30 March 2011

End of winter split pea soup

You guys, I'm sick. Boo. I guess I shouldn't have walked around in the pouring rain for quite as much of last week. Or, you know, spent time with John while he was sick this weekend.

Anyway, this requires soup. Oh, leftovers, you'll make everything ok.

If you don't know the secret to making good split pea soup without a ham hock, here it is: liquid smoke.

Split pea soup with greens

olive oil/etc
bay leaf, marjoram, paprika
veg broth
split peas
liquid smoke
kale/other appropriate greens
salt, pepper

First, cover about a cup of split peas (picked over for rocks and etc.) with hot tap water. Let them soak while you start the aromatics. This will cut down on cooking time later. If you need to make veg broth, start that early as well.

So. Heat up a soup pot. Soften a chopped onion, a few cloves of minced garlic, and a scrubbed and diced carrot in some olive oil, or another oil of your choosing. Add fresh parsley, a bay leaf, and some marjoram and paprika; stir together and cook until very fragrant. Your pot should look like this:

Add two to three cups of vegetable broth and bring the pot to a boil. Drain your split peas and add them to the soup. Simmer the entire business, covered, for about a half hour to 45 minutes.

While the business is cooking, wash and finely chop a big handful of greens. I used kale. Set your greens aside for a bit.

When the peas are soft (or, as I like to call them, "edible"), season the soup with salt, pepper, and just a few drops of liquid smoke. This stuff is powerful, so go slowly and taste before each addition. Do not leave the bottle uncapped; do not drop it on the floor. You don't want to deal with the fumes from a spill.

Ok. Do you like your soup rough and rustic, or do you like a smooth texture? If you so desire, puree your pot of soup with an immersion blender. If the result is too loose, simmer off some moisture; if it's too thick, add more broth.

Add your greens to your soup. If if you're using tender greens such as spinach, they'll wilt right in. Tougher greens like kale will require a couple minutes over the heat. Either way, you'll end up with a substantial pot of smoky pea soup with clumps of tasty greens.

Correct seasonings, top with excess parsley, and eat with copious toast. Then go to sleep.

26 March 2011

Asparagus season

I have to admit I ate my first ritual asparagus of the season dipped in commercial caesar dressing, in between bites of delivery pizza. Fortunately, I steamed the whole bunch, and you know what that means: ASPARAGUS LEFTOVERS. This meant my second ritual asparagus was instantly ready for me to throw into a salad mesmerizing in its beauty.

This kind of salad works best when you have a number of cold cooked vegetables hanging around. Besides asparagus, I had boiled beets and a big container of carrot salad. I also had some renegade lettuces spontaneously growing in the pots on the balcony, which was convenient.

Salad mesmerizing in its beauty

cooked beets
steamed asparagus
carrots (or leftover carrot salad)
red onion
cream cheese (or goat, etc.)
salt, pepper
a good vinaigrette (such as this one)

It's a salad; you know what to do.

- Wash and chop lettuce.
- Peel and slice beets; cut asparagus into chunks; finely slice or shred carrots; mince red onion.
- Arrange all vegetable elements nicely on a plate of your choosing.
- Break up some bits of cheese and scatter over your salad.
- Add salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of decent vinaigrette.
- Eat it all.

Voila! A salad.

I was particularly satisfied with the mixture of solid wintry elements (beets, carrot) and fresh springy elements (asparagus, baby lettuce).

If you still have more leftover asparagus, you can scramble it with some egg and red onion and eat it wrapped up in a toasty flatbread. You can also drink tea.

21 March 2011

A fine plate of food: fagioli cake and chard gratin

Like many people, John and I have a set of different staple foods we can throw together at a moment's notice. One of the top contenders is pasta fagioli: a pureed tomato/bean/various vegetable sauce mixed with pasta and dusted with parsley, pepper, and/or grated cheese. It takes very little time (especially with precooked or canned beans), costs next to nothing, provides abundant nutrients, and puts you right to warm, blissful sleep.

Leftover fagioli is especially excellent. When you have leftover fagioli, you can put it in a pan and make it into a huge, lovely, crusty-edged, creamy-middled pasta cake. You then win dinner.

Fagioli cake

Warm up a wide frying pan, preferably nonstick or cast iron. If your leftover sauce and pasta are not mixed, mix them together thoroughly. When the pan is nice and hot, add a slug of olive oil. Swirl it around to coat the surface. Add your fagioli mixture to the hot pan. If you have only a little, you may want to make small individual cakes; I had plenty, so I made one gargantuan cake.

Cook until browned on one side, shaking the pan occasionally to deter sticking. Next, flip your cakes over and brown their other sides. With small cakes, this is easy; with a large cake, you may want to follow my lead and just flip about a quarter of the cake at once. This means the finished product won't be a solid cake, but really, who cares? It will still be browned and crispy and delicious. I suppose you could experiment with the Spanish tortilla-flipping technique, but I have to tell you--I don't think that would work very well. Maybe mixing an egg or some other binding agent in with your fagioli/pasta business would help there.

Once the second side of each fagioli cake is browned, you are done!

Ok. We had fagioli, but we wanted some more vegetables. Fortunately, lots of vegetables are pretty easy to come by at our house. I had a big bunch of chard in the crisper, and this baked spinach recipe from Smitten Kitchen in mind. I'm very happy to report that chard can definitely sub for spinach here; the result was excellent, and tasted nothing like any chard I've made before. New ways to eat vegetables! Hooray!

Even with the chard sub, I adapted Deb's method (initially from Julia Child; reputable!) only the slightest amount. I wanted to use the chard stems, so I diced them finely and cooked them for about five minutes before adding the chopped leaves. I didn't bother shocking the cooked chard, as I didn't care about preserving its color. I used vegetable stock instead of beef (who has beef stock lying around? Not me). I used parmesan instead of gruyere, and finely chopped a somewhat fresh piece of bread instead of using the very dry crumbs required.

So that's what "only the slightest amount" of change looks like at our house.

When I was done cooking, the stovetop looked like this:

It was 9:07. We were starving. I shoveled fagioli and chard gratin onto both our plates, and split a cara cara orange in half for pseudo-dessert.

The result was completely excellent, and we ate it all. I mean that literally. We ate all the fagioli. We ate all the chard. We ate every single edible thing on the stove, and then ate half an orange apiece besides.

It was so good, and we were so full.

18 March 2011

Guinness: good except when plastered to the ceiling.

Last night we decided to relax after most of a long, exhausting week by sitting around eating dinner and drinking bottles of Guinness. I had to buy the Guinness warm, since it was St. Patrick's Day, and the cooler had been previously ransacked by people with more foresight. We decided to put them in the freezer, so we'd be able to drink cold beer in a reasonable amount of time.

You can totally see where this is going.

Our first beers were fine, but when I opened my second, I noticed the lack of foam and the encrustation of rime on the inner neck. I immediately went back and took the last bottle out to prevent it from freezing. John was ready for another, so I took out the opener, broke the seal, and was straightaway hit in the face by an explosion of frozen Guinness.

So that's how we ended up spending our evening scrubbing down every surface in our kitchen. The silverware drawer had been open as well. Charming.

I don't have a picture, and for this we should all be thoroughly thankful.

16 March 2011

The anti-bagel: massive salad sandwich

Or: how many bitter greens can I cram into one sandwich? It turns out that the answer is PLENTY.

I was really expecting this to be a little overly bitter, even for me. It was not. Evidently, even a very small proportion of dairy is capable of taming raw arugula and radishes. In conclusion, I have no real reason to ever eat a dairy and bread-heavy store bagel ever again.*

*This doesn't mean I won't, of course.

The anti-bagel

arugula/other leafy green of your choice
cream cheese
labneh/other tangy spoonable dairy product
salt, pepper
good bread

First, get our some arugula, parsley, and radishes. Finely chop to create a bowl of delicious mixed vegetables.

If you don't have arugula, things like escarole, radicchio, or endive will provide comparable bitter-greeny taste with a bit more crunch, while chard, spinach, or mixed greens will make a somewhat softer impact. If you don't have parsley, I recommend you plant some.

Other good additions: any other soft leafy herb, scallions, cucumber, carrots, green beans, snow peas, or bell pepper. Obviously, these will all create different tastes, so pick and choose at your discretion. Make sure to slice or mince any more substantial veg as finely as possible, for even distribution.

Mix the chopped veg with a scattering of salt and pepper, a spoonful of softened cream cheese, and a spoonful of labneh, plain good yogurt, or sour cream. Vegetables should totally dominate this mixture. For anti-bagel, we're looking for vegetables barely bound by dairy, not dairy with a pitiful scraping of vegetable content.

Toast your bread if you so desire. Spread with copious vegetable mixture. Add an extra sprinkling of pepper if you so desire.

Fold your anti-bagel together and eat in good health and good conscience.

15 March 2011


Blood orange and grapefruit juice

two blood oranges
one grapefruit
a reamer of some kind

Roll each piece of fruit firmly on the counter to begin breaking up the inner membranes. If you're patient, you can even leave them on a sunny windowsill for a couple hours first; warm fruit gives more juice.

Cut each piece of fruit in half. Ream with reamer. Pick any seeds out of the resulting juice.

Pour your juice into a glass. You should have about a cup altogether.

Now you have a few options.
- Add some ice to dilute it slowly as you sip.
- Add an equal amont of sparkling water to create a fizzy juice spritzer.
- Mix with champagne for an exciting mimosa.
- Mix with gin for an exciting martini.
- Pound it instantly, undiluted, for a serious blood sugar rush.

I choose option five.

14 March 2011

Wonton soup

Well, it's been an interesting few weeks. Time to break out the frozen wontons and make near-instant dinner. Maybe next month we'll take the plunge and make our own filling, at least.

So I bought some frozen wontons only to discover the packaging is complete genius. Check it out: they kept the wontons separate by putting each one in its own compartment. Hey, I have awfully similar ice cube trays hiding in the back of the cupboard! Whatever could I do with those in the near future, when I perform exciting wonton and/or dumpling-making experiments?

In the meantime, frozen wontons work just fine.

This method will work with any Asian wrapped dumpling or wonton intended for soup, so just use your favorite. If you're looking for vegetarian dumplings, I recommend that you check the ingredients list before you buy, to ensure that you don't fall prey to "vegetarian food=just vegetables" syndrome. For instance, instead of picking a wonton with corn, carrots, and peas, I picked one with spinach, tofu, and shiitake mushrooms. Much better.

Wonton soup

vegetable broth
hot pepper
soy sauce
rice wine vinegar
sriracha/other hot pepper sauce
premade frozen wontons
green onions

Asian-style broths compatible with wontons are actually really easy to cook. You just need to make a few additions to the standard vegetable broth procedure, and you're set.

First, while cooking the broth, add big chunks of ginger, smashed lemongrass stalks, or asian hot peppers (fresh or dried) to your standard water and vegetable base. If you don't have every one of these, it's ok; just use what you have. After the broth is cooked, remove the vegetables and reserve the liquid.

Season the remaining broth with your desired amount of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, mirin (i.e. sweet Japanese cooking wine), and a hot pepper sauce or jam such as sriracha or sambal oelek. The amounts really depend on your taste. I recommend starting with small amounts, tasting as you go. Leave the broth a bit undersalted, as you're going to evaporate liquid in a minute.

Now bring the broth back up to a boil. Slide your wontons into the broth, along with any fresh vegetables you might want in your finished soup. I chose finely sliced green onions and purple carrots. Other good additions: mushrooms, Chinese chives, various Asian greens, tofu cubes.

Simmer for about five minutes, or until the wontons are cooked through. You might want to check your package directions to estimate the time more accurately, depending on the kind of wonton you use.

When your wontons are cooked, taste the soup, correct for seasoning, and serve.

We had our soup with extra bits of green onion, for ultimate flavor punch. Yes!

07 March 2011

Open-faced cream cheese and mushroom sandwiches with arugula

I sometimes feel very much like Cookie Monster, except in regard to sandwiches, not cookies. SANDWICH! SANDWICH SANDWICH SANDWICH!

I usually do manage to get the sandwich into my existent esophagus, however.

This time I had cream cheese and mushrooms on herb bread from the farmer's market, with a mountain of arugula on the side to pile on each bite as I ate.

Open-faced cream cheese and mushroom sandwiches with arugula

decent bread
cream cheese (or goat, etc.)
black pepper
arugula (spinach, etc.)
(anything else that sounds good)

Slice up some bread; toast or not as you prefer. Spread with cream cheese and layer on chopped parsley and mushroom slices. Other good additions might include thinly sliced red onion, red pepper, cucumber, other herbs you like, or what have you. Sprinkle the finished sandwiches with fresh black pepper.

Eat with copious amounts of arugula.

04 March 2011

Le weekend: white wine with citrus

I guess this drink is a little like a white sangria, but it's really only wine and fruit, so it gets its own name. I hereby christen thee "Le weekend." *Smashes wine bottle on edge of table.* Oh, don't worry, it's already empty.

"Le weekend" means "the weekend" in French. I think this is hysterical.

Le weekend

dry white wine, pref sauvignon blanc
good citrus fruit of your choosing

Cut up slices of citrus and distribute among your glasses. Here we have half a clementine plus one wedge of lemon in each glass, which was a nice mix of sweet and sour. Pour in cold wine to cover.

Drink. Gradually eat bits of wine-soaked citrus.

Enjoy your weekend.

03 March 2011

Carrot salad excitement

In further purple carrot news, would you like a salad?

When I came across this lovely carrot salad on Everybody Likes Sandwiches, I immediately gave it a try. No, really: I was idly reading the internet, waiting for my sandwich to toast, when I found said salad recipe. I made it on the spot.

This could not be easier. I just scrubbed three smaller purple carrots, julienned them by hand, and mixed them with a squeeze of lemon juice, a trickle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of coarse salt. I forgot to add minced garlic, but that's ok; it would've been hard for my 3/4 cup of carrot julienne to stand up to even one clove of raw garlic. I'll definitely try the garlic version when I have a higher proportion of carrot around, though. Perhaps after the farmer's market this weekend.

The resulting salad was juicy and crisp, with a nice sweet-salt-tart flavor mix. It was excellent with a grilled cheese (ok, baked-in-the-toaster-oven cheese) sandwich with dijon mustard and winter greens.

Make some!