28 April 2017

Thai Brussels Sprouts with Rice Noodles

Inspiration for this dish came from Momofuku's Brussels sprouts with fish sauce and a couple of standard traditions in my own kitchen (namely, fried shrimp with pasta and bacon + Brussels sprouts). The result looks and sound like a hot jumbled mess of stuff, but I promise is it delicious, and leftovers are heavenly hot or cold.  It's pretty salty, but nothing a nice glass of white wine can't mitigate. (PS--you could totally make this vegetarian by swapping out the shrimp for tofu and just omitting the bacon. I hear there's even a good version of vegan fish sauce recipe out there if you care to make the time.)

Thai Brussels Sprouts with Rice Noodles

Serves 4

1-1 ½ pounds small Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1 cup broccoli florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 slices bacon
12-15 medium sized shrimp, deveined and shells and tails removed
8 oz. medium rice noodles (like what you’d use in Pad Thai)

For the vinaigrette:
½ cup fish sauce (adjust to taste -- some fish sauce brands are saltier)
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
¼ cup sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 serrano chile, thinly sliced, seeds intact
2 tablespoons each chopped mint and cilantro

Place the rice noodles in a large bowl and completely submerge in hot water.  Soak for thirty minutes, drain, set aside.
Preheat the oven to 450⁰F. On a foil-lined baking sheet, combine the Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and tablespoon olive oil. Spread out into a single layer, season with a little salt, and roast until there are browned spots to your liking, about 20 minutes.  You’ll probably want to check on it and give a stir about 15 minutes in.

Meanwhile in a large skillet, cook the bacon on low heat until browned and crunchy. Drain on a paper towel, crumble, and set aside.  Combine the shrimp with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon brown sugar in a small bowl, then add to the bacon grease in the skillet.  Cover over medium-high heat until golden, about 5 minutes per side. Add the onions and sauté until they just turn soft, about 4 minutes.

Lower heat to low. Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl, whisk to combine, and add to the skillet. Add the drained rice noodles and stir thoroughly to coat.  Stir in the roasted vegetables and the chopped mint and cilantro, and serve immediately.

21 April 2017

Quick trips: Pittsburgh

I used Pittsburgh as my home base last week for a couple of university appearances, and I will preface this post with the truth: you could spend a lot more time in Pitt doing a lot more super cool things. But here's a little something to get you started while you're buying your opera tickets and looking up all your favorite galleries.

Lawrenceville neighborhood:
Coca Cafe has to-die-for egg sandwiches with kimchi, excellent coffee, and a chill, funky vibe just a few blocks off the Allegheny River. Afterwards, talk a short hilly stroll to enjoy the Art Deco architecture of Arsenal Middle School and the grandiose Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, which kind of transports you back to Victorian Europe. Pints on Penn makes for a break across the street from 19th Century composer Stephen Foster's home, too.


Crafton neighborhood:
Authentic family-style Italian-American food is pretty easy to come by in Pittsburgh, but I loved Sarafino's for its raucous close-knit atmosphere, perfectly dressed pasta (the red clam sauce was delish), and a soaked almond creme cake which puts all other cakes to shame. They don't serve alcohol, so make like the locals and come prepared with your own bottle or two (or in one case, a martini shaker and various bottles of brightly-colored liquors). Big Daddy's Donuts is good, too, but be forewarned, they're not actually open 24/7 as some websites might say. They are super fresh.

Some other cools stuff to see:
Andy Warhol Museum
Heinz History Center, with a display of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
Nationality Rooms at University of Pittsburgh, honoring the various origins of Pittsburgh's melting pot

07 April 2017

The salad that eats like a (light, springy) meal

I love grain salads; they travel well for not-sad desk lunches, and they make interesting sides to fish, tofu, or meat. This one has me finally using up that enormous tub of Israeli couscous I bought on a whim last winter (don't skip the toasting in the recipe below!), and it makes the most of early spring vegetables, if they're available in your area.

Israeli Couscous Salad

Serves 6 as a side, 4 as a light meal

For the couscous:
2 cups Israeli couscous
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2+1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Using a medium saucepan, heat couscous and oil over medium heat for about 6 minutes or until the grains are golden brown.

Add water and salt, stir. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Stir. Reduce heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Remove pan from heat and let stand, still covered for a few minutes. Next, grab a baking sheet. Spread the couscous in a single layer and cool. Set aside.

For the salad:
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
kosher salt and pepper
2 shallots, sliced thin
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more for finishing
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 ounces or 4 cups of baby arugula spinach, or other tender greens, roughly chopped
1/2 cup largely diced cucumber
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup sliced almonds

In a small saucepan, bring vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt to a simmer over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add shallots, stir, cover and remove from heat. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes. Drain and roughly chop shallots. Set aside.

Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, mustard, red pepper flakes, and salt in a large bowl. Add couscous, arugula, mint, cucumber, 1/4 cup feta, 1/4 cup almonds, and shallots. Toss gently. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a pretty bowl. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of feta and almonds. Add a squeeze of lemon juice over the salad. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

**Pickle shallots before making couscous to save time. They'll keep for a few weeks in the fridge. 

06 April 2017

Cocktails for These Political Times: so, do we still have healthcare?

I was trying to remember when the whole Trumpcare debacle happened, and although it seems like at least thirteen controversies ago, it was just on March 24!  And I didn't even make a toast! So, this one's for all of my self-employed friends, many of whom are entertaining you with their amazing music/art/acting/dancing skills, teaching your children self-esteem and pride in a job well done, and making absolutely no contributions to the destruction of this world.  For the record, I always believed you deserve medical care.  Congrats on keeping it a bit longer. I added some juice for extra vitamins.

Healthcare, Hell Yeah!

Makes 1 drink

5 ounces unsweetened blueberry juice
2 ounces plain vodka
sugar to taste
fresh blueberries
coarse sugar for rim of glass

Wet the rim of a chilled martini glass with vodka. Place coarse sugar on a plate, rub the edge of the glass with sugar to coat. Taste your blueberry juice to see how sweet it is. Add ice,vodka, blueberry juice & sweetener (if needed) to a martini shaker. Shake & strain into sugar rimmed martini glass. Float fresh blueberries on the top of the cocktail.
* You could totally replace the vodka with sparkling water (in which case, don't shake!) if you're scared you're about to lose your health insurance.

31 March 2017

Lentil + Cheese + Rice = Love

I love lentils and rice all the time, but I also love cheese, and sometimes the two get combined.  I don't know what else to say about this--it's a snap to make, leftovers are delish, and it's super filling. Just go make it. 

Cheesy Lentils and Rice

Serves 4

2-2/3 cups vegetable broth
3/4 cup dried lentils, rinsed
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1/4 cup dry white wine or additional broth
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozarella, divided

In a bowl, combine the first 11 ingredients; stir in 1/2 cup cheese. Transfer to a 1-1/2-qt. baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover and bake at 350° for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until lentils and rice are tender and liquid is absorbed, stirring twice. Uncover; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 2-3 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Yield: 4 servings.

30 March 2017

Cocktails for These Political Times: And also for the broken hearted

I never gave much credence to Valentine's Day, but I do vaguely remember that it served as a not-so-friendly reminder of my alone-ness whenever I was alone on that stupidest of holidays in my youth (which was often, surprisingly!). I think that's kind of what the Trump presidency feels like so far: I see photos of Justin Trudeau being awesome, and Angela Merkel being a grown-up (reminder: she's got a PhD in physical chemistry), and I just feel so...alone.  Bereft. Totally fucked.  So, I'm going through my Valentine's Day favorites to cope this week.

Just Go HERE.  I can't even.

24 March 2017

Brown Sugar Shrimp and Pasta

Consider this a kind of quick-and-dirty, Italian-ish sweet and sour dish.  And spicy, and garlicky...

Brown Sugar Shrimp and Pasta

Serves 4

12 oz. large shrimp, deveined and peeled
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 teaspoons olive oil
small bunch kale, washed and cut into thin strips
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into a small dice
2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
4 scallion, thinly sliced (green and white parts)
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more)
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
1 package spaghetti-like product of your choice

Bring a salty pot of water to boil. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions.

Place the (thawed) shrimp in a bowl and add the brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Stir to coat thoroughly and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the kale, red bell pepper, garlic, and green onion over medium heat until everything is tender, about five minutes. Push to one side and add the shrimp to the middle of the pan. Cook until golden, about five minutes on each side. Add the crushed red pepper and capers and stir everything together; taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Stir in the vinegar, scraping off any brown bits in the skillet.

Add the cooked, drained pasta to the skillet along with the butter. Stir to combine everything thoroughly and serve immediately in bowls.

23 March 2017

Cocktails for These Political Times: rated R for language

It's hard to come up with a Supreme Court-themed cocktail, you know? But I am your humble servant, and so I try...

GET TO KNOW Neil Gorsuch, Supreme Court nominee. Born in August 29, 1967, this silver-haired fox and virtuous Virgo wants you ladies to ask permission before doing stuff with your bodies (you will be told no), and you truckers can just sarcastically freeze in your trucks, I guess. He is also a steadfast hand-shaker. Get to know what else he stands for with this Denver Post cheat-sheet and drink away your fears with the ...

Rocky Mountain Mother F*cker

Makes 1 drink

1/2 ounce amaretto almond liqueur
1/2 ounce whisky
1/2 ounce lime juice

Combine ingredients in a shaker over ice and chill. Strain, pour into a shot glass, and serve.

17 March 2017

DFT goes to the Mississippi Delta!

March is a great time to visit the Southeast; the flowers are already starting to bloom, and the temperatures/humidity are nowhere near oppressive yet (by May, in this Yankee's opinion, it's best to steer clear of the Mason-Dixon line if you care at all about physical comfort). It's a great place for lovers of blues and its history, Southern Gothic novelists, Roman(ish) columns on EVERYTHING, and of course, barbecue. I went last week on a short master class tour and a visit to the inaugural Music by Women Festival at Mississippi University for Women (a unique experience in itself), and here's what I can recommend:

Cleveland, MS: Home of Delta State University (go Fightin' Okra!) and a (though not theGrammy Museum. The tiny downtown is adorbs and can be walked in about 10 minutes. 

Mississippi Grounds
219 S. Court Street
(662) 545– 4528
Coffee House with great breakfast burritos and a killer cappucino

Mosquito Burrito
301 Cotton Row
(662) 843-4822
Fresh-Mexi Cuisine for the hipster student crowd

Hey Joe's Cafe & Record Shop
118 E. Sunflower Rd, Suite C
(662) 843-5425
I didn't try the gourmet burgers, but the local craft beer menu was impressive.

Starkville, MS: Home of Mississippi State University and a bigger downtown.  They host a film festival March 2-4 (or thereabouts) every year and a restaurant week charity event in mid-April. This place is pretty hoppin', actually. 

Nine-twentynine Coffee Bar
106 E. Main Street
Starkville, MS 39759
(662) 268-8014
Not only beautiful inside, they will make coffee however you can imagine for it to be made.  The pour-over was divine.

UMI Japanese Cuisine
315 Highway 12 W
Starkville, MS 39759
(662) 323-5258
Two tasty rolls for $6.95 for lunch? Yes please.

Lost Pizza Company
325 Highway 12 W
Starkville, MS 39759
(662) 324-0050
Chewy crust and a plethora of toppings, this is a local favorite with several locations across northern MS.

The Little Dooey
100 Fellowship Street
Starkville, MS 39759
(662) 323-6094
If you want a proper plate lunch, this is the real deal.  Suggested by a local, I do not regret the gut-busting plate of spicy pork, potato salad, and turnip greens that kept me full for over 24 hours (see below).

406 Hwy 12 East
Starkville, MS 39759
(662) 323-1639
Upscale local chain (there's one in Columbus, below, too). Known for the broccoli bites, which as far as I can tell are delicious blobs of broccoli smothered in cheese sauce, battered into balls and deep fried.  And the bartender makes a mean Old Fashioned. 

Oxford, MS: I was there to visit the flute studio at Ole Miss, but of course couldn't resist driving by Faulkner's house (disappointingly surrounded by gas stations and other modern crap on the edge of campus, but still...). This is the center of intellectual and artistic activity in northern Mississippi, and it shows.  Oh, and the campus is ridiculously beautiful (below).

Burns-Belfry museum about African American history:
710 Jackson Ave. East
Oxford, MS 38655
Sunday 1:00 to 4:00 and Wednesday through Friday 12:00 to 3:00
Admission is free

Civil Rights Monument on campus:
University Circle,
University of Mississippi,
University, MS 38677

I did more wandering than eating here, but the local chain deli Newk's on campus was actually super delish.  The Square is also a great downtown area for shopping and eating, it would seem, but alas, I had to hurry back to a rehearsal in...

Columbus, MS: Birthplace of Tennessee Williams and home of Mississippi University for Women, now a coed school that prefers to be known as The W. Also an insanely beautiful campus, this one has a certain kind of private school opulence you can only find in the good old South (I think).

There's another Harvey's at 200 Main Street, I can tell you now that the Cajun Pasta (very much like Crawfish Monica) was fantastic.  Still liked the Old Fashioneds here, too. 

Mississippi State Committee of the National Museum for Women in the Arts Exhibition. Visit www.muw.edu/as/art/gallery for information on this and other W exhibits.
Gallery hours are Monday - Friday, 8am-5pm. The exhibits are free and open to the public.
1100 College Street MUW-70 
(662) 329-7291

Other restaurants recommended to me by locals, but which I did not get to try, include

121 S 5th St
Columbus, MS 39701Phone number(662) 327-6500
Cajun/Creole: great fried green tomatoes

Jackson Square Grill
1927 U.S. 45
Columbus, MS 39701(662) 328-8656
Big on seafood and with a great brunch

Hana Korean Restaurant and Market
4226 Mississippi 373
Columbus, MS 39705
(662) 434-8881
Cheap and comforting stone pots and curries.

16 March 2017

Cocktails for These Political Times: Ode to the ACLU

I went through the ACLU's Lobby Training Day in Denver Tuesday, and it was so eye-opening.  We had a brief meeting followed by a morning of wandering around the state Senate and House of Reps offices bugging politicians (and often their aides) not to torture incarcerated minors and to protect free speech  on campus.  In all of my years, and multiple civics classes I was required to take but never took seriously, I never learned so much about how bills are introduced, amended, and voted on. And after seeing up-close how many people are working tirelessly to go through every piece of legislature with a fine-toothed comb to ensure American's civil liberties, I have a renewed sense of appreciation for the ACLU (as do many of you; in Colorado alone, the number of volunteers jumped from 30 before election day to 1700 after their first legislative battles with the so-called Muslim ban).

The ACLU is a non-partisan group invested in calling everyone, on both sides of the aisle, on their bullshit. And if you can't get behind that, then you don't deserve this drink or any other except maybe prune juice.

The Black and White

Makes 1 drink

Ice cubes
2 fluid ounces heavy cream
1 fluid ounce vanilla flavored vodka
1 1/2 fluid ounces chocolate liqueur
Chocolate swizzle sticks, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the cream and vodka. Cover and shake vigorously, or stir, until combined and chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Slowly pour the chocolate liqueur into the center of the drink to make a layered black and white cocktail. Lay a chocolate swizzle stick across the top rim of the glass. Serve. (Stir the layers together with the swizzle stick before drinking.)

10 March 2017

The Better-than-Chipotle Rice Bowl

I don't eat fast food unless I'm travelling and either trying to be cheap or am in a big hurry. But when that is the case, I do like Chipotle.  I love the green rice, and I appreciate the variety of fresh-like ingredients I can add to my nicely cooked black beans.  But it's way too much food! One burrito will keep me full for over 24 hours, and I'm pretty sure that's not good for your system.  

Work a little less hard to digest your food while enjoying that comforting Tex-Mex flavor at home with these fast and easy chicken (if you want), bean, and rice bowls! And as with most of my recipes, you can easily swap out ingredients to make this more your own. Mine, below, is a facsimile of the included recipe, but doused with Tapatio hot sauce, as well. 

Better-than-Chipotle Rice Bowl

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 small serrano, thinly sliced (remove seeds for a milder meal)
1 chicken breast, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 large garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup corn kernels
2 15-oz. cans black beans (drain one, use the liquid from the other)

Green rice:
1 cup long grain white rice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt to taste

Small avocado, cut into chunks
1 medium tomato, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan or your rice cooker, cook the rice according to package directions. 

Meanwhile, heat the oil on medium heat in a large skillet. When it shimmers, add the bell pepper, onion, and serrano and sauté until soft, about five minutes. Add the chicken along with the cumin and chili powder and some salt. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the chicken is almost cooked, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic cloves, corn, and black beans, reduce to low heat, cover and let simmer about 15 minutes.

Prepare the garnish: combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

When the rice is done, fluff with a fork while stirring in the cilantro, lime juice, and salt.

To build bowls: place equal amounts of rice into the bottom of each bowl.  Top with equal amounts of the bean mixture and then the garnish. 

09 March 2017

Cocktails for These Political Times: Ladies and Health Stuff

Damnit, do I really still have to do this, America?  Alright, fine...

1. You're all about to lose your healthcare, if you haven't already.  Contact the honorable Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah to find out what kind of trade-in for services you can get with your iPhone.

In the meantime, you may want to start drinking healthier.  But you also need some vodka to drown your salty, salty tears in, so...

The 2017 Healthcare Gimlet

Makes 1 drink

2 oz, Vodka (keep it cheap, as you're going to have to pay for your own surgeries in the future) 2 oz. pineapple juice 
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 sprig fresh tarragon (optional)

Place vodka, pineapple juice, lime juice, and agave nectar in a shaker with plenty of ice.  Shake until you can't stand it anymore, then strain into a martini glass.  Garnish with tarragon, which is supposed to be good for you or some shit (but not as good as free preventative medicine).

2. There was a Day Without Women strike yesterday, because apparently we still need to remember that we all rely on women sometimes, like say for our very existence. I was working along with a kick-ass woman composer in Laramie, but I did wear red. 

The #drinklikeagirl 

Makes 1 drink

1 oz. Rye Bourbon or Scotch 
1 oz. grapefruit juice 
1 oz. pomegranate juice* 
1/2 oz. of ginger simple syrup
dash of orange bitters
brandied cherries** and orange peel for garnish

Place all ingredients except garnishes in a shaker with ice. Shake until you are world weary. Strain into whatever the hell glass you like and garnish with brandied cherries and orange peel. 

* ginger simple syrup: In a small saucepan, bring 12 oz. fresh sliced ginger, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and 1 1/2 cups water to a boil over medium heat. Cook 2 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve, discarding ginger. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

**brandied cherries: it's a lot of words.  just go here

03 March 2017

Salad dressing recipes that will have you rejecting the bottle...

Bottled dressings kind of suck, don't they?  They're always off--too sweet, too gloppy, weird fake garlic taste, dead rat parts floating around--and they're certainly not good for you, with all the preservatives and corn syrup meant to make them "good" and long lasting.  If you want to up your salad game (meaning, stop feeling resentful when eating salads), the best thing you can do is keep a couple of jars filled with some tasty, super-easy homemade dressings.  Here are my favorites.

Japanese restaurant-style salad dressing: combine in a blender
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons minced celery
2 tablespoons ketchup
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons white sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Tahini Dressing: whisk together
1 cup tahini
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
2 grated garlic cloves
1 cup water
salt and black pepper to taste

Mustard and Caper Vinaigrette: whisk together
1 garlic clove, smashed and minced
1 teaspoon capers, chopped
1 teaspoon mustard
pinch sugar (optional)
4 tablespoons vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

"Ranch" Dressing: whisk together
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup milk (any kind will do)
½ teaspoon dried summer savory
½ teaspoon dried dill
¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon dried onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Green Goddess: combine in blender
half an avocado
¼ cup Greek yogurt
½ cup water (more as needed to adjust consistency)
1 cup cilantro leaves and stems
1 small clove of garlic
½ teaspoon salt
a squeeze of lime juice

02 March 2017

Cocktails for these Political Times: Mississippi Edition

I'm in Mississippi this week (stop by if you're in Starkville, Oxford, or Columbus!) giving some concerts and master classes across the Northern expanse of the state, and I'm enjoying learning about local political woes here (well, enjoy might be the wrong word).  Like Coloradans, they had to just go ahead and have a town hall meeting last weekend without their Representative, Steve Palazzo.  But the ugly bill to kill funding for the Mississippi Arts Commission has been killed (yay), and if you're in the area, you can join the good people of this state at the March 4 March on Mississippi to end voter suppression AND their Women's March for Progress April 22. Like so many places these days, it seems the citizenry is far superior to their elected representatives. You guys deserve some punch!

Mississippi Riverboat Milk Punch

Serves between 1 & 6

6 cups any kind of milk you want
1-1/2 cups bourbon
1-1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

In a pitcher, whisk together milk, bourbon, sugar, and vanilla. Freeze until slushy, 3 to 4 hours. Stir before serving in glasses, finished with a few gratings of fresh nutmeg.

(Urgent PS--you know that little victory for the arts Mississippi just enjoyed? It's meaningless if the NEA, which funds large portions of each state's arts budget, is done away with.  You can sign this fun and easy petition to help see that it isn't!)

24 February 2017

Goes well with hangovers

When I was a graduate student at Indiana University, my Korean friend would take me to the only Korean restaurant in town (no doubt one of very few in the entire state) and, while pointing out all of the inauthenticities, treat me to Pa Jun, the lovely, comforting savory pancake filled with bits of vegetables and meats and served with a fun dipping sauce.  It was meant to soak up all the leftover alcohol in our systems after overindulging (I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues at the IU School of Music for teaching me just how much I could drink without puking), and I still have fond memories of hazy Saturdays slowly downing Pa Jun and trying to recall embarrassing things I said to cool string players and composers the night before.  Now, in my much more boring (but also more stable and happy) life as a 40-something musician who cooks a lot, I adore Pa Jun as a fun way to use up leftover bits of veggies, meat scraps, and yes, even tiny bits of tofu littering the fridge. 

Pa Jun

Serevs 4

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoons sugar, optional
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour or rice flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup very finely chopped vegetables asparagus, broccoli, green beans, scallions or chopped cooked leftover meat chicken, beef, pork or both

For dipping sauce: In a small bowl, combine vinegar, soy sauce, sugar (if using) and red pepper flakes. Mix well and set aside.

For pancakes:  Place a small (6- to 8-inch) nonstick or well-seasoned skillet over medium-low heat. Coat bottom with vegetable oil and allow to heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs just until frothy. Add flour and salt and whisk to combine. Add vegetables or meat and stir to blend. Add 1 cup cold water and mix again to blend.

Fill a 1/2-cup measuring cup with batter; pour into hot pan. Allow to sit until browned and crispy on bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip pancake and cook another 2 minutes. Place on a serving plate and keep warm (or set aside to serve at room temperature). Repeat with remaining batter. Serve with dipping sauce, tearing or cutting off pieces of pancake to dip in sauce with fingers or chopsticks.

Also goes great with drinking: shinjaga shouyu bataa!  Think of this as the Japanese version of Spanish/Cuban patatas bravas--just a simple dish of potato chunks with a little seasoning.  These are traditionally new potatoes dressed only with soy sauce and butter (a remarkably wonderful combination you can use on any and all cooked vegetables, by the way), but I like the addition of cilantro and peanuts, and of course, lime juice is fantastic over just about everything. You can easily whip these up after a night out, offer to friends with their beers, or just treat them as a respectable app or side in the light of day. There they are with Pa Jun, above!

Potatoes with butter and soy sauce

Serves 4 as a side

3-4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Coarsely ground black pepper 
2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped peanuts
lime wedges for serving

Put the potatoes in a pot with water to cover; add salt (the water should taste almost as salty as sea water). Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and keep int the pot. Add the butter and soy sauce and mix. Once the butter is melted, stir in the cilantro and peanuts and serve with lime wedges to squeeze over the top. 

23 February 2017

Cocktails for These Political Times, part 3

There is so much news every week, most of it bad or crazy, coming out of the White House, and I feel like we all need a little break (from news, but not from drinking). I think it's time for a little positivity. So, this week I've decided to feature some of the fights one of my favorite (sadly, not mine) senators has been picking. This week's Cocktails for These Political Times salutes Minnesota Senator Al Franken, because he kicks ass. And a congratulations to you Minnesotans on your good taste. Check out his formerly awesome hair here.

Hot topics:

Net Neutrality

Overturning Citizens United (here's the petition if you want to sign)

Putting an end to LGBT Bullying (watch the interview here)

Supporting refugees against the Muslim band

There, do you have a crush on Al Franken yet?

It says that the Minnesota state drink is milk (of course), so here we go...

Red Wine Hot Chocolate

Serves 2, if you want to share

1 1/2 cup milk (non-dairy is fine, but keep it plain)
1 cup cheap, fruity/dry red wine (like a South American Shiraz or Merlot)
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and chocolate chips. Whisk constantly until chocolate is melted into milk and you have a thick and creamy chocolate milk. Pour in red wine and heat until everything is hot. Pour into 2 mugs or 6-8 smaller glasses if you think you can't handle it. I totally think Franni would be able to pound this, though.

Goes with: whatever the fuck you want, because Al Franken thinks you are beautiful and he would never tell you what you can and can't eat. 

17 February 2017

Red lentils with roasted vegetables

I love red lentils because they thrive on neglect--throw them in a pot with some water, start the heat and walk away, and eventually (pretty quickly, actually) they become a satisfyingly thick, chunky sauce. This recipe is an alteration from a New York Times recipe that works equally well as a stew or as a sauce poured over rice or pasta of any kind.  I also like it with a squeeze of lemon on top, but you do what you want. 

Roasted Vegetable and Red Lentil Stew

Serves 8

1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced thin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)
black pepper to taste
1 ½ cup red lentils
5 cups water
lemon wedges for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lay the carrots in a roasting pan and toss with 3 tablespoons oil. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cover with foil and roast for 20 minutes. Turn the carrots, add the onion and pepper, cover again and roast 15 minutes, until the carrots are brown and tender. When carrots are cool enough, cut them in 1/4-inch dice.

Warm 1 tablespoons oil in a saucepan. Add the carrot-and-onion mixture, the paprika, garlic and chili powders, and the cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the lentils. Add the water and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the lentils are falling apart. Season with remaining salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice, or as a thick soup, with optional lemon squeezed on top.

16 February 2017

Cocktails for These Political Times, part 2

Well well well!  So much exciting stuff happened this week!  Michael Flynn quit, Andrew Puzder withdrew his name as Labor Secretary, and despite the DeVos confirmation, the literacy rate still seems to be the same (not great, but still...).  We've got so much to celebrate!  We are still in Russia's back pocket, but we'll save that for another time.

One topic that has become near and dear to me is that of the town hall meetings.  You may recall (or maybe not--who can keep up with all of the drama?) that several GOP senators returned home in the last week to some rather hostile crowds demanding answers to a wide variety of basic questions regarding healthcare, Russian hacking, business conflicts, and the like.  Here in my home state of Colorado, we have yet to hear any news of prodigal first-time senator Cory Gardner's return, although some of my clever fellow Greeley residents sent him a heartfelt Valentine this week to tantalize him. Many of us have also signed this helpful petition reminding him of our existence.

Perhaps he's afraid to see a repeat of what happened in Salt Lake City when Jason Chaffetz, chair of the oversight committee, got solidly slammed for sucking at his job, which is actually to represent his constituents' desires. Those desires apparently include investigating corruption in the White House. Who knew?

Chaffetz was a brave boy for facing the angry townspeople (braver, so far, than Gardner), but he did imply that those were paid protesters afterward, continuing a tired theme started by Trump himself. So, this week, TWO drinks: one for the great people of SLC for their righteous indignation (I know you probably don't drink, but Jello is your state food, right?), and one for keeping your strength up as you troll your senators on Facebook late into the night.

Fancy Jello Shots for SLC (non-alcoholic)

Makes about 12 double shots

1/2 cup boiling water
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 1/2 cups sparkling juice or cider (chilled)*
optional: berries, cherries, or gummies

Sprinkle the 2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin over the boiling water and let soften for a few minutes. Whisk to dissolve completely and to get rid of clumps.

Pour the sparkling juice or cider gently into a mixing bowl or large measuring cup with a spout (try to pour onto the inside of the bowl to minimize carbonation loss). Pour the gelatin mixture into the sparkling juice and gently stir to combine.

Pour the liquid into stemmed glasses or other containers you wish to use for serving. Add berries or gummies to each glass.

Refrigerate for an hour before serving or until jello is firm enough to eat.

* Trade the cider for sparkling wine/ champagne if you want.


Makes 1 drink

1/3 cup tomato juice
2 ounces tequila
juice of half a lime
Hot pepper sauce, (I like Tabasco or Tapatio)

In a large glass, combine tomato juice, tequila, and lime juice. Add ice and several dashes hot-pepper sauce, and get to work demanding revolution!

10 February 2017

Ode to Mollie, in casserole form

This is a veggie-loaded and otherwise altered version of Mollie Katzen's good old rice and spinach casserole from her original Moosewood cookbook.  It was one of my first standby recipes in grad school and has morphed many times over the years, but it still hits the spot on a cold winter night. It's also a great way to use leftover cooked rice and lentils or any other kind of beans you have laying around! 

Important: Please note from the title that the casserole itself is not dirty, though the hippies eating it may be.

Dirty Hippie Rice Casserole

Serves 6-8

4 cups cooked rice (any kind but Minute!)
1-1.5 cups cooked lentils or small beans
2 lbs. raw, chopped spinach or other greens (amount doesn't have to be exact)
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 eggs beaten with 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 cup milk (any)
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese (I like Parmesan)
4-5 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 small carrot, shredded or cut into matchsticks
2 cups chopped broccoli
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
a few dashes each - nutmeg, cayenne (I like a little more than a dash of cayenne)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds or pepitas

Saute onions and garlic with the salt in oil. When onions are soft, add greens, broccoli, and carrot. Cook 2 minutes.

Combine the veggies with the rice, lentils, eggs, milk, cheese, soy sauce, nutmeg, cayenne, and sunflower seeds/pepitas. Spread into buttered casserole and sprinkle some paprika on top.

Bake, uncovered, 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes. 

09 February 2017

Announcing: cocktails for these political times

This is a food and travel blog, and with the exception of this plea to donate to your favorite artistic endeavors, I have avoided sharing my political opinions thus far since the apocalypse slowly began. But whether you voted for Hillary or Trump, you've got to admit our shiny new President is breaking a lot of the valuable china right now, and our elected officials are either rendered powerless or too dumbstruck to act. Well, you don't have to admit that, but if you don't see it, please tell me what particular brand of powerful mind-numbing drugs you are taking, because I would very much like in on that. And also, goodbye and thank you for following this blog until today (I'm assuming).

Because drinking has definitely increased at my house and many of my friends' houses since inauguration day, I have decided to start a new Thursday night series called "Cocktails for These Political Times". Every week until the madness ends, I will touch upon some of the spectacular shittiness of the week with links to helpful resources for fighting back, and will dedicate a cocktail to someone on The Hill who really needs it. I hope this series doesn't run for very long, but I have a feeling I'm going to have to start getting a whole lot more creative with gin this year.

This week's biggest disappointments as an American include:
the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the country's last Secretary of Education, the appointment of KKK-loving Jeff Sessions to the incredibly important position of Attorney General, and poor Senator Elizabeth Warren's silencing by the Republicans for trying to read a letter by Coretta Scott King during the Dem's filibuster (a letter which, by the way, was then read by four different male senators without punishment).

While it's over for this round of fights, there are so many coming up, including

So, I invite you to watch these issues closely, contact your representative (maybe we can wear them down if we annoy them with our pesky opinions enough?) and read this article on making necessary political harassment a daily part of your schedule.

This cocktail goes to Senator Warren, whose treatment by Republicans reminds us that it sucks to be a woman senator at all, let alone a (gasp) liberal one. Liz, I don't know if you drink, but Imma have an extra one of these for you. Every damn day.

The Monkey Wrench

Serves 1, but honey, just double it if you want...

2 ounces light rum
4 ounces grapefruit juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry, to garnish

In an ice filled old-fashioned glass, combine the light rum, grapefruit juice and Angostura bitters.
Garnish with the maraschino cherry, and serve.

Goes with: the salty tears of your enemies. Also salt and vinegar chips.

03 February 2017

Recipe review: Thug Kitchen's Pasta Piselli

This recipe sounded  little weird, so of course I had to try it.  The result is, as promised, very fast and easy when you're starving and considering take-out. It's nothing you're going to make for guests when you have time (unless you're a lazy friend), but the flavor is a little earthy, a little bitter in a nice way.  If you wanted to be even lazier, you could replace the shallot with 1 teaspoon of dried onion and toss it in with the peas. I added the crushed red pepper, too, because that's how I roll.

Thug Kitchen's Pasta Piselli

Serves 4

1 pound short pasta shape, like elbows or shells
3 1/2 cups frozen peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, diced
pinch salt
3 cups chopped spinach or kale
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
dash crushed red pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions.  In the last minute, add the peas.  Drain all but 1/4 cup of the pasta water and set aside.

Heat the olive oil and cook the shallot with salt until tender. Toss in the spinach or kale and cook until wilted. Add pasta and all other ingredients and stir to coat thoroughly.

27 January 2017

A healthy dose of arts advocacy for your travel

Reader alert: what follows is a self-serving post you may or may not like.  You'll live.

this is a skeleton puking a rainbow, and it is awesome

Rumors abound that funding for the arts in our great-again country will be summarily cut, and soon. This may or may not come to pass (it has certainly be threatened before, but reality has also never felt so incomprehensible before), but if it does, the arts may never recover.  It takes so little work to remove something from collective expectations and so much to completely recreate that element of our society, along with the assumption that it deserves to exist.  So if you care at all about music, visual art, dance, writing, theater, and the intersection of any of the above, or if you just appreciate that these things feed other people's souls, and in many cases their families, might I suggest "voting with your feet" and consuming some good old fashioned American culture on your next trip to...anywhere? Don't worry if you haven't attended a play, visited a museum, or seen a band concert since you were a kid; there's more to love now in grown-up world with no follow-up homework assignments, and I'm already proud of you for trying something new. Here are some simple directories to get you started:

Catch a symphony concert in an amazing number of cities and medium-sized towns throughout the US!

come on, doesn't this shit look fun?

Get to know a new town through their artists by visiting an art gallery (psst...you can start your inspiring personal collection on your visit, too!). And good old Wikipedia's got your covered if you're looking for a museum of contemporary art.

You are going to flip out when you see how many professional dance companies exist in America! Like, even in Wheatland, Wyoming!?

Movies are cool and all, but when was the last time you went to a real, live play? Don't think you're into that sort of thing?  Just give it a try in any one of these 40 cities and see how wrong you are.

Directories for arts organizations are not all comprehensive (something we really should be better about), but I encourage you to search for live entertainment and opportunities to view art in every town you visit. And while you're spending all those $20 bills here and there on sassy "protest" shirts to benefit your favorite groups, you can also consider giving (or volunteering, or donating) to some of these hard-working groups struggling to keep the arts and arts education alive in the most positive ways:

Americans for the Arts supports research and programs connecting the arts (art, dance, theater, literature, music, and more) to educational programs designed to help students learn, grow, and develop a positive sense of self. The National Art Education Organization is focused on visual art.

The League of American Orchestras. If this sounds like a group of superheroes, they practically are.  Not only do they fight for what's right to get (and keep) musicians paid, but they sponsor programs to encourage women composers, young conductors, and experimental composers whose works don't fit the Hollywood soundtrack profile.

LitLine has created a list of organizations dedicated to keeping the independent literary community alive.

this is what a poetry reading looks like

Do you appreciate a certain dance company, theater troupe, community music school, etc. in your area? Don't be shy about calling them and asking how you can help them continue to function. Private support may be the only way we stay alive in the coming years.

It's going to be a long 2-4 years of defending what you love in this country, so why not get some good travel out of it?

20 January 2017

Bonus cocktails for your winter cold

I've spent the past few weeks fighting an on-again, off-again cold and bargaining with myself to only drink "healthy" cocktails, because abstaining completely is not bringing me any joy (so, no Drynuary for me, thank you). These current political times call for comfort of any kind, so eat your Jalapeno flavored Kettle Chips, watch your terrible Netflix cue, and make one of these drinks, which each have some healthy components when separated from the alcoholic content.

Salty Bulldog

makes 1 drink

2 oz. gin
1 oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. grapefruit juice
dash Angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a glass. Salted rim, extra.

Most Perfect Hot Toddy

makes 1 drink

2 oz. rye whisky
4 oz hot water
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon

Stir all ingredients together in a mug until honey is fully incorporated. Drink.

13 January 2017

I made Thug Kitchen's Tahini Fudge, and it is insane

The Thug Kitchen...collective? family? corporation (ooooo, fightin' words)?...now has several cookbooks out, and I just finally got my hands on 101 (fast recipes). It has several comforting, easy and fast dishes to whip up they are perfectly pleasant, but the one recipe I couldn't stop thinking about was this crazy-sounding tahini fudge.  I mean, I like tahini, and I don't totally like fudge, so maybe I should try it?

It is weird as hell--salty and bitter as well as sweet--but I love it.  It's so complex, and it almost has a burnt sugar taste to it for a split second of each bite. You can read a reprint of the original recipe here, but I made a couple of alterations based on what I had lying around the house. 

Thug Kitchen's Tahini Fudge

1 cup canned coconut milk
1 cup tahini
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons fig jam
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 roasted pepitas

Grease an 8-inch square baking dish.

Place all but the pepitas in the blender and process until smooth. Pour into the baking dish, sprinkle with the pepitas, and freeze for at least 1 hour before cutting and serving. (The original recipe says just to refrigerate, but I couldn't get it to set that way.)

06 January 2017

Oh-So-Satisfying Cauliflower and Olive Penne

What could be simpler than this luxurious, but very easy dish between Christmas and New Year's? Nothing.  Nothing, I say. And for anyone who doesn't love cauliflower, this is the dish for you. 

Cauliflower and Olive Penne

Serves 4

½ pound penne pasta
1 cup mixed olives, pitted and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ small yellow onion, diced
1 small head cauliflower broken into small florets (about 2 cups raw)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more to taste)
Olive oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt to taste
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)
¼ cup roasted almonds, chopped

Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425⁰F.  In a large bowl, combine the cauliflower and onion with the oregano, red pepper flakes, some salt, and about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast until brown bits develop, stirring once, about 15 minutes.  Add the olives and garlic, stir and spread, and roast another 5 minutes until olives and garlic are fragrant.

When the pasta is cooked, drain all but a ½ cup of the cooking water.  Stir in an ounce of Parmesan cheese, the lime juice, and salt to taste. Add the cauliflower mixture and stir thoroughly to combine.  Serve in individual bowls topped with equal portions of the chopped almonds and more grated Parmesan on the side.