31 May 2012

Orecchiette and Sauteed Vegetable Salad

This dish came about in such a delightfully simple way, and I'm so excited to share it with you!  Stopping by my favorite produce store on the way home from errands one weekend morning, I found a ton of great veggies that had only moments before been placed on the bargain shelf.  Organic swiss chard, ears of fresh sweet corn, bulbs of fragrant fennel.  Seeing this lovely variety of colors and shapes there on the shelf like that, I was inspired to keep them together and make them into a warm pasta salad for lunch.  Adding chunks of golden-sauteed zucchini and shavings of good Parmigiano, this was a fresh and healthy meal with fantastic flavor.

I loved digging into a big bowl mounded high with this warm pasta salad.  I made it with orecchiette, which are little thimble-shaped pastas (or hat-shaped, or ear-shaped, choose your favorite description) that are so much fun to eat when they get nested inside each other for thick chewy bites, or when chunks of sauteed veggies get scooped up in the cup of each pasta piece.  My mom remembers watching her grandmothers make this kind of pasta by hand, even getting in on the fun herself sometimes, using her thumbs to create the little ears, or orecchiettelli, as they called them.  Though I imagine a homemade pasta would be heavenly here, fortunately the store-bought kind has its own charms as well.  And if orecchiette aren't available at your store, small pasta shells or farfalle (bowties) would be a good alternative.  This dish would be perfect for a light lunch or supper, or as a side to something like a nice grilled steak.

This random collection of veggies really turned into something beautiful.  Thank you, bargain shelf, for your inspiration!  I am going to be so sad not to have you in my life!

Because yes, it is official.  I am moving out of Santa Barbara by the end of this week and am heading up to San Francisco to start my new job.  My dream job.  Working Stateside and in East Asia to support clinical research and bring hope and help to people.  It's been a whirlwind of change, and I'm not sure how things will look when the dust settles, but this I know:  I am so excited.  In so many dimensions of life, this feels like the right step to make.  And to top it off, this job means I will be going back to Taiwan and Korea soon!  You know, I can't help but look forward to the food, the people, the sights, the smells, and the sounds!

Orecchiette with swiss chard, zucchini, fennel, and corn
Makes 2 main-dish servings

1 cup (uncooked) orecchiette pasta
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 small fennel bulbs, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, cut into half-moons
1 bunch swiss chard, roughly chopped
1 ear corn
salt and pepper to taste
shavings of Parmigiano-reggiano

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium high heat.  Sautee the diced fennel until soft and caramelized, adding the garlic near the end of cooking time to soften the garlic without browning it.  Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.  Add the zucchini and sautee until deep golden brown, transfer to the fennel.  Add the swiss chard to the pan and cook, covered, until wilted, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Return cooked vegetables to the pan to heat through.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and cook the orecchiette according to package instructions.  During the last 4 minutes of cooking, add the ear of corn.  Shave the cooked corn kernels into the pan of vegetables, then add the cooked, drained orecchiette.  Toss pasta and vegetables together and season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.  Mound into serving bowls and sprinkle generously with shavings of Parmigiano-reggiano.

22 May 2012

A season of goodbye-ing

I'm in a strange new season of goodbye-ing.  No, I'm not saying good by to you, but rather suddenly now to my hometown of so many years.  I hardly have had time to process the fact that I probably did my last C. elegans experiment a couple weeks ago, that I'm actually nearly done with my dissertation, and that I'll be graduating into the realm of doctor-hood in a matter of a week.  And now on top of this, things are looking more as if, for the next season of life, I will be leaving my home and moving to a new city and to the world beyond.

In the midst of the craziness of work and negotiating logistics, I've been so grateful to savor the peaceful moments, getting to connect with dear friends and enjoy Santa Barbara.  I've been going out for walks and runs up in the foothills whenever I can manage to squeeze it in, breathing in the fresh air scented with the fragrance of the chaparral, soaking in the sunshine and the views of the city and ocean spread out below.  I've been meeting up with friends for delicious meals and heart-to-heart conversations.  And last weekend I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite vineyards in Santa Barbara wine country, Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez.

On a special insider's tour of the winery (thank you thank you to my professor and his friend Dan Gainey!), I and a fun group of people let our scientific and wine-loving selves out and experimented with various blends of Gainey merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon.  After mixing and tasting, we were gifted a bottle of our own personal blend, and then headed over to the vineyard's picnic area for a delicious lunch under the oaks.  The weather, the view, and the peacefulness of the place could not be beat.

Thinking about the future and all the new changes that will be happening so soon for me, my friend Karen and I mixed up our own special blend and named it "à l'avenir."  The future, filled with unknowns and adventures, is certain to hold many challenges, yet at the same time I look forward and see a future of beauty and promise.  So with both bitter and sweet feelings, I am starting to say good-bye to this chapter of my life and am looking ahead with excitement to all that is to come!

The Chinese readers among you will probably have noticed that I've added an upside-down 福 to my wine label.  Yes, yes, you can say it...你的福倒了... and indeed I believe it has!

13 May 2012

Of Obangsaek and the Desperation Dosirak

When life gets stressful, I start cooking.  And it's Korean food that I've been turning to of late: food that is healthy, satisfying, and stimulating.  Food that is steeped in history and connects me to that which is beyond me.  In these past few weeks, I've been through times of great peace but also times of great pressure.  And as the pressure built up to an unmanageable pitch this weekend, I went nuts in the kitchen and prepped up some dosirak (lunchbox) dishes for the coming week.

Tomorrow's dosirak:
계란말이 Gyeran mari with kim (Egg roll with laver)
어묵 볶음 Eomuk bokkeum (Spicy fried fishcakes)
기장밥 Kijangbap (Steamed rice and millet)
브로콜리나물 Broccoli namul (Garlic and sesame-seasoned broccoli)

In this lunch, I tried to pay attention to 오방색 (obangsaek), the philosophy of the five colors.  Each color (black, blue, red, white, and yellow) represents one of the five elements of the universe (water, wood, fire, metal, and earth, respectively), and according to Korean tradition, a meal with obangsaek brings together all the forces of the cosmos.  By eating such a meal, the diner is in harmony with the world, and the food brings nourishment and wellness on more than just a physical level.

Black - Kim (seaweed laver)
Blue - Broccoli, Green pepper
Red - Gochujang sauce
White - Rice, Onion, Garlic
Yellow - Millet, Egg

Now I'll just try and take a few more deep breaths and remind myself that this season will also pass...

기장밥 Kijangbap (Steamed rice and millet)
Makes 3-4 servings

1 cup short-grained rice
1/4 cup millet

Wash short-grained rice in several rinses of water until water is clear.  Drain rice, then place in a small cooking pot.  Add the millet, then add 1 1/4 cups water.  Cover pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes until rice and millet is tender.  Fluff steamed rice and millet and serve hot.

05 May 2012

No-Knead Homemade Ciabatta Bread

Finishing one's dissertation isn't the most carefree of times, that's for sure.  But to let you in on something, I think my German work ethic, or my deeply ingrained stick-to-it-iveness, or whatever it is, has been playing out a little too strongly for my own good.  In the weeks that I've been plugging away at work so intensely, life just hasn't felt complete.  When I pulled out my camera a couple days ago for the first time in weeks, it hit me.  The cooking, the capturing of beauty, the chronicling and sharing with you--all of these are the vital things that I've been missing so much.  As I shot these pictures, I realized that, even in busy times like these, even in times of major life transition, it is important to stay engaged with the all the joys of life.  It's what makes the busyness worthwhile.  It's what feeds our soul and strengthens us to press on.  It's what reminds us of who we are, even when circumstances around us are changing.

The other day, I had a break in my experiments and was able to come home on the early side.  Besides wanting to get out of the house to enjoy the all-too-rare a treat of being outdoors during daylight hours, I knew for certain that I was going to take advantage of this afternoon home by starting up a batch of no-knead bread for breakfast the next morning.  I'd made it once before, with absolutely fantastic results, and I had been waiting for the next opportunity to make it again.  It's hard to beat hot, fresh-baked bread in the morning!  Maybe it's all those childhood memories of waking up to the smell of bread in my grandfather's bakery, or maybe there's just something inherently happy about a piping-hot loaf of bread.

What draws me to this bread so much is its crunchy, crackling crust on the outside and the soft, fluffy crumb on the inside.  It reminds me of a good ciabatta bread, and I love eating it still warm from the oven.  Smeared with some soft honey and with a cup of tea alongside, it made for a wonderful breakfast.

But it gets even better.  Friends, the method is SO incredibly easy--the active work involves only about a minute of mixing, a couple minutes to put the dough in the oven, and then a minute or two to cut the gorgeous, crusty loaf and munch it down.  You just need to figure out when you want eat fresh-baked bread and then start the dough 15-19 hours ahead of that.  I was curious when I first heard of no-knead bread--I'd never made a yeast bread without kneading it--and fresh, homemade bread with this degree of effortlessness seemed almost too good to be true.  But this disarming video convinced me to give it a go, and truly, no deception here, this bread is easy to make and oh-so-good!  One thing I would note is that having an enclosed baking environment at the beginning is key; covering the bread and subsequently trapping the emitted steam essentially simulates the effects of a professional steam-injection oven, producing a nice, springy bread and a fantastic, crunchy crust.

My sister has gotten into the habit of making most things from scratch, be it sauerkraut, yogurt, or bread, but with a little three year-old running around, time is always an issue for her.  Given how streamlined this recipe is, I knew she'd love it, and it's now a go-to recipe in her weekly bread-baking schedule.  If you don't have an oven-proof, lidded pot, you might like my sister's modification to the baking process: she's been using a pre-heated pizza stone with a foil dome to cover the bread during the first half hour of baking.

No-Knead Bread
From Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups water (room temperature)

Place the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl and mix a few seconds until thoroughly combined.  Add water and stir a few seconds, pulling the ingredients together until you form a dough.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 15-19 hours.

After dough has risen, and before moving on to the next step, place a heavy, oven-proof, lidded pot into the oven and pre-heat your oven to 500 F.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and fold the dough in thirds, bringing the opposite sides together at the center.  Turn 90 degrees and repeat the folding for the other two sides.

Place dough seam side down onto some wheat bran, then invert (seam side up) into the pre-heated pot (diameter of pot should be at least as wide as the diameter of your dough).  Cover immediately with hot lid and back 30 minutes, covered.  Remove lid and bake an additional 10-20 minutes until bread is golden brown under the wheat bran.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly before slicing and enjoying.