31 October 2011

My dinner with Chrissy

Last weekend Chrissy came up from Santa Cruz to hang out! Yay! We made mimosas and peanut somen to celebrate.

peanut somenThis instance of peanut somen included a diced yellow carrot, a big pile of shredded green cabbage, a bunch of powdered ginger (though fresh would be far superior), and a not even remotely authentic poblano pepper.

Start by chopping and sautéing a bunch of onion and garlic in olive oil and a touch of sesame oil. You can also use the whites of green onion if you want; save the greens for garnish. Peanut oil would clearly be great here too.

Dice a hot pepper; scrub and chop a carrot; shred up a whole bunch of cabbage. Add all these to the pan, season everything with some pepper, sambal oelek, ginger, and soy sauce, and cook.

Item: you should always use twice as much cabbage as you think.

cabbage and carrotsWe used about a third of a large head of cabbage. It was not enough. More cabbage! MORE!

Once the onion & garlic, poblano, cabbage, and carrot were soft, we added a big spoonful of peanut butter, a splash of rice vinegar, and a head of chopped broccoli. Be sure to use the broccoli stem! Just peel it, chop it up, and throw it in there. I actually think this is the best part. You may want to add a little water to loosen the sauce as well.

peanut somen with cabbage and carrotsWhen everything is cooked through, correct any seasonings. I like to add more sambal at the end, since earlier additions become sweet with cooking.

Finally, cook your somen, drain it, and add it to the pan. Somen only takes about a minute to cook, so as long as you have hot water ready, you can just boil it on the spot. Add it to the pan in small batches, stirring thoroughly after each addition. This keeps your noodles from sticking together in one big clump. You're welcome.

Divide your noodles and veg into bowls. Top with any garnishes you want; chopped peanuts, green onion, toasted sesame seeds, cilantro leaves, or a couple drops of sesame oil all work well.

Eat. Drink mimosas. Realize that mimosas do not go with peanut somen whatsoever. Have a glass of water instead.

And yes, this was technically our brunch with Chrissy, but that title just doesn't have the same ring, does it?

28 October 2011

Ol' Reliable

ol' reliable seared tempeh saladThe other day, John and I were discussing which dinners we would eat with no pause, no matter what mood we were in. The Ol' Reliable--a green salad with seared marinated tempeh--tops the list. (Other candidates included the Big Pan of Enchiladas and the Massive Stockpot of Chili.)

Man, do I love the Ol' Reliable.

We have made and eaten it many, many times. Here's one with carrots, frisee, and mushrooms. Here's one with cherry tomatoes and marinade-based salad dressing. This current salad features mushrooms, sungold tomatoes, cucumber, yellow carrot, and green onion over a farmer's market mesclun mix.

The basic premise is always the same: marinate cubed tempeh in your choice of delicious marinade. Sear. Throw on top of salad greens. Add vegetables and dressing of your choice. Eat. Feel better.

Our base marinade for tempeh is generally olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sriracha, crushed garlic, fresh rosemary, and veg broth, with whatever other additions sound good at the time. The vegetables can range anywhere from plain greens with no dressing to a huge melange of whatever's in the crisper. It's all good.

27 October 2011

Refrigerator pickles!

refrigerator garlic dill picklesOne vegetable I planted for our ceremonial first in-ground garden was cucumber. Why not? Cucumbers are great and crispy and full of life-giving water! They also seem to go bad very quickly after being bought in, say, a store. Clearly, keeping them on the vine until we want to eat them is the perfect solution. So I started some Japanese cucumber seeds, transplanted the seedlings into the ground beside our garage, and trained the resulting vines around a couple tomato cages to ward off any potential ground rot.

Then we went off to Oregon for vacation. When we came back, the vines looked normal and healthy. The cucumbers, however, had erupted into 12-inch behemoths. I picked one to use for salads. It took us more than a week to get through maybe half of it. In the meantime, the rest of the cucumbers were getting bigger and bigger.

Well. It was clearly time to make some pickles. Yay, pickles!

homegrown cucumberSince there are so many different pickles out there, I thought I'd start with a small refrigerator batch. That way, if we loved them, we could make more, and if we hated them, we'd only be out a few cups of brine. So I went over to Food in Jars and found these refrigerator dills. Perfect.

So, after acquiring the dill seed that I for one totally did not have kicking around the spice cabinet, I chopped a single cucumber into a bunch of 5-inch spears and set out to make two pints of refrigerator dills. Obviously, I used a Japanese cucumber instead of a bunch of Kirbys. I also changed the apple cider vinegar to plain white vinegar, because that's what was in our cabinet. Otherwise, I went entirely by the book:

- Wash cucumber, trim ends, and cut into spears.
- Boil 3/4 c water and 3/4 c vinegar with 2 tsp salt until salt dissolves.
- Get out two pint jars; add 2 peeled garlic cloves, 2 chopped green onion whites, and 1 tsp dill seed to each.
- Cram cucumber spears into jars.
- Pour hot brine over cucumbers, leaving 1/4 inch of space.
- Cap, cool, and store in the refrigerator.

refrigerator garlic dill picklesYes, that is one cucumber.

While I was filling my jars, I kept flashing back to the bit of Emily of New Moon (or was it Emily Climbs? Who knows) in which Emily learns how to put pickles in jars in patterns. I most certainly didn't get my pickles into the jars in any sort of pattern. I was just happy to get them upright in the jars with minimal crushage.

I was a little wary of the result, since most pickle recipes I've seen use actual heads of fresh dill instead of seeds (of course, there must be seeds in the heads, but still). So we gave the pickles their alloted day to set, then cracked open a jar and tried some. Verdict: these are some good dill pickles. Since the cucumbers aren't cooked, they are super crunchy and light in color, while still providing a significant garlic-dill kick. Success! I will pay $3.50 for a jar of pickles no more again forever!

26 October 2011

Roasted tomato & tempeh loaf sandwich

At least the tomatoes are in the oven this time, right?

roasted vegetables and tempehWe actually had this excellent dinner nearly a month ago! That's ok, though--it's way more appropriate for a brisk fall day than a sunny summer one.

In this instance, we wanted a whole lot of roasted vegetables plus tempeh seasoned to approximate meatloaf, so we could have a dinner of fall veg and pseudo-meatloaf sandwiches.

So. First I marinated strips of tempeh in a mix of veg broth, ketchup, hot sauce, soy sauce, sriracha, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, crushed garlic cloves, and probably some fresh rosemary. The secret ingredient to practically any good tempeh marinade is rosemary, in my experience.

We don't steam the tempeh before marinating it. However, we generally do make the veg broth immediately before marinating, so the marinade itself is pretty warm. I'm not sure whether this has any effect on the supposed bitterness of tempeh, since I have nothing to compare against. It works fine.

While my tempeh was marinating, I cut a whole bunch of potatoes into steak fries and broccoli into florets, tossed each pile with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put them all in a 350/375F oven to bake.

roast cherry tomatoesNext, I washed a bunch of cherry tomatoes, tossed them with the aforementioned olive oil, salt, and pepper, and threw them in the oven as well.

After the vegetables were about halfway done, it was time to cook the tempeh. I decided to just throw the strips in the oven, basting occasionally as they cooked. While this did produce tasty tempeh, it also produced a pan that was nearly impossible to clean. I'd recommend just searing off your tempeh in a decent frying pan instead.

When everything was done, I whipped it all out of the oven, toasted some bread, and made some tempeh loaf sandwiches. Here, have a terribly lit 9 pm picture!

roast tempeh sandwichJohn's sandwich had just tempeh, mustard, and lots of lettuce; my sandwich had all of the above plus a big layer of the roasted tomatoes. This meant my sandwich was substantially more drippy. That didn't matter. It was totally worth it.

25 October 2011

More late season tomatoes

I'm just going to try and get through the last few super-summery tomato suggestions, ok?

tomato avocado and basil saladMake a tomato & avocado salad. Slice up tomatoes & avocados; mix together with shredded basil, salt, and freshly ground pepper.

I ate my salad plain, since it already featured an entire small avocado, but you can drizzle on some olive oil or vinaigrette if you really want to.

I actually really wish it were fall, and that I could then eat the fall food to match. But we live in California, and thus there is never a fall. It's so frustrating.

24 October 2011

Tomato homecoming

homegrown tomatoesSo, just to make an attempt at more relevance, look what else I found when we got home from vacation! Lo, under the massive tomato plants now in the process of collapsing under their own weight, I found my first purple cherokee tomato, plus a respectable pint of cherry sungolds. I had been wondering whether any full-sized tomatoes would ripen at all before the long, cold California winter came on (BA HA HA HA--oh, sorry), so this was exceptionally gratifying.

Anyway, TOMATOES! Let's cut them up and make something out of them!

homegrown tomatoesI decided on ravioli.

Ravioli with tomatoes, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts

olive oil
hot peppers
many tomatoes
artichoke hearts
salt, pepper, oregano, basil, etc.
ravioli of your choice
fresh basil or parsley for garnish

This is super simple: sauté vegetables, boil ravioli, drain, mix, garnish, and eat. Put a pot of water on to heat first; use it to cook the ravioli of your choice at an appropriate point in the process. I used frozen 4-cheese ravioli from the Milk Pail.

Ok! So start your sauce by warming some olive oil in a wide sauté pan over medium heat. Smash, peel, and roughly chop a handful of garlic cloves. I think I used about six. Toss the garlic into the pan and let it cook, stirring occasionally, while you chop up a hot pepper of your choice. Or don't! It's up to you and the contents of your crisper.

So. Add hot pepper to the pan and let it soften while you slice up as many mushrooms as you want. Add the mushrooms, along with a pinch of salt, some pepper, and a good sprinkling or oregano and basil. Try to get the mushrooms in one layer if possible, so they'll actually get golden and excellent instead of just softening up. Give them three or four minutes before you stir up the pan to brown their other sides.

Next, chop up a bunch of end-of-season tomatoes and add them to the pan. Let them reduce, stirring occasionally, while you quarter a big handful of artichoke hearts. I used jarred marinated artichoke hearts, so I also had to drain them of excess oil. If you're using frozen or fresh artichoke hearts, you obviously won't need to do that (although you will have to actually trim any fresh artichokes--I should do this, since artichokes are super local & all over the farmer's market, but it's a lot of work and I am just lazy). Add your artichoke hearts, stir, and sauté for another five minutes, or until everything is cooked to your liking. Correct seasonings, and voila--sauce.

Ravioli with tomatoes, mushrooms, and artichoke heartsBy this point your ravioli should be done. Drain them and add them to the sauce pan, stirring well to distribute everything evenly.

Serve with chopped fresh basil or parsley, and maybe a green salad on the side. White wine is always good.

19 October 2011

Pre-holiday brainstorm session

Yes, I know this is way, way too pre-holiday, but I had an idea, and I'm excited!

So I was catching up on all the foodblogs in the land after getting back from vacation, paying particular attention to the prolific VeganMoFo contingent. As a side note: I'm never sure what to do about VeganMoFo. I'm not vegan, and have no intention of changing this, but I do eat veg and vegan quite a bit of the time, and it's always great to push your boundaries and come up with some delicious new food you really love. Of course, this year we were on birthday vacation, so that pretty much put a damper on that.

Anyway, I went over to Awesome. Vegan. Rad., where I came across a truly fabulous-looking dish of vegan cassoulet from the recipe in Veganomicon.

First of all, I want some of that right now, even though we are still in California and the high temperature today is still 74F. Second, that book is not five feet away on my cookbook shelf. Third, we have a history of hosting vegetarian or vegan orphans' thanksgiving. So, what if we make a massive cassoulet for this year's orphans' thanksgiving?

Rough menu plan, which will obviously change quite a bit with input from other people:
- The above-mentioned cassoulet
- A vegetable soup (carrot or maybe cauliflower-roasted garlic) with potential croutons
- Roasted vegetable melange (sweet potato, onion, radish, other roots)
- Mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy
- Some sort of green component (braised greens; salad; maybe include cranberries here?)
- Another proteiny component (I don't know yet)
- Wine (& maybe some mulled wine this year?)
- Pumpkin pie is obviously required.

Now I'm even more excited for real fall to get here.


18 October 2011

Pineapple guava invasion

Pineapple guavasSo. When we got home from vacation, guess what we found waiting for us?

A backyard full of pineapple guavas, also known as feijoas, that's what.

Pineapple guavasWhen we moved into our house, our landlord told us all about the gigantic tree that shades nearly our entire backyard. Apparently it's the largest pineapple guava tree in the state. You can eat its flowers if you want. When the fruit is ripe, it falls of its own volition. Also, since the tree is getting old, it's getting less productive.

Uh huh. If this is "less productive," I'm a little scared to ask just how many pineapple guavas he and the previous tenants ate.

Pineapple guavasI think I picked up about 50 to 75 pounds of guavas on the first day.

We ate a few out of hand. You eat a pineapple guava by cutting or ripping it in half, then scooping or sucking out the insides.

vsThe inside of the fruit is quite a bit lighter than a regular pink-fleshed guava, but it's very juicy, with a jellylike texture in the middle and a grainy pear texture toward the skin (which is technically edible, but bitter). Pineapple guavas taste vaguely tropical, sort of like a more floral kiwi.

They're also super-fragrant. We literally could not keep this many of them in our house after a few days of increasingly cloying scent. An excellent argument for cleaning out the refrigerator, I guess.

So, what do you do with pineapple guavas? You make jam, for one thing. Well, that's great, but since we've previously established that John and I practically never eat jam, it doesn't seem like the best idea. You can evidently also make guava cheese, a solidified block of guava resembling quince paste, to eat with cheese and crackers or just on its own.

One of my friends suggested drying the guavas, which I will probably do later this week. This is definitely an occasion on which I wish I'd spent some time making an insect-proof outdoor dehydrator, so I could just cut them all up and leave them out in the sun for a few days. But since I don't have one, and the ants and slugs in our yard LOVE the small percentage of cracked or split guavas in the yard, sun-drying sounds like a recipe for infestation. Instead, I'm going to give it a shot in an ordinary (although really low) oven.

Pineapple guava schnappsIn the meantime, I turned to the easiest and quickest way of preserving the pineapple guavas: I made them into schnapps.

I can't say I found any pineapple guava schnapps recipes to follow, shockingly enough, so I just loosely modeled my process on the techniques at danish-schnapps-recipes.com. I washed and halved a bunch of pineapple guavas, filled quart jars to about 2/3 full, and then filled the remaining space in each with vodka. After agitating the jars every day for three days (during which the guavas turned a bizarre pickle color), I strained out the fruit through a regular strainer, then restrained through a fine-mesh nylon sieve to remove leftover particulates.

Pineapple guava schnappsVoila! The resulting schnapps clearly needs some time to age, but that's no surprise.

Now all we have to do is figure out what to do with the remaining 200 to 300 pounds of guavas still on the tree...

Pineapple guava tree

17 October 2011

Vacation! Or: Oregon is wet.

Oregon vacationSo for our birthdays this year John and I rented a car and escaped from blindingly sunny California to green, wet, and cool Oregon. It's always kind of surreal to have our chilly midwestern heritage birthdays supplanted by what passes for early fall in NorCal--that is to say, more summer. It never feels like my birthday here. So escaping to a place where jackets might feasibly be required seemed like an excellent plan.

We started off the road trip with lunch in Davis, home of roughly one million bicyclists. We went to Delta of Venus, a very hippie-student-relaxing coffeehouse in an old run-down Victorian, and had pesto, cheese, and red onion sandwiches with big cups of fortifying coffee. Everything appeared almost instantly and was delicious. Afterward we wandered through downtown to buy honey at the Davis Food Co-op, which was large and clearly excellent. I totally want to spend more time in Davis in the future.

We spent our first night out in Weed, where I ate possibly both the biggest and meatiest sandwich of my life at the Hi-Lo Cafe. This thing was terrifying: roast beef, bacon, and onion (or onion rings? I think it may have had onion rings) on a giant bun with a pile of fries and a big cup of jus for dipping of all kinds. There may have been pickles as well. It was truly massive and deeply satisfying, if also grounds for my arteries to immediately close up shop and declare a a strike.

For about half the trip, we rented a little cabin in the middle of nowhere outside Bend. Evidently Bend is the closest jumpoff for skiing at Mt. Bachelor, which means there are a million rentals available. It also means that early October is off-season, so we could pretty much take our pick of places.

So for a good chunk of a week this was my view.

woodstoveNICE. I kind of want a woodstove now (not that we need it even a little bit in our current house). That black iron thing on top of the stove is a humidifier, incidentally. You pour in water and it steams off as the fire burns. And it is totally necessary, since woodstove heat is extremely dessicating.

You will also notice the excellent craft beer I was drinking. Yay, beer! I don't think I can make a list of all the different Oregon beers we tried--we just went to the store and picked out individual bottles of everything that looked interesting. However, I can say that every single one of them was great. When we came back home, we went to see which ones we could find locally, and I'm happy to say that the Ninkasi in the picture made the cut. Beer!

On my birthday we went for cocktails at a downtown Bend bar called Velvet (watch out: sound).

velvet bar bend oregonLet me just say that had we been staying within walking distance, we would've spent quite a bit more time here. I got the Figlet, which is made of fresh figs (or maybe semi-dried, at least in October), pear puree, and vodka, and nicely made up for missing a week of farmer's market figs at home. John got the Stimulus, which is Bulleit, ginger beer, and lemonade, and which was also very good.

The birthday dinner we went out for afterward was kind of appalling, but let's just draw a veil over that unfortunate incident.

Ahem. Anyway, though we ate and drank at a few other places in Bend (Common Table: excellent vegetarian food; Thump Coffee: excellent coffee; Deschutes Brewery: excellent beer), we spent most of the week cooking in the cabin itself.

seared tilapiaThe kitchen was stocked with Le Creuset pans.

Wait, what?? But there they were. This was a prime reason to cook me a salted and peppered filet of fish one day. Just look at that sear! It's better than anything I could do at home. I didn't believe Le Creuset pans could actually be worth it, but I may now be changing my mind. Maybe I'll at least get a starter cast iron dude, if nothing else.

On the way out of Bend we ate breakfast at the excellent, friendly, and amusingly named The Breakfast Club. What did I eat? I can't remember. Probably an omelet with lots of vegetables. I know there were definitely some hash browns and coffee, though. It's interesting to see how the hash brown style changed as we went north--all the far northern California and south central Oregon diners used a wide grate on the potato, which I haven't seen before. Yay regional food!

Next we headed through the deep green mist of Mt. Hood National Forest to Portland, land of copious books and great food. This is the point in the trip at which I totally stopped taking pictures, but that's ok! We ate yet another diner meal at a tiny place called John's Coffee Shop, where 90% of the main room was filled with a counter and stools, the people working were Super nice, the menu was classic diner, and the prices were astoundingly cheap, especially coming from SV. Would Eat Again. Then we spent exorbitant amounts of time in Powells and drank lots of coffee before running off to NE Portland for dinner and beer with friends at The Bye and Bye.

Ok, so you know how most bar food consists of, like, food-service chicken wings, overpriced burgers and fries, or faux-British bangers and mash? Yeah, that was not the case here at all. I had the barbecue brussels bowl: brown rice, brussels sprouts, tofu, and a shockingly good barbecue sauce. I now really, really need to replicate this in my own kitchen. I have the brussels sprouts ready and waiting; now all I really need to do is make up a batch of our standard barbecue sauce and give it a try.

By this point we were getting pretty exhausted, so we made the call to head back south, eating merrily at as many diners as possible along the way. We stopped in Corvallis at The Broken Yolk. I got a "skillet," which I expected to be a scramble, but which turned out not to be a scramble at all! Instead, it had scrambled eggs on one side of the plate and a big bowl of red pepper, spinach, feta, potatoes, artichoke hearts, and kalamata olives on the other. Don't get me wrong; it was still great. A big bowl of vegetables was certainly welcome, even if it was a surprise.

On the last day of the trip, we had breakfast at the Black Bear Diner in Yreka, where even the "a little less breakfast" section of the menu provided a ham and cheese omelet so big I couldn't finish it, plus a buttermilk biscuit as big as my two fists. (Note to self: this is now the last time you've had ham! I have no idea how long it had been before this, however. I almost never eat ham.) Then we drove hell for leather through the entirety of northern California, through the worst rain I have ever seen in-state, and finally home to our own bed.

So, to sum up:
- Oregon is awesome.
- We were both glad to have our birthdays somewhere cool and nice and green.
- Oregon craft beer is a great idea.
- I enjoy coffee.
- I think our diner quota is now fulfilled until at least the end of the year.

Hooray vacation!

04 October 2011

Cherry tomatoes vs. craft beer

homegrown cherry tomatoesOur tomatoes have finally started to ripen! HOORAY.

Of course, I don't get to eat any right now, but that's because John and I are on birthday vacation in Oregon. It's a far and excellent cry from Silicon Valley and its high of 86F yesterday. Clouds and rain and the ability to wear things made of wool all trump that pretty handily.

Besides, have you seen the amount of small breweries in Oregon? For my birthday yesterday we had:
- Ninkasi Oatis Oatmeal Stout
- MacTarnahan's Summer Grifter IPA
- and 10 Barrel S1nist0r Black Ale,
all of which were really, really good in totally different ways. I think we may have to bring some beer presents home for ourselves.

Today we are going to drink coffee and hike about and eat gigantic salads, and it will all be sufficiently great that I will not even miss these. At least not for another week or so.

homegrown cherry tomatoes