After years of observations and careful analysis I have pin-pointed the major causes of my unproductiveness in grad school: perfectionism and its close relative, the fear of failure. And after a couple of days of wondering why I never write on this blog I realized it’s for the SAME REASONS! Namely, I want every picture of every step of the cooking process to be perfect and for each entry to be clever, poetic, or some other adjective to describe good writing. Well, the real kicker is that, although I’ve been really proud of some of my photographs, it’s really hard to get a nice picture when you don’t have great natural light, aka when it’s dark outside aka when most of us cook. So the only times I get “successful” photos is when I play hookie from school and cook in the afternoon or when I cook on the weekends.

Secondly, I rarely get a photo of the final product when I make something I’ve worked hard on or am really proud of because it’s either for a dinner party or it just disappears too fast. I always feel ridiculous pulling out my big camera in front of people to take pictures of food. I’m even shy about doing this around my roommates. Finally, while I’m a decent writer, I’m not particularly funny in writing. And I desperately wish I was. I mean, why else would anyone want to read this? It’s not like I’m a cooking expert with anything genius to say…

Well, I’ve decided to just get over all of this. I’m going to start writing posts with imperfect pictures and sometimes with very little text if I don’t have that much to say. My main goal over the next few weeks is to get out all of the back-logged posts (imperfections and all!) and share food that I like with whatever people read this. Hopefully there are a few of you…

Today for lunch I made these eggs poached in tomato sauce topped with grated pecorino romano cheese and served on toasted bread. I’ve been making this all the time ever since I found it on about a month ago. It is my new favorite quick meal. It’s so wonderful because pretty much any tomato sauce will work. So you can follow the tomato sauce recipe below or use the leftover homemade mushroom pasta sauce like I did. It’s genius!!!

You’ll notice with this post that I didn’t take any pictures of the process of cooking this. If you want that, check it out here. In the meantime, I’m gonna keep gorging myself with tomatoes and eggs and relish in the flexible grad student lifestyle that allows me to do this on a Tuesday afternoon…

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce
from the smitten kitchen, inspired there by Martha Stewart

This tomato sauce is pretty good, but if you have another tomato sauce (in a jar, or leftover from another meal) on hand, that will also work. Just reheat it in a sauce pan/ dutch oven and start at step 2.

1 can (14 ounces) tomato puree
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Big pinch of sugar
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Glug of red wine (optional)
4 large eggs
4 slices toasted country bread, for serving
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1. In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil; season with sugar, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 to 20 minutes minutes. A few minutes before it’s done, I like to add a glug of red wine and let it simmer for a moment.

2. Gently crack eggs into tomato mixture, cover, and let cook 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, uncover, and let stand 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Transfer each egg to a piece of toast. Spoon over sauce, garnish with cheese, and season with salt and pepper; serve immediately.


I’m finally wrapping up the posts from my southern meal (see previous pasts on catfish, peas, and collards) and I’ve saved the best for last: dessert, of course!  The funny thing is that what I made for dessert was actually something I grew up eating for breakfast on special occasions. Sometimes my parents would make this when my sister or I had sleepovers, and our friends would often react with skepticism to the idea of eating biscuits with chocolate gravy. But after the first bite, all traces of skepticism left their faces.  If you’re feeling skeptical too, trust me, this stuff is GOOD.

The biscuit recipe is good on its own and I would recommend it for breakfast biscuits to accompany eggs and bacon or to serve with dinner if you make fried chicken or something like that.  However, along with the chocolate gravy, they make a great indulgent breakfast–or perhaps a brunch–or a yummy dessert!

The biscuits are easy enough to make. Once you are done mixing in the buttermilk, don’t worry if your dough is sticky.   This is normal.  Just flour a work surface and turn the dough out of the mixing bowl using a spatula. In hindsight, I think I patted the dough too flat. I would aim for a slab of dough that is about 1 inch thick (I noted this in the recipe below). Another trick that I haven’t tried, but recently read about, is to preheat the oven above 400 degrees (say 475 or 500) and then turn it down to 400 once you put in the biscuits. This way the oven doesn’t dip below 400 when you open the oven door. This is supposed to ensure that your biscuits rise properly (which as you can see, mine did not!).  Luckily, since I was breaking them into pieces and dousing them in chocolate, this didn’t matter too much!  The next time I make them I think I will also put the cut-out biscuits close together on the baking sheet so they are barely touching.  I remember my Dad doing this and I’m not sure what it does, but it might make a difference…

Now that I’ve caught up on these posts from the past, I’ll be excited to share some of the stuff I’ve been making more recently! I’ll try to include some healthy stuff in there since I’m now remembering that this was my original intention with this blog. Ha!  I really did mean well, but five (out of 11) posts containing bacon, obsene amounts of sugar and/or chocolate later, that’s pretty laughable!

Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy
from my Granny Dalrymple


2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ cup butter at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk

Chocolate Gravy
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 ½ cups milk
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 Tbsp butter

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. To make biscuits, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and mix together using your fingers or a pastry knife until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add buttermilk and mix together with a fork until it forms a soft dough. Don’t overwork the dough.

2. Flour your work surface and press dough out with your fingers to a thickness of 1 inch. Using a round cookie cutter, cut out biscuits and put them on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until biscuits have some color.

3. While biscuits cook, mix sugar, flour, cocoa and milk in a medium saucepan. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring with a whisk often until sauce thickens. It should be thicker than hot cocoa, but not as thick as hot fudge. Add vanilla and butter and remove from heat.

4. To serve, crumble biscuits in separate bowls and pour on chocolate sauce.

Okay, I know breakfast burritos aren’t gourmet food by any standards, but I never claimed to be a gourmet cook, so I’m okay with that.  While I’m at it, I’ll also add that most of the food I will write about over the next couple of months will be meals-for-one, since I’m now living at a research station near Mammoth Lakes, CA, where I do my summer field work.  Here’s a picture of the mountains (the Eastern Sierra) I get to look at every day while I’m here.  Pretty nice, huh?

Oh right.  Back to cooking…  The kitchen setup where I am now is actually pretty decent.  There’s a gas stove and a good assortment of pots, pans, utensils, etc.  However, there’s no blender, or food processor, or stand mixer, or…(you get the picture, right?), so I will be sticking to the basics this summer.  But basic can still be really tasty, and I plan on proving that!

To start things off, I’m going to tell you about my favorite field food of all time...the veggie breakfast burrito!  Okay, okay, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I make this at home a lot too.  This is the fourth summer I have spent cooking for myself at field stations, so I’ve had many, many chances to practice and perfect the execution of this burrito.  There are obviously many variations that you can make, but I’ll just tell you about the combination of ingredients that I’ve found to work really well.

First of all, this burrito is essentially a scramble wrapped up in a tortilla, so if you’re on some kind of low carb kick or something, you can nix the tortilla altogether.  I happen to love tortillas though, and this only reminds me of how much I miss Micaela’s whole wheat tortillas while I’m in the field. If you’ve never had them, these tortillas are to DIE for.  They come in white and whole wheat flour and  are thick and a little doughy, so when you cook them they don’t totally dry out.  Best of all, they are made in Woodland (near Sacramento) and delivered fresh to Davis grocery stores like the Nugget and the Co-op.  SO…if you live in the Davis area and have not tried these tortillas, go out NOW and get them.  They are the Best. Ever. (especially the whole wheat).

Okay, now for the tortilla fillers/scramble components. I’m not a vegetarian, but somewhere along the way I tried Lightlife’s vegetarian sausage and was totally impressed with the flavor.  If you HAVE to have meat, you can also use bacon or real sausage, but the veggie stuff really does deliver on taste and is a little kinder to your arteries.  Other ingredients I have included along the way (depending on what vegetables I had on hand) are: broccoli, peppers, carrots, potatoes, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, blackbeans, and avocados.  I’ve also played around with types of salsas and have found that Trader Joe’s tomato-less corn salsa is a terrific match with the vegetarian sausage.  I imagine any other sweet salsa or a tomatillo salsa would also work really well.  Oh!  And you can’t forget CHEESE!  I use the sharpest cheddar I can find, but you should use whatever you enjoy.

Finally, before I present my “recipe,” a little disclaimer.  I mention in the tag line of this blog that I’m a perfectionist, and in the preparation of meals like this it tends to show.  How much time could a breakfast burrito take, after all?  Well…if you want to end up with each vegetable cooked just right and have the texture of the eggs turn out perfectly, I admit it takes more than just a few minutes.  But no more than 30.  I promise.

*I didn’t include a picture of the burrito here because burritos just aren’t pretty.  It pretty much looks like a rolled up tortilla with this stuff in it.

Veggie Breakfast Burrito

Makes one burrito (but can easily be doubled, tripled, etc.)

olive oil
2 veggie sausage patties (Lightlife Gimme Lean Sausage is great!)
1 cup broccoli, chopped into small florets
1/2 cup chopped sweet peppers (e.g. bell peppers) the more colorful the better!
1 clove garlic, minced
2 eggs, whisked in small bowl
1 tortilla
cheese (as much as you like)
salsa (I like Trader Joe’s corn salsa)
cilantro, small handful, coarsely chopped (optional)

1. Steam or blanch broccoli for a minute or two until bright green and slightly tender. Remove from water and/or steam basket, place in a bowl and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat a small amount of oil (2 tsp or so) over medium heat in a pan. Fry sausage patties until lightly browned on both sides. Remove from pan and soak on paper towels to remove excess oil.  Then chop into bite sized pieces.

3. Add more oil to the pan if it is too dry, then add chopped peppers and saute for a few minutes before adding the garlic. Remove the peppers and garlic from the pan once the garlic becomes aromatic and before it browns (after 30-60 seconds). Add to the same bowl as the broccoli.

4. Reduce the heat under the same pan to low. Add the eggs and do not stir until the they begin to set on the bottom. Once this happens I like to gently and occasionally push the eggs around with a spatula to let the runny parts on top spill over underneath. I try to stir as little as possible so that large chunks of egg remain in tact.

5. Somewhere around this point, you can start heating your tortilla. If you like your tortilla crispy, you can toast it on both sides in a large pan in a little oil. If you prefer a pliable tortilla, you can nuke it in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds with a damp paper towel over it to steam it.

5. Once eggs are close to done, add the reserved sausage, broccoli, peppers and garlic and stir into the eggs. Continue cooking for one minute or so to allow the eggs to finish cooking and everything else to heat through.

6. Immediately transfer this scramble to your tortilla, and add cheese, salsa, and cilantro. Wrap that puppy up and enjoy!