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We’ve all had a crush on someone who is objectively, at a minimum, funny-looking. All logic should steer you clear of this individual, yet, through some combination of actual magnetism and hormones running amok, you find him (or her) sexy ugly. Our friends may mock us mercilessly, but we can’t be dissuaded from the notion. After all, imperfection is attractive. And I would apply that notion, above all, to food.

You can definitely go too far with this line of thinking — if it looks like dog food, it’s probably not going to be particularly appetizing. But I’ve never been one to idolize incredibly perfect dishes plated entirely with tweezers. I respect the craft, but wouldn’t choose it for myself. My food is, like me, a bit messy. Even when it’s perfect.

Puff pastry is a favorite vehicle for basically anything, though I rarely use it because it is approximately 1000% butter. But in hunting for some recipe inspiration recently, I decided I would like to make a savory tarte tatin, with caramelized onions instead of apples. And with the remaining scraps of puff pastry, I made a leftovers lunch by topping it with a roasted butternut squash and kale salad I’d made a few days prior. (And goat cheese, for good measure).

Two imperfectly perfect meals, with one buttery crust! Recipes after the jump.

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A friend of mine runs the Turtle Bay CSA, and asked me to stop by during their distribution tonight and share some recipes. I was thrilled, in part because of the reality TV-like challenge of it: I found out what was going to be in today’s share box last night, and came up with these recipes in the meantime. The stress! The pressure! OK, not really. Here’s the beautiful thing. Seasonal veggies are so easy to cook with. You know they’re going to be the ultimate tasty versions of themselves, so why mess with them too much?

Beets and carrots make a great raw salad, and what I realized was that I could make a second recipe out of the beet greens and carrot tops. So: beet & carrot salad and beet green & carrot top frittata (with zucchini). Done and done.

Recipes after the jump!

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I love a good niçoise salad, though they’re hard to find. Either the potatoes are too dry, or the tuna is overcooked, or the green beans are overcooked, or something. I realized that I could make my own version very easily, without the tuna altogether (or the olives, hence the no-niçoise part), and with perfectly cooked green beans. How about that!

I also made my own aioli.

Let me explain. Aioli technically does not need to be involved in a salad, niçoise or otherwise. But the idea for this green salad came a little backwards, in that it started with an idea for potato salad. I boiled some red baby potatoes until nice and tender, smashed them up a bit, and coated them generously with homemade, garlicky, lemony aioli. They needed some greenery so I thought: what about that farmer’s market spinach I bought? And some french beans? And….an egg?

So I hard boiled a few eggs, blanched the green beans until juuuust tender, and shaved some parmesan. I made a lemon-mustard vinaigrette (juice of one small lemon, a teaspoon of grainy mustard, a small grated garlic clove, 4T (ish) of olive oil, salt & pepper)  to drizzle over the whole thing. No dry potatoes here! YUM.

Garlic aioli
1 egg yolk
8 oz. light, fruity olive oil
1 clove of garlic, pummeled in a mortar & pestle (or grated on a microplane)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt to taste

In a large bowl, add your egg yolk, garlic, and a few drops of water. Whisk well. Start adding olive oil, literally a drop at a time, and whisking vigorously. It helps to have a partner helping. Once it starts to lighten in color and thicken, you can add the oil faster. One yolk will take about a cup of oil easily (scary). Just keep going. If it’s too stiff and tight, add a few more drops of water. Finish with the lemon juice and taste for salt. And before you know it: garlic aioli!

I was looking through the retrospective of Kenji’s Vegan Experience on Serious Eats (a month of vegan recipes), when I came across what looked to be a very tasty vegan empañada recipe. And then I realized: I’ve never made empañadas before! Which was obviously silly of me because they are delicious and sometimes I love overly complicated weeknight meals. This recipe definitely references potato samosas flavor-wise, with the curry powder and cilantro. But, the capers and chipotle make it something entirely unique, tangy, a touch spicy, and altogether scrumptious. Also: who doesn’t like homemade dough?

I didn’t use Kenji’s dough recipe because it had vegetable shortening instead of butter (him being on a vegan diet and all), so I found this one from Epicurious, which was perfect for 12 large-ish empanadas.

Other changes I made: I used 1/2 of a jalapeño instead of a bird chili in the cilantro sauce, I included one small sweet potato with the potatoes because it was wrinkling up before my eyes and I wanted to save it, and instead of the chipotle in adobo, I used the ketchup to end all ketchups, Sir Kensington’s — the Spiced flavor of course (2 heaping tablespoons). I ended up with some extra filling but the great thing is, it’s like super flavorful semi-mashed potatoes. So it was perfect for lunch today with leftover salad: spinach, fennel, red peppers, feta and sunflower seeds.

Here’s Kenji’s recipe, including the vegan dough if you’re so inclined!

Sorry for the radio silence, folks. Moving will do that to a person. I’m back now though, and this is a good one. So, yesterday I had to go to the physical location for Time Warner Cable (also known as the 9th circle of hell) to return my cable router. I love that with TWC, your two options are: wait for 6 hours for a surly guy to come to your house, or schlep to a place where you have to take a number and sit in a row of chairs watching the red blinking screens like some kind of Beetlejuice death prisoner. Kind of hard to choose, huh?

But I digress. Whenever I find myself in these types of boring, irritating situations, I pass the time by doing one of three things: playing an inane game on my phone, compulsively checking my email and / or facebook, or making up recipes for dinner.

Last night, I imagined eggs and yogurt (something that caught my eye from the New York Times), but via the Middle East. I was just in Atlanta for work and weirdly had the best falafel I’ve ever had in my life, so the cuisine has been on my mind. Inspiration struck in the form of the incredible dill yogurt sauce from my falafel — the eggs would sit on yogurt with dill, yes. And with it, a chunky version of muhammara, the most awesome spread made of roasted red peppers, pomegranate molasses, and walnuts. My version would include garlic, onions and tomatoes too. Of course then there are the eggs, in this case fried in oil and topped with a forest of mint and parsley and a bit of feta cheese. And who could forget the lemon juice, cracked black pepper and toasted pita?

Drooling yet? Recipe after the jump!

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I’ve tried to take to heart the philosophy of reducing waste, but sometimes I’m just not successful. But as I’ve been working my way through my pantry in anticipation of moving, I’ve been particularly conscious of using all the fresh food I buy, instead of either forgetting about it and letting it go to waste, or failing to use every part of a vegetable. I just finished reading The American Way of Eating (highly recommend it) and being reminded of the human labor behind every piece of produce I buy has helped motivate me to do better.

When I steamed the broccoli for my soup the other day, I had removed and saved the stems. I know broccoli stems are just as delicious as broccoli itself, but the florets were enough for the soup and I didn’t want to deal with the extra chopping at the time. So tonight, I was cooking the last of the pasta I have in the house, and I needed something to put on it! So I pulled out those broccoli stems, and went to town.

The only thing to keep in mind with broccoli stems is that you want to get rid of the absolute toughest parts, and peel as much of the stems as is convenient. If you don’t get every millimeter (usually they are quite craggy and troublesome), don’t fret. Give them a good once-over with the peeler and you’ll be set. Then cut them into chunks, and simmer in salted water until very tender.

In addition to lacking a proper camera, I currently lack a food processor, so I pulled out the trusty mortar and pestle, and my hand potato masher. In the mortar and pestle, I ground up as finely as I could some toasted walnuts (just a handful). In a bowl, I grated one garlic clove, and tossed in the drained broccoli stems. I added a glug of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, and some salt. And then I mashed those things to hell! Stir in the walnuts, toss with pasta, and voila — a dairy-free pesto using something most people just throw in the garbage. And truth be told, I did not even miss the parmesan!

And here I present post number two inspired by my cooking class last week: a frittata! I hope you can imagine me rolling my r like a sassy Italian when I say that…because I am.

I’ve made frittatas before, but apparently, sort of incorrectly. I think Americans go heavy on the egg and light on the ingredients, but we were instructed to aim for the inverse. Lots of filling, just enough egg to bind it all together. Another tip: no cheese inside the frittata. On top? Great. Inside? Not so much. Third tip: keep it at room temperature, on your counter, even for a day or two. This is another national disease — refrigerating everything! How many years did it take me to learn that refrigerating tomatoes removes all of their flavor? Too many!

This particular frittata was a mash-up of two we made in class: one with kale, and a tortilla española with potatoes. Process / recipe(ish) after the jump.

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Last Thursday, I took my first cooking class ever. Tamar Adler, who wrote An Everlasting Meal, was teaching in Gowanus at the Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center. Because I am absolutely smitten with her book, I signed up immediately for the egg cookery class after meeting her at an event. How could you go wrong with eggs!

I was expecting to have a good time, but I wasn’t sure what the format of the class would be, or how much I’d actually learn, you know? Not because I’m the most technically perfect cook in the world, but because I spend a great deal of time reading about food, cooking food, and watching other people make food. I’d even made shakshuka before (though my technique was slightly different), which was one of the dishes on the menu. But I’ll say, I came away feeling like I learned a lot. Like adding a few drops of lemon juice on top of softly scrambled eggs, or taking the germ out of garlic to remove the bitter part. I’ve been smashing my garlic to hell all this time, but this is a much more civilized method! You cut off the root end with a paring knife, peel the garlic from that end, then slice it in half. You’ll see the little germ growing through the center, which is then easy to remove.

This dish was inspired wholly by Tamar — garlicky greens with olive oil topped with scrambled eggs and a shaving of parmesan. Even her egg scrambling technique was wonderful to watch. Add butter and olive oil in a pan over medium heat (one lesson: don’t be afraid of fat!). Add eggs that have been beaten in a bowl. Continuously stir and scramble with a rubber spatula, shaking the pan, and let them cook slowly, slowly. Take them off the heat before they look 100% done — they’ll finish cooking off the heat, just like any other protein like fish or meat that you don’t want to end up rubbery and tough. In class she added flaked Maldon sea salt, black pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and a handful of cilantro. Transcendent!

This is a bit belated, but I won’t let a hectic week stop me from posting about one of my favorite things to make: pizza.

I’m really not much of a sports fan. But I can appreciate that “my” team, the Giants, won the Super Bowl last week in nail-biting fashion. I like that the guy that saved the day is named Manningham. The half-time show was, by my estimation, pretty amazing to watch (both from the standpoint of pure entertainment and my sick fascination with watching Madonna age). And, most importantly, I like that the Super Bowl was inspiration to make pizza!

It’s been awhile since I’ve made pizza from scratch, and this time I used Mark Bittman’s pizza dough recipe (available in How to Cook Everything). And the toppings were totally legit — procured from my favorite Italian grocery, Russo’s, in Park Slope. Super fresh buffalo mozzarella and ricotta, some spicy sopresatta, and a nice puttanesca sauce (I don’t normally buy tomato sauce, but since this was made by Russo’s and not full of preservatives, I made an exception. It was also delicious.).

The first pizza had puttanesca sauce, buffalo mozzarella, and torn basil. The second was just a brush of basil olive oil, ricotta, sopresatta, and caramelized onions (with a bit of balsamic thrown in). On the second pizza I also added some arugula once it was done, and to both, of course, a generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes.

Tofu can become extremely boring. I would never try to deny that fact. But once you embrace its blandness, you can make magic happen. Tonight I opted for a bit of a Southern take on tofu. A spicy cumin-tofu scramble, studded with black beans, peppers and onions, and collards. I also made a quick jalapeño cornbread, because I’ll admit, I have a weakness for carbs. So sue me! Regardless, this is a healthy, high protein, super easy weeknight dinner that will make a tofu lover out of the most obstinate carnivore. Recipes after the jump.

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