Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This One's for You, Beth!

Beth, the very first reader of Magpie Eats, wrote the following today:

Like you, I am pressed for time; and when I get home from work at 8:30 pm, the last thing I want to do is attempt to cook. So I'm hopeful that eventually something will pop up here that can be made in one pot, in less than 20 minutes.

I usually get home at 9 pm or later so I completely understand the ravenous arrival and the need for something easy and satisfying. Here's what I end up eating at least once a week. There is but one catch: you must buy Pastures of Eden kosher sheep's milk feta from Israel. I buy it regularly at Trader Joe's. It is my all time favorite cheese. When I was staring down the barrel of intense dietary restrictions I insisted I could do without all other dairy if I could just have this cheese in my life. And, while I am sensitive to cow's milk, this sheep's milk cheese doesn't bother me at all. It is creamy, mild, just slightly tangy, and simply divine.

So once you've hit TJ's and made sure you have a package or two of this lovely cheese in your fridge, you come home ravenous and looking for something to eat RIGHT NOW. Bring a pot of water to boil and throw in some kind of tiny pasta. I like orzo best, but there are numerous tiny (quick cooking) shapes. If greens are your thing, add a handful of finely sliced spinach, kale, chard, or mustard greens just before draining the pasta, for a quick wilt. Drain the pasta (and greens), toss everything in the bowl with a dash of olive oil, a clove of pressed garlic, a good grind of black pepper and the crucial couple of handfuls of crumbled Pastures of Eden feta. Give it a moment--the heat from the pasta will soften the cheese and, once you stir, you will have a deliciously creamy and delightful sauce coating your tiny pasta.

I can't tell you how satisfying this is. Obviously you can get more complicated: chopped parsley and basil are lovely additions as are chopped kalamata olives, strips of roasted red pepper, and tiny sliced tomatoes are divine with this if they're in season. But you can also leave the extras out--the pasta with the cheese is amazingly satisfying. But, please, buy the right cheese. Any other feta, in my experience, is unlikely to produce the same result, so you've been warned.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Ever since the day a few months ago when a friend brought me a still warm dish of her Indian mother-in-law's freshly prepared uppma I've been hooked. It's hard to describe the appeal of what could simply be defined as a savory Cream of Wheat. Bear with me, it's better than it sounds. Think more of a pilaf/risotto hybrid, speckled with vegetables and nuts, rich with the golden flavor of lightly toasted wheat. It must be the ultimate comfort food for countless South Indians--it just has that warm, wholesome, uncomplicated thing going on.

On a recent trip to Abhiruchi for a Sunday buffet lunch, I had numerous servings of their uppma which was not nearly as delicate as Gita's, but tasty nonetheless.

And finally, I got up the nerve to try my own after buying a bag of farina at Bob's Red Mill last week. I followed the process outlined by Madhur Jaffrey in her World Vegetarian cookbook, but used my own combination of ingredients. We had neither curry leaves nor chana dal, but there was a bowl of leftover shelled edamame in the fridge, making this particular version a Japanese-South Indian fusion experiment. It was delicious though, unsurprisingly, the children were not impressed. You'll find the recipe here. It's clearly a foundation sort of dish--once you have the basics, I'm sure you can play with all sorts of variations. Madhur Jaffrey offers up three versions: cilantro-peanut, cashew and green bean, and a cabbage-pea combo. I plan on trying all of them. If you try it, let me know how it turns out.

Reviving Appetite

A new blog? Whatever for?

Well, here's the thing. I really, really miss the food-positive adventurous cook I used to be. I don't know if it's age, three enormously picky and unadventurous children, Graves' Disease, or just the general chaos of my life, but I've kind of lost interest in cooking. Shopping, meal planning, and preparation seem to have become ridiculously difficult and I feel we've hit rather a low spot around here. But lately I'm finding that I really want to invite that old foodie back into my home.

I'd always planned that I'd raise my children on lovingly prepared whole foods, exposing them to a variety of enjoyable flavors, and they would grow to enthusiastically learn at my side in the kitchen. Well, I do have a 4 year old who's happy to fling messy ingredients hither and yon, but dinner, on a good day, might rely heavily on quick-to-fix choices courtesy of Trader Joe's. Sometimes, God help us, we just throw another pot of Annie's macaroni and cheese at the kids and encourage them to consider a piece of fruit as well while we, the adults, forage for sorry leftovers in the fridge or make do with kefir and quesadillas. What a sorry state we've reached around here.

I want to return to the kitchen, so to speak. And I don't want to do it alone. On my other blog I've posted quite a few links to recipes and people seem to be downloading them. I hope they are being used as well, but I've never heard back from anyone about how the cooking went. I'm hoping this blog will attract more folks who are interested in talking food and sharing recipes. I'm looking forward to hearing from people.

What do I hope to provide here? Whatever food-related items come my way, I suppose. I'm bound to comment on meals made for me by others whether in their homes or in restaurants. Well-loved recipes, experiments, and reflections on the process of bringing food to the table should figure heavily in the mix. A caveat: I keep kosher and am primarily vegetarian, so you'll need to look elsewhere for new ways with ham and shrimp. I am fond of a number of cuisines, most especially Indian so there's likely to be some leaning toward veggie dishes from the subcontinent. Or whatever strikes my fancy. I am, after all, a magpie!