31 January 2012

BAGEL!

sesame bagel sandwichFor the first time in weeks, we've had a whole bag of bagels in the house. This clearly leads to LUNCH PARTY.

I toasted a sesame bagel and ate it with cream cheese, red bell pepper, green onion, leaf lettuce, and black pepper. YEAH!!

30 January 2012

Winter is awesome: roasted cauliflower and carrot

roasted cauliflower and carrotWant to cram more delicious winter vegetables in your maw? Me too!

We have been all about the cauliflower lately, so I took one of the two in the refrigerator, cored it, and chopped it into pieces. Yes, we had two cauliflowers--what's wrong with that? There are two of us!

I scrubbed, trimmed, and chunked up three or four carrots before mixing them with the cauliflower. Then I tossed everything with red wine-dijon vinaigrette, spread all the veg evenly in two baking dishes (our regular casserole dish was too small), and threw it all into the 375F oven for about 40 minutes.

Voila: plenty of tasty roasted veg with satisfying crispy brown edges! Eat it with:
- A big vat of stew or soup of your choice.
- A tasty savory sloppy joe-style sandwich, of either a meaty or a lentily variety.
- Baked bbq tofu or tempeh. Bonus: cook everything at once!
- A roast, if you eat, you know, roasts. Double cook everything at once bonus!

YEAH!

26 January 2012

5 years

sourdough sandwich and fuji appleDoes everyone have David Bowie firmly in their heads now? Ok then.

Yes! So today is the official 5th anniversary of Ham Pie Sandwiches. TIME FOR CAKE--except I actually didn't make any cake. Instead, gaze in wonder upon my lunch!

I toasted some sourdough bread (baked by the lovely Veronica) with honey mustard, red pepper, cremini mushrooms, green onion, salami (on one of two slices), havarti with dill, and cracked pepper. On the side we have a fuji apple, clearly sliced before I put my sandwich business into the toaster oven, but delicious nonetheless.

I think this is a completely appropriate way to celebrate five years of normal, achievable food, don't you?

25 January 2012

Everybody likes gratin

pasta gratinThe gratin dish has quickly become our favorite thing ever. The best part is that it's HUGE and thus holds enough content to create actual leftovers. We have been making and eating every gratin in the land, most notably chard and cauliflower.

On this particular occasion, we were making pasta puttanesca--i.e. with a simple tomato and olive sauce--for dinner. This is fine and all, but it's fairly plain. So, to dress it up, we threw the finished & sauced pasta in the gratin dish, scattered a mixture of breadcrumbs, cheese, and herbs over the top, and baked it at 375F for about a half hour.

Clearly, the crispy business on top is the best part of any gratin. In fact, you can use it to transform practically anything reasonably bakeable--such as the aforementioned pasta--into a pan of glorious deliciousness. Go forth!

pasta gratinCrispy crunchy gratin topping

breadcrumbs (or just finely chopped bread)
olive oil
cheese
salt, pepper
various seasonings, herbs, or vegetables

Essentially, we just want to finely chop (or grate, or blitz in ye olde food processor) everything, mix it all together, then spread it over a pan of whatever it is you want to gratinée.

The proportions here are almost totally up to you. I like to start with a more or less equal ratio of breadcrumbs to cheese, but it's also totally fine to go for lots of breadcrumbs and only the tiniest bit of cheese, or a lot of cheese and only a few breadcrumbs. Then you can add a whole lot of different herbs or seasonings, or you can leave them out entirely. It's all about using (or using up) whatever you have on hand.

So. Mix your desired amount of breadcrumbs with your desired amount of grated cheese. I usually make my own breadcrumbs by chopping up any stale (or not stale) ends of bread I have lying around. You can use nearly any kind of cheese you want. Obvious grating cheeses like parmesan and romano work well, but so do gruyere, emmenthaler, white cheddar, and gouda. If you want to crumble in some blue cheese or feta instead of grating anything, go for it. It all depends on what you have and the particular flavor combination you're going for.

Mix a drizzle of olive oil or melted butter with the crumbs and cheese. Use just enough oil to moisten everything slightly. Season with a tiny bit of salt (be careful here, since cheese is salty) and several good grinds of pepper.

At this point, you can chop and add whatever else you like to season the gratin mixture. We decided to add some fresh parsley, a handful of green olives, and a couple cloves of garlic. Other things that might be good: chopped shallot or green onion, any other herbs you like, some paprika or hot pepper flake, a spoonful of pesto or tapenade, or some roasted red pepper or sun-dried tomatoes. You could do a red pepper and shallot crumb for a pan of baked macaroni and cheese, a black olive and basil crumb for cauliflower gratin, a feta and sun-dried tomato crumb for a dish of zucchini and eggplant, or a simple cheddar crumb for a dish of scalloped potatoes. Anything goes as long as it sounds good to you.

crispy gratin toppingNow spread your gratin topping lovingly over your dish of food, stick it in the oven (on a cookie sheet if there's any danger of overflow), and bake it. The temperature and timing will vary depending on what you're making, but it's generally reasonable to start out at 350 or 375F and check for progress after about half an hour.

The completed gratin will be beautifully browned, crispy, and fragrant on top, and hot, bubbling and moist underneath. Hooray! Complementary textures for the win!

24 January 2012

Lemon cardamom oat bars--er, loaf.

lemon cardamom oat loafLast night, after a large and virtuous dinner of an Ol' Reliable and a bowl of vinaigrette-roasted cauliflower and carrots, I made a batch of (never home)maker's lemon cardamom oat bars.

I had been scoping these out for a few days, since they looked so easy and sounded so good. However, I was a little suspicious because they require no oil or butter whatsoever. Of course, I only noticed this after I had already started mixing up ingredients. At that point I said "well, let's see how they turn out," finished mixing, spread my batter into a parchment-papered loaf pan (we have no 8x8 pan and probably never will, considering how long we've managed without one), and threw it into a 350F oven. Verdict: they turned out well, but were just slightly dry. I may try adding a spoonful of applesauce or labneh to the batter next time.

lemon cardamom oat loafWe had whole cardamom pods instead of ground and an actual lemon instead of a bottle of juice, so the first order of business was creating ground cardamom and lemon juice. I bashed the seeds out of four cardamom pods with a mortar & pestle, fished out the husks, and ground the aforementioned seeds coarsely. I tore off a quarter of a lemon and squeezed the juice out through my fingers, catching the seeds in my palm.

Then I mixed those with an egg and half a cup of maple syrup, and added in the dry ingredients. I never mix the dry and wet ingredients separately, so I threw the 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1 cup rolled oats and 1 cup flour straight into the bowl of wet, mixing once after the oats and again after the flour. The resulting batter was a little thick, but still pretty easy to press into the pan with the back of my spatula.

Even with all the cardamom-bashing, this was one of the fastest recipes ever! For once it did indeed take me less than the oven preheating time to completely finish a batter. Usually I end up running all over the kitchen putting ingredients back right after I've used them. This time, even though I did clean a little as I went, I was entirely done by the time the oven beeped. NICE.

lemon cardamom oat loafSince I was using a loaf pan, I ended up baking these for a little over the required time--more like 35 minutes. The result was a panful of super-fragrant oat business, which was tasty as is but even better with apricot jam. I have a feeling it would be extra super plus good with some labneh or Greek yogurt. Maybe I should actually go and get some of that within the next, uh, day. Otherwise the whole pan of delicious business is going to be gone.

19 January 2012

Butter Sunday

buckwheat waffles and birch syrupWe had Inga and Dave over for brunch, and boy are my arms tired!!

Oh, wait.

Menu:
Buckwheat waffles with maple and/or birch syrup
Scrambled eggs
Baguette pieces with butter and/or apricot jam
Salad greens with vinaigrette (for authentic Brooklyn-in-CA brunch)
Roasted fingerling potatoes with yellow onion
Coffee
Mimosas

Yes, it was a very carbohydrate-intensive brunch, but that's ok! A good time was had by all.

birch syrupSo, since most of the other things on the menu are pretty intuitive, let's talk about this birch syrup. We had never heard of it before John's dad sent us a little jug from Alaska for Christmas.

In a lot of ways, birch syrup is like maple syrup--it's just derived from birch sap instead of maple sap. However, it's thinner, darker in color, and smells a bit like molasses. In the picture up top, there's birch syrup in the front left quadrant--check out how pale it makes the maple syrup look!

Clearly, a batch of buckwheat waffles was the perfect testing ground.

For the waffles, we switched up the standard Joy of Cooking recipe, subbing buckwheat flour for about a third of the original white flour. When you have a waffle iron, a jug of birch syrup (and one of maple), and people coming over for brunch, you have to make waffles, right? Right. We made waffles.

We made so many waffles that several of them got to make their temporary home in our freezer. This, in turn, means we can now have waffles and syrup for dessert on the slightest of impulse. Hooray!

buckwheat waffles and birch syrupBuckwheat waffles

1 cup unbleached white flour
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
a stick of butter, melted (8 tbsp, for those of you)
1 1/2 cups milk

This is super easy. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix gently until combined.

Cook 1/2 cup of batter at a time in a hot greased waffle iron. You'll know your waffles are done when they stop steaming. Pry them off the iron with a chopstick, flip them onto a plate, and eat them with butter, syrup, jam, fruit, or whatever else you like on your waffles.

Of course, if you don't want sweet stuff on your waffles, that's fine too. These contain little enough sugar that they can totally take a savory addition instead. For instance, juicy braised greens with hot sauce and crispy bacon would be an excellent plan.

17 January 2012

Brandy butter rice soup redux: using what we canned

using home-canned tomatoesThe other day John and I decided we wanted our awesome tomato rice soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, so we pulled out the first-ever jar of home-canned tomato sauce.

Using our own canned tomato was a little nerve-racking! I mean, nobody wants botulism in this day and age (or, you know, in any day and age). But all my jars looked good, smelled fine, and presented no issues whatsoever, so I ventured forth and did meet with victory upon the field of battle. It wasn't even St. Crispian's Day or anything!

To open home-canned jars, use the flat side of a standard bottle opener. Hook the broad edge over the top of the lid, and the little punched-out edge under the lip of the jar. Press down on the top of the opener with your thumb as you pull the lever arm upward. The lid will come right off with a nice pop. Voila!

Yeah, you guys probably know this, but it never hurts to have more info, right? Especially considering the lack of general cooking & food preservation knowledge in American culture over the past 40 years.

Anyway. This soup is more than the sum of its parts. I blame the butter and the brandy.

Brandy butter rice soupBrandy butter rice soup

butter
garlic (&/or onion, shallot, etc.)
tomato puree or sauce
vegetable broth
raw long grain rice
brandy
salt, pepper, basil
fresh parsley &/or other garnish of your choice

Melt a large chunk of butter in a reasonable soup pot. You can cut it with olive oil (or replace it entirely) if you so choose.

Smash and peel a good eight or ten cloves of garlic. I like to leave mine in large chunks, but it would also be fine to mince them. When your butter is melted, add the garlic to the pot. Cover, turn the heat to low, and cook slowly for about ten or fifteen minutes. This long slow poach will essentially give you garlic-infused butter, which is of course well worth pursuing.

When your garlic is all tender and lovely, add your tomato to the pot. I used a full jar of our summer tomato sauce; you can use whatever form of tomato is available to you. Season with salt, pepper, and basil. I want to experiment with other herbs in the future.

Turn the heat up to medium and simmer for about five minutes. Now it's time to add your rice. Since the rice needs to cook in the soup, you'll need to add some vegetable broth as well. So. Add about half a cup of rice, plus a cup or more of vegetable broth, according to how thick you like your soup. Add in a good shot of brandy as well. Bring the pot to a boil, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer until the rice is cooked through. The time will vary based on the type of rice you're using. I think mine took about fifteen minutes from zero to tender.

When your rice is cooked, your soup is essentially ready. If the soup is too thin for your liking, take off the lid and boil it down a little longer; if it's too thick, add a little more vegetable broth. Taste and correct any seasonings, and you are done.

Eat your soup with chopped parsley, chervil, or whatever other herb sounds good to you. Some sour cream or plain yogurt would be nice too.

Brandy butter rice soup with grilled cheeseSince this is tomato soup, a grilled cheese sandwich is the obvious companion choice. Toast or biscuits would work too. Otherwise, a white bean vinaigrette could provide a good contrast in texture & acidity.

13 January 2012

Salads with things on them

egg salad over greensThe salad with things on top heads the list of great dinners at our house. Our most common variation is the Ol' Reliable: a massive amount of greens topped with seared marinated tempeh. But what happens when you don't have any tempeh, or are in the mood for something else? Well. What other things could you put on top of your greens?

If you eat meat, you could have a green salad with chunk tuna (as in a salade Ni├žoise) or a tuna salad. I would go for either a traditional tuna salad or a more Waldorfy variation with apple or pear, toasted pecans, celery, and what have you. A tuna vinaigrette with capers would be great too. If tuna is not your thing, you could sear off a couple thinly sliced or pounded pieces of chicken or beef with a little garlic, slice them up, squeeze on a little lemon juice, and serve them on top of your salad. But if you want to keep everything vegetarian, it's a good plan to go for a chickpea salad, a white bean vinaigrette, or a liberal application of egg.

While it's certainly possible (and delicious) to make a big green salad with simple chopped eggs, it's substantially more interesting to transform those eggs into something more. This time, I made egg salad.

Butter lettuce with egg salad

Hard boil as many eggs as you want to eat. Ice them, whack them all over with the back of a spoon, and peel them. Rinse and chop; mix with a large spoonful of mayo, a smaller spoonful of dijon mustard, some finely chopped red onion, chopped chives or dill, and a spoonful of capers if you like that kind of thing. Season with salt and pepper. We put a little Tapatio hot sauce in this particular batch; I was skeptical at first, but it turned out to be a great choice. Slightly spicy egg salad? Yes, please.

For your greens, core, wash, dry, and tear up a head of butter lettuce. If you want to use other salad greens, go right ahead; this works with nearly any kind of green. I might even deliberately choose a more bitter lettuce like endive, for a high contrast against the super-creamy egg.

When you're ready to assemble everything into one glorious plate of deliciousness, arrange a few handfuls of lettuce on your plate, and add some finely chopped red onion and any other chopped vegetables you'd like. Dress with vinaigrette (or oil and lemon) if you so desire; we had ours dry.

Now grab a fork, sit down, and eat.

I especially like this style of dinner because you don't just get full--you also feel great after you eat it. In the land of super-salted, oiled, and stomach-weighting dinners, this is a rare and precious commodity.

09 January 2012

White bean and kale soup

White bean and kale soupI believe the applicable phrase is "aww yeah." I wish we had another pot of white beans all soaked and done so I could eat another batch of this tonight. I really do.

White beans and kale are:
- the perfect flavor combination: creamy and rich vs bitter and tangy
- super cheap yet super healthy
- hearty & rib-sticking for a satisfying winter dinner

Go forth and make some!

White bean and kale soup

white beans
olive oil
onion/garlic/a combination
carrots
celery
hot peppers of your choice
dry vermouth for deglazing
bean or veg broth
kale or other appropriate greens
salt, pepper, sage, thyme, marjoram, a bay leaf
lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
optional liquid smoke

If you're using dried beans, start them the day before you want this soup. Sort a cup or two of beans, wash them in two changes of cold water, soak them overnight in twice their depth of water, and boil them, covered, for about an hour, or until cooked through & lovely. It's also a good idea to add a bay leaf to your beans for extra flavor. Presto: a big pan of beans plus homemade white bean broth, all ready for your soup!

Ok. When you're ready to make the actual soup, chop up some onion and garlic and sauté them with a slug of olive oil in the bottom of a large soup pot. While those are softening, finely dice a couple of carrots and sticks of celery; add them to the pot and continue to sauté. If you want some spice in your soup, mince a hot pepper and add it as well. Add a pinch of salt to help draw out the vegetables' juices. If your pan gets too hot and the vegetables start to stick, deglaze quickly with a little dry vermouth. In fact, just deglaze no matter what, since dry vermouth is awesome.

Once your vegetables are all tender and beautiful, season them with your preferred amount of pepper, sage, thyme, and marjoram. You can also add some red pepper flakes or paprika if you don't have a hot pepper yet still want spicy soup. Then add your cooked beans and their broth (and, incidentally, their bay leaf) to the pot. If you're using canned beans, drain off the canning liquid and use two or three cups of vegetable broth and a new bay leaf instead. You could also add some vegetable broth if you just don't have enough homemade bean broth to make the soup adequately liquid; it's all good.

Bring the pot to a boil; lower the heat; cover; simmer. I'd give it at least ten or fifteen minutes for the flavors to meld before you taste it and correct any seasonings. While you're waiting, wash, destem, and chop up a bunch of kale or other winter greens of your choice. Since greens shrink a lot when cooked, be sure to use a whole lot of them! I used an entire batch of curly kale for this (admittedly large) pan of soup. Anyway. When you're ready, add your greens to the pan, stir, and let cook for another five minutes, or until wilted. Take the pan off the heat.

To finish the soup, we need a little acid. So. First, taste your pan of soup to see what you're dealing with. Then either squeeze the juice of a quarter (or even half) of a lemon into your pan, or add a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar. Stir everything together and taste again. The acid will have heightened the flavors and made the soup feel almost less heavy than before.

If you want a smoky soup, it is also time to add a few careful drops of liquid smoke. Add maybe three to five drops, stir, and taste. The if you want a smokier end product, you can add a drop or two more. Liquid smoke can be super overpowering, though, so be sure to add it bit by tiny bit.

White bean and kale soupNow is the time when you can eat plenty of delicious soup! Serve yourself a bowl, garnish with a bit of torn parsley or grated parmesan, and dig in.

Things to eat with this soup:
- toast, pita bread, or cornbread
- a grilled cheese sandwich, if you feel the need for such a thing
- a big green salad
- some sort of delicious pickle, such as pickled carrots
- nothing at all; it's totally a full meal & very satisfying all by itself.

HOORAY.

04 January 2012

Hot rice salad with Mediterranean vegetables

Hot rice salad with Mediterranean vegetablesThis is exactly the kind of thing I want to eat now that it's the new year. Cheap, easy, healthy, good.

I guess this is more of a hot rice salad than anything else, though I don't exactly think of it that way. I'm much more likely to call it "rice stuff" or possibly "a big tasty mess." I'm perfectly happy with those titles, especially since "mess" usually equals "delicious" around here; however, they aren't really that descriptive. So let's call it hot rice salad with Mediterranean vegetables.

That wasn't so bad, was it?

Hot rice salad with Mediterranean vegetables

olive oil
red onion (or yellow; it's cool)
garlic
green olives
artichoke hearts
red pepper
dry vermouth
tomato puree
chard
fresh parsley
salt, pepper, oregano, basil, maybe some marjoram
cooked rice

If you don't happen to have a bunch of leftover rice lying around, put a pot of it on first. Give it maybe fifteen minutes or so before you start cooking everything else; this way the rice should be done by the time you need it. I used long grain brown, which was more than satisfactory.

When you're ready to cook, warm up a wide sauté pan and sauté some chopped onion and garlic in a slug of olive oil. Since I was cooking just for me, I probably used about a quarter of a red onion and two or three cloves of garlic. If you like hot pepper, you may want to mince some up and add it as well.

While the onion and garlic soften, chop up some green olives and add them to the pan. Chop up part of a red pepper and add it to the pan. Drain some artichoke hearts of any overambitious marinade, quarter them, and add them to the pan. It's pretty much all cutting things up and adding them to the pan.

Mediterranean vegetablesAdd some salt, oregano, basil, and whatever other herb you think might sound good, stir everything to combine, and cook for about five minutes, or until the vegetables are nice and tender. Deglaze with a splash of dry vermouth if you have some hanging around. Then add a couple big spoonfuls of tomato puree (or sauce, or whatever). If you add more tomato, the finished business will end up more like a pasta sauce, which is great, if that's what you want. You could totally put this on pasta. However, we are currently doing rice.

Anyway. Give the tomato sauce a few minutes to cook, so all the flavors distribute well. You might need to add some more salt at this point too. Then add as much rice as you like. You want to aim for a roughly equal volume of vegetable mix and rice, or maybe a little more vegetables, but it's ultimately up to you.

Give it another five minutes or so on the heat while you wash and chop a big handful of greens. I used the darkest of red chard, with red leaves as well as green, which was awesome, but you can use practically any cookable green you like. I maybe wouldn't go for the very sturdiest greens like cabbage or collards, but other than that, use whatever you want.

Hot rice salad with Mediterranean vegetablesAdd your greens to the pan, stir to mix, and cook for another minute, or until they're just wilted. Sturdier greens will take a few more minutes; tender greens will wilt just fine off the heat entirely. Turn off the burner, add some chopped parsley, and you're done.

Now eat it and feel better about your life and the world in general.