29 September 2008

Pasta with tomato-wine sauce and fresh basil

Food is cheaper in NYC than it was in California.

You can stop laughing and/or release your frozen rictus of shock now.

We went to multiple diners, one on Roosevelt Island and one in Astoria, and got grilled cheese sandwiches for $3.50. If you're so lucky as to find a diner in Silicon Valley, the grilled cheese costs $6 or $7.

We ordered takeout Chinese food and got 1 whole order, two half orders, rice, and spring rolls for $19 and change. In Silicon Valley an order like that would cost $35.

We went to Trade Fair in Astoria and got four bags of groceries for under $50. We went to Chelsea Market, to the Manhattan Fruit Exchange, and bought an armful of produce for $17. Everything was cheaper per pound there than in California. The only remotely comparable price was for high-end mushrooms, and I still got a hunk of maitake for $.61. Even the heirloom tomatoes at Whole Foods cost less per pound.

Then we took everything home and cooked on the gas stove.

Pasta with tomato-wine sauce and fresh basil

a quart and a half of grape tomatoes
at least a cup of bad red wine
olive oil
salt, pepper
fresh basil

Heat up some olive oil in a sauté pan on medium-low. Smash, peel, and chop a big handful of garlic cloves, then throw them into the oil. Let them soften while you halve all your tomatoes. We used yellow grape tomatoes; any fresh tomatoes you have should be fine. Just chop them up more.

Throw the tomatoes in with the garlic, add a big slug of wine, and let them reduce slowly. Add more wine or water if the mixture gets too dry.

We had to use up a terrible bottle of red wine, so that's what we used here. Otherwise some dry vermouth would be good. You could also use a number of other things, like vodka or strong broth: whatever you have lying around should work. When the business it fully reduces and saucy, it should look like this:

While the tomatoes are reducing, do two things. 1. Cook the pasta. 2. Wash, stem, and chop as much fresh basil as you can stand. We had a huge bunch, roots still on, and totally encrusted with dirt. The washing took a while. If you don't have basil, a bunch of parsley, fresh spinach, or other soft greens would work too.

When the sauce is fully reduced, salt, pepper, and throw in the basil and drained pasta. Mix it all up, then let it sit for a minute to wilt the greens slightly. Then shovel as much as you can stand into bowls, add any cheese or toasty nuts you might want, and eat.

27 September 2008

It's New York!

Look at the stove I get to cook on until we find our real apartment!

A GAS STOVE. Not only that, but the fanciest of gas stoves. There are practically no gas stoves in CA, since people worry about severing gas lines in earthquakes, but here there are lots of gas stoves! I'm so excited. A stove on which I can control the heat! The pans that come with corp apartment aren't very good, and neither are the knives, but the stove is GREAT. If only we had our gigantic and perfect All-Clad sauté pan here, as opposed to somewhere in the moving truck. Everything would be perfect.

So far we've mainly used said stove for making tea and some standard pasta, but that is ok. I don't want to stock this entire kitchen and just have to move it, but I do want to make and eat delicious things. Hmm hmm.

So far I've ended up eating a lot of pitas. This one had a chopped hard-boiled egg and lettuce inside. Another one had hummus, carrot, green onion, and lettuce. I'm pretty happy about these. Among other things, the hummus we got--Sabra--was excellent.

One other thing we found: huge dried lima beans.

Fassoulia, you will be mine. Oh yes. You will be mine.

25 September 2008

Eating the freezer

Oh man. It's a good thing we had things in the freezer, or we would have eaten practically nothing for our entire last week in CA.

This time I had steamed couscous and made some vegetable business with frozen meatballs from a couple weeks ago.


Take as much cous as you want and put it in a bowl. I think I had a little under a cup. Add a slug of olive oil, some salt and pepper, and just-boiled water to cover. Put a towel over the bowl and leave it to steam for five minutes. Then check to see if the cous is tender. If not, add some more hot water, stir, and cover again.

Vegetable and meatball business:

Mince up some garlic or a shallot: whatever you have in the house, since you're moving and all. Throw them in a saute pan with some olive oil and soften them slowly.

At the same time, chop up any vegetables you want to get rid of. I had a zucchini and cut it into half-moons. Since zucchini cooks quickly, I decided to add it pretty close to the end, and set it aside. Harder, longer-cooking vegetables can go in earlier.

Add some tomato puree or sauce to the pot, along with some oregano, marjoram, basil, or whatever appropriate herbs you haven't already given away to friends. Also add some salt and pepper, plus any longer-cooking vegetables you have. You can add some water or dry vermouth or the end of a bottle of decent dry wine if the mix is too dry and thick. When the tomato sauce begins to bubble, add in your cooked meatballs. Mine were still frozen, which was no big deal: they defrosted in the pot.

Add zucchini or other soft vegetables after about five minutes at the simmer. Cook another few minutes to wilt, and then you're done.

Put a big spoonful of vegetables and meatballs on top of your bowl of couscous, then eat.

Eating is great.

15 September 2008

Breakfast series

Assam tea, oatmeal, bananas, The Economist.

Iced mint tea, black mission figs.

Assam tea, cantaloupe.

12 September 2008

Tabbouleh with dill tahini sauce

Ok, so I strongly wanted to use the Vcon dill-tahini sauce recipe for something. For one thing, dill is my favorite underused fresh herb. It makes egg salad totally perfect; it's what makes the Shaker soup my favorite soup from the 12 Months of Monastery Soups cookbook: tomato, sour cream, and a ton of dill. I don't even like salmon, let alone gravlax, but I love dill.

So I wanted to try this sauce. In the further interest of getting rid of everything in the kitchen, I went into the freezer and stared at all the bags and jars of grain.

Tabbouleh with dill tahini sauce

bulgur wheat

1/2 c tahini
1/2 c water or less for thicker sauce
a clove of garlic, smashed and minced
juice of a lemon
2 tbs olive oil
1 tps vinegar (they say balsamic; I had white wine)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
fresh dill and lots of it, chopped

Making bulgur wheat was pretty different than I expected. I used the Vcon method: steaming. All you do is rinse a cup of bulgur, put it in a pot, pour a cup and a half of boiling water over it, and clap on a lid. Then you wait. After ten minutes, the bulgur is cooked. I really didn't expect it to act so much like couscous: the actual food you can make with the hot tab of the water cooler at work. My batch of bulgur turned out a little watery, but I imagine if you are less lazy than me you can pour extra water off, or put the pan over low heat for a few minutes to let it evaporate.

While your bulgur is steaming, prep vegetables and make sauce. The vegetables are easy: chop tomatoes and cucumbers into bite-sized chunks. You can use any kind of tomato as long as it's fresh; I used cherry tomatoes, which I cut in halves. I also peeled my cucumber, since it was starting to get a little old and tough. In general, I would peel any gigantic waxed supermarket cucumbers, but leave others unpeeled. Use lots of vegetables for nice crunchy fresh salad.

Sauce: mix together all the sauce ingredients. I found this sauce to be a bit too watery for my tastes, especially with the wet bulgur, so I'd add less water next time, maybe 1/3 or even 1/4 cup. Use as much dill as you can stand to strip from a market bunch. Dill: it's awesome, and it's also the herb that makes this tabbouleh cohere, as opposed to the usual parsley. Put some effort in and use a lot. Pulse the business together with a food processor or stick blender if you are dissatisfied with its texture.

You can serve this a couple different ways. I prefer to mix all the ingredients up together, so the sauce can soak into the grain really well. You can also plate a serving of grain, strew vegetables over the top, and pour the sauce decoratively over everything. If you're feeling fancy, this is the way to go.

The leftover lunching was excellent.

10 September 2008

Pasta with seared olives and tomatoes

It's as if all I eat is pasta. Well, that makes sense, since we're moving in two weeks and are therefore trying very, very hard to get rid of as much stored food as possible. We're drowning in pulses, grains, and pasta, supplemented with tiny amounts of fresh ingredients bought sparingly.

So I could tell you about the beans, rice and salsa I had for dinner last night and lunch today, or I could tell you about some marginally more exciting pasta.

Pasta with seared olives and tomatoes

olive oil
serrano pepper
cherry tomatoes
green olives
salt, pepper
gemelli/other pasta
optional parsley and cheese

This is basically an aglio e olio with a few extra vegetables.

Put on a pot of pasta water; cook and drain pasta at an appropriate time.

Peel and mince a handful of garlic; soften it slowly in olive oil. Stem and finely mince a serrano or other hot pepper; soften it with the garlic.

I seared the tomatoes and olives in a separate pan, since I was the only one who wanted them. It also let me turn the heat up and really start to blacken them, which was excellent. You can cook them in the same pan with the garlic and pepper, though, if you want.

Chop tomatoes and olives into small pieces, and sear in olive oil on medium-high heat. It took mine about five or seven minutes to get appropriately dark.

When everything is done, toss the drained pasta with garlic and pepper. Salt and pepper if you want salt and pepper. Plate, then add big spoonfuls of tomato and olive. If you have any fresh parsley to use up, sprinkle some on top. Grate the bare remaining edge of a rind of parmesan on as well, if you want.

Eat it all. Try to figure out what you can make to next decimate your kitchen.

08 September 2008

Ricotta pasta: lasagna without the lasagna

Just looking at this picture is making me so hungry.

Ok, so I like lasagna a LOT. It would probably fall into my top ten or fifteen of all potential dinners, ever. The problem is that lasagna noodles are more expensive than any other pasta. In my experience it's generally double the price for the same pound of pasta. Uh, no!

To combat this, I have devised a scheme.

Ricotta pasta

olive oil
tomato puree/sauce/etc
oregano, basil, cayenne or paprika
salt and pepper
fresh parsley

We're essentially going to make decent marinara, mix it with ricotta, and use it to sauce any pasta you please. You can add some steamed spinach if you want the illusion of spinach lasagna. You can add a splash of vodka if you want the illusion of vodka cream sauce. POSSIBILITIES ABOUND.

Put water on to boil for the pasta; warm some olive oil for the sauce.

Peel and chop as much garlic as you like. Throw it into the olive oil, spice it with oregano, basil, and hot pepper of some type, and let it soften and get delicious. When the garlic is soft, add whatever form of tomatoes are available to you. I think I had crushed tomatoes in puree this time. If your business is too thick, add some water to thin it as well. Salt and pepper, bring the business to a simmer, and cook until things reach your desired consistency.

While the sauce is simmering, boil and drain your pasta. I used penne; any shape you have on hand should work fine. The pasta just needs to be robust enough to hold some weight.

Also, stem and tear/chop as much parsley as you want. I like a lot of parsley; you might like a little. Whichever is fine.

When the pasta is done and the sauce has simmered at least five minutes, take the sauce pan off the heat. Add several spoonfuls of ricotta and stir. The cheese and tomatoes will meld together into a salmon-colored creamy sauce. Add the pasta, stir again, and serve with parsley.

Eat it. Feel better.

05 September 2008


No, seriously.

Pasta pizza

leftover pasta in marinara
pita bread
mozzarella cheese
herbs if you want them

Put a layer of leftover pasta onto a piece of pita bread. If you're feeling extra classy, rub some olive oil on the pita first. Add shredded mozzarella and a couple pinches of any herbs or spices you want: oregano, for instance. Put the whole business in the toaster (or regular) oven and toast or bake until the cheese is melty and the pita is crispy. Then cut the business in fourths.

Eat as is, or retain some semblance of nutrition by putting a handful of salad greens on top of each piece.

You guys, it was awesome. If you ever want to drown in a sea of carbohydrates, this is how you should do it. Be prepared to loll on the couch uncontrollably.

03 September 2008

Transform old snacks into new with roasted cauliflower.

Roasting cauliflower is awesome, and not just because it tastes great, but because it turns a pile of highly vegetable cauliflower into a plate of salty, crispy snacks. Usually the only available snacky cauliflower is that pile of raw, too-huge clusters you find in a big plate of vegetables with french onion dip. These roasted dudes are totally different, which is fortunate, since everyone eats around the cauliflower on those spreads. So I guess this is the ultimate way to use up the lingering waste of a plate of maligned crudites.

Roasty cauliflower

a head/leftover chunks of cauliflower
olive oil
salt, pepper

First, preheat the oven to about 425F. For this to work, your oven needs to be hot.

Chop a head of cauliflower into small florets; mine were a little bigger in diameter than a quarter. Smaller pieces mean more delicious crusty crunchy bits, plus a shorter cooking time, so it's worth it to chop more. Make sure all your pieces are roughly the same size.

Toss the cauliflower with a slug of olive oil, plus lots of pepper and a couple pinches of salt. Spread the pieces out on a cookie sheet or in a casserole dish. Make sure they're all in one layer.

Stick the pan into the hot oven. Roast for about ten or twelve minutes, shaking the pan to stir up the cauliflower occasionally.

While the cauliflower is cooking, think about garlic. If you like garlic, smash and peel a handful of cloves. Strew them over the cauliflower about halfway through cooking, so the garlic gets about five minutes in the oven. The pieces will cook down quickly and become magical tangy bits that get good and stuck in your back molars. If you don't like garlic, just cook the cauliflower alone.

When the cauliflower bits are golden and have developed lots of dark brown crunchy bits, take them out of the oven and let them cool a little.

Eat them all with your fingers.

I guess you can also eat them with dinner if you really want to.

02 September 2008

Tweakable vegan salads

I like customized food, especially since I barely ever have the full ingredients for anything on hand at once. This calls for tweaking.

Quinoa salad with vinaigrette

red pepper
red onion
fresh parsley
olive oil
white wine vinegar
salt, pepper

Put on the quinoa before you do anything else. I used 1 cup of quinoa, which made some plentiful leftovers after two people ate. Rinse your quinoa in a fine mesh sieve, put it in a pot with 2x its volume of water, put the lid on the pot, and put it over medium heat to steam for 20 minutes. Or you can use the rice cooker. Whichever is fine. When it's done, fluff it up with a fork.

In the meantime, finely mince half a red pepper, a quarter of a red onion, and the leaves of as much parsley as you can possibly stand to chop. Half a bunch of parsley would be good.

Also make a vinaigrette. This one is going to be garlic vinaigrette, so peel and mince three or four cloves of garlic. This garlic is going to be raw, so be aware and use less if you're not that into raw garlic. Or if you happen to have roasted garlic lying around you could use that. Roasted garlic.

Ok! Anyway, put the garlic in a small bowl and add a big slug of olive oil and a little slug of white wine vinegar. Red wine vinegar will work too. The ratio of oil to vinegar should be about 6:1. Add a bunch of pepper and a couple pinches of salt, then mix it well with a fork. I ended up with maybe 1/4 cup dressing total.

When everything is done, toss the quinoa with the vegetables and dressing.

- For quinoa, use rice, millet, barley, bulgur, spelt, or whatever.
- For alternate protein, add cooked garbanzo or white beans, or any nuts that sound good.
- For red onion, use finely minced shallot or even more garlic.
- For red pepper, use other peppers, hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, green beans, fresh peas, or any other raw vegetable.
- For parsley, use any other herb that sounds good with your ingredients.
- For dressing, use roasted garlic, use no garlic, use dijon mustard, use a totally different creamy dressing.

Grain salads: so awesome. I'm so going to make a not-actually-tabbouleh this week.

Eat with

Beet, asian pear and cashew salad

half a beet
an asian pear (or a regular one, or a decent apple)
a handful of cashews (or pecans or walnuts)
juice of 1/2 grapefruit (or lemon or orange)
safflower/other tasteless oil

First, toast your cashews over medium or medium-low heat. I used an 8-inch frying pan and just put in enough cashews to loosely cover its bottom. Watch the nuts and toss them around frequently. After about five minutes, they should be pretty and toasted. Take them off the heat and let them cool.

Trim and peel a beet, then shred half of it with whatever shredding device you see fit. I used the microplane; using a food processor would be faster, but it would also mean you have to wash the food processor afterward. I am satisfied with the microplane.

Core an asian pear. Cut it into thin slices, then mince as finely as you want. I wouldn't shred one of these; mine tried its best to dissolve into juice.

Now make dressing. We juiced half a red grapefruit, added a couple teaspoons of safflower oil, and mixed it up with a fork. You could totally use lemon or orange juice if you're lacking a grapefruit. You could even use just juice and no oil, and squeeze the fruit right over the salad.

Toss the cashews, beet, and pear into a reasonable salad bowl. Make sure the bowl is big enough to contain all the beet juice even with vigorous stirring. Add the dressing and mix it all up.

- For beet, use juicy carrots.
- For asian pear, use a regular pear or a decent apple, or consider fennel.
- For cashews, use pecans, walnuts, or almonds.
- For juice, use lemon or orange.

I find that this kind of dinner leaves me totally stuffed and unable to finish my plate. Fortunately, I am the queen of the leftover lunch. Tremble before me!