28 July 2011

Zucchini-chickpea pancakes

Zucchini-chickpea pancakesPancakes! Fritters! Fried vegetables encased in a batter of some kind! I heart them, yes I do.

These dudes are perfect to make when you have a massive zucchini vine that seems to sprout new babies on a daily basis. My zucchini plant only has three leaves right now, since I planted the seeds really late in the season, but yours may not! Even if you have no garden whatsoever, guess what's abundant and cheap at the farmer's market? That's right: zucchini.

Zucchini-chickpea pancakes

chickpea flour
fresh basil
salt, pepper, paprika
olive oil

First, make a batter with roughly equal amounts of chickpea flour and water--maybe a cup of each. I totally never measure for these, so add more water or more flour if you need it. Aim for the consistency of pancake batter.

Next, cut up your zucchini and basil; I used one and a half medium zucchini and a big handful of basil leaves. You can either grate the zucchini or julienne by hand. If you want to work by hand, I think it's easiest to cut the zucchini lengthwise into three or four slices, then stack and slice on the diagonal. For the basil, just chop roughly.

Mix your zucchini and basil into the batter. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika.

You want a high proportion of vegetables to batter, so they're just coated. If you have too much vegetable content, add a bit more flour and water; if you have too much batter, add some more zucchini.

Zucchini-chickpea pancakesHeat up a nonstick or cast iron pan on high. Add a little olive oil and swirl to coat. Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the pan, flattening them and filling in any gaps with the back of your spoon. Work a few at a time, so you have space.

When the first sides are browned, flip them over. If your pancakes are really thick, you may want to give them a minute to start browning on the second side, then put a splash of water in the pan, slap on the lid, lower the heat, and let steam for a minute; this way the middle of each is sure to be cooked. Otherwise, just continue to sear, turning the heat down a bit if they start to get over-brown.

Zucchini-chickpea pancakesAs you finish each batch of pancakes, remove them to a plate and cover them with a paper towel, or keep them warm in a low oven, uncovered. Repeat until all the batter is cooked.

These are good on their own, but they're much better with something delicious on top. I had mine with diced tomato and some drops of sriracha sauce, but all kinds of stuff would work. White bean and garlic puree, roasted corn, hummus, baba ghanouj, black bean salsa: whatever.

I made seven 3-inch pancakes and ate them all.

25 July 2011

Tempeh chard braise

Tempeh chard braiseIt shouldn't surprise anybody to hear that the meat substitute of choice at our house is tempeh. (If only we could buy it downtown! But no.) We usually marinate it, sear it, and serve it on top of a gigantic green salad.

The other day, we had tempeh, but no salad greens. Instead, we had kale and chard. This could work, right?

Braised tempeh with chard

olive oil
vegetable broth
tomato sauce
soy sauce
red wine vinegar
red pepper flake, fennel seed, oregano
chard (stems & leaves)
salt, pepper

Start by marinating the tempeh. First, cut your block of tempeh into pieces about an inch square and half an inch thick. In a large bowl, mix together about 1/4 cup of olive oil, a cup of vegetable broth, a couple big spoonfuls of tomato sauce, a few minimal shakes of soy sauce and red wine vinegar, and several cloves of crushed, peeled garlic. Since I was working from frozen vegetable broth and tomato sauce, I heated them both up on the stovetop before I added them to the mix. Season the marinade with red pepper flake, fennel seed, and oregano. A bay leaf couldn't hurt, either.

marinating tempehPut all your tempeh into the marinade, arranging it so it's totally covered by liquid. If you don't have enough liquid, you can add a bit more broth.

Now leave the tempeh to marinate for at least a half hour, and preferably longer. An hour or two is ideal. I personally tend to cut my time as short as possible, because I start cooking when I'm already hungry, but I haven't noticed a huge difference in flavor with a longer marinade.

While your tempeh is soaking, wash a bunch of chard. I used one of the gargantuan bunches with stems two inches wide, partly because they were taking up inordinate room in the refrigerator and partly because I wanted substantial stem content. If you're using smaller chard, you may want to use two bunches. Any color should work fine. Cut (or rip) the leaves off the stems and separate into two piles. Trim your stems and cut them into convenient half-inch pieces. If you have gargantuan chard, cut each stem vertically a few times before you mince across. Essentially, you want to treat it like celery and cut it accordingly.

using chard stemsGive the leaves a rough chop, keeping them separate from the stems. Now set everything aside until your tempeh has marinated enough to cook.

When you're ready, heat up a frying pan, preferably one large enough to hold all your tempeh in one layer. Nonstick or cast iron is good. Warm some olive oil in the pan, add your tempeh (reserving the marinade), and sear. When you've got a reasonable brown color on each side, pour the marinade into the pan and bring it to a simmer. Add your chopped chard stems, turn the heat down to medium, and cook everything together, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the tempeh and stems are tender. Add the chard leaves and a little salt and pepper, mix, and cook for another minute, or until the greens are wilted. Correct seasonings, and you're done.

We ate our tempeh and chard by themselves, but clearly this would be great over rice, barley, or whatever grain you like. If you want to go nuts (or serve more people) you could even do risotto. Voila: dinner!

22 July 2011

Midsummer farmer's market

midsummer farmer's market$25 got me:

- 1 dozen brown eggs
- loaf of bread
- bag of grape tomatoes
- bag of green beans
- 2 zucchini
- 1 cucumber
- 1 head celery (which I'm actually v. excited to use to make celery salt)
- 4 ordinary tomatoes
- 2 heirloom tomatoes
- 3 bell peppers
- 3 mildish hot peppers
- 1 red onion
- 2 yellow onions
- 1 head garlic
- 3 yellow pluots
- & 3 white nectarines.

18 July 2011

Strawberry cake

strawberry cakeStrawberry update: I totally made the cake Rebecca recommended. Since I don' t have anything even faintly resembling a springform pan, I used a smallish rectangular pyrex casserole dish. I also used whole wheat flour instead of the presumptive white. Together, these two circumstances resulted in a cake too shallow for the berries to really sink in and provide moisture. The result tasted good, but it was dry.

After some experimentation, I concluded that the best way to save dryish strawberry cake is to toast it in the toaster oven, split it in half, and spread it with peanut butter. Voila: peanut butter and jelly sandwich cake! In conclusion, I win.

14 July 2011

Awesome salad

salad with everythingClearly, in the heat of the summer (such as it is here in weirdo California--why is it 68F out today after a week of 95F days in April?), no one wants hot food. Therefore, I present: salad.

The big problem with green salad is that it often isn't filling, so you end up staring balefully into the refrigerator 45 minutes after you're supposedly done with dinner. Let's combat this.

What can you put in salad to keep it cool, yet make it substantial?
- Cooked kidney beans, white beans, chickpeas, or what have you. Canned beans are always a good idea when you don't want to heat up the kitchen. You can always toss them with some vinaigrette or quickly saute them with some oil and garlic to improve the flavor.
- Cold meat, such as shredded chicken, tuna, or some finely sliced beef. The problem here is that you often have to cook the meat beforehand. It's a great use for leftovers, though.
- Grains, especially those with substantial protein. Quinoa is the clear star here, but things like bulgur and barley work as well. Using a rice cooker keeps the heat to a minimum, and you can always make a large batch and eat it cold the next day.
- Eggs. A fried egg over a crisp green salad and croutons is a total treat, and takes three minutes to cook. Hard-boiled eggs take a bit longer, but can be done in larger batches, kept for days, and served completely cold.

I decided to go the hard-boiled route.

egg and green bean saladEgg and green bean salad

green beans
a good vinaigrette (or oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.)

The proportion of eggs to beans is up to you; I like using slightly more beans than eggs.

First, hard-boil your eggs. Everyone has their own best method for this. Since we've moved to our awesome new house, complete with a real powerhouse of a stove, I've changed my method. I put the eggs in the cold pan, cover them with water, and bring them to a boil. After boiling for one minute, covered, I turn off the heat and just let the pot sit for five to six minutes. Then I take out the eggs, rinse them thoroughly in cold water, cover them with ice, and put then in the refrigerator to chill. This produces perfect eggs with a tiny dimple of damp at the center of the yolk. However, since everyone's kitchens are different, you should do whatever works best for you.

While your eggs are chilling, cook your beans. I reuse the hot egg water for this, so as not to deal with multiple pots of boiling water in the middle of July. Just wash the beans, trim them, cut them into bite-size pieces, and boil for about three minutes, or until they're done to your taste. Rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking.

By this time, your eggs should be cool enough to peel. Whack them all over with the back of a spoon, and start peeling at the wide end. Once you get under the membrane, the whole peel should come off pretty easily. If you're having trouble, try peeling the eggs under a little stream of water.

Chop your eggs roughly. Put them in a bowl with your beans and a couple spoonfuls of vinaigrette. Mix, mashing the yolks with the back of a spoon, until there's a faint coating of yolk over all the beans and egg whites. Taste and adjust any seasonings.

Now, how do you want to eat your salad?

- Plain, in a bowl. This is usually my first choice, because I am lazy and this salad is good on its own.
- In a sandwich. Yes. Sounds weird; is awesome. Toast bread (or not), spread with dijon mustard or a touch of olive oil, add salad, lettuce, and whatever other vegetable sounds good (roasted red pepper?), and eat. Awesome.
- In another salad. You know how some delis and diners make tuna or chicken salad plates, featuring a big green salad topped with the prepared meat? You can totally do this with any substantial salad. I actually ended up with both my egg-green bean salad and some carrot salad leftovers, so I decided to use them both. The resulting salad: mesclun mix, egg/bean and carrot salads, chopped grape tomatoes, and finely sliced radishes, with a bare scraping of vinaigrette.

Now eat it. Hooray: cold, vegetable-ridden summer lunch!

12 July 2011

6 pints of strawberries for $6

too many strawberriesSo when I went to the farmer's market I not only hauled home 5 pounds of tomatoes (not to mention a loaf of bread, 6 eggs, a bag of corn on the cob, two tomato plants, three bunches of greens, and an assortment of other odds and ends), but also half a flat of strawberries.

We ate one pint pretty immediately. Ok, actually more like two pints. Good so far. Now, what are we going to do with the rest?

The obvious answer here is "make jam." Well, there's a problem with that, and the problem is that we don't eat jam. I occasionally have apricot jam on my toast, but "occasionally" = "in spurts of two or three successive occasions, four months apart."

Next: wash, cut, and freeze them, so you can use them for smoothies et al at your leisure. Ok, but I don't really drink smoothies. I suppose I could make the berries into ice cream at some point in the future, but I've never been too into strawberry ice cream either.

Ok. What if I made a pie? What if I made two or three pies, or a couple cookie sheets' worth of hand pies? Then I could freeze those, and have fresh baked strawberry or mixed berry pie at my leisure. Granted, a lot of strawberry pies and tarts are best with fresh uncooked fruit, but this still seems like a pretty good idea so far.

What if I made a crumble with all the different bits of fruit scattered throughout the fridge? That could go in the freezer as easily as a pie, or it could be breakfast for the next week.

Or I could go the other direction, and turn them savory. Spinach salad with strawberries and poppyseed dressing is always a good plan. That's the only thing that comes to mind though. Do you guys have any other good savory ideas for strawberries?

In the meantime, I recommend this strategy: before you go anywhere, wash a couple handfuls of strawberries and stick them in a travel-friendly container. Throw this in your bag. Then, whenever you're hungry, don't go to the bagel shop or the drugstore; instead, bust out your excellent strawberries.

11 July 2011

Tomato sass

how to skin tomatoesYesterday was totally food project day at our house.

My top stop at the farmer's market is the sort out bin: 65 cents a pound for a random assortment of supbar and overabundant vegetables. This weekend the bins were full of slightly bruised but intact tomatoes, so I filled a bag, dragged it all the way around the market, and then hauled my complete load of produce home. I think I may have to get a wagon or something in the future.

At home, we immediately started on the road to tomato sauce.

This stuff is designed for storage, so we kept it simple. This way we can use the resulting sauce for practically anything with no ill effect. I might even cut out the garlic in our next batch.

Basic tomato sauce

tomatoes (lots)
olive oil
yellow onion

Essentially, we're going to skin the tomatoes, then stew them down with the onion and garlic.

To skin tomatoes, put a pot of water on to boil. Core your tomatoes and cut a shallow cross through their blossom ends. When the water is boiling, gently lower your tomatoes into the pan. We used a large pasta pot and pasta insert, so we could dip all our tomatoes simultaneously. Leave the tomatoes in the boiling water for approximately one minute before lifting them out. When the air hits the tomatoes, their skins should start to split; if this doesn't happen (i.e. if you used so many tomatoes at once that they made the water temperature drop dramatically), you may want to put them back in the water for another 30 seconds or so.

Drain your tomatoes and let them cool. Dump the water out--if you have a lot of tomato matter in your water, you may want to save it for stock--and put the pot back on the heat. Add a generous slug of olive oil, a chopped yellow onion or two, and a handful of whole peeled garlic cloves. The proportions here are entirely up to you. We had about five pounds of tomatoes, so two medium onions and eight garlic cloves were plenty. If you're using more tomatoes, you may want to use more onion and garlic. Or you may want to omit them entirely, and just stew your tomato with a little olive oil and salt. Whatever floats your boat is fine.

Let your onion and garlic cook down over medium heat until they're beginning to caramelize. Stir occasionally to make sure everything is getting cooked evenly.

When the onion and garlic have just developed some delicious brown edges, it's time to add the tomatoes. Pick up a tomato and peel off the skin with your hands, making sure to keep as much flesh as possible. It's best to do this over the pot so you catch all the delicious juice. If you like, you can squeeze the skinned tomato in your hand before you drop it into the pot; otherwise, it's fine to chuck it in whole. Repeat until you are out of tomatoes.

Salt the tomatoes, stir everything together, and bring the pot to a simmer. Put the lid on the pot, leaving a half-inch crack to let steam escape. Turn down the heat.

Now let everything stew together for at least a good hour, and probably more like two. Stir every once in a while, making sure to gloat appropriately.

homemade tomato sauce recipeWhen the volume of tomatoes has reduced by about half, consider whether you want to puree your sauce. This is totally a matter of preference; I could go either way. For this batch, we took the pan off the heat (important!) and tackled it with the stick blender. If you like more texture, feel free to leave the sauce chunky.

From here, you can either store the sauce or cook it down even further. The longer you cook, the thicker and more concentrated your sauce. I personally just like to cook my sauce down until it's not watery at all, so we let the pot simmer for another half hour or so.

When your sauce has reached ultimate consistency, it is done. Hooray! Now you can either use it immediately, as you would use any tomato sauce, or you can store it. I put mine in the freezer; canning is also an option, for those of you.

Results: a good five or six cups of homemade tomato sauce. We win cooking!

07 July 2011

July 4th weekend

It was hot. There were fireworks three nights in a row. We ate a lot of salad.

barley and pepper saladBarley salad with red pepper, yellowy-greeny bell pepper, red onion, kalamata olives, parsley, salt and pepper, and dijon vinaigrette.

carrot garlic saladCarrot salad with olive oil, lemon juice, a couple small cloves of garlic, and salt and pepper. This was not enough garlic for four carrots, fyi. I think one clove per carrot is a good plan in future.

lamb burgerOf course, I also made and ate a lamb burger at about 10 pm Saturday night. Mix ground lamb, breadcrumbs, minced ginger and garlic, and diced jalapeño; gently form into burger; cook on high heat for about 3 minutes per side; eat on good toasty bread with mustard, lettuce, and the first farmer's market tomato of the year. This one was purple cherokee.

06 July 2011

Plums everywhere

So guess what happens when you have a plum tree in the backyard?

too many plumsIf you said, "one afternoon, you end up spontaneously filling a bag with all the fruit you can reach," you get a gold star.

freezing plumsIf you said, "you spend half an hour halving and pitting all the fruit so it can go into the freezer," you get another gold star.

too many plumsIf you said, "then you break out the ladder and end up doing it all over again," you get a third gold star.

Hell, gold stars for everybody.

05 July 2011

Massive scramble

scrambled eggs with kaleMassive scramble

yellowy-greeny pepper (or whatever you've got)
salt, pepper

Soften chopped onion and garlic in butter over medium-high heat; add chopped peppers and cook down. Meanwhile, wash, destem, and chop twice as much kale as you think you need. Toss kale into pan, salt lightly, stir, and let cook for another five minutes, or until seriously wilted and tender.

In a separate bowl, beat as many eggs as you want. We used three eggs for two people. Add a little salt, lots of pepper, and sriracha or other hot pepper sauce to taste. When the vegetables are cooked through, turn the heat down to medium and pour the eggs into the pan. Scramble with adequate spatula.

When the eggs are cooked to your liking, shovel them onto a plate. Eat with buttered toast, preferably in spontaneous egg sandwich form. Drink tea. Be full and happy.