30 December 2011

Post-holiday roundup

homemade bbq spice and homemade pickling spiceWell. This christmas I got food poisoning and spent most of the day either in bed or face down on the floor, so I have zero delicious holiday food to discuss. How about we talk about some of the presents I gave instead?

Like everyone else on the internet, I wanted to give some handmade gifts this year. I had been half-planning to give out little bottles of homemade schnapps, but since 90% of the people to whom I give presents live at least 500 miles away, and the post office doesn't ship alcohol, that was out. So instead I went to the bulk bins and grabbed everything I needed to make some homemade pickling spice and barbecue rub.

The only ingredient that wasn't in the bulk bins was celery salt. Well, then! I made a batch of that as well. It's a good thing the farmer's market around here regularly features gigantic leafy heads of celery. The end product turned out so well I considered giving it away too. Then I realized that I hadn't had brunch with anyone in so long that I didn't know who else actually drank bloody marys, so I decided to just use it for my own.

I had initially wanted to package these in little spice jars, but ended up going with plastic bags instead. This was due to both 1. shipping costs and 2. the high likelihood of glass jars breaking in the flurry of holiday mail. It's ok though! Festive ribbon totally saves the day, right?

homemade bbq spice and homemade pickling spiceI have to say, there was an awful lot of ribbon all over the place this season. It was by far the most Martha Stewarty I have been in years.

24 December 2011

Christmas eve

Today is the day for the annual making of a large vat of marinara sauce, shredding of several blocks of cheese, kneading of a whack of dough, chopping of all the vegetables, & assembly, baking, and eating of our own delicious pizzas for dinner. Yes! Christmas eve pizza party at our house!

We have:
- mozzarella, asiago, parmesan, and romano cheese
- peppers hot and mild and green and red
- a big bag of delicious tiny cremini mushrooms
- red onion, yellow onion, garlic, shallot
- a stick of salami for me, because pepperoni is too much but salami is just right
- oregano, basil, red pepper flake, & other appropriate spices
- tomato puree and olive oil
- flour, yeast, water, honey

This will clearly work out splendidly. I do need to figure out a different crust recipe, but that is a manageable task for the day.

Since there is also a half pound of ground lamb in the fridge, I may end up mixing and spicing and cooking it sausage-style, then putting sausage crumbles on at least one pizza. Lamb sausage would be pretty great on pizza, wouldn't it? I even have fennel seed to add! Oh man, what a great idea! THIS MAY NOW HAPPEN.

So we will make and eat a delightful variety of pizza.

We will also deliver lots of the aforementioned almond cookies to our next-door neighbor and the coffeeshop that is functionally my office.

Later we will go out with a thermos (or most likely my stainless steel water bottle, since we have not acquired an actual traveling drinking device not made of gross-tasting plastic since last year at this time) filled with black russians, and walk all over town and look at the lights and pretend it's colder than 40F, which it won't be.

Tomorrow after presents we're going to go have massive holiday breakfast at Veronica's. I am further going with tradition and bringing cranberry orange nut bread, although minus the nuts. This is actually also tradition, since both John and I find walnuts disgusting in baked goods. Besides that, there will be eggs and coffee and mimosas and coffeecake and homemade bagels and cream cheese.

In short, yay holidays!

20 December 2011

Pre-holiday cookies

almond cookie recipeLast week I went to a cookie swap and came home with all the delicious cookies in the land. For my contribution, I made our usual holiday cookies from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book. They're easy, tasty, and not too sweet.

The recipe makes--wait for it---5 DOZEN COOKIES. So clearly I had to double the batch, right? Right. The doubled recipe barely fit in my mixing bowl, so you should probably use two bowls (or a really gargantuan one) if you want to do such a thing. This also means that I now have three extra rolls of cookie dough waiting and ready in the freezer. Yay, spontaneous future cookies!

Swedish farmer cookies

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cups sugar
1 cup slivered almonds--use the thinnest slices you can find, not the big chunks
1 tbsp molasses
2/3 cup softened sweet butter
1 egg
2 tbsp water

Mix everything together and form the resulting dough (which will look crumbly, but is really not) into 3 or 4 long skinny rolls. Just squeeze them together with your hands.

almond cookie doughWrap the rolls in foil or plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. Then slice each roll into 1/4 inch cookies and bake at 400F on parchment-covered or greased cookie sheets for 8-10 minutes. You want to take them out of the oven when they’re just barely golden brown.

Now you have cookies! Eat them with all the tea.

15 December 2011

Cabbage, sausage, onion, apple

Cabbage, sausage, onion, apple recipePeasant food is the best food. Let's make some!

I actually had this mix of onions, apples, precooked chicken sausage, and cabbage quite awhile ago. However, it's totally appropriate to the dank days of winter, so let's talk about it now.

While we cooked the aromatics first, it's also totally possible to start out by cooking the sausage. In that case, I'd just cook to brown and render off some fat; that way you can take out the meat, sauté the vegetables in the rendered fat, and add the browned meat back in near the end. Since we were using chicken sausage, though, we knew there wasn't going to be an overabundance of fat to render off. If you want to use pork sausage, or substitute some bacon/etc. in, I'd definitely start with the meat and cook the veg in the rendered fat.

For those of you who don't eat meat, I'm sure an appropriately spiced seitan sausage culled from your freezer stash would also work well.

Cabbage, sausage, onion, apple

olive oil
precooked sausage/seitan/etc. of your choosing
green cabbage
salt, pepper

Cut your onion in half and slice each half into long strips. Sauté the onion in a slug of oil while you slice the apple into 1/4 inch pieces. When the onion has softened, add the apple and cook together, stirring occasionally, until the apples start to turn golden brown. Cut up your sausage of choice and shred a big chunk of cabbage while you're waiting.

At this point, scrape the apples and onions to one side of the pan. Put a little dab of oil in the free space (if you're using a lean meat or seitan sausage), and add your sausage. Cook until browned, then flip and brown the other side.

When everything is brown and tasty, mix up all the business in the pan, season with salt and pepper, and scrape everything to the side again. Add your shredded cabbage to the various oil and fat left in the pan; sauté with salt and some pepper. I wilted my cabbage for a little over five minutes, so it still had some bite. If you want to go for thoroughly wilted cabbage, be my guest. In hindsight, I wish we'd had a little caraway seed to add. If you have some, you might want to try it.

When the cabbage is done to your liking, adjust the seasonings and serve. I used the cabbage as a bed for the sausage/onion/apple mixture, which worked out well. It would also be fine to mix everything up in the pan and serve it like that.

This business would be great with a bunch of buttered toast or a whack of mashed potatoes. Hell, if you have some leftover potatoes, go ahead and add them to the pan! You might as well absorb every last bit of tasty onion-apple-sausage fat, right?

13 December 2011

Soooup of the eeevening

Soup with lamb meatballs and greens recipeThe other day John had to stay at work late. As we all know, this means I get to eat WHATEVER I WANT FOR DINNER MUAHAHAHAHAHA with no regard for the food-related desires of others.

A week or two ago we had roasted a post-thanksgiving chicken, taken all the resulting meat off the bones, and boiled the stripped carcass with onion, carrots, and celery for a massive supply of chicken broth. I did eat some of the chicken, but otherwise put a large container of meat and eight (EIGHT!) containers of strained broth in the freezer. Our freezer was extremely crowded, but ready to provide ingredients for any number of tasty dinners at a moment's notice.

So I rifled through the freezer, grabbed some chicken broth and lamb meatballs, and went to work.

Soup with lamb meatballs and copious greens

olive oil
ginger, fresh if at all possible
green onion
chicken broth
soy sauce, sriracha, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil
salt, pepper

If you don't have a freezer supply of meatballs, start with them. Any kind of meatball spiced to work with Asian flavors should work fine. I made mine by mixing ground lamb with breadcrumbs, ginger, lemongrass, and hot red pepper, all chopped finely. Then I formed them into balls a little smaller than a ping-pong ball and cooked them over medium-high heat until browned on all sides & done in the middle.

I like to use precooked meatballs because 1. the char you get from pan-frying is delicious and 2. you don't have to worry about them cooking through (or breaking apart in boiling broth) later. It would probably be just fine to simmer them in the soup until done if you prefer, however. In either case, have them formed before you start making the soup itself.

Ok. For the soup, start by warming some olive oil in a deep pan over medium heat. Chop up some garlic, fresh ginger, and the whites of a few green onions, and sauté them in the oil for about five minutes, or until soft and aromatic. Add some sliced mushrooms and a pinch of salt, mix everything up, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. You want the mushrooms to reduce and turn golden brown, so try not to crowd them overmuch.

When the mushrooms have browned, add your broth. Mine was still frozen, so I added some water as well. Put on the lid, bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer.

At this point you can add your meatballs and cook until either heated through (in the case of precooked meatballs) or cooked through (in the case of raw). Obviously the time will differ for each, and you might need to play with the heat to keep the broth sufficiently hot. My meatballs were frozen, as mentioned; they took somewhere between five and ten minutes to heat completely.

While your soup bubbles away, wash some chard leaves, strip them off their stems (which you can put in the freezer stockpile), and roughly chop them. Practically any type of cookable green would work here: spinach, cabbage, kale, or whatever you have in the crisper. I just like chard.

When your meatballs are done & hot, add your chopped greens to the pot and stir to combine. If you're using a particularly delicate green, turn off the heat; if you're using something hardy, be prepared to cook another five to ten minutes. When your greens are done, take the soup off the burner and season sparingly with soy sauce, sriracha, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil. Then taste and decide if you want to add any more. When the soup tastes good, you are done.

Garnish with chopped green onion greens, let cool enough to avoid blistering your lips, and eat.

And if you find that you've made more soup than you can eat, well, you just cleared out that spot in your freezer, right?

12 December 2011

Why to buy premade hummus

Yes, making hummus is easy, and yes, it's much cheaper to buy actual dried garbanzo beans and tahini with which to make your own batches seasoned exactly to your taste. It's fresher. It often tastes better. It can even impress guests. Wow, homemade hummus!

hummus and vegetable plateBut sometimes you just want a lunch like this, and you want it in under five minutes.

08 December 2011

It's a gratin!

baked mac and cheeseSo after our sojourn at the cabin with a kitchen stocked in Le Creuset I have to say our desire for enameled cast iron cookware went up pretty far and pretty fast. John and I therefore bought ourselves an early christmas present: a lovely blue gratin dish.

Clearly, we had to christen the pan with a big batch of baked mac & cheese.

We'd normally make the sauce for mac and cheese in a regular saucepan. This time, we made it right in the gratin dish, since cast iron works for both oven and stovetop.

mac and cheese gratinAfter we drained the pasta, we dumped it into the gratin with the sauce, stirred it up, topped it with bread crumbs and grated cheese, and stuck it in the oven. Yay, fewer dishes to wash!

Thirty minutes later, we were blissfully eating plates of mac & cheese with the crispiest crust imaginable. Hooray!

I am well satisfied with our lot in life.

05 December 2011

Cauliflower & olive pasta

Cauliflower and olive pastaJohn thought this was going to be gross, but lo! It was not gross; it was good.

What's better than eating in-season veg like cauliflower? Cauliflower in pasta is great & underrated, & everyone should try it. Maybe sometime soon I'll get around to the butternut or kabocha squash pasta, or even to the turnip and rutabaga, although I don't know if those go with pasta per se. They can get in a big gratin, then. It's all good. My point is: seasonal vegetables!

I actually think that this pasta and veg mix would work really well in a gratin, with a little cream sauce and a bunch of breadcrumbs scattered over the top. Maybe that can happen sometime in the relatively near future.

Overall, this whole business fell very much in the Mediterranean area. I was particularly happy to be using some of my oven-dried tomatoes. I've never been that much into the tougher store-bought sun-dried tomatoes, but every time I use these I like them more and more. Maybe next year I should make multiple jars.

Cauliflower & olive pasta

olive oil
marinated olives (black nicoise or kalamata for preference)
oven-roasted or sun-dried tomato
deglazing liquid of your choice
red pepper flake, oregano, marjoram, basil, salt, pepper
penne or other pasta of your choice
fresh parsley or basil if you have any lying around

First, put on a pot of water for the pasta; cook it at an appropriate point in the proceedings.

In a separate sauté pan, warm up a slug of olive oil. When it's adequately warm, throw in a bunch of chopped onion and garlic. Season with red pepper flake (or hey, maybe you have an actual hot pepper you want to chop up and use!), oregano, basil, and marjoram, and let soften while you chop up a handful of olives and a tomato. Add these to the pan as you finish chopping.

If you have any sun-dried or oven-roasted tomatoes, get them out, drain off their excess oil and chop as needed, and add them to the pan. If you don't have any, that's ok too. You can always add a couple more olives or some capers for extra pungency.

Add some salt and pepper, stir everything together, and let cook for about five minutes. If things start to look dry, you can add a little water, veg broth, dry white wine, or some dry vermouth to deglaze. Whatever you have lying around will work fine.

Now is the time to butcher your cauliflower. I used about 2/3 of a cauliflower for two people; if you're serving any more people, just use an entire head. Trim off any leaves or hard woody bits, and then cut or break your cauliflower into smallish florets.

Add your cauliflower to the pan. Stir everything up, getting as much cauliflower in contact with the bottom of the pan as possible. (This will encourage your cauliflower to brown, which will make it particularly tasteable.) Let it all cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is cooked through. Again, deglaze if and when you need to.

When the cauliflower is cooked through, correct your seasonings, mix the vegetables with your cooked, drained pasta, and serve. If you have any Mediterranean herbs around, throw a handful of them on top of your bowl. I think a little squirt of lemon or some finely sliced lemon zest would work really well; grating cheese or feta would be good too. My point is: doctor your pasta however you like.

Now eat it! Yay, winter vegetables!

30 November 2011

Steamed cabbage? Really?

Steamed Cabbage with Butter and Poppy SeedsREALLY.

I like cabbage. I think cabbage is one of the most maligned of all vegetables. It's cheap, healthy, easy to cook, and delicious as long as you don't boil it to high hell. You want vitamin C? Get that cabbage in your mouth.

Right! Several nights ago we were having frozen vareniki with caramelized onions for dinner. Clearly this was not sufficient! No! So I grabbed my copy of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, looked through the index, and found Steamed Cabbage with Butter and Poppy Seeds.

I chopped up some green cabbage, steamed it over the vareniki pan, buttered it, and tossed it with a couple handfuls of the poppy seeds I've had sitting in my spice cabinet for the past year.

Steamed Cabbage with Butter and Poppy Seeds with pierogiesGuess what? It was delicious.

Quickly steamed cabbage turns out to be mild, with a texture similar to steamed bok choy. We usually make our cabbage into intense Asian preparations with sriracha sauce, peanut sauce, or sambal oelek; eating it practically bare was, in contrast, soporific and calming. It was the perfect intro for a night of doing nothing, nothing, and more nothing.

leftover cabbage pancakesOf course, in the morning I dropped the leftovers into a plain pancake batter, fried them up, and ate them with pungent labneh and sambal. It's all good.

Carrot pickles!

homemade carrot picklesAfter my experiments this fall, my only real question is why I didn't try pickling sooner.

After the success of my refrigerator dills, I decided to branch out. Clearly, one of the key items on the thanksgiving (or maybe pre-thanksgiving) table is always the dish of pickles and olives. So I not only made another batch of dills, but also decided to try out these carrot pickles.

Let's just say that the garden next year will definitely contain more pickle components. Hey, it's winter (or "winter"--but it's foggy today in the south bay, and though that is normal for SF, it is highly abnormal in the valley, and definitely sends a clear message that it's going to be 50F for a while). Winter is the traditional time to get out the graph paper and the seed catalogs to plot out exactly what you want to grow next year. In short, jalapeños and carrots are on the list, and I wouldn't put it past me to plant a cascade of beets for good measure.

homemade carrot pickle ingredientsAfter acquiring a bunch of farmer's market purple carrots, half a red onion, and a jalapeño, I went to work.

The pickle-making process is super simple. I scrubbed the carrots, peeled the onion, and sliced them and the jalapeño into pieces. I made the brine by boiling a cup of water and two cups of vinegar with a quarter cup of canola oil, and seasoned the business with cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper. When the salt was dissolved, I added the chopped veg and cooked everything together for a little over five minutes. Then I decanted everything into a clean quart jar that I'd preheated with hot tap water.

Since I'd made my pickles with the lid on the pan, eliminating most of the evaporation, I ended up with a lot of extra brine. Okay then! I grabbed another couple carrots, scrubbed them, cut them into sticks, put them in another preheated jar, and poured on the additional brine. This way we had both cooked and raw (or only brine-warmed) carrot pickles to try.

homemade carrot picklesAt this point I lidded my jars, let them cool, and stuck them in the fridge. By thanksgiving, three days later, they'd matured into the most perfect instance of spicy pickle I could possibly imagine. Even though we also had a massive tableful of additional dinner, we ate about 1/3 of the quart jar in one go.

A couple things to think about:
- Yes, that is a layer of oil at the top of the jar. I think this is fine; just shake the jar to distribute the oil before opening.
- My brine turned bright pink. This is pretty clearly because I used purple carrots. Yay pink pickles!
- Since these pickles are made with onion and jalapeño, they get hotter over time. Be careful!
- Since these pickles are made with onion and jalapeño, you don't just get pickled carrot--you also get pickled onion and jalapeño.

chicken sandwich with carrot and jalapeno picklesIn fact, after we roasted our post-thanksgiving chicken (what? you don't roast a post-thanksgiving chicken??), and I was looking for something delicious to put on my resulting sandwiches, guess what I found? That's right: my lovely jars of pickles. I didn't use the pickled carrots on the sandwich, though. Instead, I fished out a few of the jalapeño rings and red onions.

On an english muffin with dijon mustard and freshly roasted chicken, they were perhaps the best choice ever.

chicken sandwich with carrot and jalapeno pickle

Orphans' thanksgiving 2011

vegan thanksgiving dinner
roasted root vegetables
lentils vinaigretteIt was an excellent night.

We made:
- Veganomicon cassoulet with olive oil biscuits
- Lentils vinaigrette
- A big green salad with backyard sungold tomatoes
- Mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy
- Roasted mixed root vegetables in vinaigrette
- Garlic dills and spicy carrot pickles
- Maple-roasted cashews

Chrissy and Ben made:
- Tofurky
- Roasted pecan, olive, and grape salad
- Pumpkin pie

There was also plenty of wine.

vegan thanksgiving dinnerNotes:

- I made the vinaigrette dressing (for both salad and roasty veg), the croutons, and the lentils the night before. This worked admirably. The vinaigrette recipe makes over a pint, so you should expect to see it around over the next few months.

- I did not like the cassoulet! It was just kind of stodgy and tasteless. We had added seared marinated tempeh to it, but I kept the spices mild to match the cassoulet recipe. Yeah, no. It would have been a much better idea to just do our customary super-spicy marinade, with maybe some liquid smoke added, and then to sear it separately and strew bits liberally over the top of each serving bacon-style.

- The biscuits, which I made with rice milk, were good. We ate the leftovers for breakfast in the morning.

- For the potato seasoning, we poached a bunch of minced shallot and garlic in olive oil and mashed them in. With some rice milk, salt, and pepper, this made the best mashed potatoes ever. Who says you need butter for mashed potatoes? You do not.

- Similarly, the mushroom gravy was really, really good. It was so much better than last year's version, which did not contain either 1. enough mushrooms or 2. nutritional yeast. This year's version contained plenty of cremini mushrooms and the required nutritional yeast, and it was fabulous on both potatoes and tofurky.

- I really like tofurky! I don't think I'd ever had it before. It was particularly excellent mixed up in a big bite with potatoes and gravy, as all thanksgiving main courses should be.

- So I made garlic croutons, then forgot to put them on the salad! SO SAD.

garlic croutons recipeGarlic croutons

good stale bread
olive oil

Smash and peel a couple of cloves of garlic and steep them in maybe 1/4 cup of olive oil for twenty minutes. In the meantime, get out the loaf of stale bread that's been hiding on top of the refrigerator. Cut it into reasonable crouton pieces. Toss the croutons with the oil, turning well to coat. You can pick the garlic cloves out or leave them in; I left mine in. Then spread the croutons on a baking sheet and bake at 350F until golden brown, paying attention to make sure they don't burn. This took about ten minutes for me, but it'll depend on your bread quality and piece size. Salt the croutons right after you take them out of the oven. Voila! Now you can put them in a container, put it in the cupboard, and forget all about it until after dinner is over.

- The roasted veg were a bit overdone, but still good. This year we had radishes, fingerling potatoes, onion, garlic, carrots, brussels sprouts, and golden beets. Was that it? I think that was it. We just tossed them with vinaigrette, salt, and pepper, added some fresh rosemary and thyme, and roasted at 350F until great.

- Lentils vinaigrette are totally going to become staples in our house. OH MAN. I just ate the last of them today for lunch, and they were still perfectly textured and flavored. Granted, I did use the slightly more expensive (and sturdier, and better textured) Puy lentils instead of standard green, but they are well worth it. If I had to pack a lunch to work, I would definitely be spending a good number of Sundays making big batches of lentils vinaigrette to eat all week. I can just see them sitting in a corner of an excellent bento.

- Then there was pie. Pie pie pie pie pie pie pie. I think there is one piece left for me to eat tonight. Pie.

- Guess what I made out of the leftover mushroom gravy and roasted veg?


thanksgiving omeletI warmed the gravy and root veg in a little saucepan, then made the omelet itself in a regular nonstick. I used two eggs and followed the classic Julia Child omelet method (that is video, for those of you). When the eggs were 90% cooked, I poured in the gravy and veg, folded the omelet over, let it cook for another 30 seconds or so, and flipped it out of the pan.

With a handful of chopped parsley and forgotten garlic croutons strewn over the top, this omelet became perhaps the best leftover thanksgiving concoction ever.

thanksgiving omelet with garlic croutons

22 November 2011

Thanksgiving run-up

Sunday I brought home double our usual amount of vegetables from the farmer's market. Yesterday we made the actual grocery store run. I also made carrot pickles, which I will discuss once I get the pictures actually on a computing device of some kind. Of course, I have to make a vast spread of holiday food first.

In the meantime, I'm taking a cue from Jes and compiling this list of last-minute American thanksgiving dinner ideas. The majority of these are vegetarian, for those of you. Anyway. Go forth!

Pre-dinner snacks

- Marinated olives, toasted nuts, and vegetable crudités, none of which you need me to tell you about.
- Refrigerator pickles.
- Salami rolls.
- A few little bowls of hand-popped popcorn.
- Hummus and pita or carrots is never a bad idea.
- Red wine is always a nice thing to drink over an afternoon of cooking.

Soups & stews

- Black bean sweet potato soup, a classic at our house.
- Tuscan white bean soup.
- Brandied tomato rice soup: much more than the sum of its parts.
- Split pea soup is always great for blustery evenings.
- French onion soup.
- Carrot and white bean soup.


- Grain salads: quinoa, rice, barley, or even wheat berry are all good, and can be made the night before. They can also all take cooked chickpeas to boost the overall protein content.
- Green salads with fruit: spinach salad with walnuts and dried cranberries or fall salad with pear, pecans and dried blueberries.
- Shredded salads: Red cabbage and apple salad or carrot salad.
- Salads of root vegetables: beet and goat cheese salad, raw beet, pear, and cashew salad, or the slightly unseasonal (but maybe welcome in SoCal) potato and green bean salad.

Other vegetables

- Roasted mixed vegetables vinaigrette, which you can make with nearly any winter veg, and which is great with fresh rosemary.
- Mashed sweet potatoes with garlic and ginger.
- Sautéed apples and onions, for that sweet-savory element.
- Sautéed kale (or other greens) with garlic. Tres facil et tres vogue. No, seriously, kale is up there in recent food trends.
- Baked winter squash, which you can then mash with butter & spices of your choosing.
- Cabbage braised in red wine, which is classic for a reason.
- Brussels sprouts with bacon, which are way down at the bottom.

Baked items: savory or neutral

- Olive oil baking powder biscuits.
- Cornbread. I usually use the Veganomicon recipe (though I sometimes unveganize it), but go with your favorite.
- Stuffing with shallots. It's sort of baked, right?

Baked items: sweet

- Cranberry bread: get those cranberries into your body without eating cranberry sauce (which I for one find disgusting even if homemade and beautiful)!
- Chocolate chunk banana bread. Breakfast!
- Apple pie, which is allll the way down at the bottom.
- Fruit crumble or crisp, which you will of course want to make with apples, pears, plums, or other winter fruit.
- Speaking of plums, you can always make another plum cake.
- And though I've never made it myself, our traditional family thanksgiving dessert is pumpkin chiffon pie.

Fill in that menu! You can do it!

17 November 2011

Israeli couscous is the best

Israeli couscous and chickpea salad recipeWait, how did we get into the actual run-up to thanksgiving? I still have to talk about fairly summery things! The leaves are still predominantly green! My tomatoes are still alive! And, well, this is living in California: being unprepared for every seasonal event because the weather outside doesn't match the calendar in your head.

So let's talk about Israeli couscous. I have had a bulk bag of it in my freezer for six months, but have somehow never eaten any until now. This, it turns out, was a mistake. I want more!

Israeli couscous & chickpea salad

olive oil/butter
Israeli couscous
more onion
hot chili pepper
cooked chickpeas
sweet or mild pepper
dry vermouth
oregano, salt, black pepper
lemon juice & zest
optional grating cheese, or feta if that floats your boat

Ok. First, you're going to need two pans: one to cook your couscous and the other to stew all your vegetables together into a wash of deliciousness.

I had to look up how to cook Israeli couscous, since I'd never done it before. The main issue was the proportion of water to pasta (because Israeli couscous is actually pasta; did you know?). I found the solution in this Chowhound thread; evidently, one should measure a specific amount of Israeli couscous, barely cover with water, and then add the same amount of water as couscous. Great! However, I didn't just cook the couscous alone. Instead, I flavored it with onion cooked in olive oil.

Start by warming some olive oil in the bottom of your intended couscous saucepan and sautéing half a chopped yellow onion in it. When the onion is translucent, add a cup of dry couscous, cover it with water, and add another cup of water. Put the lid on, bring it to a boil, turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and let the pan sit while you cook everything else. It should take about ten minutes to produce perfect Israeli couscous.

In the meantime, make your vast vegetable mass. So. Warm some more olive oil in a wide sauté pan, add chopped onion, minced garlic, and minced hot pepper, and let everything soften together for a few minutes.

Next, drain a can of cooked chickpeas and added them to the pan along with some oregano, salt, and pepper. I think I may have added a splash of water at this point too. Obviously, chickpeas you soak and boil yourself will be better, but I used canned and they worked just fine.

chickpeas and zucchiniGive the chickpeas five minutes or so to heat through while you dice a pepper (preferably red bell, though you can use an Anaheim or banana if you want) and chop a zucchini into thin quarter-moons. Add the vegetables to the pan and cook on medium-high, stirring occasionally. When your vegetables are three or four minutes from done, deglaze the pan with dry vermouth. Give everything another few minutes over the heat to burn off the alcohol. Then correct the seasonings and turn off the heat.

By this point your couscous should be done. Pour the couscous into the vegetable pan, add the juice and finely chopped zest of a quarter of a lemon, and mix everything together. Taste for seasonings one last time; besides the obvious salt and pepper, you might need to add a little more olive oil or lemon juice. Some fresh parsley couldn't hurt, either.

Now scoop some couscous into a bowl, grate some cheese over the top if you like, and eat.

Israeli couscous & chickpea saladI had this for dinner and then immediately the next morning for breakfast, and I'm happy to report that it was just as good cold as it was hot. That's how I like my food: great at any speed.

11 November 2011


plum cakeThere were excellent pluots at the farmer's market, so I made a plum yogurt cake. Yay cake!

I've made this type of fruit-ridden cake several times before. The key seems to be pushing the fruit well down into the batter before baking. That way, large quantities of plums and juice are trapped inside the crust, making the finished cake damp and tender.

This current variation required not only yogurt but an additional egg. Even though I switched out the regular flour for whole wheat, the result was still strikingly more rich and fluffy than my cake of last December. I think the flavor is roughly equivalent, however.

plum cakeAnyway, the point is: CAKE. I have cake and I will eat it. Probably I will even split a few slices in half and spread a spoonful of labneh on each. I will almost certainly also have tea.

09 November 2011

Oven-dried sungolds

sungold tomatoesI've been meaning to make these dried sungolds in olive oil for a very long time. This year, with the onslaught of tomatoes bursting out of our backyard, I gave them a try.

First, I went out to the garden and picked all the ripe tomatoes I could find. (I also picked up one big green purple cherokee that I accidentally knocked off its vine. It has since turned mostly red in the sun on the kitchen windowsill.) Yes, the tomatoes are still alive. Yes, they are still slowly ripening, even though it has finally gotten at least a little chilly. No, it was not difficult at all to find this many.

sungold tomatoesIt only took me about ten minutes to wash the sungolds, cut them in half, and arrange them cut side up on a cookie sheet. I had just enough to cover the entire sheet.

Then I turned the oven to 200F, deposited the cookie sheet inside, stuck a wooden spoon in the door to allow for air circulation, and went about my business for several hours.

When the tomatoes were shriveled but still chewy, I took them out of the oven and packed them into a jar with chopped basil and minced garlic. If you don't happen to have any fresh herbs, or you want plain oven-dried tomato goodness, I'm sure you could just put them in the jar alone. I covered the entire shebang with olive oil, let it cool on the counter, and stuck it in the fridge. Voila!

oven-dried sungold tomatoes in olive oilSince I'm keeping my jar in the fridge, the olive oil gradually turned cloudy and coagulated. This is fine. I plan to just leave my jar out on the counter for an hour or so to warm up before using the tomatoes in any sort of uncooked context.

I have not yet actually eaten any of these! Maybe I should bust them out for lunch today, in a sandwich with some cream cheese and spinach. Or maybe I should make some pasta and throw a big spoonful in at the last minute. Or I could drain off the oil, chop the tomatoes, and knead them into pizza dough...HMMM.

08 November 2011

Apple cheddar bread

Apple cheddar breadIt is actually fall in California! Hooray!

To celebrate, I rediscovered baking.

Since the farmer's market sort-outs bin has been overflowing with hail-scarred apples, I decided to make Everybody Likes Sandwiches's apple cheddar bread. I subbed whole wheat flour for the all-purpose, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly as written.

I think it's important to measure your apples precisely for this recipe. I didn't measure mine, and almost certainly used about a third of a cup more than recommended. This made the inside of the loaf so damp that it had a hard time cooking through. So that's something to avoid. I think next time I'd also try baking individual bready dudes in a muffin tin, for optimal heat penetration and portability.

Apple cheddar breadStill, after some extra time in the oven, the bread turned out to be especially great for breakfast. Sticking slices in the toaster oven made them perfect: slightly damp and steamy in the middle, yet crispy and delicious on all sides.

03 November 2011

Shrimp & lemon zest soup

Shrimp & lemon zest soupHey look, another beautiful 9 pm picture!

I made this soup on a night when nothing sounded good and making the effort to cook a big dinner seemed impossible. So I checked the freezer, found the emergency shrimp, and concocted a plan.

Shrimp & lemon zest soup

veg/fish/shrimp broth
green beans
frozen shrimp (defrosted, deveined, & peeled except for the tail)
salt, pepper, red pepper flake
a lemon
fresh parsley, chervil, or tarragon to garnish

First, make yourself a pot of broth. I made our standard vegetable broth, which I cooked for about 15 minutes total. If you want to make fish or shrimp stock, you'll want to simmer it for about a half hour instead.

In a separate pot, warm up some olive oil and sauté several cloves of chopped garlic. Cut a big handful of green beans per person into inch-long pieces and add them to the pot. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flake, and let everything cook together while you defrost and shell shrimp. After about five minutes, strain your broth and add it to the main veg pot. Bring everything to a boil, then add six or eight shrimp per person. Boil until the shrimp are totally cooked through; this should take maybe two or three minutes total.

While your shrimp are cooking, peel a couple strips of lemon zest off your lemon and slice them into fine strips. When the shrimp are done, correct seasonings, turn off the heat, squeeze a big wedge of lemon per person into the pot, and add the lemon zest. Stir it all up and serve with chopped parsley, cracked black pepper, and any other fresh herbs that sound good to you.

This was way, WAY more than the sum of its parts, and it’s all due to the the lemon zest. While the parsley garnish was good, chopped tarragon or chervil would be even better. I’d also consider making a dedicated tomato and shrimp shell broth with a tiny pinch of saffron. YEAH!

01 November 2011

More liqueur experimentation: the 44

French44 liqueur recipeMore vodka infusions! More!

This time I thought I'd try out a French liqueur, the 44. Essentially, you stuff an orange with 44 coffee beans, put it in a jar with 44 sugar cubes, and fill the entire thing with vodka. After aging for 44 days, you remove the orange and strain out any particulates. Then you drink it in good health and good conscience.

Here's what 44 coffee beans look like:

44 coffee beansI used Blue Bottle's Three Africans, a bag of which has been in my freezer for an inordinately long time. We really need to get a decent coffee grinder one of these days. Does anyone want to recommend a good grinder producing a uniform coarse grind that works well in a French press?

Anyway. I grabbed a knitting needle (a size 5 aluminum double-point, for those of you) and stabbed a whole bunch of holes all over my orange.

The orange in question came from one of our copious neighborhood trees. It wasn't very big (so it fit through the regular mouth of my quart jar) but it was super fragrant and juicy. In fact, I ended up holding the orange over the mouth of the jar to catch the juice and orange oil while I stuffed the coffee beans in the holes.

The knitting needle made holes small enough to totally envelop all the coffee beans. When I was finished stuffing the orange, they were only visible as slightly dark spots underneath the peel.

orange stuffed with coffee beansSince we don't generally have sugar cubes lying around, my next step was to check the internet to find out how much sugar each cube contains. Apparently the answer is one teaspoon. 44 teaspoons equals .92 cups. Since we don't like overly sweet liqueurs, I halved that amount and used a touch under half a cup of brown sugar.

Then I filled the jar with vodka, shook it all up (lid on, of course), and deposited it in the cupboard to age for the requisite 44 days. My finished liqueur should be ready to drink on December 9th.

Now all I have to do is wait patiently. Boo!

31 October 2011

My dinner with Chrissy

Last weekend Chrissy came up from Santa Cruz to hang out! Yay! We made mimosas and peanut somen to celebrate.

peanut somenThis instance of peanut somen included a diced yellow carrot, a big pile of shredded green cabbage, a bunch of powdered ginger (though fresh would be far superior), and a not even remotely authentic poblano pepper.

Start by chopping and sautéing a bunch of onion and garlic in olive oil and a touch of sesame oil. You can also use the whites of green onion if you want; save the greens for garnish. Peanut oil would clearly be great here too.

Dice a hot pepper; scrub and chop a carrot; shred up a whole bunch of cabbage. Add all these to the pan, season everything with some pepper, sambal oelek, ginger, and soy sauce, and cook.

Item: you should always use twice as much cabbage as you think.

cabbage and carrotsWe used about a third of a large head of cabbage. It was not enough. More cabbage! MORE!

Once the onion & garlic, poblano, cabbage, and carrot were soft, we added a big spoonful of peanut butter, a splash of rice vinegar, and a head of chopped broccoli. Be sure to use the broccoli stem! Just peel it, chop it up, and throw it in there. I actually think this is the best part. You may want to add a little water to loosen the sauce as well.

peanut somen with cabbage and carrotsWhen everything is cooked through, correct any seasonings. I like to add more sambal at the end, since earlier additions become sweet with cooking.

Finally, cook your somen, drain it, and add it to the pan. Somen only takes about a minute to cook, so as long as you have hot water ready, you can just boil it on the spot. Add it to the pan in small batches, stirring thoroughly after each addition. This keeps your noodles from sticking together in one big clump. You're welcome.

Divide your noodles and veg into bowls. Top with any garnishes you want; chopped peanuts, green onion, toasted sesame seeds, cilantro leaves, or a couple drops of sesame oil all work well.

Eat. Drink mimosas. Realize that mimosas do not go with peanut somen whatsoever. Have a glass of water instead.

And yes, this was technically our brunch with Chrissy, but that title just doesn't have the same ring, does it?

28 October 2011

Ol' Reliable

ol' reliable seared tempeh saladThe other day, John and I were discussing which dinners we would eat with no pause, no matter what mood we were in. The Ol' Reliable--a green salad with seared marinated tempeh--tops the list. (Other candidates included the Big Pan of Enchiladas and the Massive Stockpot of Chili.)

Man, do I love the Ol' Reliable.

We have made and eaten it many, many times. Here's one with carrots, frisee, and mushrooms. Here's one with cherry tomatoes and marinade-based salad dressing. This current salad features mushrooms, sungold tomatoes, cucumber, yellow carrot, and green onion over a farmer's market mesclun mix.

The basic premise is always the same: marinate cubed tempeh in your choice of delicious marinade. Sear. Throw on top of salad greens. Add vegetables and dressing of your choice. Eat. Feel better.

Our base marinade for tempeh is generally olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sriracha, crushed garlic, fresh rosemary, and veg broth, with whatever other additions sound good at the time. The vegetables can range anywhere from plain greens with no dressing to a huge melange of whatever's in the crisper. It's all good.

27 October 2011

Refrigerator pickles!

refrigerator garlic dill picklesOne vegetable I planted for our ceremonial first in-ground garden was cucumber. Why not? Cucumbers are great and crispy and full of life-giving water! They also seem to go bad very quickly after being bought in, say, a store. Clearly, keeping them on the vine until we want to eat them is the perfect solution. So I started some Japanese cucumber seeds, transplanted the seedlings into the ground beside our garage, and trained the resulting vines around a couple tomato cages to ward off any potential ground rot.

Then we went off to Oregon for vacation. When we came back, the vines looked normal and healthy. The cucumbers, however, had erupted into 12-inch behemoths. I picked one to use for salads. It took us more than a week to get through maybe half of it. In the meantime, the rest of the cucumbers were getting bigger and bigger.

Well. It was clearly time to make some pickles. Yay, pickles!

homegrown cucumberSince there are so many different pickles out there, I thought I'd start with a small refrigerator batch. That way, if we loved them, we could make more, and if we hated them, we'd only be out a few cups of brine. So I went over to Food in Jars and found these refrigerator dills. Perfect.

So, after acquiring the dill seed that I for one totally did not have kicking around the spice cabinet, I chopped a single cucumber into a bunch of 5-inch spears and set out to make two pints of refrigerator dills. Obviously, I used a Japanese cucumber instead of a bunch of Kirbys. I also changed the apple cider vinegar to plain white vinegar, because that's what was in our cabinet. Otherwise, I went entirely by the book:

- Wash cucumber, trim ends, and cut into spears.
- Boil 3/4 c water and 3/4 c vinegar with 2 tsp salt until salt dissolves.
- Get out two pint jars; add 2 peeled garlic cloves, 2 chopped green onion whites, and 1 tsp dill seed to each.
- Cram cucumber spears into jars.
- Pour hot brine over cucumbers, leaving 1/4 inch of space.
- Cap, cool, and store in the refrigerator.

refrigerator garlic dill picklesYes, that is one cucumber.

While I was filling my jars, I kept flashing back to the bit of Emily of New Moon (or was it Emily Climbs? Who knows) in which Emily learns how to put pickles in jars in patterns. I most certainly didn't get my pickles into the jars in any sort of pattern. I was just happy to get them upright in the jars with minimal crushage.

I was a little wary of the result, since most pickle recipes I've seen use actual heads of fresh dill instead of seeds (of course, there must be seeds in the heads, but still). So we gave the pickles their alloted day to set, then cracked open a jar and tried some. Verdict: these are some good dill pickles. Since the cucumbers aren't cooked, they are super crunchy and light in color, while still providing a significant garlic-dill kick. Success! I will pay $3.50 for a jar of pickles no more again forever!

26 October 2011

Roasted tomato & tempeh loaf sandwich

At least the tomatoes are in the oven this time, right?

roasted vegetables and tempehWe actually had this excellent dinner nearly a month ago! That's ok, though--it's way more appropriate for a brisk fall day than a sunny summer one.

In this instance, we wanted a whole lot of roasted vegetables plus tempeh seasoned to approximate meatloaf, so we could have a dinner of fall veg and pseudo-meatloaf sandwiches.

So. First I marinated strips of tempeh in a mix of veg broth, ketchup, hot sauce, soy sauce, sriracha, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, crushed garlic cloves, and probably some fresh rosemary. The secret ingredient to practically any good tempeh marinade is rosemary, in my experience.

We don't steam the tempeh before marinating it. However, we generally do make the veg broth immediately before marinating, so the marinade itself is pretty warm. I'm not sure whether this has any effect on the supposed bitterness of tempeh, since I have nothing to compare against. It works fine.

While my tempeh was marinating, I cut a whole bunch of potatoes into steak fries and broccoli into florets, tossed each pile with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put them all in a 350/375F oven to bake.

roast cherry tomatoesNext, I washed a bunch of cherry tomatoes, tossed them with the aforementioned olive oil, salt, and pepper, and threw them in the oven as well.

After the vegetables were about halfway done, it was time to cook the tempeh. I decided to just throw the strips in the oven, basting occasionally as they cooked. While this did produce tasty tempeh, it also produced a pan that was nearly impossible to clean. I'd recommend just searing off your tempeh in a decent frying pan instead.

When everything was done, I whipped it all out of the oven, toasted some bread, and made some tempeh loaf sandwiches. Here, have a terribly lit 9 pm picture!

roast tempeh sandwichJohn's sandwich had just tempeh, mustard, and lots of lettuce; my sandwich had all of the above plus a big layer of the roasted tomatoes. This meant my sandwich was substantially more drippy. That didn't matter. It was totally worth it.