29 August 2008

How to eventually have the best garden ever

I had so many fruit pits that I finally had to organize them.

Far left: white peach
Left: white peach, pluot, tiny black plum
Right: white nectarine, lemon
Far right: avocado, apricot

We will have the orangerie. Oh yes.

In the meantime, I am eating fruit like this.



Notice that the only real difference is the lack of tea.

27 August 2008

It's not fassoulia: white bean and tomato business.

I was thinking about fassoulia. Lately, when I haven't had supplies to make myself lunch, I've been going over to the Whole Foods up the street by my office and having salad bar instead. The salad bar can go a couple ways. One: lots of greens with shredded carrots and beets, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, and some balsamic dressing. Two: lots of greens with roasted red pepper, marinated mushrooms, hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, fassoulia, chickpeas, feta, croutons, and more balsamic. I really need to make fassoulia at home.

Fassoulia is a white bean salad essentially consisting of huge silver-dollar white cannellini beans in a strong vinaigrette. I haven't ever seen dried beans that big in a store, although apparently Rancho Gordo sells some. I did have normal-sized white beans, so I went ahead and boiled them in prep for at least an approximation of fassoulia. Then I realized we didn't have any olive oil. I couldn't make vinaigrette. I could probably use vinegar as a flavoring agent, though.

I decided to improvise.

White bean and tomato business

cooked white beans
red onion
good tomatoes
sage, thyme, marjoram, paprika
olive oil
white wine vinegar
salt, pepper
toasted pita/etc

Chop up half a red onion and soften it in a slug of oil. I had to use safflower oil. However! Olive oil tastes far better in this kind of Mediterranean-y food. If only I'd also had a lemon and a handful of fresh parsley.

While the onion is softening, core and chop a couple good tomatoes. I used the end of my farmer's market haul. You can use whatever edible tomato you have on hand. Canned whole tomatoes should also work. Dump them into the pan and reduce them along with the onion.

At this point you can start seasoning. Add big pinches of dried sage, marjoram, and thyme, plus a good couple shakes of paprika. If you want to season with fresh herbs, chop them up and add them at the end of cooking instead.

When tomatoes and onions have reduced into a sweet mass, add some white beans. I probably used about two cups. Mix the beans with the vegetables, add a big splash of vinegar, and cook until hot through. You can also add some water if things get too dry.

When the whole pan is hot, you are ready. Salt and pepper, then serve in bowls.

This business clearly needed a whack of green crunchy vegetables, so I peeled and cut up half a huge japanese cucumber which had come from a coworker's garden. The cucumber was really sweet and juicy, which worked well with the sweet tomatoes and red onion. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind, though. I'm actually having a hard time trying to think of other vegetables; red pepper might be good. If nothing else, you can add lots of fresh parsley. This wants so much parsley. In an ideal world, I would have squeezed a bunch of fresh lemon juice over the bowl, then covered it with parsley. You could also pour on some good vinaigrette instead of the lemon juice.

Eat with some toasty device. I made pita chips by sticking some pita in the toaster oven. You could also use a number of other breadlike devices.

It was not fassoulia, but it was delicious anyway.

25 August 2008

Iced tea is refreshing.

This weekend was all about cleaning things out, so we got hot and sweaty and desperately in need of beverage. I made two liters of iced tea.

Iced tea is really easy. I doubt you need me to tell you how to make it. If you have a glass container and some direct sun, you don't even need hot water! I was too impatient for that, though. I actually boiled two full teapots and brewed hot tea, then chilled it all overnight. This meant that sunday we had iced tea on demand. It was an excellent plan.

I made one batch of assam tea and one of mint.

Hot-brewed iced tea

tea strainer if you have loose leaves

Fill your teakettle with water and heat it until boiling. A full teakettle might need up to ten minutes to boil. It takes some effort to actually stay in the room for this duration, but try to at least be in sprinting distance. When the pot starts shrieking, run and take it off the heat.

In the meantime, consider your pitcher. Is it breakable? If so, warm it with hot tapwater before brewing. Boiling water plus cold glass at least equals a cracked glass.

Let the boiled kettle cool slightly. Put your tea into your pitcher, then pour hot water over it. If you have any desire for sugar or other sweet devices, you can add them now: they'll dissolve a lot better in hot water than in a glass of cold tea.

You can get away with using a lot less tea proportionately when making an entire pitcher. I actually made my mint tea with only one tea bag: about one teaspoon of leaves. This worked because mint has no relation to actual tea, so it doesn't get bitter and acidic if you brew it for more than five minutes. Instead of using a lot of tea, I left the single bag for a half hour. For black tea, use about three tea bags or teaspoons, and remove the tea after 3-5 minutes.

If you want a hot cup of tea, pour it off the top of the pitcher before removing the leaves. Then add more boiling water: more iced tea.

Now you have hot steaming pitchers of tea. Put them in the refrigerator. Leave the pitchers unlidded so the steam can escape. It'll take at least four hours for your tea to get fully cold.

Try to be patient.

In the meantime, have a bottle of too-sweet champagne and cut up some bitter-skinned plums or pluots to drop in the glasses: the bitter skins will balance out some of the cloy. We accidentally discovered this the other day. It was a great idea.

20 August 2008

At the Santa Cruz farmers market

You bring home spreads like this:

- purple cherokee tomatoes
- yellow brandywine (?) tomatoes
- the tiniest, yellowest shallots ever
- white nectarines
- yellow nectarines
- flavor queen pluots
- dapple dandy pluots
- and some pointy red plums, the name of which has flown completely out of my memory.

That's not even counting all the strawberries we ate at Chrissy's house, or the bag of baby artichokes. Then there were the baskets of totally perfect organic brussels sprouts that looked like actual tiny cabbages, that clearly screamed to be taken home, separated into leaves, and made into salad. We had to leave those there, since the fruit claimed all my money. Boo! On the other hand, yay summer fruit!

Later on we made a bunch of fruit bowls that looked like this.

White and yellow nectarines: while the white nectarines fell off the pit with no effort whatever, the yellow ones clung entirely. This is why we didn't buy the cling peaches right next to them. They were clearly awesome anyway.

More nectarines and flavor queen pluots: there is definitely a reason these dudes are named "flavor queen", although if you go to the Wikipedia page you can see that roughly half of all pluots have names starting with "flavor". They were strongly reminiscent of the supermarket black plums with red flesh, my favorite kind.

All the kinds of pluots fell off their pits like it was nothing. I put the pits on the windowsill with the white nectarine pits, the black plum pits from the apartment yard, the several kinds of lemon seeds and the two apricot pits from trees at the side of the road. My collection is steadily growing. I seriously have to stop myself from collecting apple seeds, but I need to get some from the asian pears. Eventually, in the highly fantastic future, I will plant them all and have a gigantic orangerie of ridiculous, awesome fruit.

It will be awesome.

18 August 2008

When you don't want a salad, have pasta niçoise.

When I want lots of vegetables but also need some actual filling food, I tend to make substantial salads. One of the best is Salade Niçoise: greens, boiled potatoes, green beans, hard-boiled eggs, tuna, black niçoise olives, and capers if you have them, all soaked in good vinaigrette. I could eat pounds of it. Then there are niçoise variations, which can be any combination of the salad ingredients down to just potatoes and green beans in dressing, with egg optional. It really depends on what's in the kitchen and how much effort you're willing to make.

Last week I was willing to make a little effort, but I didn't want salad. I wanted pasta. So I took a bunch of niçoise ingredients, messed around with them, and turned them into pasta niçoise.

Usually I'd say potatoes were essential for a good niçoise, but since I was making pasta, I left them out. I didn't use vinaigrette, either, but dressed the pasta in garlicky olive oil and vegetables. The best vegetables here were the beans: when I went to the store one night, I discovered that the usual bin of sturdy 6-inch blue lake beans was actually filled with beans about half that size. Ha ha, haricots verts for $2 a pound! Regular green beans will work fine, though.

Pasta niçoise

olive oil
green beans
salt, pepper
grating cheese

Put on a pot of salted water for pasta first thing. You can either put on a separate pot to hardboil the eggs, or cook them and the pasta together, pulling the eggs out after ten minutes. I think I used separate pots this time, but either way will work. Just make sure not to cook the eggs longer than ten minutes, or boil the pasta into floppy oblivion. It's easiest if you're cooking a kind of pasta that takes about ten minutes. I used three eggs for two people. You can also make this with no eggs, in which case you might want to toast some walnuts to strew on top instead.

While you're waiting for the water to boil, warm a substantial splash of olive oil in a wide saute pan. Smash and chop several cloves of garlic, then throw them in the oil to soften slowly. I used about 8 cloves. While they're filling the kitchen with garlic fumes, bust out a zucchini and a couple handfuls of green beans, or an appropriate amount considering how many people you're feeding. Chop off the ends of the zucchini, halve it, and chop it into thin half-moons. Top and tail the green beans and chop them into inch-long pieces. Try for a roughly equivalent volume of beans and zucchini.

Add the green beans to the garlic and cook to soften. Then add the zucchini and do the same thing, cooking just until the zucchini is done: probably 2-3 minutes. Add some salt and lots of fresh black pepper. If you want to add any fresh herbs, you can: fresh parsley would be really good. I didn't have any. I think I used a little dried marjoram (added earlier) instead.

When everything is done, drain the pasta and pour it into the garlic pan. Toss to coat with garlicky oil, then serve onto big plates. Grind some more pepper over each.

Chill the eggs just enough to hold them; I run them under cold water for a couple minutes. Then whack them all over with the back of a spoon, peel them, and chop them into chunks. Or you can leave them in halves, or thin slices. Whatever sounds good.

Strew the eggs over the plates of pasta. Or you can use toasted walnuts, like I said before, or niçoise olives. You might also want cheese in the parmesan family. Any of those would be good.

Eat it with a fork.

If you really like good vinaigrette, I can see adding some when mixing the pasta and vegetables, or maybe pouring a few drops of good wine vinegar over the served plates to mix spontaneously with the oil. Or you could just add a splash of vinegar while actually cooking. I'm going to have to experiment with this further and see what I can see.

15 August 2008

Figs figs more figs

Here's what we had for lunch the other day after a huge shopping trip, which for us means a mile walk there and another one back, hauling two backpacks full of everything we can stuff in. This gets pretty hot in August. We ended up hungry and slightly glurgy at the same time. Lunch therefore = fruit.

- cut black figs
- whole dates
- gala apples with peanut butter
- Galvanina sparkling blood orange juice.

Get some of that juice if you find it. If you like Orangina, you may fall on the floor foaming over this stuff.

This kind of lunch looks like nothing at all, but it is actually really satisfying and filling. The same thing applies to my breakfast a couple days later.

- cut black figs
- cottage cheese
- oatmeal made with just water and salt

This was so much food. I couldn't finish it. I did manage to finish the figs, though. I love figs.

13 August 2008

Double red curry

I don't care about carbohydrate issues. Let's just get that out of the way right now.

I like chard a lot, though, and there was some astonishing chard in the store the other day. John actually gasped and stepped back when he saw it. Plain chard for dinner doesn't work very well, though, even with lots of lemon juice and salt. So we came up with this instead: curry over a mess of greens.

Red curry tofu with red chard

block of nigari tofu
olive/tasteless oil
can of coconut milk
red curry paste
1/2 onion
optional broccoli
a bunch of red chard

Chop your tofu into little cubes, your onion into dice, and your broccoli into reasonable florets.

My main issue with making Thai curry is whether to sear things separately and add them to the curry or just boil them in the curry itself. This time I decided to sear the tofu first. For this method, warm some olive oil and throw the tofu in. Toss the pan around every once in a while to get the tofu browned on all sides. After five or ten minutes, when the tofu starts to turn golden, throw the onion in as well. Cook them together for another five minutes, until the onion starts to soften.

Then shake up a can of coconut milk, open it, and pour it in. Add a few spoonfuls of curry paste and mix gently until it's all evenly distributed. Then bring the business up to a simmer and cook another ten minutes. Taste occasionally to see if you want to add more curry paste. In the last three or four minutes of cooking, add the broccoli, put on the pan lid, and cook everything together. Or you can add no broccoli and instead curry the chard stems, which would be my plan in the future. I think having too many kinds of vegetables cluttered this up.

While the curry is simmering, prep and steam a bunch of chard. You always need more chard than you think, just like you need more spinach than you think, so plan accordingly and use lots of chard. I used half a bunch, which was adequate, but I'd use a whole bunch in the future.

Other greens would also work fine, clearly.

Wash the chard, then cut the stems into small pieces and the leaves into big pieces. Keep the piles separate; the stems need to cook longer than the leaves. To steam, bring a shallow pot of water to a boil and put a steamer basket over the top. Fill the steamer with the chard stems, then put the lid on and steam them. Or you can use them in place of the broccoli, like I said before. After five minutes, add the leaves and put the lid back on. Leave the chard steaming for about two more minutes, or until the leaves are fully wilted. Then take the chard off the heat, salt it, and stir it up.

At this point everything should be done, so whack a pile of chard and a pile of curry onto a plate together. You can plate the curry actually on a bed of chard if you want; this will let the chard absorb the curry liquid really easily. In my case, I plated side by side and let the chard's red juice run into the bright orange curry.

Eat it all.

This was actually really good (albeit liquid) as a leftover lunch the next day, unlike most tofu business I make. It also managed not to leak all over the inside of my backpack, due to the pita I'd put over the curry in its container. It was a nice surprise.

11 August 2008

All I want to eat right now

White peaches, syrah grapes, black plums and asian pears.

White peaches I've mentioned. They're perfect.

I never had syrah grapes before. These are smaller than usual hothouse grapes, with a white dust on the skin like damson plums. Inside, they have green flesh and one or two tiny teardroppy seeds. I've never seen grapes like this outside California.

Black plums. I prefer the kind with red flesh, but these are good too, just slightly hard and tart.

The asian pears are unbelievably good: crispy and juicy all at once. They are best in a glass of white wine, even if it's a terrible six dollar riesling. If John hasn't eaten them all we'll probably make a salad with them and white cabbage soon.

You can tell we're sloping toward fall, but it still doesn't feel like summer has hit us yet.

08 August 2008

Red wine pasta with lamb meatballs

So here's what you to with some of the leftover lamb a couple nights later while tired and wondering what to have for dinner.

Pasta with red wine sauce and lamb meatballs

leftover meatballs
olive oil
tomato puree/etc
red wine
other vegetables: red pepper, mushrooms
basil, oregano, paprika, salt

I had frozen my meatballs, so I took them out of the freezer to defrost while I made the initial sauce.

Warm olive oil in a wide saute pan; add chopped garlic and soften; add other chopped vegetables and soften. I usually season pretty early in the process, but this time I forgot. I was too busy thinking about how clearly awesome the stuff in the pan was already. Eventually I remembered and added just a little oregano, basil, and paprika.

When everything is soft, add tomato puree, some water to thin things down, and a couple pinches of salt. Also add about half a glass of decent dry red wine. We were having Cicchitti 2006 Sangiovese, from Argentina, so I used that. It was good for drinking as well.

Bring the business to a simmer. If you haven't cooked the pasta already, do it now.

Simmer sauce for ten minutes or so, until the flavors are good and mixed. You can add a splash more water if it cooks down to a thicker texture than you want.

While the sauce is simmering, think about meatballs. I decided to warm mine in a separate pan instead of just chucking them into the sauce, because I was making enough for lunch leftovers and didn't want to deal with having lamb out of the refrigerator for any length of time. So I stuck six or seven meatballs, a splash of water, and a couple spoonfuls of sauce into their own pan to heat through. It would be perfectly fine to just put the meatballs in the simmering sauce, though. It would also mean you have to wash one less pan.

When everything is done, drain the pasta and toss it with the sauce. Add meatballs if you haven't already. Eat it all.

Do not do what I did next, which was to leave a container of leftover pasta out to cool before I put it away, forget about it, and go to bed. I remembered it as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning. Ugh. I mean, I like falafel sandwiches for lunch, but I would've liked my leftover pasta so much better.

06 August 2008

Lamb is delicious two ways.

The other day I suddenly ended up at the meat counter getting half a pound of ground lamb. What could happen?

Evidently multiple things could happen.

Lamb stuffed mushrooms or meatballs

ground lamb
olive oil
brown mushrooms
marjoram, thyme, paprika (coriander)
salt, pepper

Peel and mince several cloves of garlic, then throw them in a bowl with ground lamb and a dribble of olive oil. Snap the stems out of as many mushrooms as you want to stuff; I had seven and used them all. Chop the stems up (or, if you only want meatballs, chop the caps too) and add them to the lamb. Then spice with marjoram, thyme, and paprika. I used a pretty large amount of each herb, since they had to stand up to lamb. You could also use oregano instead of marjoram; I don't know about you, but I'm usually out of one or the other. Salt and pepper a little, then mix it all up well with your hands.

At this point you could make all the meat into meatballs, fry them, and eat them. Or you could use it to stuff the mushroom caps, put them in the oven, and eat them. Or you could do what I did and make it both ways.

I was also thinking for a bit about whether to add some coriander. It sounded good, but I didn't want to kill the lamb with overseasoning. That's always hard. So I decided to leave the mushroom meat how it was, and only add coriander when it was time for meatballs. In the end it was really hard to tell the spicing difference, mostly due to the mushroom dominance in one case and the meat dominance in the other.

Stuffed mushrooms: stuff each mushroom cap with meat. Stick them in a pan and put it in a 325F oven. Let the mushrooms cook slowly for about ten or fifteen minutes. Then take them out, check for doneness, and eat them.

Meatballs: form the rest of the meat into little balls with your hands. Make them as small as you can stand, so they'll cook faster and get a proportionally larger crust. Warm a frying pan on medium hot, add a tiny bit of olive oil, and add the meatballs. Flatten them with a spatula and let them cook without moving for five minutes, or until they're crispy and brown on the bottom. Then flip them all over and let them cook another five minutes. Break one in half to make sure it's cooked through, drain the meatballs on a paper towel, and eat them.

I actually let my meatballs cool and put them in the freezer, but whatever.

When the meatballs are done, you'll notice they've given off a lot of fat. There should also be a nice amount of brown crusty business on the surface of the pan. Well! This means you can either make a gravy or a deglaze.

Gravy: Heat up the fat in the pan, add a couple good sprinkles of flour, and mix fiercely until things turn brown and thick. Deglaze: pour off most of the fat, heat the pan, add a splash of dry vermouth or some butter, and scrape all the brown business off the bottom of the pan while everything sizzles. I am not so great at gravies, so of course that's what I made. There was too much fat in the pan, though, so we ended up pulling the thickened gravy to one side and letting the oils run off. Then we dribbled the gravy over my mushrooms, which were out of the oven and ready for dinner.

Then I stuck everything on a plate and added the right amount of vegetables.

The right amount of vegetables: all of them. That's one tomato. It was big.

I ate it all.

04 August 2008

Black beans and rice are delicious.

This weekend I decided I wanted red beans and rice, so I put a bunch of red beans on to soak saturday morning.

By saturday night, it was apparent that the red beans refused to soak in eight hours. Well, half of them were fine with soaking in eight hours. The other half remained partly shriveled or entirely hard and red. They demanded an actual overnight before boiling. Boo! Fortunately, I had a bunch of cooked black beans in the freezer already.

Black beans and rice

olive oil
a hot pepper
a green pepper
a carrot
a good tomato/some tomato puree
paprika, cayenne, marjoram, sage, thyme
bay leaf
salt, pepper
cooked black beans

First, put on the rice. Steam it while you cook everything else.

Bust out a big saute pan and warm some olive oil on medium. Chop up several cloves of garlic (and half an onion, if you have it) and soften them in the pan while you prep everything else. Finely dice the hot pepper; dice the green pepper and tomato; peel and chop the carrot. If you have any celery around, chop and add a couple stalks of that too. Celery loves this stuff. Other vegetables that go well: any other color bell pepper, corn, maybe some mushrooms.

Spice with lots of paprika, a little cayenne, and as much of each herb as you want. I used a lot of marjoram and very little sage and thyme, mostly because a while ago I bought big cheap bags of sage and thyme which turned out to be very badly sorted and thus full of stem bits. This means I have to pick out all the twigs before I use any of them. Bleah. Also add a couple pinches of salt and as much black pepper as you can stand to grind (maybe a teaspoon). The pepper made me think about this Deborah Madison recipe I've been wanting to make for a while: black pepper rice. Mm, pepper.

Soften everything together for maybe ten minutes. When the tomato is reduced, it's time to add the beans. I used black beans because that's what was ready; red beans are clearly classic, but almost any color beans would work. My beans were frozen into a big whack, so I just dumped the whole thing in, added some water and a bay leaf, and left it to defrost. Then I came back and prodded it with a spoon every once in a while. Eventually (after another ten minutes or so) it broke up, so the beans could actually cook.

At this stage you should have a soupy liquid filled with vegetable and bean bits. Cook together until the rice is done, or for about five or ten more minutes. You can clearly cook it longer if you have extra liquid going on.

When everything is done, fluff the rice and mix it into the beans. Or you can serve out plates of rice, make a big dent in the middle of each, and fill them all with beans and vegetables. Either way you come up with a delicious plate of cheap, healthy business.

You don't need to have much else with beans and rice. Maybe have some sharp greens if you want them. Maybe add some cubed mild cheese. Maybe scoop it into a tortilla.

Eat it all.

01 August 2008

Another case of burly pasta

I seem to either make pasta with only oil and garlic, or with a gargantuan sauce full of everything the refrigerator can throw at it. When I organize all this business into a book there's definitely going to be a section on burly pasta.

Here's one:

Pasta of ultimate burl part III: the reckoning

olive oil
artichoke hearts
red pepper
tomato puree/chunks/whatever
water/broth/dry vermouth
salt, pepper, paprika, oregano, basil
pasta (linguine)

Smash and peel a bunch of garlic, maybe six or eight cloves. Chop them up and throw them in a wide saute pan with some olive oil, stirring to get the oil distributed. Chop up a red pepper and add it as well, then let the business cook together slowly for maybe five minutes, or until it's softened. Then open, drain, and add a can of unmarinated artichoke hearts. I guess you can use the marinated kind if you really want; they would certainly be a stronger flavor here. You could also use frozen artichoke hearts if you have them. I don't think I've ever had frozen artichoke hearts, but it would be fine: just let them cook a little longer to get everything not just defrosted but actually cooking.

Let things cook together while you find the next ingredient, which in this case is chickpeas. Drain and add a can of chickpeas, or throw in a cup or two of frozen cooked chickpeas. You may need to add a little water here so nothing burns.

Stir the business up, letting anything that needs defrosting defrost, while you find the next thing: tomato puree. Add as much tomato as you want to the pan; I used half a 24-oz can. Probably you'd need more if you were using reducible tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, plus some basil, oregano, and paprika or even cayenne. I only used a little of each, since things like artichoke hearts and red pepper have a fairly strong taste already. Add some tvp as well; I used probably 2/3 cup. Stir the business up, adding maybe a cup of water for a thinner consistency, and let everything cook together for at least ten minutes.

At this point, if you haven't cooked the pasta already, start it. The sauce can pretty much burble on indefinitely, as long as you add some extra water to evaporate off and keep things from burning. I used linguine, since that's what we had, but short, chunky pasta would be better.

When everything is done, drain the pasta and toss it with the sauce.

At this point you can sit down and eat, or you can add cheese, then sit down and eat. We had all kinds of cheese hanging around, all of which seemed like good choices. So I made three little test batches before I decided which one to use.

Pecorino romano: This is my favorite individual cheese of the three, but its strong flavor overpowered the already strong artichoke hearts and garlic. Since I wanted to taste the sauce, I didn't use it. Save it for an aglio e olio, or do the thing where you grate it finely and roll black olives in it.

French feta: This mix turned the sauce creamier, thicker, and more pungent. Had it been a milder feta I think I would've really liked this mix, but it had aged too much and gotten too pungent for me. I really just need to figure out where to buy smaller amounts of feta.

Parmesan: As long as you use actual quality parmesan you grate off the block, parmesan definitely wins.

Put it in a bowl and eat it.