28 February 2011

Desperate lunches for desperate times

So here's what I have for lunch and/or dinner when things are BUSY:

Raita made of labneh mixed with chopped Persian cucumber, parsley, and pepper, toasty pita bread, raw mushrooms, and carrot sticks.

Purple carrots! These actually do taste more intensely carroty than standard grocery store carrots, which is just a bonus on top of the purple quotient. I have to try some of the yellow carrots one of these days.

If I have more time and/or patience for chopping and assembly, I make something like this sandwich. Wheat berry bread (note: Brownberry bread, why are you marketed as Oroweat in CA? Is this one of those Hellmann's/Best Foods or Edy's/Dreyer's things? WHY?) with mushrooms, mozzarella, salami, mixed parsley and cilantro, another layer of mushrooms, mixed winter greens, and dijon mustard. I think there may have been some black pepper in there too. On the side we have a delightful fuji apple.

What do you eat when you have roughly one million things to do and the news is claiming your every second of non-work attention?

25 February 2011

Kale continues awesome

Especially when it's breakfast:

Breakfast greens

olive oil
red cabbage
sriracha sauce/other hot chili business

First, slice up a handful of almonds--or use presliced, whatev--and toast them gently in a frying pan. Stir often and watch closely to prevent any burning. It should take less than five minutes to get a nice golden-brown tinge on most of your almonds. When this happens, immediately take them out of the hot pan and set them aside.

Wash and chop up roughly equal amounts of kale (destemmed) and cabbage. If you don't have kale or cabbage, any other hardy greens you have lying around will work fine. Use as many greens as you want to eat. Personally, I will eat all the greens in the land, so I used half a bunch of kale and a big wedge of cabbage.

Sauté your greens over high heat with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt. It should take maybe five minutes for everything to cook through.

If you prefer milder food, you can add a little sriracha sauce at the beginning of cooking, or just leave it out entirely. If you leave it out, I recommend adding a squeeze of lemon juice to the finished product instead. If you like spicy food, however, you should add your sriracha after you've taken the finished greens off the heat; this keeps the hot oils from evaporating, and makes the greens much more spicy. Guess which method I chose.

Slide your greens onto a plate, scatter toasty almonds over the top, and eat vigorously.

Plenty of tea is a good idea.

22 February 2011

Continuing the theme: kale and olive minestrone

More pasta! More kale! Hooray minestrone!

I was inspired by Jennifer, who actually managed to make macaroni romantic by combining it with a very impressive-looking heritage bean mix to make the minestrone of dreams.

What, you don't dream about minestrone? Why not?

Well, I know why not: most minestrones devolve into bowls of flabby, waterlogged awfulness, tasteless yet somehow oversalted, right? I find canned minestrone particularly vile. Homemade minestrone, on the other hand, is great.

For my version, I cut out some of the more traditional soup base veg (such as carrots and celery), and instead concentrated on sturdy, high-flavor components: olives and kale. The result was excellent. In fact--full disclosure--I actually made two full batches within about three days. That means I ate minestrone for four meals in less than a week. I can't remember the last time I ate any meal that frequently. Seriously, this deserves its title.

Excellent minestrone

olive oil
tomato juice
olives (green and/or kalamata)
red kidney beans (or white beans, black beans, etc)
red kidney bean broth
dry vermouth
salt, pepper
cumin (yes), paprika, oregano, marjoram, basil
optional garnish: parsley, scallion greens, grating cheese

One of the keys to avoiding flabby, gross soups is to cook things from scratch, right? So start by cooking the beans from scratch. Soak the beans overnight in twice their depth of water, change the water, and boil with a bay leaf until tender and lovely, i.e. about an hour and a half. Voila: a pan of beans and broth! If you do this ahead of time, you can just put the cooked beans and broth in the refrigerator to wait a day or two. Easy.

To make the actual soup, get out a 3-quart pan and warm up a slug of olive oil. Chop up some shallots or an onion and soften it in the oil. I used two different alliums for my two batches: gigantic monster bargain bin shallots for one, and the root end of red scallions for the other. You can clearly use whatever's kicking around in your cabinet.

Chop up a few tomatoes (or use puree/etc.) and add them to the pan. Then bust out your olive stash. You totally have an olive stash in the back of the fridge! I used a green and kalamata mix, which worked nicely, but probably anything besides standard cheap black pizza olives would be fine. Pick out three or four nice specimens, crush them with the flat of your knife, remove the pits, and chop. Then just throw them in the pan with your tomatoes. Add a slug of dry vermouth, and season with salt, pepper, paprika, oregano, basil, marjoram, and a tiny bit of cumin. I know cumin sounds weird, but the effect was good! Still, you can leave it out if you want.

Give the entire business a stir and let it soften. If you want to add any other saute-oriented vegetables, such as peppers or the aforementioned carrots and celery, now is the time.

When your vegetables are soft and aromatic, it's time to add beans and liquid. I used about two cups of kidney beans, two cups of bean broth, and half a cup of tomato juice in each batch. Of course, the severe lack of measurement at my house means that this is the roughest estimate imaginable. Just use the amount that looks right to you. Bring the soup to a boil, put the lid on, and reduce the heat to simmer for ten minutes or so.

While this is all happening, boil the macaroni in a separate pan. Leave it pretty al dente, since it'll be going into boiling soup in a minute, ok?

Next, wash, de-stem, and chop a substantial handful of kale. Use more than you think you need; although kale is comparatively sturdy, it's still a green, and greens shrink. I had teeny tiny kale from the farmer's market, so small I didn't even need to cut out the stems, but this was definitely an exception.

Ok. When your pasta is done, drain it and add it to the soup. This should make the soup pretty chunky and solid, but there should still be reasonable amounts of liquid in the bottom of the pan. If not, you can always add a bit more bean broth, tomato juice, or even water; just make sure you bring it up to a boil again afterward.

Add the kale to the soup, stir, and simmer for another five minutes, or until cooked through. You can do this with the pan lid on or off; if you're hurting for liquid, keep the lid on, but if you have plenty of liquid, leave it off for maximum evaporation.

Now give the soup a final taste, correct the seasonings, and you're done. Hooray! Serve yourself a bowl, top with whatever delicacies you require, and eat with copious toast.


20 February 2011

So much pasta

Man, there's been a lot of pasta around here lately.

I think these are tripolini, but the package was in Arabic, so I don't really know. (Side note: yay Persian market!) At any rate, they're clearly a soup pasta--they were kind of slippery and hard to eat with a fork, though still delicious. So I guess my next step is to develop a good brothy noodle soup recipe, right?

For this plate, I softened chopped onion and bargain bin red and yellow peppers in olive oil, seasoned with salt, pepper, basil, oregano, and maybe some paprika, deglazed with dry vermouth, and threw in chopped kale to wilt for the last five minutes of cooking. I ate it with cheese, but it's also good without.

Next up: artichoke hearts.

I've been keeping half an eye out for frozen artichoke hearts for a few years now, ever since I realized that nearly every jarred kind is pretty disgusting. So when I finally found them I was pretty excited. Artichoke heart pasta!

For this plate, I started by chopping and softening shallots, a few canned tomatoes, and some more bargain bin peppers, red and orange this time, in olive oil. I added tomato juice, dry vermouth, and several of the frozen artichoke hearts, and put the lid on the pan to let them steam. Salt, pepper, basil, marjoram (by this point we had run out of oregano). Once the artichokes were soft through, I broke them up with the back of a spoon. After another five minutes to reduce, I turned off the heat and added chopped parsley. Done.

I ate mine with copious cheese, as well as far too high a proportion of pasta. It was great nonetheless.

15 February 2011

Making laundry detergent

I definitely live sufficiently in the land of DIY to make my own laundry detergent. First of all, it's very easy to make. Also, commercial detergent is expensive, but its ingredients are cheap. I am also cheap. Score!

A word of obvious caution: it's not food! Don't eat it!

Here's what you need:

Washing soda, Borax, a bar of regular old soap, and a totally not pictured box grater.

Borax and soap are easy to find. Borax is plentifully stocked in your local laundry aisle, and soap is probably already in your bathroom cupboard, especially if you are prone to buying 10-packs of Ivory. Other kinds of unscented and castile soap work as well, I hear; Fels Naphtha is the brand given in most recipes.

Washing soda is Not easy to find, at least within walking distance of my house. It's also way overpriced on Amazon: $10! No. After a whole slew of grocery store visits (during which I noted the proliferation of Borax everywhere), I finally found some at Nob Hill, a store in which I would never have set foot were it not for this project. So, if you live in Silicon Valley, the Mountain View Nob Hill seems to be the best place to go. If you're having trouble finding it elsewhere, this thread might be helpful.

I used this recipe. Here's what you do:

- First, put on a painter's mask or something similar so you don't inhale any soap particles.
- Grate a bar of soap into a large bowl. This is by far the most difficult part of the project.
- Add a cup of Borax and a cup of washing soda.
- Stir.

DONE. Put your resulting laundry soap into a container of some type (such as a clean coffee can or large yogurt container), add a cheap 1-tbsp measuring spoon, and you're ready for laundry.

The resulting powder works great. I've been using one tablespoon in each large load to excellent effect. Also, I now have a huge stash of extra Borax and washing soda ready and waiting for the next batch, and the next, and the next, as each box is still about 85-90% full. In short, I will never buy laundry detergent ever again. Hooray!

14 February 2011

Here, have some flowers

The main thing to remember today is NOT to go out to dinner. Make dinner at home, and avoid the massive crowds.

We don't do Valentine's Day, but were we to do it, here's what I would make.

- Fantasy awesome salad of baby spinach or arugula or that spring mix with the baby beet leaves in it, plus good vinaigrette and cracked pepper. Extra sap points for edible flowers, such as pansies. Note that my "fantasy awesome salad" is really just leaves. If you want something more elaborate, something in the beet and goat cheese area would also work.

- The season's first, thinnest, best asparagus, if you can find it. If you can't find it, either up the salad size or make a batch of garlicky braised greens. Probably many people would do a classic asparagus hollandaise here, but I'd just barely steam mine and put a pat of butter and maybe a tiny bit of minced parsley on top. You can't cloak new season asparagus in gross hollandaise!

- Pasta in cream sauce. Absolutely. (This is the other reason not to do hollandaise: cream sauce is all the rich you need.) If you wanted meat, you could sear off a couple very tiny veal scallops with lemon and rest them on top of the pasta, but I don't think it's necessary at all. Lots of different cream sauce varieties would work here: classic alfredo would be best with meat, but a blended tomato or roasted red pepper cream sauce would probably be my first choice. You could even make a regular marinara sauce and melt some goat cheese or cream cheese in at the very end. I'd probably use a long thin pasta like linguine or cappellini, though penne or some sort of exciting corkscrew shape would work as well. Don't use macaroni or plain spaghetti; it's a holiday, you guys. Macaroni is for tuna casserole on Tuesday night.

- For dessert, I'd probably keep things very simple: a couple good chocolate bars broken in pieces plus some clementines or other good citrus is all you really need. Of course, you could do chocolate mousse if you felt like it.

- Drinks: I'm not going to pretend I'm very good at matching wines with food. That said: on Valentine's Day, champagne always works. I'd probably also have some good (decaf) espresso around for the chocolate-eating part of the evening.

09 February 2011

Seattle food!

This weekend = whirlwind tour of Seattle, during which I took pictures of approximately nothing but the library.

Friday night we went to St. Dame's, a veg and vegan restaurant conveniently located off the light rail line I'd caught from the airport. John and I both had excellent takeoffs on the French 75, featuring fresh kiwi and crunchy seeds, before switching to stout and IPA. For appetizers, we ate beet and goat cheese bruschetta and winter squash quesadillas; for main courses John and his dad had vegan meatloaf and mac and cheese, while I had non-vegan butternut gnocchi with mushrooms, hazelnuts, and blue cheese. We'd been warned that "they really like kale," which was definitely true, as a huge pile of excellent tamari kale came with each. I actually think the kale was the best part. In conclusion, I clearly need to cook and eat more kale at home.

We stayed at the Ace Hotel in Belltown: nice. The ambiance seemed designed to attract urban youth, or "hipsters" as they are currently titled, but the guests we came across looked to be a little older. Seattle appears to enforce a "shut up after 10pm" rule, so even though we were staying right next to/over an obviously popular bar and restaurant combination, we had the opportunity for relatively uninterrupted sleep. In the morning, the common room featured Stumptown coffee of the Hair Bender variety and make-it-yourself waffles. Yay! Waffles have definitely been a theme lately. We didn't eat any right then, though, since we were planning on having full breakfast.

On Saturday we met John's dad at Pike Place Market. All the vendors were still hauling out their massive flats of fish and crab, so we bought some dried tart cherries and headed downtown for breakfast at Planet Java Diner, where we ate many omelets and hash browns and several cups of coffee apiece. Diners! California, where are your diners? They're definitely not in Silicon Valley. So sad.

After a tour of the Klondike state park visitor center, the exciting yet vertiginous library, and various International District markets, we had lunch at Phnom Penh Noodle House. We ordered way, way too much food. It was great food, however! This was my favorite meal of the trip. We ate piles and piles of rice noodles and broccoli and fried tofu and fishcakes. The best dish was John's dad's chicken sour soup, which was this massive red curry-mushroom-pineapple-coconut-kaffir lime creation. It was huge, even though he ordered the smaller portion. One noodle soup plus a single appetizer would be a totally filling lunch for two. I would eat that so hard.

For dinner, we went out to Mount Baker for various wood-fired business at Mioposto. The front of the restaurant was completely awash in small children when we walked in. Babies! That didn't stop us from ordering an array of exciting beer, though. For actual dinner, John had a margherita pizza, while his dad and I both got calzones. Since I got the veg calzone, with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and red pepper, my entire plate was pretty well filed with vegetables. We also got to choose off the regular salad menu for our side salads, which was fortuitous, because beet salad = great. We seem to have eaten a pretty large proportion of beets on this trip, actually. This probably means I should do something with the bunch of golden beets currently sequestered in the back of my vegetable drawer.

On Sunday morning, our trip was over. We got up, ate waffles, drank coffee, and went to the airport. Super Bowl Sunday is a great day to fly in the US, FYI. If you want to stretch out over some empty seats, that's the way to do it. Yes.

- Seattle seems good, although such a short trip is not enough to form a real opinion. The food was definitely good. Would eat again.
- Apparently, it takes less than 48 hours out of state to completely throw off my tolerance of CA heat.
- I would really appreciate it if the new federal high-speed rail plan began by constructing a line all the way up the west coast, please. Seattle by electric train! Yes!

05 February 2011

Buckwheat special

Recently my food impulse has turned to buckwheat. I found a package of buckwheat flour, brought it home, and since then have used it in every single thing I've baked. Well, ok, I didn't use it in the pan of brownies currently living on top of the refrigerator, but everything else.

1. Buckwheat cranberry bread.

For this one, I swapped out 1/4 of the plain flour in the Veganomicon cranberry orange bread recipe for buckwheat flour. For the other 3/4, I used whole wheat, so I suppose I technically switched out all the flour. I also replaced the orange zest with grapefruit zest and the orange juice with grapefruit juice, largely because I had half a grapefruit threatening to die in my refrigerator. I threw a bunch of poppyseeds over the top of the loaf, just for the heck of it.

Result: while this produced a lovely-looking result, it became obvious that grapefruit is not exactly the greatest match with buckwheat flour. It wasn't awful--I certainly ate the whole loaf--but it wasn't superb either.

2. Buckwheat cranberry almond scones.

I had much better luck in working from an actual buckwheat-based recipe I found at Lovely Morning. That's not to say I made zero changes, of course. I had dried cranberries, so I used those instead of the cherries. I also didn't have quite enough wheat flour to serve as my unbleached white substitute, so I ended up using about 3/4c of wheat and 1/2c of buckwheat flour. Finally, I had milk but no cream, so I switched that up. The resulting dough was sticky enough that I didn't bother trying to pat and cut it; instead, I made drop scones with teaspoons. My batch made ten.

Results: these were great, and have continued great throughout the week. They looked very much like chocolate scones when I first pulled them out of the oven, but they certainly don't taste like it. That's a little surprising, but in an exciting way.

3. Buckwheat waffles. Hey, it's going to be Valentine's Day soon, if you do that kind of thing; what could be a better holiday breakfast than a plate of lovely waffles? (Coffee mandatory.)

I actually made mine for lunch, but that's obviously fine.

I followed this recipe from Dinner with Kirsten just about as closely as all the other recipes, although in this case it wasn't quite as intentional. I mostly just simplified; instead of buying buttermilk, I used the time-honored milk with a teaspoon of vinegar substitute, and instead of separating the egg for extra volume, I just beat everything together.

My batter turned out so thick it wouldn't pour. I ended up scraping down the measuring cups for my three resulting waffles. They cooked beautifully. I ate mine with labneh and sauteed red cabbage with bacon and onion on the side.

Then I looked back at the waffle recipe to discover that I'd never added the water. HA HA. It still worked; it was just a bit more arduous, and produced less waffle overall. Next time, though, I'll be eager to see the actual recipe results.

Now my other two waffles are in the freezer, and I don't really feel like cooking dinner....hmm hmm hmm hmm.

03 February 2011

Serious blood orange

This orange was so perfectly ripe that I didn't even have to cut it; I just broke it in half. Have you ever seen a blood orange so dark? WOW.

I'm flying to Seattle for the weekend. Where should we eat? John's already there; they went to Carmelita, which was evidently excellent. What else?

Chickpea tomato curry!

This is kind of a default meal that John and I eat when we're low on supplies, energy, and motivation. That doesn't mean it's not delicious, though.

Chickpea tomato curry has a plethora of benefits.

- Easy. All it takes is minor chopping and heat.
- Cheap. Chickpeas plus vegetables? They are cheap. They're even cheaper if you soak and cook dried chickpeas instead of using canned. Hooray!
- Fast. Assuming your chickpeas are already cooked, again, all you have to do is heat everything up. You can be eating in under a half hour.

I made quinoa to go with my curry. How did I do it? I threw a cup of quinoa and two cups of water in the rice cooker, turned it on, and walked away. You can't get much easier than that. You can use any grain you like, or eschew whole grain entirely and toast some pita bread instead. It's all good.

Chickpea tomato curry with quinoa and greens

olive oil
brown mustard seeds
cumin, ginger, turmeric, garam masala
cooked chickpeas
chickpea broth, veg broth, or water
chard (stems and leaves)
salt, pepper
lemon juice/white wine or apple cider vinegar
optional garnish: chopped parsley/cilantro, labneh/plain yogurt, cubed mild cheese.

Put your quinoa (or whatev) on before you start the curry; it'll be ready by the time you're done cooking.

Heat up a saute pan and add a little olive oil. If you have them, pour in a handful of brown mustard seeds. Shake the pan around; when the seeds begin to pop, add a chopped medium onion and several minced garlic cloves. You may want to add a chopped hot pepper; I didn't happen to have any peppers, so I didn't.

Give the onion and garlic a couple minutes to soften before you add spices. Since chickpeas are so solid and earthy, they stand up to plenty of seasoning. Anything that sounds good in curry is good to use. I had cumin, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, and I think some hot curry powder, so I added some of each. Fresh ginger would be much better than powdered (which was all I had; boo), so use it if you've got it.

Stir everything up and let it cook while you prep vegetables. First, tackle the tomatoes. I was using frozen ones, so I whipped four of them out of the freezer and under hot water for a minute to soften slightly. This also let me pull off the skins easily; yay! Then I chopped them all up. However, most of you will probably be using canned tomatoes at this point in the winter. That's also fine; you can use whatever chopped, pureed, smashed, or whole tomatoes are available. Chop them as needed and pour them (and maybe some juice) into the pan.

This is also the time to add chickpeas. I was using frozen chickpeas in broth that I'd previously cooked from dried, so I just chucked the whole brick into the pan and let it melt down. You can either do this, use freshly boiled chickpeas and broth, or use a can of drained chickpeas plus a cup or so of broth or water. It'll be fine. Stir everything up (or put the lid on to facilitate melting, as the case may be) and let simmer.

Next, wash a bunch of chard. I used red, but any color will be fine. Cut the leaves off the stems and separate them. Then finely slice the stems and put them into the pan of curry. Pretty!

Chop up the leaves as well, but leave them on the cutting board while everything else simmers together.

Let cook for maybe five or ten more minutes, or until the broth has boiled off to your desired texture. Salt, pepper, taste, and correct. Fold the chard leaves into the curry and cook for maybe 2-3 minutes further, or until wilted. Turn off the heat, season with a generous squeeze of lemon or tablespoon of vinegar, stir well, and serve over quinoa.

I think this is particularly good with chopped cilantro over the top, although this isn't exactly authentic--but then nothing about this recipe is all that authentic, just good and easy. You may also want to have lemon wedges available for additional juice purposes. If you're feeling ambitious, you can even make a simple raita on the side: chop up a Persian or English cucumber, mix it with labneh or yogurt, and add salt and pepper to taste. Voila!

Of course, if you aren't ambitious, that's fine as well.