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?