So I finally defended my Master’s Thesis on Friday! I am absolutely thrilled, relieved, and grateful for everyone who loved, supported, and prayed for me through this process. To celebrate, I went out and drank my first ever shot (yeah, call me a late bloomer, it’s fine), and went to Trader Joe’s and bought a fortune’s worth of deliciousness (which I will now share what I did with it!).
So with my heap of spoils, I made another recipe from my fav cookbook, Allison Day’s Whole Bowls, the Baked Polenta with Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms, and Marinara. I’ll share my version of it with you now.
2 logs premade polenta (Day has a recipe for homemade polenta, but I bought some premade polenta at TJ’s)
2 Tbs. evoo
1 lb. of mixed mushrooms (I used cremini and shiitake), sliced thin
1 large onions, sliced thin into half moons
2 Tbs. maple syrup
1 Tbs. fresh chopped rosemary
1/3 cup red wine
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 24 oz. jar of marinara (I used the Italian Marinara Sauce with Barolo Wine from TJ’s, but, again, Day has a recipe for a homemade sauce if you’re feeling more work on your plate)
Grated fresh parmesan to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice the polenta into 1-inch rounds, placing on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and brushing with olive oil and sprinkling with kosher salt. Bake for 25 minutes.
While the polenta bakes, cook the onions, mushrooms, rosemary, maple syrup, and salt in a cast iron skillet over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, until very soft and jammy in texture. Add the red wine in the last 5 minutes of cooking time to deglaze the pan and add flavor.
Heat the marinara on the stove.
To serve, layer all the ingredients and top with grazed parmesan. I made a side dish of oven roasted asparagus with garlic and lemon. Enjoy!
Making a roux was the first scary, real-chef sort of thing I did in my kitchen fresh out of college and it was simultaneously terrifying and freeing. Terrifying because, well, you are dumping a lot of flour into not a lot of butter, and praying that your super doesn’t evict you if it all goes to pot and you burn down your apartment building. Freeing because it actually ended up being so fun and gave me the exhilarating feeling of “gosh, maybe I can cook!” It’s sort of how I felt after I turned in my first paper in grad school. I was so scared, but it turned out really well. It was the moment that the imposter syndrome started to let go, and I could finally allow myself to believe that maybe I belonged here.
Now, making a roux is exciting to me and I can do it by feel alone. In fact, I think that’s my favorite thing about it; you can’t really follow a recipe. You just have to move with your ingredients and listen, watch, and taste your progress, adjusting along the way. If you don’t know, a roux is “a mixture of fat (especially butter) and flour used in making sauces,” according to the dictionary. The flour and the fat merge and thicken, providing that creamy, luxurious, decadent base for the cream sauces that color our favorite food memories.
Last night I made a white wine spinach cream sauce over penne pasta, and it was about the most decadent thing you can do with a Monday night. It’s elevated comfort food that looks and tastes like hard work but was actually just a ton of fun. So I’m going to talk you through how I made my sauce, and I hope you go and try your own. Mix up the ingredients, burn a saucepan, over-salt, make your mistakes, but just, please, keep trying and learning from your food.
I began my sauce by setting out everything I would need close at hand. Building a roux will move pretty quickly, so you don’t want to be digging around in your cupboards while your mixture scalds or seizes on the stove. sautéing minced shallots and garlic with a healthy dash of salt over melted butter on medium heat. I sautéed them for about three minutes all told. De glaze the pan with about a 1/3 cup of white wine (I used Bogle’s Chardonnay. I don’t love it for drinking strait up, though my husband does, but it imparts a great cooking flavor and it’s a pretty affordable wine at a smooth $7).
Once I’ve deglazed the pan, I may add another pat of butter if I think I need more fat after the shallots and co. have absorbed some of it. From here, I start to whisk in the flour (if you are gluten-free, try arrowroot powder!) a little at a time, keeping things moving. You’ll notice that the flour will start to gum around the shallots. This is the roux! It will form the thickening base you need for a rich sauce.
You want to keep the mixture loose, however, so start to slowly add in some milk, half and half, or cream. Keep whisking to loosen the bonds. Alternating as needed, whisk in all your flour and dairy. I find that I end up with about 1/3 cup of butter, 1/3 of flour, and 1/2 cup of dairy. At this point, taste your sauce base to see what it needs. Last night, I knew I needed a little more wine, a spoonful of coarse-grain mustard, some generous freshly ground nutmeg, lots of freshly ground pepper, and if I’d had time and the inclination for doing more dishes, I would have zested and juiced a lemon to cut through all the richness. After stirring in these elements, the sauce was seizing a bit, so I loosened it with more milk. I let the mixture heat through, adding in the spinach. I used half a bag of frozen chopped spinach because I had it on hand. You can totally use fresh, but it will have a lot of water content, so watch out as it sweats down in the sauce. You may need to adjust ratios to keep things balanced.
Just for fun, I had some chéve I wanted to use up, so melted that in (added a great tang) along with 2 cups shredded mozzarella. Once this had melted, I tasted again, added more pepper, and it was ready to serve. I poured this gooey deliciousness overtop some lovely al dente penne, cooked in heavily salted water (thank you Samin Nosrat for illuminating me about the importance of thoroughly salting your cooking water!), and dove in with aplomb. Like seriously, I blew through this bowl in like five minutes and had leftovers today for lunch.
All this to say, keep experimenting and don’t fail to rejoice in really successful cooking moments. I did this without a recipe last night, but you better believe that I clung to the recipe book the first time I made one of these 5 years ago. Give yourself permission to pull away the scaffolding as you learn and internalize cooking principles, growing in confidence and skill. And remember; you can always order pizza if it all goes wrong.
Over the holidays, university towns become ghost towns, and it’s really quite wonderful. But, if you happen to be the one graduate student who isn’t traveling to see family over the holidays, you are given all the [fill-in-the-blank]-sitting jobs. Don’t get me wrong; I am ALL about the side-hustles. In addition to being a full-time graduate student and part-time university employee, I also teach at a local fitness studio (check out Refit online! It’s an amazing body-positive fitness movement!), clean a friend’s Air B&B, do freelance writing, and donate plasma (for money, obvs). But holidays take it to a whole new level. I apartment-sat, plant-sat, dog-sat, and cat-sat. Let’s be real. I will do almost anything for bookstore/coffee shop gift cards. But the best offer I got over the holidays was to pick up my friend’s CSA (which, if you don’t know, stands for community supported agriculture, which is where you as a community member support a local farm and receive a dividend of produce in return! See if there are any local CSAs in your area; they can be surprisingly reasonable in price and the money supports local farmers. Can you think of a better use of your money?) share while she was out of town, and it was a field greens bomb. Seriously, the first day I picked up all of the produce, it took me a full hour and a half to wash, chop, and process all of it.
So I was drowning in greens, quite happily. But what’s a girl to do with 4 jars of bitter greens? Stir-fry, duh. So here’s my quick weeknight garlicky greens recipe; feel free to adjust the flavor profile as you see fit. I went a more Asian-style route, but you could really do whatever you want. Always keep in mind, these ingredient measurements are approximations. I tend to cook by feel, rather than precise measurements. Also, I found that this meal takes about 30 minutes to prepare, and will leave leftovers that are great warmed up the next day for lunch! Just be sure to add some water or broth to the rice so that it isn’t dry and gross.
6 cups minimum of your choice of field greens, chopped (I used mustard, turnip, kale, collard, radish, and mature arugula). NOTE BENE: I really like the stems, but separate these out from the leaves.
ALL OF THE GARLIC. Like seriously, knock yourself out. Slice, mince, whatever suits your fancy.
2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
2 tsps. minced ginger or ginger paste
1 Tbs. white miso paste
1 dried Thai chili (or if you can’t find this, try a teaspoon of Sambal, an Asian chili paste)
2 Tbs. sweet chili sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce (preferably low sodium)
1 Tbs. sesame seeds
2 cups of jasmine rice
4 cups broth (PS, I make my own veggie broth with kitchen scraps. It takes so much better than store bought, it’s free, and I can control the sodium levels)
1/2 a package of extra firm tofu, diced (or 1 chicken breast, chopped, if you are a meat-eater like my husband)
1 1/2 Tbs. neutral oil
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. salt
Cook your jasmine rice in a pot or rice cooker while you make the stir fry. (Come on; it’s 2020. If you aren’t using a rice cooker or InstaPot for your grains, what are you doing with your life?) I find that rice takes about 30-40 minutes to cook, depending on the portion sizes, so time your stir-frying accordingly.
In a large skillet or wok, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the garlic, ginger, miso, green stems (if using) and Thai chili, stirring often until just tender. Add sweet chili, rice vinegar, and tamari, letting the ingredients heat through. Add in all greens, coating in the sauce. Adjust sauce as necessary, adding more of whatever your tastebuds require. Put the lid on the skillet or wok, and let the greens sweat down, stirring often (about 5 minutes). Toss in sesame seeds in the last minute, stirring to incorporate.
While the greens cook, in a separate skillet, heat your neutral oil over med-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add in the tofu or chicken, seasoning with the salt, garlic, paprika, and cayenne. Cook tofu until crispy, stirring often (may require high heat) or chicken until cooked through, but tender.
Place a bed of rice in the bottom of the bowl, topped with greens, then your protein of choice. Garnish with more sesame seeds and tamari, if desired. Dig in!
Life update: taking three graduate courses was way harder than I anticipated, hence not posting on this site for three billion years. Prepare for several months of backlogged recipes. I’m currently in the middle of writing my Master’s Thesis, which I may share bits and pieces about from time to time. While this is primarily a food blog, it does have “Graduate” in the title, so you’re just going to have to deal with my academic side too 🙂 I do apologize for my negligence to this site; I promise to be better in the New Year! (isn’t that how all failed New Year’s resolutions begin?)
When I made this recipe, it was chilly (for Texas) and nothing warms me up like oven-roasted squash. I made this recipe years ago, but couldn’t find where I got it from, so I re-made it up out of my head and here we go.
1.5 cups of orzo
1 small onion, diced (I’ve used white, yellow, and red; experiment to see what you like best. Shallot could taste great too)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups of butternut squash, cubed
4 cups of spinach
Freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese
Salt and pepper, ground to taste
Preheat over to 400F, and toss the butternut cubes in olive oil, salt, and pepper. You can experiment with adding other spices and seasonings, depending on your mood. I’ve done a 1/4 cup of orange juice for sweetness, or you could go smoky and earthy with some smoked paprika. Your preference! Roast the squash on a baking sheet for 20 minutes, stir, then roast for 10 minutes more. Remove from oven.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add in the orzo. I find that orzo takes anywhere from 12-15 minutes to cook. I like al dente, but orzo is so dense that sometimes getting an even al dente is tricky. At the 12-minute mark, test the orzo to see if you like the consistency and tweak remaining cooking time from there. When orzo is fully cooked, drain.
While the orzo boils and the squash roasts, bring 2 Tbs. olive oil to a shimmer in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, sautéing until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add spinach and wilt down, about 2 minutes at the most (another option, if you like your spinach a little more fresh, is to just add the spinach at the end to the serving bowl and let the heat of the cooked pasta and squash wilt it naturally).
When all the elements are cooked, add to a serving bowl and combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you are feeling fresh and fancy, try a splash of white wine vinegar to brighten up the palate. Grate fresh cheese over top and serve.
A super nutrient-packed veggie rice bowl to make you feel like a rockstar.
Now that it’s summer, I’m loving cooking again and using all the lovely seasonal ingredients. After awhile, some of those veggies start to pile up in the fridge, and this recipe is a great way to use a ton of them at once!
Disclaimer: You’re going to see a lot of recipes from Whole Bowls on here, my favorite cookbook written by Allison Day. So do yourself a favor, and just go buy it. You’ll thank me, and eventually name your first child after me. You’re welcome.
I still can’t get over the dressing for this dish. It’s phenomenal. I made a double batch and used it all week. So here’s the skinny. In the cookbook, it only makes one serving, so I’ve upped the quantities to feed about 4. Enjoy.
4 small/medium beets, whole
2 cups of water
1 cup brown rice (I love basmati, but you do you)
2 cups of cooked chickpeas (canned is fine, just rinse them so you don’t die of a sodium overdose)
2 cups finely shredded red cabbage
16 radishes, quartered
1/2 a head of radicchio, cored and cut into wedges
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
8 sprigs of fresh cilantro
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
ground black pepper to taste
To Make the Bowls
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Cover the beets in foil and roast for 1-2 hours, or until tender when pierced with a knife. Once the beets have cooled, remove the foil, peel off the skin (should fall off when you rub it with your fingers), cut off the top and bottom of the beet, and slice into wedges.
You can make the rice in a pot of boiling water, but if you don’t own a rice cooker, what are you doing with your life??? Go get one!
To Make the Dressing
Combine all of the ingredients in a mason jar, put the lid on, and shake it like a polaroid picture. It’s not rocket science.
To (Avengers) Assemble
Take your bowls and layer in sections the cooked rice, the chickpeas, cabbage, radishes, and radicchio. Pour over the dressing to taste. Top with crushed hazelnuts and cilantro sprigs (the toasted hazelnuts MAKE this meal). Optional, pour some balsamic glaze or balsamic vinegar over top.
Things I Might Do Differently Next Time
So this dish was great, and everything Alison Day tells me to make, I will do so with joy and gladness. However, there are some things I’d do differently next time.
Make a lifetime supply of the dressing
Either don’t add the radicchio, or sauté it slightly. It is just SO bitter to have alongside other raw veggies, like cabbage and radishes, which have strong flavors all on their own.
Day actually suggests lightly sautéing or steaming the veggies to make it a warm bowl, rather than predominantly cold, and I think that would be fun to try and see how it shakes things up.
Have you made this? What would you do differently? Let me know in the comments below!
My apologies for not posting for the last three billion years. Taking 3 graduate courses turned out to be far more work than I had anticipated. Rookie move. But we’re back now, and I have months of recipes backlogged to blog about, so great ready.
My favorite thing in the world is Trader Joe’s, but we don’t have one where we live now. So, from time to time, my husband and I put the cooler in our trunk and make a pilgrimage to Austin, TX to hit up Trader Joe’s. And one of the best things TJ’s has (in my humble opinion) is their Thai Red Curry Sauce. Currys are delicious, but building up layers of flavor can be difficult for weeknight cooking. Trader Joe’s simmer sauces are a perfect solution to complex flavors on the go. Here’s everything you need for a beautiful, weeknight red curry. Serves 4-6.
2 Tbs. coconut oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. ginger (I use a paste)
1 dried chili, whole
1 eggplant, chopped into 1-inch squares
3 bell peppers (I love using red, yellow, and orange for a visual feast!), chopped into bite-sized pieces.
2 cups haricot verts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 can coconut milk, full-fat
1 bottle of Trader Joe’s Red Curry Sauce
6 baby bok choi, halved.
8 leaves of basil (Thai basil preferred)
Heat coconut oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and whole chili and cook for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add eggplant and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often. Add bell peppers and haricots vests, cooking for another 3 minutes.
Pour in can of coconut milk and curry sauce. Simmer over low heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, add in bok choi and basil, cooking for 2 more minutes, until the bok choi is just wilted. Remove from heat and serve over brown rice. Top with more basil, if desired.
Disclaimer, right off the bat. I burnt this batch. I’d never made this type of granola before, and I second guessed myself. And I didn’t measure the liquids. Also, sorry for waiting a full week to post this; grad school stuff was crazy this week, and the front of one of our cars is falling off, while the other car is 30,000 miles overdue for a timing belt replacement. It’s been a party at our house this week. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s do this.
Garam masala. You have to love the earthy, sweet, comforting taste and smell of the Indian staple spice. If you don’t, well, in the words of the beautiful April Ludgate of Parks and Rec, you are basically a war criminal.
I have a lovely artist friend back in Virginia who has a glorious garam masala granola recipe, but in the true Yankee spirit of my ancestors, I did it on my own. And burnt it. But I’ve got it sorted now, and here’s the recipe. If you follow these directions, you will have some delicious, un-singed granola. Thankfully I have a husband who, for some reason, likes slightly-burnt granola, so everyone’s winning over here.
3 cups uncooked rolled oats (Quaker’s 1 minute oats, or the like)
1 cup nut of your choice (suggestions: sliced almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios)
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup coconut chips (use the chips not the flakes! The flakes tend to burn quickly, which will make your granola bitter)
1 tsp. sea salt (feel free to be generous though. Unsalted granola is sad granola)
1/2 cup brown or raw sugar
1/3 cup oil (I prefer coconut oil, but olive or avocado are great alternatives)
1/2 cup maple syrup (you can also use agave or honey)
2 Tbs. garam masala (you can buy this at the grocery store, or, if you are just too cool for school, make your own!)
1 cup golden raisins (or whatever dried fruit you like, dried cranberries, sour cherries, whatever floats your boat.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (geez that word is hard to spell). While oven heats, mix oats, nuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut chips, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Then take a skillet and over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, oil, syrup, and garam masala. Cook, stirring regularly, until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.
Combine wet and dry ingredients and spread evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake granola for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in golden raisins. Allow to cool fully before transferring the granola to jars or bags.
Enjoy with plain or vanilla yoghurt for breakfast or a quick snack on the go!
I read cookbooks. Not all the time, but if it’s a good one, I will read it like a regular book. It can’t be that different than my dad’s love of reading computer manuals, and at least I get prettier pictures.
I get that not everyone uses cookbooks. Maybe you prefer to freestyle it all the time, or maybe they just scare you (if you are the second type, contact me. We’ll talk!). But for me, cookbooks have been my friends. They’ve taught me fundamentals, but also taught me creativity in cooking. I feel free to amend recipes that don’t work for me, and if you ask me for a recipe, you’ll get one covered in my notes and changes.
All that said, there are a few cookbooks for me that have risen to the top of the pile. Now, keep in mind that I’m a vegetarian, so some of my selections will reflect that. My husband, however, is not a vegetarian, and I’m not afraid of meat, I just personally don’t like it. So if you’re worried that this post isn’t for you, keep reading. Below you’ll find a list of my top five cookbooks, and if you click the titles it will take you to their Amazon pages.
My top five cookbooks:
Whole Bowls by Alison Day. Alison Day took off online with her food blog, yummybeet.com. In 2016, she published Whole Bowls, a collection of recipes centered around bowls, balanced composition, and vegetarian/gluten-free eating. I picked up Whole Bowls off of the Barnes & Noble sale rack for $8 because I liked the cover. It ended up becoming my go-to cookbook. I’ve cooked my way through ~50% of the cookbook so far, and it’s my goal to reach 100%. Hands down, my favorite dish is the Banquet Bowls, made up of a cauliflower curry rice, red lentil dahl, and cucumber raita. You will see regular posts from this book.
Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert. Simply in Season: Expanded Edition was published in 2009 (and trust me, you want the expanded edition) through the Mennonite Central Commitee, which, as they put it on the title page, “promote[s] the understanding of how the food choices we make affect our lives and the lives of those who produce the food.” So if you want a cookbook full of Wendell Berry quotes, resources on sustainability, and poems and prayers about food, then you have found the cookbook for you. This cookbook was given to me by my college mentor and landlady, and I’ve loved everything I’ve made from it. Plus, it’s taught me so much about the merits and joys of cooking seasonally. Strawberries become that much sweeter when you only eat them in early summer, and butternut squash becomes that much more tantalizing when you only have autumn to go crazy with it. Some favorites from this book include the Vegetarian Groundnut Stew (and don’t worry, it’s not a vegetarian cookbook for all of you carnivores out there; it’s a happy balance of both) and the Autumn Tagine. I also love their versatile taboule recipe. I normally make it with bulgar wheat, but they have several different ingredient suggestions so you can make it safe for your gluten-free friends.
Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites by the Moosewood Collective. The Moosewood Restaurant was founded in 1973 in Ithaca New York and has authored multiple cookbooks out of their successful and delicious repertoire. I was raised on this cookbook, as my parents were big fans of Moosewood. Now, normally I’m with Michael Pollan on suspecting anything that advertises itself as “low-fat,” because it usually means ingredients that I can’t pronounce and that shouldn’t exist outside of a laboratory, and maybe not even there. But Moosewood is all about making home cooked meals delicious, without the price tag of diabetes and heart disease. Personal favorites from this collection include my all-time favorite meal, their Grown-Up Macaroni and Cheese (which has, wait for it, cayenne and freshly grated nutmeg) paired with their delicious Cucumbers Vinaigrette. It’s my go-to meal to send to people. If you want some meat in it, pancetta on top is perfection. Additionally, I also have two other Moosewood Books that are great, their Simple Suppers cookbook (great for busy weeknights) and their Farm Fresh Meals Deck, a collection of recipe cards that take you through the seasons, and offer entrees, sides, and desserts. This is a great resource for preparing seasonal, multi-course meals.
Meatless by Martha Steward (kind of). We all know Martha didn’t actually come up with all of these, but they are still a treasure. My husband’s aunt gave this cookbook to me for Secret Santa one Christmas, and it’s become a regular. What I love about these meals is that both Troy and I can enjoy them, even though he’s not a vegetarian. Many of the recipes serve as excellent bases to which he can add chicken and I can add tofu, but most of them are so balanced and hearty that you don’t need anything else. Favorites here include the one on the cover, a pasta dish with kale, heirloom tomatoes, and ricotta cheese (so easy and so delicious), as well as a delicious cauliflower curry I just tried last week for the first time.
From Asparagus to Zucchini by FairShare CSA Coalition. Troy and I picked up this cookbook at the CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) we were a part of back when we lived in Virginia. What I love about this book is the creativity it inspires. Our CSA would often carry many vegetables I was unfamiliar with (a dangling preposition, I know. So sue me), but this cookbook lists out A-Z produce carried at farmer’s markets and offers not only recipes, but also tips for selection, storage, and preparation. I highly recommend this as a resource.
So what are your favorite cookbooks? Please comment below! I’m always looking for new ways to go bankrupt through cookbook accumulation. And I encourage you to pick up these cookbooks for yourself. If you can, try to find them at a local bookstore before ordering from Amazon (you know, support local business and keep down emissions levels caused by shipping transportation).
Stay tuned, as later this week I’ll have up posts about a new granola recipe, onion soup, and homemade dutch-oven bread!
I like to cook, and I’m in graduate school. Somehow, a blog.
Hey there. I’m Anna. Welcome to my hungry graduate life. I haven’t always loved to cook, but when I got my first apartment in college and had free cable access to food network, a whole new work opened up for me. It also helped that my landlady was an incredible cook and would send down to my basement abode plates of mushroom risotto and spring rolls.
Many friends over the years have encouraged me to start a food blog. So here I am, and here you are. My goal is to publish bi- or try-weekly updates on what I’m cooking, favorite cookbooks or cooking techniques. There will also often be glimpses of my larger context of marriage, graduate school, home ownership, and my weird dog.
I look forward to getting to know you, reader, and sharing a little bit of life together across the distances.