Category Archives: potatoes

Adventures in curry leaves

I don’t care what anyone says about tofu’s versatility. It has nothing on the lowly potato.  Fry them, roast them, coat them in a slick of olive oil with salt and pepper, and you have dinner. Ok, maybe not the most balanced dinner, but let a girl dream once in a while. If you want something green, broccoli, potato, and sharp cheddar cheese is even tasty if you do get lazy and make everything in a microwave. Not that we own a microwave.*

If you haven’t gathered this already, I will never tire of potatoes.

But I thought I had tried pretty much every variation I could think of, until I came across this recipe from 50 great curries of India, by Camellia Panjabi.  These potatoes are boiled, and then tossed in hot oil with some turmeric, mustard seeds, lentils, chile powder, and curry leaves.  The curry leaves are reminiscent of garam masala, but more vibrant somehow, and they transfer their frangrance to the potatoes far more thoroughly than I would have expected from a quick toss in a pot.

The end result? The most addicting, exotic homefries you will ever taste.  Hot or cold, this dish is both simple and impressive, and goes quite well with any sort of curry.  Or you could just eat them for dinner as is.

The only catch, really, is finding a source of fresh curry leaves.  Around here, the only place I’ve ever seen them is the Asian market in M&M farms, which seems to get boxes of them in sporadically.  Luckily, they freeze well, so stock up.

*For the record, we killed ours. It is resting peacefully in the basement, along with all our other broken stuff that I loathe to get rid of when we finally get out of this city for good.

Recipe after the jump.

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Filed under main, potatoes, side, vegan, vegetarian

More reasons to start a garden

Food porn opportunities are everywhere

Food porn opportunities are everywhere

Check out the gorgeous beans, tomatoes, and squash. Oh, the squash … We made some tonight, and it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. Not grainy, like you get sometimes with acorn or kabocha squash that’s been sitting in your grocery store for something like an eternity, but smooth and supple, with a sweetness that makes dessert entirely unnecessary. Oh, and the flowering thai basil just makes me excited. But yah, that’s enough fawning over produce for one night.  I’ve got places to be. Tomorrow morning, in fact. I’m off to California, to visit a friend, say hello to some family, and go to a conference. And I have serious food plans. A tasting menu at Melisse in LA, lunch at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, and more excursions to the Cheese Board in Berkeley, because why wouldn’t I go if the conference is in Oakland? I want more bread …. Oh, and sourdough is calling my name.

squash warts

squash warts

But that’s tomorrow. For now, I want to leave you with one bizarre and sort of cool observation: those funny bumps you see sometimes on squash? That’s where it rests on the ground. It makes its own pillow!  And two, you can make an awesome meal from a random assortment of veggies, a few spices, tortillas, and cheese.  If the veggies are good, you really don’t even need the cheese.

Funky delicious potato

Funky delicious potato

So, I want to give you some ideas for an easy vegetarian meal. This isn’t really a recipe — just the best easy meal you could have on a Friday night.  You can use any veggies that take your fancy, as long as they’ll roast well.

My meal

My meal

We started with the garden produce we had on hand — a squash, bush beans, and a few peppers. We added in one very funky looking (but delicious) farmer’s market potato, and some cauliflower, button mushrooms, a bit of garlic (unpeeled), and rainbow carrots from the store.  We cut the squash into quarters, after scooping out the seeds, cut all the remaining veggies into similarly sized chunks, and pre-heated the oven to 425 degrees F.  After tossing everything except the potatoes in olive oil, salt, pepper, a tablespoon of freshly ground coriander seed, and a smaller portion of ground cumin (maybe < 1 t.), we placed everything in baking tins and threw it in the oven. For the potatoes, we tossed them in salt, pepper, olive oil, and spanish paprika. When everything was fork tender (maybe 1 hour later — this is a 1 dish go-about-your-business sort of dinner), we heated up a bit of cheddar cheese on some store-bought tortillas (habanero lime, from Trader Joe’s), and made our own fajitas.

The boys dinner

The boy's dinner

We both had the squash on the side, because it was easier. I didn’t feel like peeling it. But you could cut it up and roast it, too, or fork bits of it into your tortilla. You could use butternut squash, or acorn squash as a substitute, and it’d work perfectly.

This was a great first vegetarian night. We both got exactly what we wanted in a meal, no meat required. Really, even the cheese wasn’t that necessary — the veggies were tasty enough.  And I am definitely going to be excited about setting up a garden again next spring. Bring on the seed catalogs!

I’m not done yet …

James suggested I tell you what we grew this year, so here’s a list, with a few comments:

  • Pink brandywines – awesome heirloom tomatoes, and much cheaper to grow than to buy. They’re a bit finicky if you live in a rainy environment, but how indulgent is brandywine tomato sauce? You will be making a lot of it from the tomatoes bugs started tasting first.
  • Sungold tomatoes – these are orange cherry tomatoes. They’re a hybrid, a heavy producer, and are DELICIOUS.  Slow roast them and savor them in everything.
  • Yellow pear tomatoes – these are cute but not as tasty as sungolds, and definitely not as disease resistant. We won’t be growing these again next year.
  • Yellow and purple bush beans, haricots verts. The yellow and purple bush beans are my favorite. They seem to achieve a nicer texture when cooked, and have a nice flavor. The haricots verts really didn’t produce much at all.
  • Swiss chard – Awesome. They’re gorgeous, and they keep throwing up stalks when you cut some off for dinner. They weren’t terribly prolific in our garden, but we had enough to feed us with greens all summer.
  • Sweet nantes carrots – Also awesome. These are small, and really need to be grown in potting soil, because CT has rocks everywhere. They’re sweet and flavorful, and have a cute wrinkly witch finger look about them.
  • Arugula – Yum, but eat it before it gets warm and starts flowering. It gets bitter once it gets leggy.
  • Thai and genovese basil. Both varieties did really well as companion plants for the tomatoes, and gave us some tasty meals. The thai basil is gorgeous — it has lovely purple flowers, and a slightly exotic taste (gee, you think?). It’s also hardier than the typical genovese, but is a bit too strong for pesto.
  • A fingerling potato from the Union Square market – Complete failure. It seemed like it was going to work, but it died off, and then there was nothing left in the soil!
  • Sage, marjoram, oregano, cilantro, rosemary. All good herbs to have. We kept these in pots, since they can be brought inside when it starts to get cold.
  • Pea shoots. You can eat these, and they’re easy. They also like cold weather. They’re so cute — they have curly tendrils!
  • Onions, shallots. These hated our rocky soil. I did get the onions to grow a bit, and pickled them when they were still pretty small. Yum.
  • Kale – these are just tiny shoots right now, because we just planted them. They look happy, and are a cold weather crop, so I can’t wait to see how they do.
  • Peppers — I bought a 5 variety mix, and I think we had three different types pop up. I have no idea what kind — some kind of bell pepper, some longer, low-heat pepper, and I think some jalapeños. Yum.

Ok, that’s all I can remember so far. My flight leaves early, so I’m off to sleep. I’ll be back before Halloween, with an awesome lime cookie recipe, and some reports on Zuni Cafe and Melisse. See you then!


Filed under carrots, cheese, gardening, garlic, local, main, potatoes, roasted vegetables, San Francisco, squash, stories, travel, vegetarian

In which I confront a barramundi with a butter knife and a paper towel

It looks so innocent at first...

It looks so innocent at first...

You all should know by now that I tend to think labor isn’t worth much. At least, when it happens to be my own. So it should come as no surprise when I tell you I walked into Victoria Markets in Melbourne and decided to buy a whole fish. Despite the fact that I had no oven, and would have to fillet the damn thing myself with a knife that is probably older than I am. Not that I have a thing against old knives, but imagine one that hasn’t been sharpened in that amount of time, and you’ll understand what I’m getting at.

I wanted a barramundi, and I didn’t want to pay more than $10/kg for it (that is a little less than $5/lb for those of you back home). I figured I had found a place with a kitchen for a reason, right? Of course, if you’ve ever stayed in such a place, you may already realize that these apartments are not designed with the “gourmet” food snob in mind. The cutting board was the size of a small paperback book, and my fish wasn’t exactly tiny. The fish I chose was the smallest one I could find, and it actually weighed about a kilo. But it cost me $10. And I would get the head and all!

Which would make sense if I were at home and planning to make fish stock. Right.

Anyway, I made a huge mess cutting this thing into fillets. I probably even wasted a bit of its sweet, moist flesh. But I got there, eventually. I didn’t do much else to it — I cooked it in a bit of butter, with some garlic, salt, and pepper, and served it hot with a bit of lemon juice. The beautiful part about this was that I would have cooked it that way even if I were at home. You don’t need much to make this fish tasty.

You cant get much simpler than this.

You can't get much simpler than this.

I served it with some kale (or cavolo nero, as they called it in the market), which I sauteed in the same buttery garlicky mess I cooked the fish in, and some fingerling-like potatoes, which I got a kick out of because they were still covered in dirt. For the record, if you don’t mind washing potatoes yourself here in Australia, you can save yourself a bit of cash. Which is awesome when food actually costs what it should.

This also paired beautifully with the bread I found on St. Kilda. For the bread obsessed out there, here’s a close-up of the crumb:

No, its not a proper cross section. Remember, Im working with primitive tools.

No, it's not a proper cross section. I couldn't be bothered - trust me, it was gorgeous.

Too bad I have yet to find such a specimen in Canberra, where I’m setting in at the moment. The experiment is next week, and I’ve been working my ass off, so really, I don’t have much to report. I did make a mean curry udon noodle soup tonight with some drastically reduced Chinese broccoli, but I’ll save that for another night. In the meantime, check out my flickr page for a few shots from my short tour of the Dandenongs on Puffing Billy (I am a cheesy tourist sometimes) / on foot, depending on the view, and some foodie stuff from tonight. No actual pictures of Canberra yet, which is unsurprising because I’ve seen the man-made lake from a runner’s perspective and the inside of the lab. Oh, and the grocery store after dark. Exciting stuff, no? But more is soon to come, if I don’t manage to completely destroy my camera in the meantime. I busted the lens cover, apparently … Travel’s fun like that sometimes.


Filed under Australia, main, potatoes, stories

Camping up the coast

Big Sur

Highway 1 unwinds slowly, precariously, across the state I once called home, inviting only the most daring (or deranged) into the rocky waters of its Northern shores. It’s been decades since I’ve been along this coast, and the first time I’m the one behind the wheel, and oh, it’s so much scarier when you’re the one in charge of navigating its mountainous terrain. But it was good to be home.

Yes, I climbed half dome, cables and all.

I had forgotten how raw the coast of Northern California looks in comparison to Connecticut’s gentle shores. Traversing the whole state is like going through a series of different worlds, as elevation, natural resources, latitude, and human interference transforms the land completely within the span of a few miles. If you’ve never seen it, book a ticket and go. Rent a car and take Highway 1, as long as you’re South of San Francisco. Above SF, you’re in for a bout of car sickness that never ends, as the roads get ever more precarious as you approach its intersection with 101. At the very least, plan to camp along the route; making it to Prairie Creek State Park near Orick from Fresno via SFO in one day was utter madness. Somewhere in there, go inland and check out Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. Yosemite (and the hike / climb up Half Dome) was probably the highlight of my trip, though the redwoods in Prairie Creek State Park managed to make us laugh.


But this is a food blog. I’m not going to go on and on about the trails we took and the places we went. I’ll spare you the experience of seeing an RV, complete with satellite dish, set up in the midst of one of the most gorgeous campgrounds I’ve had the privilege of staying in. I’ll even skip our encounter with the mountain lion (on the trail! Here!) Instead, I’ll tell you how I managed to keep us fed without resorting to bags of chips and MREs, and I’ll try to give you some pointers (so you can learn from my mistakes).


Before we get started, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. You will miss your oven. Starting a fire without a pilot light or even lighter fluid is not my forte — enough so that getting the fire going gradually became James’s job. We had matches, wood, and whatever we could find around our campsite for tinder: leaves, pine needles, chocolate bar wrappers, etc. So … good luck. And take a few cans of sterno along in case of emergencies (or for morning coffee, which could be considered an emergency depending on your morning disposition).
  2. Don’t plan anything too complicated. Roasted vegetables from roadside farm stands are awesome, and we ate a lot of them. Barring that, roasted vegetables of any kind are pretty damn good. Pair them with a high protein grain (quinoa) or any other protein / carb combination I describe below.
  3. You don’t need a cooler for anything I suggest here. Cheese and butter are fine without refrigeration for a couple of days, and I stuck to mostly vegetarian meals simply out of necessity. This new one checked bag policy is a bitch, but hey, the whole point of camping is to make do with what you have, right? (Ok, tell that to the souped up RV in the campsite next to you. Especially when they turn on their @#$%@#$ generator at 11 pm).
  4. A cast iron pan is a very good thing to bring along. My friend P, who joined us for the last leg of the trip, brought hers along for the trip, and it made dinner so much easier. That said, we did fine with foil and copious amounts of vegetable oil as well.
  5. You don’t need a full pantry. A few must haves for me were salt, flour, powdered milk, yeast, oil, baking soda, honey / agave nectar, coffee (and a coffee cone), s’mores ingredients, cheap wine or red wine vinegar (for flavoring vegetables as they roast), onions, potatoes, garlic — lots and lots of garlic, lemons, quinoa, trail mix, powdered chicken broth, and masa. Everything else was based on what looked best at wherever we happened to shop. Fresh fruit and veg, a bit of cheese, and a few cans of sardines (for protein! If you’re repulsed, pick up some canned beans instead) rounded out the campground pantry. Oh, and you don’t need all of this. We were gone for 2 weeks, so pick and choose as you like.
  6. Bring measuring spoons, or cook by proportions. Baking soda is the only thing to really worry about, but your food will still taste good if your teaspoon isn’t exactly a teaspoon.
  7. Don’t forget the tongs. Seriously. I did, and my fingers regretted it.


Ok, so here are the “recipes” and ideas for meals. I use quotes because I didn’t really measure anything on this trip. I also don’t have pictures of everything, just because it was usually late by the time dinner finished, and my camera is afraid of the dark. Oh, and the challah recipe is finally here, as promised. Scroll to the bottom if that’s all you’re interested in. Finally, I’ll have some recommendations for great places to eat (on a budget) San Francisco in my next post.

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Filed under baking, baking tips, bread, breakfast, camping, carrots, cheese, corn tortillas, lemon, main, milk, potatoes, quick bread, roasted vegetables, soup, stew, stories, vegetarian, wine

Creamy cod? (and a meme)

Mmm, fishy

Mmm… Cod.

Ok, maybe that’s not the first thing you thought when you saw this picture. Believe me, I was skeptical, too. Especially since I’m actually talking about bacala, or salt cod. Yah, the stuff you can probably cause some serious brain damage with if you decide to backhand someone with the nearest piece of dried fish.  But bear with me for a second; I promise, I won’t lead you astray. Unless, of course, you hate fish — in which case, I really can’t help you.

Milky goodness

So imagine the best white fish you’ve ever had, paired ever so perfectly with amazingly buttery, completely creamy mashed potatoes. The combination of the creamy, buttery smoothness with that addictive fatty fish taste is essentially highlighted in this brandade, and pairs beautifully with crusty peasant bread and a few other basic necessities. Apart from that, we’ve been eating it all week, and aren’t sick of it yet. So if you’re curious about bacala, go try it!

Post blender

On a completely unrelated note, I sometimes think it’d be cool to have a more interesting name. See, everyone knows a Liz or two, so when Marty memes me, he might not actually mean ME. But hey, I’ve never been memed, so I’ll give it a go regardless.

Here are the rules:
A) The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
B) Each player answers the questions about himself or herself.
C) At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

1) Ten years ago I was…
A very awkward high school student, and the new kid, at that.

2) Five things on today’s to-do list:
Update my publications list, finish a proposal, clean up my office, procrastinate on my blog, and wash lots of a scary amount of fries down with plenty of cheap beer (and an awesome Guinness cake).

3) Things I’d do if I were a billionaire:

Revolutionize the school cafeteria programs across the country in an effort to change food culture in the US for the better, set up some education programs to help people all over start local agriculture projects and make some progress on ending world hunger, and throw some serious money at revolutionizing the public transit / pedestrian / bike systems in the US in order to help wean us all off our gas guzzling lifestyle. Ok, that’d all probably take more than a few billion, but it’s good to dream, no? Alternatively, I could build my own radioactive beam facility. Frankly, I think the first few projects are more worthwhile (shh, don’t tell my lab!).

4) Three bad habits:

(1) I can’t make a decision to save my life, (2) I know I’ll forget people’s names unless I see them written, so I tend not to try very hard, and (3) Caffeine:Liz :: Speed:Everyone

5) Five places I’ve lived:

  • San Jose, CA (don’t remember that one. Was it Santa Clara? I don’t know — somewhere near the two)
  • Fresno, CA
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Santa Barbara, CA
  • New Haven, CT (Yes, that’s 6, but experimentalists can’t count anyway)

6) Six jobs I’ve had in my life:

Custodian, Returns Processor, Bakery clerk, Library slave, Medical records entry slave, Lab slave (see a theme?)

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Filed under appetizers, meme, olive oil, potatoes, salt cod, spreads, Uncategorized