31 December 2008

All oatmeal all the time

Dinner: plain, chamomile, clementine.

Breakfast: chopped dried apricots, cranberries, raw cashews, honey, assam.

26 December 2008

Kale fagioli for the win

I keep wanting pasta fagioli in more and more configurations. This time we had a bunch of farmer's market purple flatleaf kale. What could happen?

Kale fagioli!

olive oil
hot pepper if you want it
cooked white beans
oregano, basil, salt, pepper

This is just like any other fagioli, except you add and wilt chopped kale before the puree. That doesn't make it any less exciting, though!

Peel and chop garlic and onion in whatever proportion you like. I may have used only garlic in this one. Soften garlic/etc in olive oil in a saute pan deep enough to allow for a later stick blender puree. If you want spicy fagioli, finely mince, add, and soften a hot pepper of your choice as well. Season with some oregano and basil, plus any other herb you think sounds good.

When the vegetables are soft, add tomato. We use puree the great majority of the time; whatever you have is fine. If it's summer, use real tomatoes and bask in the glory of FOOD.

Bring tomatoes to a simmer, then add white beans. We'll normally use either one can or about two cups of presoaked/boiled beans. At this point you may need to add some water or broth to keep the sauce sufficiently liquid while you cook it. If you're using a can, swish some rinse water in it and add the whole business to the pan.

Now simmer the sauce while you put on the (chunky, sauce-catching) pasta and destem and chop a bunch of kale. I think we had about eight or ten big leaves. If you don't have kale, things like spinach, chard, or other reasonable greens should work here too. Just add them at a realistic time so they get as cooked as is good for them.

When the sauce is sufficiently simmered, add the chopped kale, stir to mix, and cook for about seven or eight more minutes. You want the kale to be just cooked through. For more delicate greens, a couple minutes should be plenty of time.

Now take the pan off the heat, salt and pepper to taste, and puree it with your stick blender. O stick blender, I love you so. You let me puree things without issues even in a two inch deep sauteuse!

At this point your sauce is done, so pour in your cooked, drained pasta, mix it up, and get yourself a big bowl. Add parsley or parmesan for garnish if you want them. Eat heartily.


Look how much sauce there is! The pasta is totally subsumed! This of course means we have the correct amount of pasta in proportion to sauce, especially since the sauce is 100% awesome vegetable nutrition slurry.

24 December 2008

Parent challenge!

When we got to NC for holidays, John and I immediately took over my parents' kitchen and made lots of dinner. The whole "parents' kitchen" business is challenging because they eat really differently than we do. Everything is way more traditional.

Them: cold cereal and milk, coffee, eggs, toast with margarine. MARGARINE. I have a hard time believing anyone is still in the "margarine is not just ok but better for you than butter" school. Even the vegan population is way more about olive oil and etc. But then I guess that's the generation past WWII experience. Ugh.
Us: nothing, tea, bananas. Brunch eggs and coffee on some weekends. Certainly not margarine.

Them: soup, sandwiches, leftovers (meat and veg), sandwiches made out of leftovers, milk.
Us: big salads, leftovers (big entree), water.

Them: separate small portions of meat and vegetables, milk, tea or coffee. Examples: 1. Pork chop, green beans, milk. 2. Pasta with meat sauce, unrelated vegetables such as peas, milk. 3. Ham, corn, milk.
Us: one single large entree with lots of vegetables, water or wine.

So we wanted them to actively like what we make, yet eat how we eat and see that it's not so bad. There was also the "Kevin's girlfriend is coming and she's vegetarian so for once there will be more than one vegetarian in the house" factor. So we had even more motive to show them how to actually cook for vegetarians.

Here's our dinner:

Black bean and sweet potato soup with parsley instead of kale. We made a cubic foot of this so we would have a serious amount of vegetarian supplement around whenever we got hungry. It worked: we ate soup for Days On End. It was still delicious, though, especially because I found a jar of ancho chile in my mom's spice cabinet and used some of that in the spicing. Oh man: do that if you have it.

Tostadas with refried black beans.

black beans
olive oil
salt, pepper

flour tortillas
avocado, either sliced or as guacamole
shredded cheese if you want it

Refried beans are easy, especially if you have precooked beans. At home we'd use a frozen block of beans from our latest batch of dried; this time we used canned black beans.

Peel and chop an onion or two; soften the pieces in olive oil in a big saute pan. Chop up several cloves of garlic and a jalapeno and add them as well. Spice with cumin and let everything soften together. When onions are translucent, add black beans. Stir the business together, adding water if it's too dry. Salt and pepper to taste. Then simmer the business, mashing the beans with the back of your wooden spoon, until the whole pan is your preferred texture. Leave the beans slightly wet so evaporation won't turn them super dry.

Tostada assembly: Warm tortillas in a foil packet in the oven. We used one per tostada, but in retrospect, I'd make more of a tower with multiple tortillas. Put a tortilla on a plate. Cover with layers of beans, cheese, guacamole, lettuce (use lots), and diced tomatoes/salsa. Then, if you want to, add another tortilla and make another layer. Repeat until you have enough for everyone.

Eat these with a knife and fork. I like to mix mine totally up, so it's a huge warm messy tortilla salad.

The jalapeno was the only real sore point in this dinner. We used one for three cans of black beans, where normally at home we'd use one per can/approximate two cups. So this proportion should have been fine and mild, right? Not mild enough, apparently.

For the most part, though, it went over well. It seemed like the biggest change for my parents was serving size. We're used to eating one huge plate of one thing; they're used to eating a plate of several smaller things. They're used to eating meat at every meal, such that they have to eat less to get full, and they drink milk, which is a lot more filling than our normal water. We also do a lot more exercise, and are used to coming home actively hungry. I was trying to accommodate their normal idea of multiple-item dinner, to make the construction familiar, but wasn't thinking about serving amounts very much. So the full bowl of soup plus 1-layer tostada was too much for them, while John and I both ate everything.

22 December 2008

Pre-holiday cleaning out the kitchen food

I got excited about making myself decent work lunch, since right now I only have to pack one sporadically, and have gotten out of the habit of making one with dinner. This means most of my lunches have been awful. So since that was clearly the wrong answer, I made myself sort of a bento instead.

Lunch bento: "plane sandwich", i.e. mozzarella, hummus, lots of lettuce, pepper, and chopped mushrooms on dark wheat bread. It's called a plane sandwich because John took one (minus the mushrooms) on his flight to Atlanta the other day. Addenda: leaf lettuce, baby carrots, seckel pears, chopped watermelon radish which ultimately was way too spicy to just eat raw.

This was clearly not enough, since it didn't fill up my container, so I made some potato salad too. Chop and boil redskin potatoes; make vinaigrette; toss cooked drained potatoes with vinaigrette. Then wait until they cool to put them in the bento box with the raw lettuce, or everything will wilt and get soggy.

Other food happening:

Cheap college enchilada casserole: mix a can of lardless refried beans with chopped green pepper, onion, and hot pepper. Spice with cumin. Layer in casserole dish: tomato sauce, tortillas, bean mixture, rice, more tomato sauce, grated cheese if you want it. Repeat once. Bake at 325F for a long freaking time, or 350F for a slightly shorter time. It's done when it's hot through and your desired degree of crispiness on top.

Eat as much as possible, then go to sleep.

17 December 2008

Not particularly eventful but still good food

Dinner for me and John before he went to Atlanta:

- The awesome tomato soup, made without rice. I think I pared it down even more and just used butter, onion, tomato, salt, and pepper. Also Jameson's for the alcohol component. Seriously, make this soup. I want it right now.

- Seared tilapia, which you can see stuck to the pan admirably through my use of too little oil, for me.

- Grilled cheese, which is not burnt but actually made of very dark bread, for John.

Another one:

I made ravioli with sauce full of vegetables. When I say "I made ravioli", it actually means "I bought a pack of freezer ravioli for $2.25", at least in this case. I did make the sauce, though: standard marinara with olive oil, garlic, onion, red pepper, jalapeno, basil, oregano, and chopped spinach added right at the end. I liked it fine for comfort food; the ravioli was passable for frozen junk, and the sauce was good.

This week I've eaten at least three meals of pasta fagioli. Oh man. Fagioli is my friend. If there were more fagioli right now I'd probably be frying it into fagioli cakes. That sounds awesome.

Then today at work one of our clients brought in a huge box from La Maison du Chocolat. While this is definitely a plus for the day, I ate too many. Now I feel sick, yet simultaneously hungry. I'm going to look for something soothing to make for dinner.

15 December 2008

Farmer's market booty

You see that? That's homemade kimchi. I got that kimchi at the farmer's market. I've eaten half the tub already.

The farmer's market is the best thing ever. I love it so much.

You know what else was at the farmer's market? Watermelon radishes.

They are HUGE! John was all, "those aren't beets?" No, although I also got beets.

There were several other kinds of radish too (daikon, black, green), but I only got watermelon radishes. I have an evil plan to roast them, just like I saw on yum yum kidcupcake several weeks ago. Oh man, does that sound awesome? Yes, it does.

In the meantime I had to make something for lunch today, so I chopped up a green onion and half a radish (again, huge) and yes some more leaves of the eternal savoy cabbage which Also came from the farmer's market. Then I made chickpea vegetable pancakes, and they were awesome.

Chickpea pancakes with cabbage, green onion, and radish.

chickpea flour (aka gram flour)
green onion
salt, pepper

First make a batter. To do this, mix an equal amount of water and chickpea flour in a big bowl. Whisk with a fork (or, you know, a whisk) until the flour is all mixed in evenly. To make this easier, add the flour in increments. I used about 3/4 cup of each, which was adequate for my own individual lunch of 5 medium-small pancakes.

Finely chop your vegetables of choice. The great thing about these pancakes is that they can take practically anything you throw at them. I used one green onion, 3 or 4 small cabbage leaves, and 1/2 a huge radish. You want all the vegetables to be in fine, thin strips.

Toss the vegetables into the batter, along with a little salt and several good grinds of pepper, and stir to mix. This should result in an extremely vegetabley batter, with only a little liquid left not yet clinging to leaves. You can adjust proportions however you like.

Get a decent nonstick pan heated fairly hot, at the temperature you'd normally use for pancakes. When the pan is hot enough to instantly sizzle off a flick of water, scoop a few ladlefuls of batter into the pan. Cook your pancakes on the first side until bubbles rise through the batter and they turn golden around the edges. Then flip them and cook until the second side is brown.

Eat pancakes. I had mine with spoonfuls of plain yogurt, which was great. Other things to eat with pancakes: baba ghanouj, any dal you like, white bean puree, super-garlicky cooked spinach, or a spicy soup like carrot/cumin, carrot/ginger or mustard-seedy tomato.

They are great and easy and cheap and great. Plus you get to use all the deliciousness from the farmer's market! FARMER'S MARKET.

11 December 2008

What to do with the rest of the cabbage

Make baked mac and cheese with savoy cabbage, and throw in some of the leftover purple kale from before. Don't make that face! It was really good!

It was especially good because I made the cream sauce with smoked gouda. There is nothing like smoked cheese for making an entire dish of gratin, dauphinoise, or just pasta taste like it's spent a week inhaling a pan of wet hickory. Oh yes.

This requires a couple more dishes than some food, but I think it's worth it.

Baked mac and gouda with greens.

milk or cream
garlic, shallot
salt, pepper
maybe some cayenne
smoked gouda and/or other cheese
winter greens: cabbage, kale, mustard greens, etc.
chunky pasta

We're going to make cream sauce and pasta, then layer the sauced pasta with greens and bake it. Obviously, if you have some other cheese/vegan/etc sauce you want to use, it should be fine here.

Pasta: boil and drain pasta at a logical point in the sauce proceedings. I used penne; most chunky pasta should work fine.

Sauce: melt a chunk of butter in a deep, whiskable saucepan. I think we were actually out of butter at this point, so I subbed olive oil, proving that it is in fact possible to make white sauce (i.e. bechamel. yes! YOU WIN.) with olive oil.

I wanted some garlic and shallot, so I decided to cook them in the oil, then make the sauce on top of it. I just threw them into the pan to soften in the oil. It's definitely possible to do this with butter too, but it's slightly difficult to keep it from browning before you add the flour; use pretty low heat if you do this. You can also soften the garlic/etc in another small pan, then add it to the sauce later. If you like cayenne in your mac and cheese, add it to cook with the garlic and shallot.

When the garlic and shallot have softened, and/or the butter is melted, add about the same amount of flour as butter/oil. I used wheat flour and just took it in handfuls out of the bag. Whisk over medium heat for three or four minutes, blending the four and butter thoroughly. When they begin to turn golden and look toasty, add your milk. I never measure when I do this, seriously, but I used something like two cups of skim milk. You can use any kind of milk. Skim milk is the hardest to thicken; whole milk is the easiest if you don't want to shell out for cream.

Whisk fairly regularly as the milk warms up. After a bit, it should start to thicken. The timing here depends almost entirely on the fat content of your milk: the less fat it has, the longer thickening will take. Occasionally I find that skim milk doesn't want to thicken much at all. If this happens, don't worry too much: when you add the cheese, it always provides enough fat to get the sauce stable.

Grate a bunch of smoked gouda. I had about a three inch square piece, which was fine. The flavor of smoked cheese is generally pretty strong, so you can escape with using less. Or you can mix it with different bits of cheese you have left over in the refrigerator. I added some sharp cheddar so we'd have enough cheese for crispy bits on top.

Add your grated cheese gradually to the sauce (or just grate it intermittently into the pot), whisking after every round. Leave a couple handfuls aside for the aforementioned crispy bits. Pepper the sauce vigorously. It's done.

Assembly: preheat the oven to 350F. Dump your drained pasta into the sauce pan and stir to mix, coating all the pieces with sauce. Wash and devein your dark greens. I used four or five savoy cabbage and two purple kale leaves; you can clearly use more if you want. Cut the greens into smallish squares, so you won't get awkward long pieces in the finished product.

In a casserole dish, spread a layer of the pasta and sauce, then a layer of greens. If you have excessive leftover cheese, you can add a layer of that as well. Repeat until you're out of everything, ending with pasta. Spread your reserved cheese over the dish, then put it into the oven.

Bake until the dish is hot through and golden brown on top. 15 minutes should do it.

Eat it. Ding ding ding! I find that mac and cheese likes red wine for some reason.

You are now tired and must go to bed.

08 December 2008

Enzyme goodness

So you know what's the best thing ever when you've just had food poisoning all weekend and your stomach is still cramped and painful two days later? Live and active yogurt cultures, specifically l. bulgaricus and s. thermophilus in this case. Enzymes! Bacteria! Digestive ability! I had two spoonfuls and felt so instantly better it was shocking.

This is Fage Greek yogurt, but I'm thinking any plain, fatted, decent yogurt would do the job.

I keep talking to my friend Ryan about making yogurt from scratch. He and his co-op people used to make it all the time, and it sounded really easy. Eventually I will make the experiment.

05 December 2008

Dinner makes me feel better.

I've been working semi-late this week, by which I mean "I leave at 6:30". Yeah, it's not actually that late. I have about an hour's worth of train, though, so I've been walking in the door at 7:30 or 7:45, at which point I have to do things like "write entries" and "apply for jobs". After that the cooking doesn't seem as fun anymore, and we're left at 9 pm dully wondering what to do about food when we have so little energy.

Then the other day John made me delicious dinner. It was very easy, very swift, very good dinner. We sat around in the kitchen talking and laughing, then sat at the table talking and laughing while also eating. It was so nice to have food be a relaxing social event again.

Menu: fish, garlic green beans. This is pretty much my ideal dinner of the "meat and vegetable" structure. Fish is clearly awesome, with super protein awake power in a mild and nicely textured package, and green beans are probably my favorite vegetable if you don't count garlic. Oh hey, we also have garlic.

If you want to make both of these, start the green beans first. Fish cooks very quickly and absolutely has to be eaten hot, so start it when the green beans are about 3/4 done.

Fish is easy.

tilapia filets
olive oil
salt, pepper

Heat a frying pan big enough to hold your filets on medium-hot. We had tilapia, but practically any white fish should be fine here. Add a slug of olive oil and tilt the pan to spread it around. Salt and pepper both sides of your fish, then lay them gently in the pan. They'll sizzle a lot.

Fish timing depends on the thickness of the filet. We had pretty thin pieces, so it took about four minutes for each side to cook. When the edge of your fish has turned solid white with golden brown bits, flip it over and cook the other side. The fish is done when it's solid white and flakes easily. Squirt some lemon over it before you eat it.

Green beans are easy.

green beans
olive oil
salt, pepper

This method will work for practically any green vegetable that's delicious with garlic. Just adjust cooking time so whatever your vegetable is can be adequately done.

Warm some olive oil on medium-low heat in a saute pan. While it's warming, peel and slice some garlic. John made a lot of long, thin slices, which turned out to be an excellent cut for this business. Other cuts will still be fine, though.

Slowly soften the garlic in the oil. While it's softening, wash, top, and tail some green beans. You can also cut them up if you want bite-size pieces; we left ours whole. When the garlic is soft, but not browned, put the beans into the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are done. This will depend on how you like your beans. Ours took somewhere in the five to eight minutes area.

Salt and pepper the finished beans, then eat with fish.

03 December 2008

Savoy cabbage: it's great, you guys

This is essentially a take on aglio e olio that works better in the winter. It also means you get to eat lots of happy crinkly cabbage, which in this case is savoy from the farmer's market. Incidentally, I recommend that you don't try to go to the Union Square farmer's market the day before thanksgiving. Just don't. However, if you go you can get a savoy cabbage for a dollar, so it all works out.

Savoy cabbage is particularly great in this since its leaves have all kinds of pockets and crevices. This means that all the bits of garlic and shallot and red pepper will not sink to the bottom of your plate of pasta, but instead get caught up in the greens to produce little bursts of tastiness while you're eating.

Also, you get to eat cabbage, and cabbage is awesome. Go winter vegetables!

Spicy pasta with savoy cabbage

olive oil
savoy cabbage
red pepper flakes
salt, pepper

Peel and mince several cloves of garlic and a shallot; soften them slowly in olive oil. Season with a little cayenne and a little more red pepper flakes, plus maybe a little oregano for greenness. While the garlic and shallot are cooking, wash, devein, and chop several leaves of cabbage. I used three leaves for just me.

Cook the pasta in lots of boiling water. As soon as you put the pasta on, toss the cabbage pieces into the garlic pan. Stir to get the oil distributed, adding a little more if necessary. Then cook the greens down. I like to do this by steaming, after a few minutes of initial garlic-oil absorption, since cabbage is a large sturdy winter green and has a cooking time on par with broccoli. To steam, throw a couple splashes of water into the pan, then clap on the lid. Give it about five minutes for the cabbage to cook through. When the leaves are tender but not totally wilted, salt a little and pepper a lot. Done.

Drain your pasta. I used linguine, since we had linguine, but something like rotelle would also be good. Chunky pastas serve the same purpose as the savoy leaves: they're ridgy and bumpy and let tasty bits cling easily. The linguine worked out fine, though.

Throw the pasta into the pan of cabbage with maybe a little dab more olive oil, toss, and eat.

You can go a couple ways with garnish for this. I had the end of a piece of romano cheese, so I used that. You could also toast some roughly chopped walnuts or pine nuts in a frying pan for a couple minutes, then use those. Nuts and cabbage are totally best friends.

Other options: First, other sturdy winter greens would work in place of the savoy, so if you have some mustard greens lying around, go ahead and use them.

If you want dinner with more substance, some kind of sliced/crumbled sausage, soy bits, or tempeh would be advisable. Crumbles would be best, since the bits will then lodge in the leaves just like all the other delicious business. I'd add them at the beginning, to cook with the garlic.

You could also use some crumbles of those vegan seitan sausages that everybody and their mother seems to be making. That would be an ideal match, especially if your sausages are already garlicky or hot peppery. A fennel sausage would be really great too. Or you could just add a bunch of fennel seeds with the garlic and etc, for that extra dimension of potential goodness. That sounds awesome, but I don't have any fennel seeds! Stupid incompletely rebuilt yet spice cabinet!

01 December 2008

Winter salad is still delicious.

Post-thanksgiving no one wants to go anywhere near the kitchen. Ok, no one would want to go near the kitchen if it weren't for the half a pie still in the refrigerator. They certainly don't want to spend a lot of time cooking elaborate steaming dinner, though.

After all the warm comforting soporific thanksgiving food, I wanted refreshing, easy vegetables. I wanted a salad. Fortunately, there are a lot of salads around that work well for winter: hot egg salad with potato and green beans, grain salad vinaigrette, and beet salad.

Beet and goat cheese salad

half a huge beet, or a whole medium one
goat cheese
olive oil
fresh parsley
salt, pepper

Put a pot of water on to boil. Scrub your beet under the kitchen faucet, getting all the dirt off the skin. Trim off the stem and the root edges, then put the beet gently into your now boiling water. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the beet is tender. This should take at least a half hour, or more if you have a really gargantuan beet. Test it with a knife point.

Drain off the hot water and shock the beet with a cold plunge. This will stop it from continuing to cook, and make it cool down enough to handle a little faster. If you want a seriously cold beet salad, you can put it in the refrigerator for a bit before assembly. I like a slightly warm salad, so I just went for it.

Rub the beet with your thumbs to loosen the skin. The outer layer should peel off really easily, leaving you with a shiny, slippery, really juicy and stain-prone beet. Don't drop it! In fact, put it on the cutting board and chop it in half right away. Then put the halves on their cut sides so they can't roll onto the floor.

Cut as much beet as you want for your salad into reasonable salad-sized pieces. You can save the rest for making the same salad again tomorrow. Stick the pieces into your salad bowl, drizzle them with a little olive oil, and toss them gently.

Break up some crumbles of goat cheese and strew them over the chopped beet. Goat cheese is pretty strong, but beets are strong too: these two can stand up to each other. Be generous with the cheese.

Chop up some fresh parsley and add that to the bowl. Drizzle a little more olive oil, and maybe a little white wine vinegar, over the salad. Salt sparingly; pepper vigorously.

Now eat it.

Afterward you can have some more pie.