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Szechuan-style Green Beans

Green beans is one of these ingredients that has always stumped me. Whenever we get a big bag of them in our CSA box, I inevitably throw them in the fridge, ignore them for as long as possible, and then wind up just blanching them and eating them in giant dinner-size salads. Which, admittedly, is not such a bad thing every once in a while, but even I can’t bring myself to eat giant dinner-size salads more than once or twice a week.

It seems, then, that I need an alternative green bean strategy. For a while, I attempted the ‘French tactic’ – by purposely calling them ‘haricot vert’, I thought it would make them sound much more exotic and delectable. But sadly, I found that while I did enjoy saying the phrase (especially many times in a row), I still had no good ideas on what to do with this giant pile of now-fancy ‘haricot vert’.

So when we recently got another big bag of green beans (ahem, ‘haricot vert’), I opted for a ‘Chinese tactic’. I had eaten a Szechuan-style dish featuring slightly charred green beans in this deliciously salty/sweet/tangy sauce a long time ago and I decided to try to recreate this dish. After some research, I learned that the biggest trick is to ‘dry-fry’ the green beans until they get slightly soft and blistery – this actually takes longer than you would think for a vegetable that usually only takes a few minutes to blanch. But while you wait, you can mix up a sauce and chop up big piles of garlic, green onions, and ginger. Then you just throw everything together and the solution to the Green Bean Dilemma will be literally at your fingertips.

I will never dread the arrival of green beans again.

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Baked Eggs

Recently, I’ve been having another bout of my so-called ‘brunchitis’, an unfortunate condition where I cringe at the thought of going to brunch. You see, brunch and I have what you might called one of those complicated love-hate relationships.

If you know me, you already know that I love brunch and have been known to declare this fact loudly and often. And let’s be honest here, if you don’t love the idea of a lazy morning lingering over cups of coffee (or Bloody Marys) and munching on deliciously eggy dishes with perhaps a ribbon or two of crispy-chewy bacon, I will most likely declare you to be a bit loco, especially if I’ve had a couple of those Bloody Marys. But like any relationship, my relationship with brunch every so often comes across an obstacle, one which makes my love falter and questions my devotion.

This obstacle is what is commonly known as the San Francisco Brunch Scene.

Like myself, it turns out that the city of San Francisco loves brunch. The overall result is, unsurprisingly, huge crowds gathering at brunch-serving locales all across the city, leading to over-an-hour waits and lines so long that I would feel bad doing any sort of lingering over anything. It only takes a few encounters with the SF Brunch Scene for me to develop this rather terrible condition of ‘brunchitis’ and I’m quarantined at home on weekend mornings.

Being a veteran of this condition though, I’ve developed a few trusty ‘home-opathic’ remedies, one of which is these baked eggs. I first had these in a little French cafe I lived near and have been absolutely addicted to them ever since. A while later, I saw Ina Garten prepare them on TV and committed the basic method to memory. Trust me, baking eggs is so easy that once you’ve done it, you won’t even need to look for a recipe next time – well, if you can even call what’s written below a recipe.

If ‘brunchitis’ should strike you too, baked eggs like these, enjoyed luxuriously slowly with a steaming cup of coffee, will cure you in no time and reaffirm your love of brunch. Before you know it, you’ll be back out there with the rest of the city, writing your name on that little clipboard at Zazie’s.

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In order to get my sister and I to finish every single grain of rice in our bowls, my grandmother used to tell us that leaving rice grains would mean our future husbands would be ugly. “What do you mean ‘ugly’, grandma?” we asked. “Lots of pockmarks. Or freckles. Or both!” exclaimed my grandmother.

Unfortunately for my grandmother, marrying yucky boys was the last thing on our minds. So she quickly revised her strategy: not finishing all your rice would mean we would grow up with lots of freckles! Yikes! From then on, not one grain of rice was seen in anyone’s rice bowl. Funny thing is, little did she know that we would one day grow up and live in a country where people actually think freckles are cute!

(I hope I’m not giving anyone the impression that my grandmother was cruel because she was the sweetest and kindest woman. She just had a funny strategy of asking us to finish our dinner.)

Thanks to my grandmother’s efforts, the philosophy of not wasting food is now permanently etched in my brain. So, what does that have to do with flatbread? If you’ll remember (from what seems like ages ago), the creation of a certain sourdough starter (admit it, you thought I killed it already, didn’t you!) and its continual maintenance (ha! but I didn’t!) generate enough leftover starter that I can feel the onset of freckles just from thinking about dumping it in the trash.

What to do … what to do? Thanks to a recipe from breadtopia, slight modifications, and an expectation of something more like flatbread than a fluffy pizza, not one grain(?) of wheat will go to waste!

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Winter has definitely arrived in San Francisco. I conclude this not from any sudden changes in weather, but from the millions of holiday sale signs and the constant barrage of holiday jingles everywhere you go. My conclusion is also supported by the appearance of winter veggies in our farm box – winter squashes, sweet potatoes, leeks, etc. What? No kale?? That’s right – no kale yet! This makes me sad (I’ve been wanting to make a big pot of caldo verde for a while now) but probably makes numerous other subscribers happy.

In any case, with my kale soup visions as yet unrealized, I have to resort to other soup options. Roasted butternut squash soup is always a popular item, but since we haven’t received any butternut squashes, I figured any winter squash should work (I was right). The squash we got was a ‘delicata’ squash (also called sweet potato squash), which is pretty much like a pumpkin but sweeter and creamier. A quick roast in the oven, toss in plenty of ginger and spices, and you’ve got a soup that’ll warm you right up – perfect for those cold and foggy winter nights when one’s stuck at home working on one’s thesis (and by ‘one’, I really mean Nathan).

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

Since Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday (how can I not love a day all about cooking, eating, and hanging out??), I always get very excited when the end of November rolls around. With most of my friends being foodies also, the last few Thanksgivings have ended up being cooking marathons, when we try out as many cool recipes as possible.

This year, however, I celebrated a quieter Thanksgiving with my sister. With just the two of us, I vetoed the idea of buying a turkey (much to her dismay) and instead we made Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken instead. That recipe is truly amazing! Ok, so you do need to plan ahead and salt the chicken (use the term “dry brine” to impress your friends) two days in advance, but the resulting product is more than worth it. Juicy, flavorful, with a super-crispy skin – basically, everything you want your roast chicken to be.

As for sides, we went with a spinach salad with persimmons+blue cheese+candied walnuts (recipe follows), some beautiful golden-crusted brussel sprouts a la Heidi of 101 Cookbooks (although we did put in less cheese, opting for a lighter side dish since we had so much chicken to deal with), and a chestnut and wild mushroom stuffing a la Jardinière (to which we added a bit of sausage).

(Unfortunately, I had high hopes for the chestnuts in the stuffing and while the dish tasted great, the chestnuts didn’t really add much so I would probably skip the chestnuts next time. As long as you have a good selection of wild mushrooms – we combined cheap non-wild creminis with dried porcinis and a couple of chantrelles – the stuffing will taste amazing anyway.)

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Is it weird that I’ve never gotten a flu shot?

I’ve lived 30 years of my life with the explicit mission of getting poked by as little number of needles as possible and it’s done me pretty well so far. But last week, I started to wonder if I need to reconsider my stated mission. Not that I’ve kept track, but looking back, I think I have gotten the flu every time I start to see flyers about getting your flu shots. Hmm…

When I was little, every time I would get sick, my parents would make me eat giant bowls of really bland noodles in a clear soup with a few chunks of fish floating around – what I dubbed ‘sicky noodles’. Even now, when I see ‘fish soup with noodles’ on any menu, I associate it with sickliness and avoid it at all cost. (“Why not order something with taste instead??”)

Unsurprisingly, being sick makes me not want to cook. Well, not much anyway. While I still can’t bring myself to cook ‘sicky noodles’, I have started to believe in the power of jook (or congee, or rice porridge, whatever you want to call it). Jook is probably on the comfort food list of every Cantonese person — even my sister who hated jook when she was young now craves it every so often.

So last Thursday, since I was just laying on the couch feeling miserable, I decided I might as well be useful and babysit a big cauldron of jook I can have for dinner. Jook is easy but takes quite a bit of time – when you’re down with the flu, though, time is something you’ve got plenty of.

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Coming back home from vacation is always both a bit sad (that vacation’s over) and a bit happy (to be back home). I always look forward to being able to cook in my kitchen again. Not that I don’t enjoy eating out or anything, but cooking is so relaxing that it’s hard for me to go without it for a long time. Are those the words of an addict?

Of course, the first few nights back usually mean staring into an empty fridge and a freezer with frozen chicken pieces (courtesy of Brian during his move). Luckily for us, we had our veggie box pick-up pretty soon after we got back. A quick stop to Trader Joe’s to grab some dried pasta and we were able to improvise a decent dinner. By the way, Trader Joe’s started carrying a new kind of pasta – Bucati!! For some odd reason, I really like hollow pastas.

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