31 December 2010

Christmas eve carbohydrate party

You guys, I think the pizza party for christmas eve was the best idea ever. We are definitely going to do this as close to every year as possible. YES.

Dough: I used a pretty standard recipe that I got off the Pioneer Woman, because hey, why not? I used wheat flour, and kneaded the living daylights out of the dough before letting it rise.

We spent all afternoon occasionally stirring a massive pot of excellent sauce. Just imagine it about two feet to the left, ok? Then there was the grating cheese/chopping peppers/slicing mushrooms/dicing onions part of the day. Look at all the cheese! We had mozzarella, parmesan, romano, and asiago. CHEESE.

This pizza was mine and mine alone: A HA HA HA HA. Look at those excellent crispy edges! Thin crust for the win.

Here is my preferred method of eating pizza: smother it in arugula. That's one excellent thing about California: there is still available baby arugula in the farmer's market on December 19th. Nice.

I ate it.

27 December 2010

Serious amounts of baked mac & cheese

I've been craving baked mac and cheese so consistently that I actually made it for two different dinners, with only the slightest of variation. That's right: two instances of awesome!

Mac and cheese bake
Instance 1: all dairy all the time
Instance 2: with greens, tomatoes, and garlic

For both instances:
cheese of choice
chunky pasta
salt, pepper, mustard powder, paprika
breadcrumbs (i.e. a hunk of stale, stale bread and a grater)
a whisk and whiskable (i.e. not nonstick) pan
a sufficient baking dish

For instance 2 only:
olive oil
greens (chard, spinach, kale, even green cabbage)

These two instances are so similar that I'm just writing one recipe with an addendum paragraph. Basic rundown: we're going to make a cream sauce, cook pasta, cook vegetables for instance 2, combine everything, and bake the resulting business until you can stand it no longer.

Preheat the oven to 350F about halfway through the sauce-making process, ok?

Start the cream sauce by making a roux. In your pan, melt a big chunk of butter. Add an equal amount of flour and whisk it together as it bubbles down. I never, ever measure my flour or butter, as I am well on my way to becoming a level seven grandma, but something in the neighborhood of two tablespoons of each should work. Cook together, whisking frequently, for three or four minutes. This cooking time ensures that your finished product will taste like cream sauce, not raw flour. Good?

Next, add your milk. Probably something in the neighborhood of a cup and a half of milk is plenty. Season with a little paprika and mustard powder, whisk it all up, and then continue cooking (and whisking) until your sauce starts to thicken. How long will this take? It depends on the fat content of your milk. Skim will take much longer than whole milk, which will take much longer than cream. My 2% sauce probably took about twenty minutes.

When it's thickened sufficiently (i.e. coats the back of a spoon, looks satiny, etc.), gradually whisk in a bunch of shredded cheese. You can use whatever kind sounds right. (I totally used junky store cheddar, but parmesan etc is clearly better.) As you add the cheese, the sauce will get even creamier. Once everything is amalgamated, the cream sauce is largely done; pepper it heavily and salt it a little. You can keep it on low heat, whisking intermittently, if you need to hold it a little longer.

Instance 2 only: At the same time, heat up a saute pan and soften a handful of chopped garlic in olive oil. Add some chopped/pureed/whatever tomatoes, some basil and oregano, and a big pinch of salt, and let them cook down together into a little second sauce. Also, wash and chop up your greens. They can stay raw for the time being.

While the sauce is finishing up, cook and drain your pasta. Try to time it so it'll be done when your sauce is done. I usually put a pan of water on at the very beginning of cooking, cover it, and turn it off when it boils; this way, once I have some idea when the cream sauce will be done, I can just turn on the heat and bring the business to a cookable heat level right away.

OK! When all the components are done, combine them, preferably in a pot you've already been using. The pasta pot is a good choice. Taste and correct seasonings, and then pour the resulting mass of excellence into a casserole dish. Spread a layer of breadcrumbs over the top and put the whole business in the oven.

Now you have to WAIT. AUGH.

When the whole mass is crispy and bubbling and golden brown on top, you are done. A half hour or so should do it. Check out that crust:

Now you must EAT IT as fast as possible.

Instance 2 was a complete and excellent vegetable-laden meal. However, since my first iteration was just about 100% dairy and grain, I needed some veg to go with it. John was very nice and made me some brussels sprouts sauteed with bacon. These are super easy and an ideal match. The cooked greens really make the whole business seem like a perfect southern dinner. If you don't eat bacon, you could saute your sprouts with olive oil and garlic, with maybe a little hot pepper thrown in.

Brussels sprouts with bacon

salt, pepper

I'd use half a slice of bacon per serving here, and you could get away with less.

Chop your bacon into small squares. Throw the pieces into a pan over medium heat and let them render.

While the bacon cooks, trim your sprouts and slice them up. You want all the layers to start to fall apart before you even get them over the heat. This means the sprouts will cook quickly and produce lots of delicious crispy bits.

When your bacon had given up nearly all its fat (or it's quite close to whatever state you like your bacon; I can't do the uncooked fat, you guys, that's just gross), throw the sprouts into the pan. Salt sparingly, keeping in mind that the bacon was cured/etc and will have some saltiness of its own to contribute.

Mix everything up and let it sit for a few minutes. This will let the sprouts start to brown. While you're waiting, you can crush some peppercorns for the final seasoning. Or you can stand around anxiously watching the pan and trying not to stir. Your call.

After a few minutes, mix it up and let the other side of the sprouts brown. Pepper the finished business, put it on a plate, and eat it with your massive dairy explosion.

PS: I'll talk about holidays later, ok you guys? Ok!

23 December 2010

Isn't breakfast wonderful?

Breakfast is definitely, totally, completely wonderful.

Oatmeal with toasted pecans and dried cranberries: cheap, easy, filling, healthy, delicious, and even vaguely seasonal! It's a six-way win. All we need is some maple syrup to tip it completely over the edge.

21 December 2010

Everyone loves risotto

So here's one thing you can make with your new and exciting pot of veg broth: risotto.

I made this batch of risotto about a month ago, when tomatoes were still plentiful at the farmers' market. Tomatoes are particularly pleasing to use in risotto, as they melt into the finished product, supplying both excellent color and concentrated flavor. Of course, now it is December, and tomatoes are no longer the vegetable of choice. In fact, it's a little difficult to apply winter vegetables to risotto effectively, although a hot exciting bowl of grain is clearly suited to cold weather. The top contenders for winter substitution are 1. winter squash, 2. beets, and 3. hardy greens. Precook any root vegetables--roasting is good--but washed, chopped greens can cook in the risotto itself.

I've talked about using barley in risotto plenty of times, but here's the main rundown: barley tastes just as good as arborio rice, but is cheaper, healthier, and more easily available. Do it!


veg broth
olive oil
dry vermouth/white wine
the last of the good tomatoes (or frozen ones, or winter subs)
thyme (or other herbs to match your subs)
salt, pepper
good grating cheese

I've written about risotto over and over. This iteration is no different.

First, put broth on to boil. Let it simmer constantly throughout the process; add more water as needed.

Next, saute onion with olive oil in a deep pan. When it's softened, add a cup of barley and a cup of cooking alcohol. I use dry vermouth as the standard cooking addition, but a dry white wine will also work. Actually, you can make risotto with red wine if you want, but I prefer white, as it's a lot more subtle.

Stir the barley and wine around, letting the grain slowly absorb the oniony oil and the liquid. Once the mix starts to look dry, add in a cup of stock and a couple branches of thyme (or other study herbs). As each addition gets absorbed, add in another cup of stock. Contrary to popular belief, a risotto does not need to be stirred 100% of the time. Just give it a stir every few minutes to make sure the liquid is being absorbed evenly and the bottom of the pan isn't scorching.

As you add more and more broth, the barley will gradually cook. First, the outer layer of each grain will turn translucent, and you'll be able to see the hard core in the middle. As the barley cooks, its color will become more consistent.

Adding the vegetables: when the grains are about 2/3 of the way cooked, add your tomatoes. Precooked root veg can go in at about this time as well. Add any more tender vegetables (green beans, peas, etc.) near the end of cooking. Really delicate greens, parsley, & etc. can go in off the heat at the very end; they'll wilt in quickly.

You will notice that I am too lazy to skin the tomatoes, and that the skins therefore come off during cooking and curl into little rolls. You may care about this enough to skin your tomatoes (in short: cut a cross in the skin, submerge in boiling water 30 seconds, pull off split skin), or just to use pre-skinned tomatoes out of a can, but I don't.

When your barley is cooked through, take the pan off the heat. Fish the thyme branches out of the pan and add any last-minute ingredients: salt, pepper, and grated parmesan are standard. I put in some extra raw thyme leaves, because I had plenty and they are great. Thyme and tomatoes, by the way, definitely win.

Stir everything together, whack into bowls, and eat.

17 December 2010

Look what I got!

So my friends Joann and Dennis are buying a house! Joann took me over there last week, and we poked around as far as we were able to do while not yet in possession of keys.

There are twelve fruit trees in the yard. TWELVE. Plus, since this is CA, the fruit is actually going to be distributed throughout the entire year. A tree in the front yard, for instance, was dripping with persimmons. The lemon and lime trees were clearly covered with fruit as well. In the summer, there will be peaches and apricots and maybe plums.

I totally foresee jam party in the relatively near future.

14 December 2010

The big veg broth FAQ

I know "make your own broth" is one of the hallmarks of people supposedly much too interested in food. One might use the term "foodie," or even "gourmand." Specifically, one other than I might use those words, as I am neither foodie nor gourmand, and yet make my own broth on a regular basis.

Vegetable broth is stupidly simple, requires little to no effort, and is made from trash. It also has the added benefit of making food taste better.

How to make vegetable broth

The first step is to establish a stockpile. Pun totally intended, BTW.

When you are chopping up vegetables for any reason whatsoever, you will generally end up with a pile of trimmings. Normally these trimmings would go in the garbage, the compost pile, your pet rabbit's bowl--wherever. To establish a stockpile, you instead put the clean trimmings in a container and put it in the freezer. As you make more food, the stockpile grows and grows. If a viable broth vegetable starts to wilt and die in your refrigerator, chuck it into the stockpile as well. After a week or two--assuming you actually cook regularly--you'll have enough (probably far more than enough) scraps for a small pan of stock, perfectly preserved and ready.

It's also totally fine to chop up whole fresh vegetables for broth, but I tend not to, because I am cheap.

Not all vegetables are great for stock. However, this is no problem: just don't save those particular trimmings. Problem vegetables include anything in the brassica family (i.e. broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, kale), heavily flavored vegetables, bell or hot peppers, and dill stems. The cabbage family reeks when boiled, so stay far away. Also, seriously, do not use dill stems unless you want to end up with a pan of pickle brine. You can definitely make broth including some heavily flavored vegetables if you want to; it's just that you aren't going to want beet broth in something like a pan of sauce velouté, so it's not worth keeping beet peels around unless you make a lot of beet soup.

In contrast, onions (including green onions, shallots, and clean onionskins), garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, celery, potatoes, lighter greens such as spinach and chard, bay leaves, and parsley are all great. I personally tend to collect a lot of chard stems, carrot and potato peels, and various onion matter. I also recommend keeping every single scrap of summer tomato flesh you can. Err toward easily adaptable, semi-neutral flavors.

Once you have about two cups of vegetable bits and pieces, it's time for embrothening.

Get out a pot. I usually use a 1.5 or 2-quart pot for broth, since I almost always need my big pot for whatever else I'm cooking. You can use whatever size pot you like.

Stuff your pot with a nice varied assortment of frozen vegetable scraps. You don't need to defrost them; their liquid will all go straight into the broth. Make sure you at least have some onion or garlic in there. I occasionally add a split green onion or a couple cloves of crushed garlic if I don't have enough oniony scraps. You'll find that two cups of vegetables can nearly fill a pot this size, leaving only an inch or so of clearance. This is actually good. More vegetables = more flavor, and it all would've been trash otherwise anyway, right? You aren't wasting it; you're using it. Just cook the broth in a bigger pan if there's actual danger of overflow.

Fill your pan with water to just over the vegetable line. You'll be surprised how much water you can get in there, even if it looks like it's totally filled with vegetables already. My pot usually looks something like this:

Now bring that pot to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about twenty minutes. That is it. Your broth is cooked.

Next step: straining.

This bit is obvious, but I want to say it anyway, because sometimes it's just too easy to let your brain turn off at the end of the day. KEEP THE LIQUID; DISCARD THE VEGETABLES. Do not accidentally pour your broth down the sink, ok?

A few straining methods work well. First, you can strain the traditional way: pour your broth through a strainer into another pot. Alternately, cover the pan mostly with its lid and pour the liquid out through the crack. You could also use a slotted spoon or mesh skimmer to lift the vegetables out. If you happen to have a pasta insert for your pot, you could cook the broth in it and just lift it out afterward. I also occasionally lower a pyrex measuring cup into my pan with the mouth held against the side; this way, liquid gets into the cup but vegetables do not. This last method is most useful when you want to keep cooking the rest of your broth for whatever reason.

For any of these methods, make sure to press the leftover vegetables after draining. Use the back of a spoon or something similar. This will squeeze out all the liquids to give you more broth.

Your broth is now ready for any possible use.


- What if you don't have enough vegetables to make the amount of broth you need?

First, it is totally fine to chop and use fresh vegetables instead of frozen.

Next, make as much broth as you can with the vegetables you have. When the broth is done cooking, strain out maybe half the liquid (which you can then either set aside or put directly into your soup/whatever). Then fill up the pot with more water and let it simmer again. I can usually do two water additions before the broth quality suffers even slightly.

What not to do if you can help it: use a boullion cube or any storebought concentrated stock mix. They are super-salty and often taste tinny or chemical. If you're desperate, use water to make up for your broth deficiency.

- What if I wanted to make, say, broccoli soup--can I use broccoli in the broth?

I wouldn't. Anything in the brassica family smells just awful when boiled too long. It would be better to make a standard broth while you cook your soup base (e.g. onion/carrot/celery in olive oil), add the finished broth to the base, add the broccoli, and simmer until cooked through, about three to five minutes.

- What do you do with broth?

You can cook all kinds of things with broth, although soup is the most obvious answer. Practically any kind of soup is good: chili, tomato, various chowders, potato leek, butternut squash. Or add the broth to softened onion/garlic/various aromatics to make a more liquid soup, and then add cooked pasta, meatballs, or dumplings.

Vegetable broth is a great braising liquid, especially when enhanced with white wine or dry vermouth. Rice, quinoa, barley, and various other grains taste excellent when cooked in strong veg broth. You can also use it to make sauces requiring water; I use mine in enchilada sauce on a regular basis. Finally, you can reduce it to make a glaze or use it in a marinade.

- No, I mean what do you do with the leftover broth?

Pour it into containers, let it cool, and put it in the freezer. It's important to let hot broth cool before you lid and chill it; if you don't, you get fermented broth. Just let your containers sit on the counter for an hour or two before you put them in the freezer.

- What do you do with the frozen broth?

You use it the same way you use liquid broth: put it in soup, grains, sauces, or what have you. I usually run hot water over the back of each container, pop out the frozen broth, and put it directly into whatever I'm cooking. That way it just melts into the soup/whatever. This does depend on what I'm cooking, however. For a risotto, for instance, you need to heat your broth to a boil before using--so I just put the frozen broth in a pan, add a little water, and heat it up.

- How long does vegetable broth keep?

I wouldn't leave it in the refrigerator longer than a week. However, if you freeze your broth, it'll be totally fine for months.

- Do I seriously only need to cook it for twenty minutes?

In my experience, that's plenty of time to make a dark-colored, flavorful vegetable broth, and you can get away with even less time if you're pressed. So: yes. I often put on a pot of broth, start cooking dinner, and use said broth in the dinner fifteen minutes later. You can leave the pot on to simmer a bit longer if you don't need it quite yet, but you aren't trying to extract marrow from bones here, so the long cooking normally associated with broth is just not necessary.


How'd I do? More questions?

10 December 2010

Holiday cookie overload

I got Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar from the library in prep for thanksgiving, and then I made some cookies, and we ate lots of cookies.

Man, what is it with me and the baking lately? I assume it is the "cold weather," although you know today it's supposed to be a high of something like 65F, and that's just wrong, WRONG, even though we live in California again and I have to shut up and get used to it. Anyway.

First I made blackstrap gingersnaps. Changes: I used wheat flour, which was fine and good. These definitely taste like a serious gingersnap, and are worth the minimal effort. They get harder overnight, however, so I suggest eating them all immediately, or maybe freezing some preshaped dough for later impulse baking.

Baking with liquid oil instead of solid butter is surprising at first. I think the sheer liquid quality of early-stage batter could easily scare people who aren't prepared. Of course, once you add the dry ingredients, everything comes together into a totally normal finished dough. No problem.

Annnnd I seriously have no pictures of the gingersnaps. Moving on.

Next up: banana everything cookies.

These were really easy up until the "form into balls" stage, at which point the dough--or, really, the mass of oats stuck together with banana and etc--decided that it would like nothing more than to attach to both of my hands forever and ever. Next time I will be using two teaspoons to drop misshapen oat lumpules onto my cookie sheets. I also left out the nuts, but added a handful of extra chocolate chips. While this tasted great in the end product, it made the dough even more resistant to shaping. Maybe something in the dried fruit area would be a better substitution.

While awful to form, the finished product tasted great. Oats, banana, and chocolate are clearly an excellent match, and the high proportion of grain provides great taste without consequent glurge.

They also kept for a full week without any ill effects--great if you want to eat them for breakfast every morning. I'm just saying.

06 December 2010

Cranberry bread showdown

We've established that I don't like cranberry sauce. However, cranberry bread is another story. In the run-up to thanksgiving, I made two: one with full dairy, and one without. SHOWDOWN.

Cranberry bread 1: based on a Bittman recipe for walnut bread which I found at Emily Blackapple's. I don't do walnuts in baked goods (and we didn't have any anyway) so instead I subbed in lots of dried cranberries. I also used whole wheat flour instead of white.

Result: excellent. The wheat flour gave this a great density and an appealing actual-grain taste. I found it best when cut in massive inch-thick slabs and toasted in the toaster oven, then spread with butter. Peanut butter was also a good choice, especially when eating said bread for breakfast.

Cranberry bread 2: this one was actually meant to be cranberry. I followed the cranberry orange nut bread recipe in Veganomicon, cut out the nuts (again), and used white whole wheat flour, as our straight wheat supply was running low. I hadn't baked anything with fresh cranberries before, so I was curious to see how this turned out.

Result: again, excellent. This bread was lighter-textured due to the finer flour, and sharper due to the fresh cranberries and orange zest. Still, it also worked pretty well with peanut butter.

Both breads were seriously damp; neither succumbed to staleness in over a week. Either would be great for baking in small pans and giving as presents. TASTEABLE.

03 December 2010

Cake cake it is plum cake

So a couple weeks ago, the last of the green plums came through the farmer's market. I, of course, searched out a table of bruised rejects, bought a massive bag, and took them home with a vague eye toward baking.

A few days later, I produced this cake.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that I now never want to make any other cake ever again. I've had the recipe sitting around in a huge binder of various internet-sourced recipes for approximately eight to ten years. WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG TO MAKE IT??

Let's get things straight. At our house, pie wins over cake. We don't eat cake, and certainly not layered, decorated, befrostinged monsters. At past office parties with gross storebought sheet cake, I always scraped the frosting layer completely off my dry, cottony, hydrongenated piece (although I was too cheap not to eat any cake at all). My birthday and John's are three days apart, and yet we don't even make one birthday cake to split. We know we would each only eat one sliver, then leave the rest of the cake to rot. No cake.

So the fact that I was considering making a cake at all was...different. It's not as though I couldn't have made a plum pie, or a tart. Hell, storebought puff pastry would've been just fine. But no: I wanted cake. Dense, damp, British teatimey cake. Plums sunk into thick wheaty batter sounded pretty good to me.

Shockingly, the actual blog post in which I found this is still up. Seriously? It's from 2002! I think I'm going to write out my variation here anyway, just in case the original site vanishes and we all cry.

Plum Cake (or Plum Torte, I guess)

1/2 c unsalted butter
3/4 c sugar (turbinado, for excellent crystalline crunchy bits)
1 c flour (wheat, above all things, for a serious grain-tasting teacake)
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
2 eggs
6-8 plums, depending on the size of your pan
sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon (I think I left the cinnamon out)
pan: I used an 11x7 inch pyrex casserole dish.

Easy easy.

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar; add the flour, baking powder, salt, and eggs; mix. I used a handheld mixer for optimal mixing, but a big wooden spoon should work fine. Spread the finished batter into a cake pan of your choice. I believe I buttered my pan, but that was about it.

Now it is time to cut up plums. Halve and pit them; if they're big, cut them further into quarters or sixths. Press the plums, cut side down, into the batter, covering as much of the cake surface as possible. Sprinkle the whole business with some sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon, and stick it in the oven.

Bake for one hour, or until the cake surface is nicely crested with brown, the edges have pulled slightly away from the edge of the pan, and the plums have sunk and shriveled into the batter. Voila:

Now, ok. This is not the most impressive-looking cake. However, we've established that frosting and extensive decorating are pretty negative aspects of a cake, yes? This business ignores visuals and goes straight to the punch. Instead of being pretty, it is delicious, with a dense, damp, fruit-ridden interior, and a sugary, crunchy, sweet, brown crust.

Let cool for as long as you can stand, and then eat a slab with a big mug of black tea. In the morning, you can have some more for breakfast.

02 December 2010

Raita, toast, and tea

A litle over a week ago, we had Indian food with Heather and Joann. We made chickpea tomato curry and palak paneer and brown rice and naan bread and raita. Everything was great, except that I eventually burned my hand, and so ended up taking zero pictures. (It's fine now.)

Joann, who among other things is a pie-making genius, brought a perfect towering apple pie. She left us half of it, which we then ate for several consecutive breakfasts. Would you look at that?

We sent the palak paneer and rice leftovers home with Heather. I ate the chickpea tomato curry leftovers one night when we were feeling lazy and didn't want to make dinner. The only thing left was raita.

Raita is perhaps the easiest thing in the world. Get a persian cucumber and dice it up. Mix it with a roughly equal proportion of plain, full-fat yogurt, or, in our case, labneh. Pepper it. Voila: raita.

I ate the leftovers on toasty bread with a big cup of assam tea. Breakfast at our house is truly awesome.

28 November 2010

Orphans' thanksgiving

As always, the actual thanksgiving day menu turned out a little differently than we planned. For one thing, we totally forgot to make cranberry sauce. That's ok, though; we had plenty of food, and I personally have never been into cranberry sauce anyway. Cranberry bread is much, much better. Of course, now we have a bag and a half of cranberries kicking around the freezer, but that's not exactly a terrible problem to have.

What else was different? We didn't make the biscuits, but that one was a conscious choice due to the overabundance of food and the possibility of running out of olive oil. I also made the grain salad with lots of bell peppers instead of chard. Otherwise, we were just about entirely on track. Go us!

Check out the soon-to-be-roasted veg:

Those are carrots, radishes, sweet potatoes, yellow onions, and brussels sprouts, all tossed with trusty vinaigrette and sprinkled liberally with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary I tore out of the hedge while walking by city hall. Ah, the glories of California. Also, I roasted them.

Table panorama:

The fruit bowl contains finally-in-season satsumas, purple plums, and fuji apples. To your left, you will notice the field roast Chrissy and Ben brought. It's essentially a big seitan roll with a lentil and bread stuffing in the middle. We destroyed about 3/4 of the roast among four people. In the glass bowl: mashed yukon gold potatoes with garlic. There weren't a whole lot of those left over, either. In the pink dish: cooked barley with chopped raw red pepper, orange pepper, parsley, green onion, and (again) said trusty vinaigrette. Using the vinaigrette twice worked really well since we cooked it in one dish and left it raw in the other, so the two tastes were not at all similar. Nice.

Here we have the already semi-decimated side of the table. In the white bowls: lots of delicious Tuscan white bean soup. In the little green bowl: fragments of cashew left over from mid-cooking snacks. In the red bowl: lots and lots of olives, also left from the cooking period. In the blue bowl: red grapefruit and avocado salad, which was awesome and pungent and delicious.

My initial plate:

Mushroom gravy: hooray! Also, note the lonely corner saved for the roasted vegetables that were still in the oven. So sad. That's ok, however, because look how great they ended up when actually done!

Those are some VEGETABLES.

So we ate it all, drank four bottles of wine, and had pumpkin pie, of which there are zero pictures on my camera: boo!

When we were all too full to move, we played some rousing games of Boggle. Ben won.

24 November 2010

Pre-thanksgiving 2010

OK! We are having vegan orphans' thanksgiving with Chrissy and Ben tomorrow. Today is therefore the day for running to various stores, cleaning various items, and baking various cookies and breads. Needless to say, I haven't gotten an overabundance of actual Work work done.

We are making:

- Bean soup (Tuscan white bean, or white bean and carrot)
- Barley salad w/ scallions, wilted chard, black pepper, what else?
- Roast veg: brussels sprouts, sweet potato, carrot, radish, onion, etc., with hedge rosemary and/or vinaigrette
- Mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy
- Cranberry sauce
- Wiltable winter greens (i.e. more chard, prob w/ garlic), and/or green salad
- Baking powder biscuits
- Cranberry orange bread
- Molasses gingersnaps
- Wine

Chrissy and Ben are bringing:

- Pumpkin pie
- A field roast (i.e. seitan)
- Raw citrus salad
- More wine

This is our first thanksgiving with actual guests in a good three years! EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS.

I am totally going to go put on the white beans to boil in a minute. Also: gingersnaps. Also also: can you believe the amount of food we expect four people to be able to eat? The correct answer is "no." Fortunately, I also bought a bunch of containers by means of which to send leftovers home with people. Forethought!

23 November 2010


Roast it!

Preheat oven to 350F or thereabouts. Chop your kabocha in half and scrape out all the seeds and guts; you can roast the seeds separately if you so desire. Brush the cut squash halves with olive oil, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

Put a little water into the bottom of a baking dish. Place the squash halves in, cut side down. Slide the whole shebang into the oven.

Now you must wait, and wait, and wait. The cooking time will depend on the size of your squash, but I'd plan for about 45 minutes to an hour.

After about a half hour, you can turn the squash halves over and put them back in the oven to let them color. Wait another fifteen minutes before testing the flesh with a fork.

When the squash is tender, you can either eat it, bake something with it, or mash it up and put it in the freezer for later. I ate half of my squash and stuck the other half in the refrigerator for copious leftovers.

To make squash into a complete meal, just add salad! I had arugula and mesclun with chopped apple and pecans. This was an excellent plan.

20 November 2010

Peanut somen

Being carless, John and I rely almost totally on what we can buy within a walking radius of our apartment. This means we buy 90% of our groceries at the Persian market, the Asian market, and the farmer's market.

The Persian market supplies copious flatbreads, twenty pound bags of rice, and fresh tamarind pods. The Asian market offers 5 homemade tofu blocks for $1, a second round of twenty pound bags of rice, a massive array of tea, and half an aisle solidly packed with noodles. The farmer's market, of course, bursts with fruit, vegetables, eggs, and bread. Man, is this ever awesome.

So one day I hit up the Asian market and brought home a package of somen.

We've had plenty of soba, udon, ramen (ugh), and rice noodles, but these were new. Somen are long wheat noodles sliced so finely they almost resemble a set of very pale mechanical pencil leads. They take maybe two minutes to go from raw to cooked through. Clearly, they are excellent to have on hand for emergency dinner.

Emergency dinner
or: Somen with peanut sauce and broccoli

fresh hot pepper
soy sauce
peanut butter
black pepper
sambal oelek or other hot pepper jam

Put a pot of water on to boil while you make the sauce.

So. Chop up a small onion or half a large one. In a second pan over medium-high heat, soften the onion in a little oil. This is one situation where I wouldn't use olive oil. We used safflower, but peanut oil would clearly work very well here.

Smash and chop a clove or two of garlic; add it to the pan. Finely slice some hot pepper and add that as well. We used a fairly mild long green pepper along with the ubiquitous hot red pepper. Multiple kinds of pepper will give your finished product some welcome complexity; just make sure you don't use so many peppers (or such hot peppers) as to set your taste buds on fire. We're adding more pepper later!

Cut up a stalk of broccoli, separating florets into smaller pieces, and peeling and dicing any edible stem. When the onion and pepper mixture is fully soft and fragrant, add the broccoli to the pan, along with a generous spoonful of peanut butter, a sprinkling of soy sauce, and a spoonful of sambal oelek or other hot pepper jam. As well, give the business a thorough grinding of lots of fresh black pepper. Mix this all together and let it cook.

Next, drop your somen into the now-boiling pot of water. Cook for two minutes, then taste. When cooked through, drain, leaving just a little water clinging to the noodles. By this time your sauce should be pretty well cooked through; taste and see if you want to add any more soy or what have you. Tip the noodles into the sauce and stir to coat.

Serve and eat with a final sprinkling of black pepper.

17 November 2010

It is lunchtime: avocado and red pepper sandwich

Check out what I had today: excellent, dense, farmer's market rye/onion/poppyseed bread with sliced avocado (yes, there is some under there; I checked), arugula, red pepper roasted over the gas burner, tomato, salt, pepper, and a little red wine dijon vinaigrette.

Incidentally, dudes, I highly recommend making your own vinaigrette. I made this one from the Bouchon Cookbook weeks ago, and it is awesome. My only change was to sub in olive oil for half the veg oil. Since then, we've eaten it on greens, rice, and sandwiches, and yet we've barely made a dent in the jar. It's definitely worth the three minutes of effort.

15 November 2010

Polenta, pea shoots, roasted tomatoes, sauvignon blanc

Last Sunday I woke up way too early and could not get back to sleep. By the time the clock said seven, I thought it was sufficiently late that I could get up in good conscience...except that I turned on the computer to discover that lo, it was daylight savings day, and it was actually SIX AM, and I was awake, out of bed, dressed, and active.

I went to the farmer's market much earlier than usual.

The market was totally drenched in what passes for rain in this part of California. I was actually compelled to use the umbrella! For most people this clearly registered as "DOWNPOUR," which made the whole farmer's market experience a lot emptier and therefore more easily navigable. I was there at maybe 8:30, though, after already taking a good twenty minutes to sit around in the coffeeshop and eat a bagel, so...yeah. It was possibly too early to be crowded anyway.

My fall vegetables included two varieties of kabocha squash (orange and green, and seven pounds total), a massive overload of seconds bin carrots for later soup application, and a big bag of pea shoots from my favorite Asian greens vendor.

I've had a reasonable amount of tiny pea sprouts, but I've never eaten the semi-grownup shoots. They taste just like you'd expect: like delicious fresh peas, albeit with a different texture. The stems can actually get a little tough if they get big enough, but that's ok; just chop them finely and you have no worries. Or hey, puree them into pea shoot pesto with olive oil and garlic! Oh man, I think I may know what to do with the rest of these in the near future.

However, as this was the first time I'd ever had pea shoots, I decided to just eat them mostly plain, with polenta and roasted tomatoes.

Polenta, pea shoots, roasted tomatoes, sauvignon blanc

Polenta is way, way easy and can be cooked with the greatest of ease. As, you know, indicated by the word "easy." I cooked it like I normally do, with a proportion of one cup cornmeal to four cups water, plus a teaspoon of salt. You could easily use less salt, and I think I will next time. Whisk your cornmeal with one cup water; add the rest of the water and whisk over medium-high heat; once things are definitely amalgamated and thoroughly bubbling hot, turn down the heat and switch to a spoon; stir occasionally until done. You can add butter or cheese if you so desire, but I personally think those get way too rich. Better to serve it plain.

For roasted tomatoes, just core and halve whatever good tomatoes you have lying around, then throw them in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil; salt lightly; add several thyme branches if you have any lying around. Roast at 400F until browned around the edges. This took ages for me, as I started with frozen tomatoes; if you do this, defrost them first. Otherwise I think this could be done in as little as twenty minutes.

Pea shoots were easy as well. I washed them whole and threw them on to wilt in some olive oil with chopped garlic. The end. Since these were so fast, I waited to cook them until the polenta and tomatoes were done.

To eat: top your polenta with the tomatoes and their juices, as well as the wilted pea shoots. Crack a little pepper over the top. Pour yourself a glass of sauvignon blanc, and have dinner.


So, apparently several days of intermittent gastrointestinal issues will not only curtail my appetite but also my desire to write about food. Great.

08 November 2010

Orange orange orange: sweet potato and lentil curry

Sweet potatoes! Lentils! Fall!

I based this curry off a recipe in Peter Berley's Fresh Food Fast. While this isn't my favorite cookbook--Deborah Madison has that market pretty sewn up--it's a great source of new ideas. In this case, I changed the requisite hot water to broth, and the random "curry" blend to actual individual spices, and got great results.

The finished product was really interesting, with a faint overtone of almost chocolate or mole. I think we'll have to try actually chopping a little bitter dark chocolate and using it to mount a batch in future. "Mount" just means "stir a fat in at the end to add an extra dimension of richness." Normally people use butter or olive oil, but here chocolate is definitely worth a try.

Sweet potato and red lentil curry

veg broth
fresh ginger if possible, ground if not
turmeric, cumin, garam masala, brown mustard seeds
sweet potatoes
red lentils
a bay leaf
salt, pepper
a grain or flatbread with which to eat it
to serve: sriracha sauce, maybe some chopped cilantro

To start, either make or warm some vegetable broth. The heat of the broth will help your potatoes and lentils cook in a reasonable amount of time. I didn't have any broth on hand, so I instead turned to the giant stockpile of veg trimmings that lives in our freezer. I used several handfuls of frozen onion tops, leek greens, withered chard stems, previously slimy mushrooms, carrot peels, and what have you to fill a small pan, then submerged the contents in water and set it on to boil. After about ten or fifteen minutes, I had a good two or three cups of dark orange broth. Voila.

While your broth is simmering, you can start chopping up a yellow onion (I used half a big one) and several cloves of garlic. Throw the trimmings into your broth pot. In another, bigger pot, warm some olive oil, add the onion and garlic, and cook for a few minutes to soften.

Next: spice. If you have fresh ginger, peel a small chunk of it using the spoon trick. Just scrape a teaspoon against the skin, and it'll come right off, leaving you with plenty of usable ginger. Finely mince the resulting skinned ginger, and add it to the pot. If you don't have fresh ginger, use ground; it's fine. Add a couple good shakes of cumin and garam masala, a small handful of brown mustard seeds, and a smaller shake of turmeric. Stir well to distribute the spices, and let cook for a few minutes while you prep your sweet potatoes.

I used two small sweet potatoes, but one big one should work just fine here. Scrub and peel your potatoes, this time actually using the vegetable peeler. Add the peels and any trimmings to your broth pot. Dice the potato into smallish cubes, and then add it all to the main veg mixture. Stir it up and let cook for a few minutes, so the potatoes have a chance to absorb some of the oil and spice. Then cover with a few cups of hot broth, add a couple big handfuls of red lentils and a seasoning of salt and pepper, put the lid on the pan, and simmer until both the potatoes and lentils are cooked. This should take approximately twenty minutes. (Any extra broth can go in the freezer for future excitement.)

While you're waiting, put on a pan of rice, barley, or quinoa, and write out your recipe for stuffed peppers. Fun times! You could also warm up some pita or other flatbread, or even make some naan if you feel like it.

Is everything cooked through? Ok. Taste the curry to make sure the spicing meets with your approval; add salt and pepper as needed. Then take the lid off the pan and let the liquids evaporate until the texture also meets with your approval. Copious approval achieved!

While the finished curry is great by itself, I found that a number of little dots of sriracha sauce really brought the room together. I only wish we'd had some decent greens to add as well. Chopped kale or chard, wilted in over the last few minutes, would have been excellent; spinach kept raw and sandwiched between the quinoa and curry would have been great as well. A good handful of ripped cilantro leaves would be an excellent final garnish. Alas, we had none of these, and so I was forced to rely only on sriracha. TRAGEDY.

Roasty roasty vegetables

Hey, did someone mention fall?

Roasted fall vegetables

waxy potatoes (fingerling or otherwise)
brussels sprouts
garlic (or onion)
olive oil (or vinaigrette)
salt, pepper, spices

Scrub and chunk potatoes; trim and halve sprouts; peel and chop carrots; smash and peel garlic. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. You could also add some mustard powder or paprika if you feel so inclined. I had a bunch of homemade vinaigrette sitting in the refrigerator door, so I used that.

Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 375F. You may want to put the potatoes in first, then add the rest of the veg after ten or fifteen minutes; this ensures that everything will be done at the same time.

When delicious, eat.

03 November 2010

Freezer supply accumulated: quinoa stuffed peppers

At the farmer's market seconds bin, 60 cents a pound:

Are those Anaheims? Hatch? Who cares? We stuffed a bag full and ran home to make a gigantic stash of freezer food.

This process is kind of a pain in the neck, but it isn't hard--just tedious. It's definitely worth the effort to make a big batch, though, which will become evident a few months in the future, when you walk home from the train one day through a snowstorm.

Black bean quinoa stuffed peppers

cooked black beans
olive oil
hot peppers
sweet peppers
stuffable peppers
optional veg: corn, green onion, etc.
salt, black pepper, cumin, paprika, oregano

This has three main steps. First, make a black bean-quinoa melange with which to stuff the peppers. Next, steam peppers, gut them, and stuff them. Last, freeze them (or, if you want to eat them now, bake them).

Melange: if you're starting from dried beans, soak them overnight, change the water, and simmer with a bay leaf until tender. Two or three big handfuls of dry beans should be plenty. Drain off the boiling liquid (put it in the freezer for instant black bean stock) and you're ready to go. You can definitely do this in advance. You can also use canned beans if that's how you roll. Kidney, white, or garbonzo beans will work as well.

Put a pan of quinoa on to cook. The amount depends on how many peppers you want to stuff, but unless you're trying to completely fill your freezer, one cup is plenty. You can cook quinoa like any grain: add double its volume in water and simmer, covered, until cooked. I use the rice cooker. If you don't want quinoa, any other grain should work fine.

While the grain is cooking, warm a wide saute pan. Chop up an onion and a handful of garlic cloves; soften them in olive oil. Mince a hot pepper or two, and dice a few sweet peppers that are in no shape to stuff. Add them to the pan to soften as well. You may also want to add some spices, like cumin, paprika, or a little oregano, though the hot pepper and garlic are already fairly strong. Spice it so it tastes good to you.

If you want to add any other vegetables, now is the time to do it, as long as they aren't greens. Corn is great--either cut it right off the cob, or defrost frozen kernels in hot water. Other good additions: roasted winter squash, sweet potato, tomato, nopales--whatever. Add your vegetables to the pan and let cook a few minutes to soften before you add your black beans.

At the same time, bring a pot of water to boil. Wash your stuffable peppers--long Anaheims or larger bell peppers will both work well here--and put them in a steamer basket that fits the pan. Don't crowd them; you want to make sure the steam will hit them all, so you may want to do this in batches. When the water boils, steam your peppers for about three to five minutes, then take them off the heat and let them cool.

By this time both your grain and your bean mixture should be done. Mix the two together, either in the pan (off the heat) or in a large bowl. If you want to add any softer greens, such as chopped spinach or chard, green onion tops, or parsley, this is the time to do so. Salt, pepper, and mix well.

Now it's time to stuff. First, cut a long slit down the side of a pepper. Flex it gently to make an opening, and reach through to pull out and discard the seeds and any attached membranes. This doesn't have to be absolutely perfect; just get the majority out. Then stuff the pepper with the bean and grain mix, using a spoon to gradually pack all the crevices full. The slit doesn't have to re-close when you're done, so use plenty of filling.

Your peppers may occasionally rip a bit; if so, be especially careful to hold the ripped part stable while you're stuffing. However, it's not really that big of a deal: your peppers will be delicious anyway. Repeat until you're out of either peppers or filling. I made ten peppers.

I personally had lots of filling left over, so I ended up eating quinoa-black bean tacos for dinner and freezing every single stuffed pepper. To freeze: wrap each pepper in foil and put them in the freezer. Tres facile and tres vogue. You can also put all your peppers on a baking sheet, freeze them like that, and put the frozen pieces into one bag later. Use whichever method fits best in your freezer.

When you're ready to eat some peppers, just take off the foil, put them on a baking sheet, and bake at 350F until hot through and beginning to brown. You could always add some olive oiled and begarlicked breadcrumbs to the tops, but these are just as delicious baked plain. Besides, who wants to mess up the rest of the kitchen?

29 October 2010

Leftover fagioli for breakfast

Warm leftover fagioli sauce in a pan with a little water. When it's hot, toast an english muffin (or what have you). Fry an egg using the steam trick. Top toasty muffin with a couple spoonfuls of fagioli, the egg, and some more fagioli for good measure. Eat. Drink tea. Stay full until well after 1 pm.

28 October 2010

Something called a salad

Mixed greens from the farmer's market, one of the last good tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, hardboiled egg, chopped parsley and chives, salt and pepper, and dijon vinaigrette.


20 October 2010

Stepping away from the meat

So the past couple weeks have put me into meat overload. We not only undertook the massive chicken/broth-making expedition of 2010, but also a batch of moules marinieres, and a gargantuan london broil with roasted potatoes, carrots, onion, and brussels sprouts. Everything was great, but--wow. Our freezer is totally stuffed with the excess, and I don't want to see any meat again for at least a month.

Right! Let's eat some grain with vegetables!

Barley and vegetable salad

olive oil
various peppers
chard/other greens
fresh parsley

Ok. We're essentially going to cook the barley, sauté the vegetables, and mix them together. Easy.

To cook barley, I use the rice cooker. Just throw in a cup of dry barley, two cups of water, and turn the machine on. You can definitely do this in a pan as well; follow the general rules for cooking rice, and you should be fine. Hell, you can actually use rice instead of barley, and still be fine. Any grain is good here.

While your barley is cooking, warm a little olive oil in a sauté pan. Dice up whatever vegetables sound appealing, starting with alliums. I think I used a red torpedo onion and its greens for this one, but whatever you have on hand should work. Soften your onion (minus any greens; save those for later) while you cut up your other veg. Use a lot, as you want the vegetables to be a good half of the finished product. I had a bagful of wrinkly red and yellow peppers from the seconds table at the farmer's market, so I used maybe three of them, all slightly spicy but mostly sweet. If you want spicier peppers, go ahead and use them. If you're using chard, chop up the stems and add them at this point too. While all those are softening, chop your greens, including any onion greens, and set them aside until the very end of cooking. If you have any parsley or other fresh herbs, chop them up as well.

When your barley and veg are cooked, turn off all the heat. Add the uncooked greens to the pan of veg, and dump as much hot grain as you want on top. Let the pan sit for a minute or two while you wash the other dishes; this will steam the greens without overcooking them. Then all you have to do is add some salt and pepper, stir everything together, add a squeeze of lemon (or a sprinkle of vinegar, or even vinaigrette), and eat it.

Grain salads like this are good hot or cool, so it's worthwhile to make enough for a couple days. You can either eat them plain, for zero-effort lunch, or use them as a component in something else, like this big wrap. All I did here was slightly warm a big flatbread in the toaster oven, spread it with labneh, add leftover salad, and top with raw chard. The result: gargantuan, filling, and damn near instant lunch.

Item: triumph!