January 2008

Sweet Potato Pot Pie

With the chilly, rainy nights we’ve been having these days, there’s really nothing better than staying at home where it’s dry and warm. To be honest, our apartment is not the furnace that I would like it to be (or we would go broke from the electricity bill and the earth would be unhappy with us). So here’s my secret to staying warm: I look for every excuse to turn on the oven. Yes, I know that the oven still contributes to our PG&E bill and we’re still using up precious natural resources, but for some reason, I can justify it to myself better when food is involved.

Even if you don’t share my love for gratuitous oven usage, you should still try this recipe from 101 cookbooks, courtesy of Heidi (note that I’m not saying she endorses my gratuitous oven usage either).

While I’ve always been a big fan of chicken pot pies, I must admit that my expectations were low, given that the only vegetarian pot pies I’ve ever had are those frozen ones you buy at the ‘health foods’ section of grocery stores (bleh). This pot pie blew me away and just might have convinced me that meat is not necessary for a fantastic pot pie.


Cranberry Harvest Muffins

When I was in college, I never really ate breakfast. But nowadays, I can’t even leave the house until I munch on something, even if it’s something little. I have no idea when this change happened or why, but I think in general, I like it because I like breakfast foods. Honestly, how can anyone not like eggs and bacon and sausage?

However, most weekdays, I don’t really have time to make any sort of fancy eggy dishes before rushing off to work. So I like to make sure the house is stocked with a few easy and quick breakfast options. Muffins are great for this purpose – you spend a little time baking a batch on a weekend or weekday evening, let them cool for a bit, then throw them in a freezer bag. Then, whenever you feel the urge for a quick breakfast, you pop them in the microwave for a minute or so. Ding! And you’ve got a steamy-warm muffin, almost as if they just came out of the oven.

Since winter is not exactly the season of delicious fruits and we’re good little consumers who eat with the seasons, let’s turn to our favorite contessa, the Barefoot Contessa. On one of her shows, she gave a recipe for Harvest Muffins, loaded with tart cranberries and gooey dried figs. Mine’s basically the same, except I said no to hazelnuts and replaced them with almonds instead.


Linguine with Arugula and Black Pepper

You know what? I used to be addicted to those super-quick pasta packages you find at the supermarket – you know, the Kraft mac-n-cheeses and the Pasta Ronis in assorted flavors. When I was in college, my roommates and I had a little hot plate in our dorm room, to which we would resort when the food at the dining hall was especially terrible that day. When all you have is a single hot plate and a little saucepan (and a whole night of homework ahead of you), those instant pasta things came in pretty handy. When I graduated from college, I would still turn to those pasta packages when I didn’t have time to really cook. When I moved to Berkeley and decided to eat healthier and more organic, I started buying Annie’s mac-n-cheese instead.

Today, I’m proud to say I’ve been Kraft-free (and Pasta-Roni-free and Annie-free) for about 2 years. How did I kick the habit? By discovering some awesome pasta dishes that literally take as little time to prepare as those pasta packages but taste ten times better. My favorite one to turn to is still this linguine dish I learned from the lovely Giada De Laurentiis, back when I still watched Food Network. Cheesy, buttery, and peppery (both from the black pepper and arugula), pasta doesn’t get simpler or tastier than this.

With a grand total of six ingredients (three of which you should have already lying around your kitchen) and a preparation time clocking in at 10-15 min, you too can kick your instant pasta habit. The first step, of course, is to admit you have a problem in the first place.



One of my presents from this past Christmas was a Macy’s gift card (thanks, John and Pam!). Although I had every intention of going into the store and buying some much-needed new jeans, I “accidentally” strolled into the kitchen section. There, sitting on a shelf with a big “50% off” tag on it, was a shiny red enameled cast-iron pot! No, it wasn’t a Le Creuset. It was a “Martha Stewart Collection” but when one is a grad student, one cannot be too picky.

So it was that we came home with Nathan lugging “Martha” up the stairs. A few days later, Martha ventured out of her box and onto our stove, where she helped us prepare a deliciously huge pot of chile verde. We even bought masa and made fresh corn tortillas to celebrate her maiden voyage. *Sniff* She made us so proud.

And honestly, who needs jeans when one has chile verde??



The other day, Nathan and I finally watched the movie ‘Hot Fuzz,’ a British comedy/parody of Hollywood-blockbuster-style buddy-cop flicks. e.g. ‘Bad Boys’, ‘Point Break’. The movie started out a bit slow but then ended up being one of the funniest movies I’ve seen.

How does this relate at all to Christmas cookies? It doesn’t really, except that Spitzbuebe means ‘bad boys’, so I would have that stupid ‘Bad boys bad boys, whatcha gonna do …’ song in my head when I make these. Hopefully, that won’t happen to you. Anyway, Spitzbuebe are light and buttery shortbread cookies sandwiching a layer of raspberry jam and dusted with confectioners’ sugar. The only downside to them is that these delicate little things get stale relatively easily, so you can’t really keep them around for the whole holiday season. But this makes them the perfect cookies to bring to holiday parties and dinners!

Spitzbuebe cookies are a bit labor- and time-intensive to make at home, because you need to keep dough relatively cold or it becomes really difficult (read: sticky) to work with. What this means is that you can only work with a little bit of dough at a time, forcing you to bake in multiple small batches versus a few big batches.

One trick I’ve found to keep the dough cold, especially if you have a warm kitchen, is to stick a rimless cookie sheet in the freezer and use that as your work surface when rolling out the dough. Whenever you put another batch of cookies in the oven and are waiting for them to bake (~12 min), put the cookie sheet back in the freezer to rechill it for the next round of dough work.