Thursday, December 24, 2015

We Dish You A Merry Fishmas

For many years, when my kids were little, our family celebrated four Christmases a year, making the rounds to grandparents and friends, and it was a blast. Now, though, my kids are pretty much grown-up and I'm old and tired, and it feels right to dial it all back. To this end, we stopped doing Christmas at home.

In its place, we celebrate Fishmas.

For Fishmas we eat fish, that's the main thing. We also exchange a few presents, drink whiskey (some of us) and watch movies (or in the case of this year, lots of Groucho Marx videos). It's a new tradition and may evolve further, but so far Fishmas is working just fine.

This year, I made Kedgeree, a smoked fish and rice dish. I followed Delia Smith's recipe, poaching the fish lightly in milk seasoned with black pepper and bay leaf and then using the salty poaching milk to make a rich sauce. It's not health food. But Fishmas comes but once a year.

I forgot to take a pretty plated photo before tucking in and making a big mess...

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Leftovers

No, not that grim, joyless eschatology I always wind up enduring the last five minutes of while I'm waiting for Bill Maher to start, I mean LEFTOVERS. Thanksgiving dinner turned out pretty great this year, but I didn't want to just eat all the same stuff again on day two. I felt inspired to transform the mountain of tupperware in my fridge into something new. To this end, I found a recipe for Panko Crusted Mashed Potato Cakes on allrecipes:

I followed the recipe closely except I added some cayenne pepper. It was an easy assembly line deal, with multiple dredging steps: flour/egg/bread crumbs.

Browned in hot oil, about five minutes on each side.

I had a few leftover green beans, a tiny bit of chicken, and some olives, all of which seemed to want to go together.

Day one had nothing on day two.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Red Velvet Underground: A rock memoir, with recipes

I wrote a book, a memoir/cookbook about teaching my kids how to cook and about being a drummer and a parent. It's for sale now, where books are sold:

I've hosted a few live events to talk about RVU, and I have more coming up, some still in the works and some confirmed:

WORD in Brooklyn, NY on November 13.

Eat Your Words in Toronto on December 5.

The Hideout in Chicago with Robbie Fulks on December 14.

Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge on January 8.

Malaprop's in Asheville, NC on January 15.

Parnassus in Nashville, TN on January 19.

I made granola on television:

And did an interview for one of my favorite podcasts:

It's been good fun to talk about my book and I look forward to continuing the conversation in the months ahead. Let me know if you want a signed copy of Red Velvet Underground, want me to come talk to your book club, or want to throw a cupcake/book party with me in your town! I'm game.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Farro Salad with Basil, Olives, and Marcona Almonds

We here at lovesmiths have a bit of a thing for Frank Orrall at the moment. Maybe it's the way Poi Dog Pondering turned all frowns upside down at their concert/dance party in Chicago's Millennium Park this past summer. Maybe it's his thoughtful and charming answers to our recent interview for Paste Food.

Or maybe it's all about the farro.

In our interview, the Poi Dog frontman, Thievery Corporation singer/percussionist, and chef-for-hire mentioned his affinity for farro, an Italian whole grain. He rattled off a few possible ingredients for a farro salad and the recipe below, (which celebrates the fact that we can still get fresh basil at the market), was the insanely delicious result. Try it (maybe while listening to the beautiful new Poi Dog release, Everybody's Got a Star), and you're bound to fully understand this thing.

Farro Salad with Basil, Olives, and Marcona Almonds
serves 4

1 cup farro, rinsed and drained
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little extra for drizzling on top)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup green olives (I used herb-marinated olives, but any will work here)
1/2 cup Marcona almonds, chopped
4-5 ounces Manchego cheese, grated (or make this salad vegan--eliminate cheese and add more almonds)
2-3 cups baby arugula

In a medium pot, bring three cups of water to a boil. Add farro and a small pinch of salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes, or until farro is mostly tender but still has a little bite and chewiness to it. Drain well and set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine farro, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, and toss well to coat. Add basil, olives, almonds, and cheese and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Distribute arugula evenly between plates and top with farro mixture. Drizzle with a little olive oil and serve.

Monday, August 31, 2015

What I Ate Over My Summer Vacation

I'm slightly down at the mouth as my one-month summer vacation comes to a close today, already reflecting wistfully on these passing days of leisure which kicked off beautifully with a weird and wonderful adventure: three days solo at Lollapalooza. I saw Paul McCartney, Sturgil Simpson, Father John Misty, The War on Drugs, Alabama Shakes, Strand of Oaks, Bully, The Tallest Man on Earth, and (my 16-year-old son's recommendation) Odesza. Probably other stuff too, I already forget. It was hot and it was grueling, a couple of my blisters are still healing, and there were way way too many people there who didn't know how to manage their highs.

But I loved Lolla.

I loved being able to hear so much music in so little time. I loved the zombie apocalypse feel of the festival, thousands of people tromping down wide city streets ordinarily lined with cars. I loved the VIP lounges (thank you dear John Strohm!!) where they had--no kidding--massage tables set up, not to mention all the pineapple coconut water, iced coffee, Red Bull, and mineral water you could drink, gratis. Plus the hottest commodity of all: shade.

Which brings me to what I maybe loved most of all: the food.

The food at Lollapalooza, "curated" by Graham Eliot ("can you curate a corn dog?" I asked my friend Neil), was fantastic. Here are a few highlights.

My first bao bun ever. 

Tamale, black beans, and deconstructed elote.

"Hey," said the twenty-something girl standing next to me during Paul McCartney's set, "you're drinking magical mystery juice!" I nodded, I couldn't talk, I was basically sobbing during Sir Paul's entire set--a response I hadn't reckoned on at all.

This lobster corn dog was the most delicious thing I ate all summer. The soundtrack to its consumption (Sturgil Simpson) also lived right up to the hype.

Frozen Mango Kefir. A really really good idea.

Cold sesame soba noodles. This was familiar, like eating at home for me. Enjoyed during Bully's set, which also felt very familiar.

Lolla was intense, All Summer in Three Days. Even in the midst of it all, though, there were secret, quiet spots with no food, drink, music, or people, where a middle-aged woman could recharge for a minute.

Lollapalooza turned out to be the perfect launch to a month full of Chicago fun: Cubs at Wrigley, Veggie Bingo at The Hideout, and plenty of afternoons on the beach in Evanston. I've lived here for exactly five years, now, and this summer I gave my heart all the way over to this amazing place. There's no place like home. Particularly if home has lobster corn dogs.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vegan Punk Chocolate Shake

I just spent a few days in Wisconsin and Michigan where I ate a little more than my fair share of fried cheese and ice cream. Home now and recovering, I have been craving a treat but needing something that might be a bit easier on my body. I thought of the vegan punk chocolate shake that I made for a recent piece I published about punk and food for Paste Food. The shake, from Joshua Ploeg's charming This Ain't No Picnic: Your punk rock vegan cookbook, was the runaway hit of a vegan dinner I made for my son and partner. I made it again tonight, taking great liberties with the recipe, which I will share here without permission ("because plagiarism is totally punk," writes Ploeg).

Vegan Chocolate Shake 
Serves 3-4

3 bananas
1 cup frozen raspberries or strawberries
6 ounces very dark chocolate (I used 88%), melted and cooled
5.4 ounce can unsweetened coconut cream
12 pitted dates
1 cup coconut milk or almond milk or whatever, plus maybe a little more to get to desired milkshake consistency)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Blend everything until smooth and creamy. Add more coconut milk if mixture is too thick. Chill well before serving.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Olive Oil Lemon Cake with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce and Coconut Cream

In a recent interview with Tanya Donelly for Paste Food, she mentioned her love of olive oil lemon cake and included a recipe that I immediately tried and immediately fell in love with. The recipe ended up being edited out of the piece, but many weeks later I am still experimenting with olive oil lemon cake and I'm afraid I'm totally addicted. Here are a couple of recipes I've tested with excellent results:

A solid contender from Epicurious

A fabulous wheat-free version from Food52

I like olive oil lemon cake with a simple strawberry rhubarb sauce and a generous dollop of coconut cream or whipped cream, but lemon glaze would be wonderful too, and it tastes lovely just plain on its own.

This not-too-sweet cake is especially well-suited for all of you cake-for-breakfast people.
You know who you are.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lentil Soup by Murder by Death

Yes I know it's May and we're supposed to be dancing around the May Pole eating strawberries, but it's forty-five degrees and cloudy in Chicago, and what I really want is a bowl of hot soup and a Friday Night Lights binge.

I got this recipe from Sarah Balliet, cellist in Murder by Death (I interviewed them for Paste), who got it from her mother, and it's the best lentil soup I've ever had. I balked at Balliet's instructions to dice the vegetables extremely small ("each piece should be roughly the size of a lentil") but I did my best and it was worth the effort. Also I've never before thickened lentil soup with a brothy roux, and now I always will. 

My version below is a vegan take on the recipe, with carnivorous variations in parenthesis.

Lentil Soup
Serves 8

1 lb. lentils, rinsed and drained
8 tablespoons olive oil (or butter), divided (less if you use real bacon)
4 slices tempeh "bacon" (or regular bacon), diced
2 medium onions, diced
2 green peppers, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 quart vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Minced parsley, optional

In a large soup pot, bring 2.5 quarts of water to a boil, add lentils, reduce heat, and cook 1 hour at a low boil.

In a deep skillet over medium heat, warm 4 tablespoons olive oil. Add tempeh bacon and stir often to brown evenly, about 10-15 minutes. (Or cook bacon in skillet sans olive oil until cooked and crispy). Remove "bacon" (or bacon) and set aside. Check the amount of oil (or fat) in the skillet and add a little more oil (or butter) if it looks like less than four tablespoons. Add onions and cook over medium heat, 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the rest of the vegetables and cook 10 more minutes or so--don't brown.

After lentils have cooked 1 hour, add vegetables and pretend or real bacon and bring mixture to a slow simmer.

In the skillet you used to cook the vegetables, over medium heat, add 4 tablespoons olive oil (or butter). Add flour and stir 1-2 minutes until it smells toasty. Add vegetable (or chicken) broth and whisk well until smooth and thick. Add mixture to soup pot along with plenty of salt. Simmer ten minutes. Stir in red wine vinegar, taste and adjust seasoning, garnish with optional parsley, and serve hot.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Where Have You Been All My Life?: Saffron Risotto Cakes

I have Amanda Shires to thank for introducing me to the concept of saffron risotto, and I have the amazing Nora O'Connor to thank for introducing me to the concept of risotto cakes. I interviewed Nora for Paste Food, and pressed her hard for details on how to make and serve these. She generously shared. I followed Nora's suggestions exactly, down to dishing the cakes up on greens, topped with a fried egg. I can't imagine a better brunch, or a more sufficient consolation for the fact that it's the third day of spring and it's snowing. Don't despair. Make risotto cakes. Spring will come for real before too long.

Saffron Risotto Cakes 
Serves 4

3 cups leftover saffron risotto
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup breadcrumbs, plus more to coat cakes
Salt and pepper 
Canola oil or coconut oil

In a large bowl, combine risotto, eggs, flour, and breadcrumbs. Add salt and pepper (season generously) and stir well. Divide into 12 or so portions, flatten into cakes (about 1/4 inch thick or so), and coat with bread crumbs (doesn't have to be perfect), gently pressing crumbs in.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat oil until it's moving around but not smoking. Cook cakes, 4 at a time, for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels or brown paper bags. If you want, you can keep them warm in a 200-degree oven.

For a wonderful meal, fry up 1-2 eggs per person, sauté a bunch of baby kale in olive oil and season it with balsamic vinegar. Serve risotto cakes on a big bed of greens with eggs on top.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

It Was All Yellow: Saffron Risotto

I have singer/songwriter/fiddler Amanda Shires, who I interviewed for Paste Food, to thank for inspiring me to make saffron risotto. I can't believe there was a time in my life when saffron risotto was not in my life, but those dark ages are behind me now. Put them behind you, too.

Saffron Risotto (A big batch, so you can serve 2 or 3 and have leftovers to make risotto cakes. You do want to make risotto cakes. More on this in the next post).

5 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil, divided
1 large shallot, finely minced (you want about 1/2 cup of minced shallot)
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry sherry or dry white wine
5-6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Generous 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
Generous pinch cayenne pepper (not traditional, but very good)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese 
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful parsley, minced finely

In a large deep skillet, melt 3 tablespoons butter (or warm olive oil) over medium heat. Add shallot with a pinch of salt and stir until it sizzles. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not brown.

Add arborio rice and stir well to coat with butter (or oil) and shallots. Continue to cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.

Add sherry or wine, 2 cups of broth, saffron, and cayenne. Increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to medium and stir until all liquid is absorbed into rice.

Add broth, about a 1/2 cup at time, keeping the mixture at a good simmer, stirring frequently, and allowing liquid to absorb before adding more broth. This whole process will take about 20 minutes. Stirring is important to evenly cook the rice and prevent burning. 

After you've added about 5 cups of broth you can start taste-testing the risotto--it should be slightly al dente. I usually end up using about 5 1/2 cups of broth total, but you might use more or less, you have to feel it out, and you have to taste it.

Once risotto is done and liquid is absorbed, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil and parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. If risotto seems dry, stir in a little more broth, you want it very slightly on the wet side.

Garnish with parsley and serve hot. Try to have about 3 cups of leftovers for risotto cakes.