Book Review

Book Review: An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler

I’m glad Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal (my Amazon Associates link) was next on my book club’s list. As I hate wasting food and love to stretch a dollar, I’ve wanted to read this book for a while now. Adler’s beautiful message is this: there is no real beginning or end to a meal. The leftover ingredients at the end of one meal are the first step of the next meal. Though I sometimes do not use them, I know that you can cook with things that you might think of as kitchen scraps–bones, beet greens, stale bread. What she talks about that I’ve never thought about using is the oil in canned food, the liquid your jarred olives sit it, the flavorful water you’ve made after boiling food. I noticed I already started incorporating her style into my cooking after only getting through the first chapters. I reserved the oil from my tin of anchovies, as well as the leftover liquid from my stewed collard greens. I threw my neglected pine nuts into a pasta dish that did not ask for them.

But this book isn’t just about being thrifty and using things up–it’s a lovely philosophy on cooking. As long as you have some staples like salt, olive oil, parmesan, and breadcrumbs, you can turn just about anything into a simple, elegant meal. She also gives you ideas on how to elevate your meal with things like vinegar and fresh herbs, and even how to turn food gone wrong into something very right. I’ve always classified my cooking into two categories–recipes I follow or create, or my “ghetto meals”. The latter is when I want to use up leftovers. I completely give up on the idea of making it tasty because I just need to consume fuel and not waste food. An Everlasting Meal has inspired me to never feel the need to make a “ghetto meal” again. With just a little effort, I can take my kitchen scraps and turn them into something delicious that I’m not ashamed to eat. I’m glad I read this book before Hurricane Sandy came to New York–I’ve made surprisingly delicious meals during the hurricane with canned lentils and chickpeas that have been sitting in the cupboard for over a year.

My only issue with the book is also really one of its strengths. I love that Adler floods you with ideas and lessons in beautiful prose. This makes it a lovely read. But on a practical level, my process-driven brain is screaming, ahhh! I need all these ideas and recipes written down in organized bullet points so I can refer to them later. I know that was probably the author’s intentions, but it’s a shame because I’d much rather make everything else she talks about than the actual step-by-step recipes in the book. That’s OK, though. It just means I’ll be coming back to An Everlasting Meal again and again.

Please check out The Kitchen Reader, and Sarah’s blog, Simply Cooked!

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Cooking Skills and Tools

A Trick to Caramelize Onions “Fast”

Photo credits: little blue hen

Caramelized onions are soooo good, but I think a lot of us are put off by how long it takes to make them. If you ever see a recipe saying it’ll take you less than an 20 minutes, they’re lying. But fear not, I have a little trick when I need caramelized onions that doesn’t make me feel like I’m wasting an hour at the stove.

Heat up some olive oil over medium heat, then put your sliced onion in the pan and coat with the oil. Turn your stove down to a very low heat. Now go and put on an hour-long TV show on Hulu or your DVR. At every commercial break, go back to the stove and stir your onions for a bit, and return to your show when you’re done. By the time your show is over, you can turn off your stove and your onions will be caramelized. You can’t cheat and make fast caramelized onions, but I promise the TV show method will feel quick and easy!

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Dessert

The 2012 Ice Pop Project: Maple & Squash Pumpkin Pie

I know you must be wondering why I’m still making ice pops when it’s cold. But I promise, this is the last one for 2012. I saw  this recipe for Maple & Squash Pumpkin Pie Popsicles during early summer. I absolutely love squash so it looked delicious, yet the thought of buying a butternut squash in June felt ridiculous. So I saved the recipe for several months, waiting for winter squashes to arrive at the farmers market.

It wasn’t the most irresistible ice pop I made, but as a fan of squash and pumpkin spice, I find this ice pop to be tasty nonetheless. Considering it’s about 250 calories each and is mainly made up of a vegetable, I’d say this is pretty healthy for a dessert. And if you use quality maple syrup and heavy cream too, go ahead and enjoy this with zero guilt!

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Cooking Skills and Tools

How to Love Leftovers

I’ve never had trouble eating leftovers. I don’t just tolerate it, I kind of love it! I know an alarming amount of people who don’t dig leftover food, so I’m here to convince you to get into it.

Why You Should Love Leftovers

  • You get to eat a delicious meal all over again the next day.
  • While your coworkers are paying $7 for a crappy sandwich, you brought in last night’s fancy dinner for lunch.
  • You stretch your dollar and save money in the long run.
  • Some things taste even better the next day.
  • You’re not pressured to eat the whole thing if you’re full.
  • You can feel good about not wasting food.
  • When you have a meal waiting for you in the fridge or freezer, you have no excuse to buy fast food because you don’t feel like cooking.
  • You can have fun turning your leftovers into something else! (see next list)

What To Do With Leftovers

  • Eat it as is. Bring it back to life with a microwave, oven, or toaster.
  • Put it in an omelette or frittata. Or just top with a fried egg.
  • Put it in a taco or a burrito.
  • Make a sandwich.
  • Make soup with it.
  • Serve it over pasta.
  • Put it in the freezer (if it freezes well) so you have a back up plan when there’s no food in the house.

Do you like leftovers? What do you do with them?

 

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Lunch and Dinner

Warm Up And Nourish Yourself With This Tomato and Sweet Potato Soup

I am back from Europe! I had such a wonderful time–the wedding in France was beautiful, we met some great people, and we had lots of fun exploring Amsterdam. But let me tell you, I did not take care of myself AT ALL. Between the drinking, eating insane amounts of cake, not sleeping, and walking around in the cold all day, I came home with the sniffles and a sore throat.

It’s getting chilly here in New York too, and all I want is soup. One that will flood my deprived body with the nutrients it needs. So I made a simple but hearty soup made up of a variety of super healthy, cancer-fighting ingredients. Make a Tea and Berries Green Smoothie in the same day and you’ve got one delicious detox right there!

Nourishing Tomato and Sweet Potato Soup
Makes about 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups diced sweet potato
1 can (28-ounce) whole peeled tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped broccoli or cauliflower
1/2 cup pinto or red kidney beans
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and sweet potato. Saute until the sweet potatoes start to brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the whole can of tomatoes, including liquid, cauliflower or broccoli, and chicken broth to the pot. Bring to a simmer, then cook until the potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the turmeric and beans and simmer for a couple of minutes more. Stir in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and let the soup cool.

Working in batches if needed, transfer the soup to a blender and purée until smooth. If serving immediately, return to the pot to warm up, and then ladle the soup into serving bowls. Feel free to stir in a tablespoon of heavy cream or top with some shredded cheese, if you wish. Otherwise, you can keep the soup in the fridge or freezer. It will taste just as good tomorrow!

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Snacks

The Perfect Fall Snack: Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

I have a treat for you today! I’m still in Europe, but I have a guest post for you by the lovely Paula DiGioia from The Glorified Tomato. I look forward to making this healthy snack when I come home, and detox after lots of wine and cheese. Enjoy!

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Paula from The Glorified Tomato here, pumped to be guest posting for the first time on Eating Clean in the Dirty City!

Halloween was a big deal in the DiGioia house. My sisters and I couldn’t wait till our parents took us to Hicks Nursery. There we visited Otto the Ghost, ate candy apples and picked out our carving pumpkins. Natalie’s pumpkin always came out perfect. Maria often took it a bit too far, combining carving, paint, and sparkles – very “creative”! Mine I suppose was somewhere in between. We all loved carving pumpkins, but we never did anything with the seeds.

A few years back my husband and I started carving pumpkins together. It reminds me of being a kid and I like that feeling. Turns out his family always toasted pumpkin seeds and this is now one of my favorite fall snacks.

And pumpkin seeds are healthy too:

  • They’re a good sources of protein, as well as iron, zinc, manganese.
  • 25 grams of pumpkin seed can provide over 20 percent of your recommended daily iron intake.
  • Some eat the seeds as preventative measure against onset of anxiety attacks, clinical depression and other mood disorders.
  • Pumpkin seeds may prevent arteriosclerosis and can regulate cholesterol levels.

(via wikipedia)

I prefer the seeds roasted with salt and butter but you can sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar for a sweet snack if you prefer.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

1 cup raw whole pumpkin seeds (medium/large pumpkin)
3 teaspoons butter, melted
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Cut the top of your pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Clean the seeds in a strainer using water, removing all pumpkin pieces. Toss seeds in a bowl with melted butter and salt. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Stir occasionally so the seeds brown evenly.

Most importantly don’t forget to carve your pumpkin while the seeds are toasting!

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Food Thoughts

An Apple

We were in the last days of summer. The air was hot and thick, the sun oppressive. That morning I had gotten into a musty old van and was whisked away to the Catskills for a yoga class and hike. As promised, the tour guide ended the day-trip with a stop at a cute farm stand.

The city girls squealed in delight. “Do you know how much I would have paid for these blueberries in Manhattan?” one asked, to no one in particular. “I have never tasted grapes like these in my life. Taste one! Everyone taste one!” another cried. “How adorable are these watermelons?”

I smugly reminded my friend, unrightfully so, that this was nothing special for me. After all, I get farm fresh produce every Sunday at the farmers market I volunteer at. As if that made me any less of a fraud. I, like the rest of the group, had bought an online deal-of-the-day excursion for the novelty of pretending that I am one with nature.

It was technically true, though. I did have the privilege of weekly access to gorgeous local food. I had been enjoying the absolute best season for fruit–fruit of every shape, size, and color. There were the tart blueberries that went into crème fraiche muffins. The succulent peaches and plums that were baked under a crumble. The sweet nectarine that was sliced, diced, and stirred into muesli.

Then I saw a neglected crate of apples. Apples. I recalled how by the end of last winter, I became irritated by their tiring presence, monopolizing the entire fruit stand at the farmers market as pretty much no other fruit was in season. Yes, they were lovely. They made good companions to my morning oatmeal. And made a lovely sticky brandy cake. But even when they came in all their Fuji, Granny Smith, and Macintosh varieties, they were still apples. Their appeal continued to decline with every passing week. By February, I was begging for some new fruit. And when the new fruit did indeed slowly start showing up at the produce stalls, I scooped them up with delight, and continued to do so throughout the spring and summer. How soon we forget the nourishing winter squashes, kale, and sweet potatoes that sustained us through the seemingly never-ending, bone-chilling New York City winter. How soon we forgot about the apples.

I grabbed an apple and promptly paid for it. I stood at the entrance of the farm stand, holding the apple I had just purchased. It was dull, unimpressive. It wasn’t the apple’s fault. After all, it was competing with fruit of all kinds of vivacious colors. It was the first apple I had held in several months. It felt good in my hand. Unlike the some of the easily-bruised summer fruits, the apple was deceivingly light, but sturdy. With hygiene being the last thing on my mind, I brought the fruit to my mouth and took that first, seductive bite. I listened to the crunching sound it made when teeth pierce into an apple’s skin and flesh. I chewed quickly, as if it were an emergency, gulping down that sweet, thirst quenching juice. I could barely sustain the conversation I was half-heartedly engaging in. I was far too busy devouring. Before I knew it, I was left with nothing but a beat up, browning skeleton in my hand. I threw the remainder of the apple as far as I could into the faraway bushes, and fed the land that just fed me that one deeply satisfying apple.

Even then, I couldn’t say there was anything spectacular about it. I don’t know if it could compete with the more exotic, sexy summer fruits that the other girls were gushing over. But not everything in life needs to be spectacular. The apple is an old, faithful friend. A constant that weathers the changing seasons. A simple pleasure. And there is something wonderful about returning again and again to the simple pleasures.

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The blog

News!

Hey everyone! Just a quick post to let y’all know I am having an awesome two weeks. I ran my first 10K race, I finally got onto Tastespotting, one of my BFFs just got engaged, and I’m leaving for Europe today for my childhood best friend’s wedding. Life is treating me well :)

While I’m away, I’ve lined up two Eating Clean in the Dirty City posts for you, including our very first guest post! Now that the blog is over 6 months old, I’ve started investing time into some site improvements. For now, I’ve updated the About page with my background story, as well as adding a Recipes page. As you may have noticed, I’ve also tried stepping up my photography and content game. More improvements coming soon. For starters, I know the blog desperately needs a better look, logo, and banner. I’d love your feedback or thoughts if you have any!

You can follow Eating Clean in the Dirty City on Twitter and Pinterest.

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Book Review

Book Review: My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss

If you read the blog The Wednesday Chef, I’m sure you’ve heard blogger Luisa Weiss’ book My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (my Amazon Associates link) was published last month. I had actually never been to her website, but after reading about this book, I ordered a copy out of curiosity.

I was very disappointed in the last food-blogger-turned-memoir-writer’s book I read, but My Berlin Kitchen restored my faith. I could not put this book down. She brings all these delicious scenes from foreign countries to life, so you feel like you’re right there with her in Berlin/New York/Italy, etc. As a girl with dual citizenship living in a third country, Weiss’ story really spoke to me. I could relate to her struggles of not knowing where home really is, yet longing for it at the same time, and how food can transport you to another time and place when you’re feeling homesick. I highly recommend this My Berlin Kitchen.

There’s a also good selection of international recipes in the book that correspond to each chapter of her life. She talks about the best Niçoise Salad that she ever had, so I decided to try that recipe out out. The only problem was that I’ve never had a Niçoise Salad. Cooking a dish that you’ve never seen nor eaten is like taking a yoga class for the first time when the teacher isn’t demonstrating any moves. You’re being told what to do, but you’re not quite sure how it works or what it should look like. I don’t know if my salad came out right–it wasn’t irresistible. But it was tasty nonetheless. I liked the fact that there was so much going on on my plate and that the vegetables weren’t raw. Can’t wait to try the rest of her recipes!

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Lunch and Dinner

Saying Goodbye to Summer with Fish Tacos

Oh, fish tacos. You taste like summer vacation. It’s way, way past the first official day of Fall, yet I’ve been clinging. Last week, I was still wearing sandals and not enough layers. I ignored the new fall produce at the market and scooped up a bagful of peaches and tomatoes. By the end of the week I accepted that summer is gone and pulled my tights and coats out from storage. Fall is here! But today, I eat fish tacos. Today I say goodbye to summer.

My favorite fish taco in New York City is at Réunion Surf Bar. It’s one of the few foods I fall in love with over and over again, every single time I have it. I’m too wimpy to ask them how they make it, but last time I was there, I poked around my taco to see what I could identify. These Surf Bar Fish Tacos are not a recreation, but rather my homage to Réunion.

Battered and fried fish is de rigueur for tacos, but you know me. I’m not a big fan of deep frying. Why ruin what would otherwise be a healthy dish? I lightened up the recipe with some crispy panko-crusted baked fish. I’ve also included a stupid easy guacamole recipe if you don’t want to use store-bought stuff but can’t be bothered to make real guac. You’ll appreciate the Last Minute Guacamole when you have an ingredient list this long!

Surf Bar Fish Tacos
Makes 6 tacos

1 12oz fillet of tilapia, or other whitefish
Olive oil or cooking spray
1 egg white
6 tablespoons panko
2 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper
6 corn tortillas
Block of Monterey Jack cheese
6 tablespoons guacamole (see recipe below)
1 medium tomato, de-seeded and finely diced
1 jalapeño, de-seeded and finely diced
1 scallion, finely diced
Small handful of shredded red cabbage (optional)
1 small carrot, shredded
2 tablespoons of Thousand Island Dressing, or mayonnaise
Hot sauce
Fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the fish fillet into 6 2oz strips. Grease a baking sheet with the olive oil or cooking spray. Mix the panko and flour in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Dip each fish strip into the egg white, then the panko mixture to coat all surfaces. Place the crusted fish strips on the baking sheet and bake the fish on the top rack of the oven for about 5 minutes until cooked through, turning the baking sheet once for even cooking.

While the fish is cooking, start heating up the tortillas one by one in a dry pan over a low flame, until soft and warm. Wrap warm tortillas in a clean cloth.

Mix the diced tomato, jalapeño, scallion, and shredded cabbage together in a small bowl to make salsa mixture. In another small bowl, stir in a couple dashes of hot sauce into the thousand island dressing or mayo. Add the shredded carrot to hot thousand island or mayo, and mix it up.

Now you’re ready to assemble the tacos. First, cut a very, very thin strip of cheese, about an inch wide and about the length of the tortilla. Place it in the middle of a tortilla. Top the strip of cheese with a tablespoon of guacamole. Layer 2 tablespoons of salsa and cabbage mixture, then a strip of baked fish on top. Garnish with a tablespoon of dressed shredded carrot and cilantro leaves. Repeat with the rest of the tacos. Serve each with a wedge of lime.

Last Minute Guacamole
Makes about 1/2 cup

2 ripe avocados
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper

Cut avocados in half and remove pits. Scoop the flesh out of 3 avocado halves and put in a blender. Pour lime juice in. Give it a few pulses until you have a smooth consistency. Cut the flesh of the last avocado half into small cubes and gently mix them into the guacamole. Done!

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