little paths so startled

living, decorating, and eating in hattiesburg, mississippi

Archive for July 2011

pasta primavera

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Summer squash from the farmer's market.

My trips to the farmer’s market apparently reveal what I’m obsessed with at the moment: this week, I came home with a bag full of squash.  And what better way to showcase this delightful summer veggie than a pasta primavera?  I used this recipe from the Vegetarian Times; it’s quick, simple, and perfect for a summer evening.  I also added fresh ground black and lemon pepper, as well as a bit of salt, to the seasoning at the end.  We love our pepper around here.

The rest of the veggies: broccoli, cherry tomatoes, green onion, and green bell pepper.

Olive oil, minced garlic, and lemon zest. I think I'll add more garlic and lemon next time, as we can never seem to have too much of either.

Squash, bell pepper, and broccoli steaming with the pasta.

Tossing in the green onions, cherry tomatoes, and seasonings.

It was a perfect evening for dining al fresco.

Buon appetito!

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Written by Ann

July 23, 2011 at 1:16 am

chocolate chip cookies

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(or, Me vs. Monday Round 2.)

With these in my corner, I can't lose. Unless I eat them all.

Last week’s cooking to beat the pre-Monday blues seemed to work well enough, so Sunday night seemed like a great time to explore the art of chocolate chip cookies.  Not the store-bought, packaged cookies or dough – I mean the scratch-made stuff.  Now, I realize this is just the sort of food for which everyone has her very own, special, secret, family recipe, and I don’t doubt they’re all simply divine.  (And I’d love to have your recipe, while we’re at it.)  I’m just adding my voice to the din of “the best chocolate chip cookie EVER” recipes.

Chocolate Chip Cookies as Art

I haven’t always thought of chocolate chip cookies in the same way that I think of, say, crème brûlée, which takes careful preparation and is beautiful served as a dessert for entertaining.  Chocolate chip cookies are the after school snack, the girls’ night fare, the weeknight dessert, right?  Not according to New York Times food writer David Leite, whose search for the perfect chocolate cookie recipe led him to NYC gourmet baker Jacques Torres.  (Check out Leite’s delightful article and the accompanying recipe adapted from Jacques Torres.)  These elegant confections are well worth the forethought and care.

Gorgeous. (Photo by Francesco Tonelli for the New York Times.)

But these cookies aren’t vegan, and that’s not ideal for this proselyte to vegan baking,.  What’s more, sometimes I want my cookies right now.  Sometimes I don’t want to use all my bowls and spoons, and I don’t feel like searching for gourmet chocolate fêves.  The answer: Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s glorious recipe.  It’s simple, it’s quick, and it yields fabulous, I-can’t-believe-these-are-vegan cookies.  No, this recipe won’t necessarily produce the Jacques Torres aesthetic, but we can steal his secret (sprinkled sea salt!) and infuse these cookies with high taste.

No mixer required - one of the many perks of vegan baking. But that means at least a minute of brisk whisking (I use a fork) to blend the oil and sugars. You should get a smooth, caramel-like consistency.

Reserving some of the flour mixture for folding in the chocolate chips keeps the chips from dropping to the bottom of the bowl. Vegan dough needs it.

Jacques Torres' secret: a tiny sprinkling of sea salt just before the cookies go into the oven. Subtle and amazing. Consider using a bit less salt in your dough than the recipe calls for.

Another tip from Torres: press the plastic wrap onto the dough before refrigerating. Though I don't think the refrigeration period is as important in vegan baking, it certainly doesn't hurt, and it's always nice to have dough on hand for future batches or immediate consumption. No eggs, no worries.

Speaking of immediate consumption . . .

Notes and thoughts:

1. My cookies are browner than most because I use whole wheat pastry flour or whole wheat flour, when I’m out of pastry.  I didn’t this time, but I do sometimes substitute agave for some or all of the sugar, at a ratio of 3/4 cup agave to 1 cup sugar.  (Warning: this requires math.)  Though food guru Mark Bittman insists that, in baking, the ratio of sugar to fat is not to be tinkered with, I’ve had success with substituting some of the oil with unsweetened applesauce.

2. I primarily use Pamela’s gluten free mixes when I’m baking for my gluten-intolerant friends and family members, but the last time I made cookies made from Pamela’s chocolate chunk cookie mix, my non-gluten-free friends snatched them up, too.  They’re that good.  I think Pamela’s magical secret is the cocoa powder in the batter.  Yes, please.  And talk about easy, now: Pamela’s mix + butter (or margarine, if you’re into that sort of thing – I haven’t tried oil or applesauce yet) and a flax egg in the stand mixer, then the oven.

3.  About that flax egg: try it.  Seriously.  One tablespoon of ground flax seed + 3 tablespoons of water = 1 egg.  You get the myriad benefits of flax seed, minus the cholesterol and animal product.  I mean, you can’t make scrambled eggs with flax seed, but I’ll stake my culinary credibility on the flax egg for baking.

4.  I’m always on the lookout for new and better recipes – send me yours, please!

veggie quesadillas

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Often, on Sunday evenings, when I should still be relishing the weekend, I find myself beset with pre-Monday blues.  I am grateful for my job, and I love my job.  But when the week ahead is filled with IRB forms, papers to grade, and a conference (which is triply exhausting for this introvert: travel, presentation, and networking), those pre-Monday woes are hard to ward off.  My instinctive mental and physical response is inertia – a response I have tenderly honed to an art form, even.  As I was practicing inertia on the couch, Daniel and I theorized that these feelings are a result of the abstract nature of teaching and research – in that the results are rarely immediately visible, the processes are often exceedingly long and painstaking, and the expectations and outcomes are always shifting.  We both find ourselves drawn to working with our hands as a relief.  For Daniel, it’s gardening, brewing beer, and, as of late, refashioning a canoe into a sail boat (photos forthcoming!); for me, it’s cooking, decorating/organizing, and, when it’s not 5,000 degrees out, training for road races.  I guess the latter is technically not working with hands.

Daniel's garden veggies take center stage on the prep board.

Tonight, cooking was the remedy.  Sometimes (and I did say sometimes, so as not to suggest that I engage in this process on a daily basis) I really want to chop lots of veggies and cook in multiple steps, with multiple pots . . . you know, the kind of cooking that gets the entire kitchen outrageously messy.  And it’s worth it, because the glorious thing about battling Mondays with cooking is that I can control the process, and there’s a definite end result.  Bonus: it’s edible!

Enter veggie quesadillas: plenty of things to chop, check.  Multiple pots, check.  Multiple steps, check.  Big mess in the kitchen, check.  I used some bell peppers and hot (serrano?  We’re not sure what they are, but they are hot) peppers from Daniel’s garden, along with mushrooms, squash, zucchini, and garlic.  I was inspired by the wonderful veggie quesadillas at Oscar’s (a local Mexican restaurant), so I had a vision.  I was prepared to resist my inexplicable urge to overfill quesadillas.  And I had a plan.  Go.

Step one: char the peppers, set aside. Step two: brown the mushrooms, set aside.

It took years of soggy and/or unevenly cooked stir-fry meals for me to realize that veggies need to cook at different times and should be cooked separately, accordingly.  (For another stir-fry that utilizes this approach, check out my tofu and mushrooms version.)  I keep it simple here: a skillet thoroughly coated in sprayed olive oil, veggies also sprayed with olive oil, medium heat, frequent stirring and spraying. (I’ll add a dash of vegetable stock every now and then to lighten things up.)

Step three: squash and zucchini, followed by minced garlic. I like the veggies to be browned, but more crisp than mushy.

Once the stir-fry is complete, all the veggies go back in the pan, which is set aside.  Then I browned two tortillas (in a new, ungreased skillet) and stacked them.  I knew these quesadillas would be hard to flip, plus I’m no good at flipping, so I cheated.  Then came the cheese.

I lost count of the steps already, but I do know that I spread a thin layer of Mexican-style grated cheese on the tortilla and topped it with a thin layer of the stir-fried veggies. And thus I successfully resisted the temptation to overfill.

I added just a bit more cheese on top of the veggies to help that top tortilla stick, in the hopes that it’d feel a little more like a flipped quesadilla.  As I have also been practicing the art of cooking for two without having leftovers, I had just enough veggies for two quesadillas.  I cut them into the requisite fourths and managed to snap a few shots before we ate them, right there in the (still) outrageously messy kitchen.

Take that, Monday.

Written by Ann

July 11, 2011 at 4:09 am

sweet dreams: summer pillows

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If I can't be on the beach at sunset, I can at least enjoy these pillows' evocation of a seaside sunset.

I ordered these West Elm pillow shams to be the summer counterparts of my Jean-Paul Phillippe shams.  They came in a couple of weeks ago, actually, but since I have apparently not gotten over the beach yet, I’m enjoying them all the more for their beachy hues.

Written by Ann

July 8, 2011 at 9:41 pm

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day trip: deer island

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After a lovely and inspiring weekend in Seaside, Florida, Daniel and I weren’t yet ready to be away from the beach.  So we made a day trip to Deer Island, just off the Biloxi beach, leaving behind holiday revelers for a quiet afternoon on the Gulf side of the island.

We loaded up our little canoe and paddled the short distance from the Biloxi beach to Deer Island.

Daniel remembers a very different shoreline from his pre-Katrina visit. This wreckage is a poignant marker of the storm's destruction.

A fishing reef is tucked away from the Gulf shoreline.

There is a breathtaking array of flora and, given the tracks we saw, fauna in the narrow interior of the island.

More lovely flora.

Live oaks, which once shaded houses, provide little shady spots for resting.

Daniel plans to transform our canoe into a sailing canoe by outfitting it with a mast, mainsail, lead boards, and out-rigging.  (Apparently this can be and is done – you can even buy a kit, but Daniel is DIYing it.)  This way, we can make it to Horn Island without having to train to row crew.

Written by Ann

July 5, 2011 at 2:37 am

summer colors

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Beach colors make me want to paint walls and bathe everything in this delightful palette of cheerful brights and rich pastels.  Or just go back to the beach.  Here’s how I’d refashion my home into a seaside shrine.

Furniture in natural wood colors and textures

Seafoam green-tinted glassware

Sand white walls

More indoor plants, swamp varieties preferred

Linens in soft gray and pastels

Bright blue accents

Bright blue accents

Bold spectrum-inspired stripes on a white backdrop

Written by Ann

July 4, 2011 at 3:17 am