31 October 2009

Interlude

So. I don't know about you guys, but things are hysterically busy over here. I got a new and AWESOME job: hooray! However, it's now that overlap period between two jobs--and I'm working both of them. Only one week left until I finish old job! Yay! In the meantime, though, it is exhaustion city, and I just spent halloween morning on my laptop at the coffeeshop. What I'm trying to say: there's been a little bit of takeout. There's also a backlog of real food trying desperately to make its way into writing before I completely forget what happened and have to sit around staring at pictures, wondering "did I put olives in that?"

Food that may or may not make it to the page once I am only working one job:

- Biennial event chicken stock from the carcass of an actual roasted chicken.
- Said roasted chicken and sandwiches thereof.
- Rice salad with roasted broccoflower and winter squash, red onion, toasted pecans, chopped chives and homemade vinaigrette.
- Awesome egg mess with hummus, baba, tabbouleh and fattoush, totally overflowing its pita.
- Carrot soup with fennel fronds.
- Two bowls: escarole sautéed with garlic and cottage cheese.
- Stirfry with exciting housemade tofu from the nice little store up the street.
- Uh, Thai delivery? Spicy green bean tofu with kaffir lime leaf and a double order of veggie dumplings? They are delicious too!

After next friday, the last day of terrible old job, I am flying almost immediately to California, where John will have been for a week (work). We're going to eat at all the restaurants we miss--Los Charros, Vive Sol, Cafe Yulong, Siam Royal--and book an hour at the Tea House Spa. I'm also going to work on said awesome new job, and spend some quality time at the Palo Alto Goodwill. What? Isn't that what everybody does when they're in and around Palo Alto?

Things should be back to normal in about a week, give or take. In the meantime, busy busy! Afterward, there will be food.

25 October 2009

Saving mediocre pasta

The other night, we cooked down some of the last few tomatoes with garlic for pasta sauce. Everything was going fine until we mixed the sauce with the pasta, at which point it totally vanished into the pile of overwhelming starch. Boo! So sad! Bland pasta!

Look, you can barely even see the vegetable component.

We weren't going to make something else at that point, so I opened the crisper drawer and came up with a bag of mesclun mix and a handful of parsley.

Pasta plus copious greens = problem solved!

Fresh, crispy, highly flavored and bitter greens are clearly the best to use in this situation: the contrast in both flavor and texture makes everything so much more interesting. I think arugula, baby mustard greens, or chard would probably work best, but you can clearly play around with whatever you have; it's not like you can go particularly wrong with any salad green.

John took several bites directly out of the parsley bunch. Go chlorophyll!

19 October 2009

Escarole, cauliflower, and egg salad, oh my

It's fall it's fall it's fall!

That means the CSA has stopped giving us bags of peaches and fresh corn on the cob, and instead started on heads of green cabbage and broccoli and cauliflower and escarole.

Now, ok. I don't know about you guys, but I lived in California for four years before we moved to NY, and while many things about California produce were awesome, let me tell you one thing. The winter produce--stuff that's at its best after the frost hits us--was not up to par. There was no frost to hit! Cabbage wasn't sufficiently crisp, apples tended toward mealy, celery went limp in the fridge. We may have had fifteen kinds of hot pepper, tomatoes up starting in March, and fresh green beans year round, but that crisp, serious fall taste just did not exist.

So these big bags of winter veg are actually more exciting to me than the peaches. They mean I get to make things like this.

Roasted cauliflower

This is the best and only way to cook cauliflower at our house.

Butcher a head of cauliflower with a huge chef's knife. Make the pieces fairly small, even if you have to split up some natural clumpage. Toss the florets in olive oil, salt, and pepper, then spread them in one layer on as many baking sheets as you need. I tried to fit mine onto one sheet, which was a mistake; just use two for maximum crispy brown roasty bits.

Roast at 450F for about fifteen minutes, or until the florets are browned and crispy on the outside, but soft and tender on the inside.


Egg salad with dill

Hard boil one to two eggs per person. For the best eggs, stop cooking at nine minutes, then let rest in ice water for a good ten minutes more before trying to peel.

While your eggs cool down, get out a medium-large bowl and mix up a large spoonful of mayonnaise, a small one of mustard, a handful of chopped green onion, shallot, or chives, some finely sliced radish if you have any, and a massive quantity of fresh chopped dill.

Peel your eggs, chop them roughly, and add them to the bowl. Salt and pepper; mix it up. Correct any seasonings or dryness as you see fit.

Eat it on toast. We had sourdough, but the best egg salad sandwich is always on some serious rye bread.


Garlic escarole

Core and thoroughly wash a head of escarole in a sinkful of water, like you'd do to any muddy green. You can use other greens if you want, but escarole has a perfect crisp bitterness that loves hanging out with garlic.

While the greens are soaking, peel and roughly slice several cloves of garlic. Soften them in some olive oil in a saute pan. Give it about five minutes, or until the pieces start to turn golden.

Drain the escarole (more or less; some water is actually good here) and add it to the pan. Give the mix a stir and some salt, then clap on the lid. Let the greens cook in their own steam for about three minutes, or until they're sufficiently soft and melting for you.

Oh man. Don't you feel better?

18 October 2009

Birthday week 3: SOUPS II: THE RECKONING

How's that for a ridiculous title? Great, right? I knew it! I LOVE YOU, MULTIPLE NUMBERS AND YELLING ON THE INTERNET.

Anyway. For his birthday dinner John really, really wanted Tuscan white bean soup. As many of you may know, there are roughly three million Tuscan white bean soup recipes on the internet, and I don't exactly use recipes much anyway. I took this recipe and modified it: beans cooked from dry, fresh tomato, broth from the freezer stash, parsnip instead of carrot and celery, and kale pesto instead of the basil. Verdict: awesome.

Tuscan white bean soup a la our refrigerator

Peel and chop an onion; soften in olive oil in a reasonable soup pot. Peel and dice a small parsnip, or half a large one, and add it to the pot. Smash and chop maybe three cloves of garlic and add those as well. Season with thyme, salt, and pepper. When everything has softened, add a small chopped tomato. I had half of one of the last huge yellow heirlooms, so I used a big piece of that. Cook for maybe five or ten minutes to break down the tomato.

Add white beans, a bay leaf, and a lot of vegetable broth. My white beans were previously cooked and then frozen in their broth, so I kept the pot on high until they were melted, then brought the business to a boil, covered it, and turned it down to simmer.

When everything is soft, fish out your bay leaf and puree the soup with a stick blender. You could also leave it chunky if you like more chunky soup. Whatever floats your boat.

Eat it with big spoonfuls of pesto and lots of nice toast. Feel happy that it is fall, and birthday fall besides.

12 October 2009

Birthday week 2: SOUPS


We didn't do anything remarkable foodwise on Sunday (or at least anything new, since dinner = more pesto toast), but Monday was pretty great. We've been feeling very fally, so I decided to make a vast amount of soup. I went through the crisper and came up with this.

Black bean and corn soup with surprise root vegetables

olive oil
onion
garlic
serrano/other hot pepper
poblano/other mildish green pepper
parsnip
turnip
black beans
veg broth
cumin, oregano
salt, pepper
fresh corn

In a heavy soup pot, warm some olive oil (or butter) on medium. Peel and chop half an onion; add it to the pot. As it's beginning to soften, smash, peel, and chop three or four cloves of garlic; add them to the pot. Trim and finely slice a serrano/other hot pepper and a mild pepper and add them as well. Season with oregano and cumin. Cook the business for a few minutes, until the onion is soft and beginning to brown.

Root vegetables: I didn't have any carrots or celery, but I did have several tiny, squat parsnips, so I peeled one, chopped it up, and added it to the pot. My turnips were pretty small too, so I chose one of them and did the same thing. I'm really not sure turnips need to be peeled, but whatever; I'd rather have the soup too smooth than not. You could clearly sub in carrots, celery, and maybe a potato, but these two weird little ingredients gave the soup a complex underlying flavor that is totally worth trying. Secret root vegetable extravaganza!

Salt and pepper, stir everything together, and cook to soften for about five minutes.

Now is the time to add black beans and veg broth. I just made my broth alongside the main soup: I boiled a pot of water with all the vegetable trimmings plus a couple kale stalks and mushrooms from my freezer stash. Ten minutes makes a totally fine broth; just strain out the vegetables and pour the broth into your main soup pot. For the beans, I grabbed a block of frozen black beans in bean broth and just threw it into the pot. Bring to a boil (melting beans if you are me and make frozen beans all the time), cover, and simmer for about twenty minutes, or until all your vegetables are cooked through.

While things are simmering, husk a couple ears of corn. Cut all the kernels off and put them to the side. You could also use frozen corn, but we still had the very end of our summer stash, so I used that.

Now is the time to puree. With the pan off the heat, use a blender or immersion blender to bring your soup to your desired degree of smoothness. When you're done, throw all your corn into the soup. Cook for a few minutes, until the corn is warmed through but not completely cooked to death.

If the soup is too thin, you can keep simmering it, partially covered, until it thickens down. Otherwise, taste for any seasoning adjustments, then eat it.

Soup obviously wants a big pile of crispy toast on the side and a big whack of parsley on top.


Next: SOUPS PART II: THE RECKONING, aka John's birthday dinner.

08 October 2009

Birthday week 1: MEATS

Yes! We are aged! It is birthday week and we have therefore spent every night from the 3rd to the 6th making and eating exciting things for dinner.

For my birthday Saturday we first had lunch at Catherine's Caffe, which is a Czech restaurant/cafe with very good coffee and a nice little back garden full of picnic tables. John ate fruit salad and a big exciting hummus and avocado wrap; I ate a huge bowl of carrot ginger soup, a huge plate of chicken schnitzel with lemon twist, and a similarly huge whack of hot, mustardy, caper-filled potato salad. It was massive and awesome, and I still have half of the salad and chicken waiting for me in the refrigerator. In conclusion, there may be a massive, awesome potato pancake later.

Or I may just eat the leftovers after making the schnitzel all crispy in the glorious toaster oven. Yeah!

After lunch we went to the Greene Grape Provisions for dinner meat, to the farmer's market for bread, mustard greens, apple cider, and fresh garlic, and to Gnarly Vines for wine and golden rum. It's definitely birthday week; we would never, ever be buying rum otherwise. It poured rain on us for the entire expedition, and we got very soaked and happy and went home and drank cold apple cider with rum. Yes birthday!

For birthday dinner John was all excited about making me Jacques P├ępin's pork tenderloin, and I was pretty excited about drinking red wine, watching him cook it, and eventually eating it.

Obviously, we did not make an entire loin of pork just for me. One chop of loin was totally sufficient, and got totally cooked and perfect just through the initial pan browning. Other than that, since we had remarkably little luck finding either gruyere or spinach (I don't even know what cheddar is doing in that recipe; I'm pretty sure it was gruyere in the episode), we switched the cheese to gouda and the greens to baby mustard greens.

John also threw some of said red wine in to deglaze the tomatoes at the end. We had a pint of awesome end-of-season gold cherry tomatoes from the CSA box and everything.

Outcome: success! We cut the individual roulade into six pieces, and I ate them all, two at a time, until everything was gone.

Then there was more rum and apple cider and being extremely happy and birthdaylike until far too early in the morning.

02 October 2009

Greenest dinner in the land

I had been wanting pesto gnocchi for far too long, so when we got a big bunch of basil in the CSA box a week ago, we jumped on it with loud cries. What? Isn't that how everyone reacts to their CSA box?

The basil wasn't the only thing in the box, though: we also got a huge bunch of kale. So we decided to make it into pesto too. This isn't as strange an idea as it might appear--several alternative-green pestos are floating around the blogs this season. I hadn't seen any with kale, though. An experiment was clearly in order.

We tossed our classic pesto with cooked gnocchi, but saved the kale pesto in the refrigerator. This results in a lavish use of pesto on the slightest of impulse.

Basil pesto

olive oil
garlic
fresh basil
salt, pepper

In this instance, we reduced pesto down to its most necessary ingredients. That meant we eliminated both grating cheese and pine nuts, resulting in the most basily, garlicky pesto in the land.

Warm a couple spoonfuls of olive oil in a saute pan. It's best to go light on the olive oil here; you can always add more at the puree stage if needed.

Peel and coarsely chop a bunch of garlic. You can use as much garlic as you like; we used a little more than a full head. I'm serious. Garlic is so great.

Cook the garlic slowly in the olive oil, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and you can smell the fumes all the way outside in the stairwell. This should take maybe 5-10 minutes, depending on heat level. In the meantime, wash a bunch of basil and rip it all off its stems.

Now all you have to do is mix, season, and puree. Put your garlic, oil, and basil in a food processor or appropriate container, salt and pepper it, and puree to your desired consistency. We used the immersion blender, which was entirely acceptable.

Now eat it! Toss with gnocchi or pasta, put a spoonful in your soup, spread it on a roasted red pepper sandwich. We clearly had gnocchi. Pesto gnocchi can stand either plain or with some grated cheese, but demands lots of crispy toast to mop up the extra sauce. It was the greatest.

Kale pesto

olive oil
garlic
kale
salt, pepper

Follow almost exactly the same process as for classic pesto. The only difference: since kale is a heavy winter green, you're going to need to blanch it for about five minutes, then drain it. After that you can proceed to puree.

This batch tasted almost identical to our basil batch, probably in part because we pureed it in the same container. However, even without the basil, what you'll get is a beautiful greens and garlic slurry that is more or less interchangeable.

I used about 2/3 of a bunch of kale for this batch; it filled a large pickle jar. Yay, pesto in the refrigerator! This means I have developed a new favorite breakfast: pesto toast.

Pesto toast

Spread pesto on a slice of sourdough or other good bread. Add a layer of chopped tomatoes (or leave plain), then cover with grated parmesan or romano cheese. Toast in the toaster oven until the cheese is melted and beginning to turn golden. Eat it and feel satisfied with your life.

We also had a bunch of extra kale, so we decided to make it into kale chips for maximum green effect.

Kale chips

Wash, destem, and chop whatever kale you haven't turned into pesto. Toss it with a little olive oil and salt, then arrange the pieces in one layer on a rack. Set the rack on a cookie sheet and bake at 225F for about twenty minutes, or until your kale is crisp. This works best with a rounder-leafed variety of kale, to eliminate any prickly bits, but we used a more ruffled kale and it turned out fine.


Now sit down to eat the greenest dinner on the planet.