’s so popular. It’s a malleable creation that can be manipulated in any number of ways. It can be flavored with extracts, made softer or crunchier or chewier, made giant-sized or bite-sized, super dense or wafer thin. It can be very sweet or a little salty or even a little spicy. It can be crumbly or melty. You can eat it with ice cream. You can eat it with peanut butter. The variations are endless, and short of flat out improper baking, it’s hard to ruin a chocolate chip cookie.

They’re also incredibly easy to veganize. Something that many people worry about when considering veganism is a loss of the familiar foods they’ve eaten all their lives. That’s why you see so many veggie burgers, so many different kinds of vegan macaroni and cheese, and why some of the best-selling vegan cookbook titles are focused on baked goods. People want to know that even if they make a choice to actively and avidly rid their diets of animal products, they will not have to go without their comfort foods.

My favorite vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe to adapt is the one found in Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking (which I’ve mentioned before, but is worth mentioning again, because it’s such a fantastic book). I like Colleen’s recipe for several reasons, but mostly because there’s very little fuss to it. Like many of her recipes, she doesn’t play around too much with various ingredients, throwing in random fanciness because she can. Her recipes are designed to produce the best-tasting traditional baked goods a vegan chef can hope for.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies

Ingredients
– 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
– 1 cup vegan margarine
– 3/4 cup white sugar
– 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
– 1/4 cup sugar-in-the-raw (turbinado)
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1 tsp salt
– 1 to 2 cups of vegan chocolate chips
– 1 cup finely chopped pecans (I like using finely chopped because it gives it an almost toffee like crunch, but it’s a matter of preference.)

– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

– Cream together the margarine, sugars, vanilla. Add the applesauce and mix until thoroughly combined.

– Mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt, then gradually beat the dry mixture into the wet. When almost completely mixed, add chocolate chips and nuts.

– Drop by tablespoon onto the sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Move to a cookie rack for cooling.

(Adapted from recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau)