11 October 2015

Eating food while living away

So I'm going to code school. It's in SF. This would mean a minimum 3-hr roundtrip commute every day were I to stay at home, so instead I'm renting a room in the city and staying there 5 days a week. I've been coming home on the weekends. I have a lot to do and a lot of people to interact with and a lot of things to learn, and I am very tired.

We still have the CSA box coming for slightly more than 2 out of the 3 months I'll be gone. We paid for it all up front last year, when we signed up. So although we can cancel boxes if we need to, we'd much rather actually get and use all that beautiful veg. Plus, doing an advanced academic program is leaving my brain fried (and my evenings filled with homework) kind of a lot of the time. So the basics of eating are requiring some attention.

The general food plan is as follows:
- John picks up the CSA box every Thursday (as long as he's in town).
- I come home Friday night.
- We spend part of the weekend cooking and prepping for the week ahead. We pack everything up and freeze what can be frozen.
- I take some pre-cooked food and some easily usable/transportable ingredients back to the city on Sunday night or Monday morning. The rest stays at home for John to eat.
- I eat the previously prepped food all week, with supplemental salads, fruit, eggs, oatmeal, and canned soup/etc as needed.
- The next week, I bring home my tupperware and cooler, and the cycle starts again.

This is not that different from what a lot of people do on a regular basis. It's just a matter of planning and execution.

I have found myself not wanting to eat anything even vaguely complicated. This is good, because it means I really don't have to do that much to get fed. I just throw together some pasta with veg and beans, or warm up some pre-made soup, or put a handful of salad greens on a plate. In the morning there is tea and more tea and possibly eggs, depending on how long I've been up and therefore how much breakfast I can stomach. There is more soup and instant couscous for lunch. Sometimes I buy a burrito. I'm just tired.

Staples I'm keeping in SF:
- grains: pasta, instant couscous, rolled oats
- the tiniest bottle ever of olive oil
- granola bars
- canned things: tuna, soup, chickpeas
- lots of tea
- cream cheese
- tortillas
- bread
- butter

Fresh supplies to replenish every week, depending on the CSA & how much I've used up:
- veg: carrots, broccoli, peppers, green onion
- fruit: apples, mostly
- lots and lots of eggs
- any cilantro that comes in the CSA box
- basic salad greens or a head of lettuce

Things we're making on the weekend:
- Soups and stews: chili, samosa soup, etc
- Pasta sauce or fagioli sauce with all the veg, especially greens
- Refried beans and rice, kept separate for future burrito OR fried rice application
- Baked things for snacks or desserts: scones, loaf cakes, cookies
- Salads that keep well: grain and veg, so far

I'm pretty tired. What do you like to eat when you're tired?

17 September 2015

Potato corn chowder with fennel, dill, and caraway

Potato corn chowder with fennel, dill, and caraway

I've been taking advantage of the end of the summer corn for the last few few weeks. We ate our way through a huge batch of summer chili, some of which is still waiting patiently in the freezer for future dinners. I also froze a bunch of farmer's market corn to store for the winter, and made a bunch of beautiful light yellow broth from the cobs. So far, so good.

Then I discovered Use Real Butter's chanterelle bacon corn chowder. Yes please!

We don't have any chanterelles to forage in Silicon Valley -- and even if we did, I'm the only person in our house who voluntarily eats mushrooms. So those were out. Bacon was similarly out, since we wanted a vegetarian chowder. But corn, potato, and fennel? That sounded like an amazing combination. I punched it up with fennel fronds and toasted caraway seeds, and our potato corn chowder with fennel, dill, and caraway was born.

This chowder turned out a little sweet for my tastes, largely because of the combination of super-fresh corn kernels and corn broth. If you're using frozen corn, I imagine that problem will not come up. But otherwise, there are a couple ways to combat the sweet. I added a few drops of liquid smoke to a serving, and that was very good. Hot sauce or cayenne pepper would also be great if you like the spice. Or go the other direction and add some grated parmesan cheese or other hard grating cheese.

And a crunchy, tart, or bitter salad of arugula or massaged kale and apples would be a perfect contrast on the side.

Potato corn chowder with fennel, dill, and caraway

Potato corn chowder with fennel, dill, and caraway
Inspired by Chanterelle bacon corn chowder
Serves 4-6

1 tbsp butter
2 small or 1 large leek (or use 2-3 shallots)
1/2 large bulb fennel
1 small or 1/2 large carrot
1/2 cup white wine/dry vermouth
3 cloves garlic
3 large boiling potatoes
3 cups veg broth or corn broth
3/4 tsp dried thyme
2 ears corn/approx 1 1/2 cups kernels
3/4 cup milk/cream
salt, pepper to taste
~2 tbsp each fresh dill, fennel fronds, and parsley
lemon wedges, 1 per serving
toasted caraway seeds, 2 pinches per serving

Melt your butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Trim, clean, and chop your leeks, and cut your fennel and carrot into small pieces. Add them to your soup pot along with a generous pinch of salt, stir, and let cook for about 5 minutes to soften.

While you're waiting, finely mince your garlic. Scrub and cube your potatoes.

When your vegetables have become soft and aromatic, deglaze the pan with your wine or vermouth. Scrape the bottom of the pan as needed to remove the fond. Then add your potatoes and garlic to the soup pot, along with your thyme, and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.

Next, add your broth to the soup pot. Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat, put on the lid, and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until your potatoes are completely cooked through and ender. You can test this by smashing a piece of potato against the side of the pot.

Husk, de-silk, and slice your corn kernels off their cobs. Scrape the cobs with the back of your knife to get out as much fresh corn action as possible. Add your corn kernels and milk or cream to the pan. Season well with salt and pepper, and simmer gently for another 5 minutes or so.

Chop all your fresh herbs finely and stir them into the soup, reserving a pinch or two for final garnish if you so desire. Taste and correct seasonings.

Keep your pot of soup warm while you toast your caraway seeds. To do this, put a teaspoon or two of caraway seeds into a small, dry frying pan over medium heat. Toast for 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Don't go anywhere, because seeds burn very easily. When the seeds have just barely turned a darker shade and they are very aromatic, turn off the heat.

Serve your soup with reserved herbs and a few pinches of caraway seeds scattered over the top. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over each bowl, and eat with plenty of hot toast. Rye or pumpernickel would be ideal, but sourdough is also good.

This made a delightful and comforting dinner, and was a great way to switch up our usual corn menu.

How are you eating the last of the summer corn harvest?

14 September 2015

Simple herbed labneh: Middle Eastern yogurt cheese

Simple herbed labneh: Middle Eastern yogurt cheese

If you like to use yogurt for all kinds of different sweet and savory uses -- curries, marinades, soup garnishes, and smoothies are my usual suspects -- you likely have a big tub of plain, unadulterated yogurt in your refrigerator. Well, now you can add one more use to that list: labneh.

Labneh is a very simple concoction: yogurt drained well and transformed into a spreadable cheese. It's very similar to Greek yogurt, depending on how long you let it drain. While labneh is occasionally stocked in Middle Eastern specialty markets, it's frequently easier -- as well as more versatile -- to just buy ordinary yogurt and make it yourself. If you happen to make your own yogurt to begin with, that's even better.

Labneh adds a delightful tang and a thick, creamy texture to any number of dishes while simultaneously removing the need for a separate container of Greek yogurt. What's not to love?

What can you do with labneh? I tend to go very simple and eat it spread on bread or crackers, but you can apply it nearly anywhere you'd normally use either Greek yogurt or sour cream. Mix labneh with mashed avocado to make a super-rich and delicious dip. Spread some in a burrito along with a generous helping of salsa. Garnish a bowl of spicy dal. Use it to make tzatziki and eat it with juicy meatballs or lentil kibbeh. Serve it with a platter of hummus and vegetables, add a drizzle of olive oil and some pita bread, and go to town.

The main piece of equipment you'll need to make labneh is a fine strainer. I use a very fine-mesh nylon strainer set over a measuring cup to make my labneh. You can also use a slightly more open-mesh strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Aim for something that will allow liquids, but not solids, to escape.

Simple herbed labneh: Middle Eastern yogurt cheese

Basic labneh

full-fat plain yogurt
a fine-mesh strainer
a bowl or cup to set your strainer over

Set your strainer over your draining vessel, making sure that there's a good inch or two of space between their two bottoms. Fill the strainer with yogurt.

Leave your yogurt in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least 12 hours. 24 hours is an ideal draining time. As the yogurt drains, it will reduce in volume by approximately 1/3 to 1/2.

Remove your finished labneh to a container of your choice. Store in the refrigerator until needed. Use your accumulated whey to make bread.

Herbed labneh

1 cup finished labneh
green herbs of your choice
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper

Mix your finished labneh with as much chopped herbs as you like. I used dill and parsley for this rendition; pretty much any green herb you like should work well. Smash and finely mince a clove of garlic and add it to the mix. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and stir together.

If you like, you can make your labneh into balls. Pick up spoonfuls of labneh, drop them into a bowl of chopped herbs, and gently roll to coat in the herbs. I tend not to bother with this, because I'm just going to spread my finished labneh anyway.

Leave your herbed labneh in the refrigerator for at least a couple hours before serving, to give the flavors a chance to develop.

I ate my labneh on toast with a handful of pickled peppers, and threw some dilly beans on the side for extra pickle action.

Have you ever strained yogurt at home? What's your favorite way to use it?

08 September 2015

Spicy tuna salad with chard stem pickle, cabbage, and cilantro

Spicy tuna salad with chard stem pickle, cabbage, and cilantro

A few days ago, I made a batch of Marisa's chard stem pickles. Now -- as usual when trying out a new kind of pickle -- the question is how to use them.

I started off with this experiment in tuna salad. After all, dill pickles or gherkins are a pretty standard ingredient in classic tuna salad. So why not give it a try with a different variation? I like to eliminate the usual mayo and go for a more oil-and-vinegar-oriented salad, which meant that these tangy, slightly sweet pickles were a perfect match.

To complement the rice wine vinegar in the pickle brine, I added hot mustard and cilantro. Together with the tuna and vegetables, this made a nicely spicy, herbal, and complex tuna salad.

Now I want to do another tuna salad experiment with my refrigerator pickled beets. Of course, in that case, everything will be BRIGHT FUCHSIA. But that's okay. Who doesn't like bright pink food?

On that note, because they're just too gorgeous, this is what the chard stems looked like just before I brined them up. So intense.

Spicy tuna salad with chard stem pickle, cabbage, and cilantro

Spicy tuna salad with chard stem pickle, cabbage, and cilantro
Makes enough for 3 open-faced sandwiches or 2 substantial closed sandwiches.

1 cup shredded cabbage
1 medium carrot
1-2 scallions
2-3 tbsp chard stem pickles
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1-2 tsps hot Chinese mustard
1 tbsp grapeseed oil or other oil of choice
1 5-oz can tuna
salt, pepper

Shred your cabbage and deposit it into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle with a few shakes of salt and mix with your hands, squeezing gently, to soften the cabbage a little.

Prep and finely chop your carrot, scallions, pickles, and cilantro. Add them to your bowl, along with the mustard, the oil, the drained contents of your can of tuna, and salt and pepper to taste. You may also wish to add in a little of the pickle brine for some extra vinegar kick.

Mix everything together well, taste and correct seasonings, and you're done. Super easy.

Spicy tuna salad with chard stem pickle, cabbage, and cilantro

I had my spicy tuna salad in a couple of open-faced sandwiches on toasted sourdough, with a small green salad on the side. It was fantastic. Needless to say, this is definitely going on the list of things to make when the fridge is full of pickles (i.e. always).

Do you have a fridge full of homemade pickles? How are you eating them this month?

29 August 2015

Bagel panzanella

Bagel panzanella

I've been wanting to make bagel panzanella for several months. Now that the best summer tomatoes are here, it is time. Oh man, is it time.

You almost certainly know my love of bagels. Bagels are wonderful. Bagels are delicious. Bagels are the best breakfast on a holiday morning. You can put anything on a bagel. And while I usually discuss my love of bagels through a series of various cream cheese schmears, I thought it was time to mix it up in a more bready way, so I could shoehorn even more bagels into my diet. What recipe combines a delicious bread product and many tasty vegetables? Panzanella. And so bagel panzanella was born.

Probably the most important component of panzanella is the bread. It's supposed to be dry, so it can soak up all the vegetable juices and vinaigrette readily, yet not turn into a pile of soggy mush. So preparing the bread is critical. It also needs to be done a good 12 hours in advance, unless your bagel is already quite stale. You can get away with toasting your bread pieces gently in a low oven, but the texture is going to be a little different.

I chose an everything bagel, for optimal all-bagel flavor content. Cherry tomatoes came out of the garden; cucumber, red onion, and basil came from the CSA box. Actually, the basil could have come out of the garden too, since there's plenty of it out there. But it didn't.

To make this even more substantial (and bagely), you could serve big scoops of it over some tangy salad greens -- arugula would be my pick -- and scatter some chunks of cream cheese or goat cheese rolled in sesame and poppy seeds over the top to serve. For that matter, if you wanted to take the whole thing in a sweeter direction, you could go for a blueberry bagel, an assortment of halved berries, and fresh mint, give it a squeeze of lemon juice, and serve it all over a bed of spinach, with optional goat cheese. Panzanella!

Bagel panzanella

Bagel panzanella
serves 2

1 savory bagel to make 2-3 cups cubed bread
2 cups chopped tomato (14 cherry tomatoes in my case)
1 1/2 cups chopped cucumber
3/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 bunch or up to 1 cup chiffonaded fresh basil
1/4 cup or more red wine vinaigrette

Cut your bagel into bite-sized pieces. I'd recommend going a bit on the small side, to create optimal bites with cucumber and tomato later.

Put your bagel pieces on a rack and let them dry out overnight. If your bagel is already a day old (mine was fresh from the bagel shop), I'd guess you only need 4-6 hours.

The next day, it's time to make your salad. Chop up your tomato and cucumber into bite-sized pieces; thinly sliver your red onion; chiffonade your basil. Combine your bagel pieces, tomato, cucumber, red onion, basil, and vinaigrette. Mix everything together well. Let sit on the counter (no tomatoes in the fridge) for at least a half hour, and up to four hours.

Taste, correct seasoning, and serve with the delights of your choice.

Red wine vinaigrette

1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
12 good grinds of pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Put all the ingredients into a small jar. Lid the jar and shake well to emulsify. Voila! Red wine vinaigrette.

You'll have some vinaigrette left over, so put the jar into the fridge and use it on any salads you may be eating in the next week or so. Let the dressing come to room temperature before using.

Bagel panzanella

It's so dramatic-looking with the black cherry tomatoes.

We had our bagel panzanella with slices of Spanish tortilla, but it would be pretty happy alongside a whole lot of different main dishes. Eat it for breakfast, with some scrambled eggs. Eat it for lunch, with a cup of Tuscan white bean soup. Eat it for dinner, with a burger of your choice, or maybe a seared steak if that's how you roll.

How are you eating your bagels lately?