29 February 2012

Poached salmon with vegetable melange

poached salmon with vegetable melangeI know several people who find cooking fish difficult and scary. For you, I have a suggestion: why not poach it?

Poaching is perhaps the easiest possible way to cook a thick fillet of fish. All you have to do is bring about two inches of water to a boil, reduce the heat to low, put in your fish, and simmer very gently for maybe five minutes, depending on thickness. That's it. Your fish stays moist and juicy, since you are cooking it in liquid. There's also no way you can possibly burn a piece of fish submerged in water.

If you want to up the ante, you can always poach your piece of fish in a pan of court bouillon or other light broth, but I think water is entirely adequate.

poached salmonOn this occasion, I poached half a fillet--maybe 6 ounces--of salmon. If you want to use some other kind of fish, be my guest.

For the vegetables, we chopped up a bunch of shallots, mushrooms, tomatoes, and zucchini, and sautéed them with olive oil and a little salt. We deglazed with vermouth near the end of cooking, scattered chopped parsley and capers over the vegetables, and finished with a squeeze of lemon juice and a couple grinds of pepper. Then we plated the finished salmon fillet and poured the vegetables over it.

poached salmon with vegetable melangeThis resulted in an entirely filling and delicious yet super fast and easy dinner. Bonus: since I was really only eating fish and vegetables, I felt awesome afterward.

Make some!

28 February 2012

Leftover pasta? Fry it!

whole wheat spaghetti with chardSo the other day I had a big bowl of whole wheat spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, red pepper, and chard for dinner. This went about like you'd think: soften garlic in oil, add chard stems and red pepper, season, cook to soften, add chard leaves, mix with cooked pasta, and eat, parmesan optional. Simple.

Then there were leftovers.

Unlike many people, I love leftover pasta. I love it so much that I will eat it cold out of the fridge. Of course, if I feel like it, I will also mix it with beaten egg, put it in a hot frying pan, and come up with this:

fried leftover pastaFried leftover pasta eggy pancake! It is super easy, uses up your otherwise sad leftovers, and takes maybe three minutes of cooking per side. You can be eating a tasty breakfast in well under ten minutes.

You also have the option to chop and add whatever odd bits and pieces of vegetable you have lying around to the pasta and egg before cooking; this way you get even more tasty breakfast. It's a win win win win win.

27 February 2012

Carrot soup and garlic almond kale

carrot soup with bean broth and garlic almond kaleA puréed single-vegetable soup with greens on the side is one of my ideal dinners. The problem, of course, is that neither vegetable soup nor greens have an overabundance of protein. So I fixed that by using bean broth in the soup and almonds in the greens. Yay vegetables! Let's eat them all!

Carrot soup with bean broth

fresh ginger if you have any
carrots (several)
bean broth (or veg, or whatever)
salt, pepper, cumin, paprika
stick blender or other pureéing device
cilantro or parsley and sriracha sauce for optional garnish

Dice up an onion, a few cloves of garlic, and a stalk of celery; sauté them in olive oil in a reasonable soup pot. Peel a knob of fresh ginger, mince it, and add it to the pot. Stir it all up and let cook while you scrub a bunch of carrots under running water. You can peel them if you want, but I never do. It's all carrot, and you're going to purée it anyway, right?

Chop up your carrots and add them to the pot. I think I used four or five, but the amount will really depend on size. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika, and let cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. You can add some powdered ginger here too if you don't happen to have fresh ginger in the house.

Next, add your broth to the pan. I had a frozen block of adzuki bean broth, so I threw it straight into the pot, turned the heat up, and let it melt there. I also added a little water to make sure the vegetables wouldn't burn. Nearly any kind of broth you have will work fine with this soup, although I can't say I'd use fish stock.

Bring your soup to a boil, lower the heat, put on the lid, and let simmer for about ten minutes, or until your vegetables are cooked through. Then take the pot off the heat and purée.

Check out the soup consistency. If it's too thin, put it back on the heat and cook it down. If it's too thick, add some more water or stock. Taste and correct seasonings, and you're done.

I garnished my soup with sriracha sauce and chopped cilantro, because I like that sort of thing and we had a bunch of cilantro lying around. Parsley would also be good, as would chopped avocado or a spoonful of plain yogurt.

carrot soup with bean broth and cilantro sriracha garnishWe ate it with:

Garlic almond kale

olive oil
chopped almonds

Sauté a handful of minced garlic with a glug of olive oil in a wide frying pan. While it's softening, wash and destem a bunch of kale. I used dinosaur kale. DINOSAURS! You can also chop up a handful of almonds if you don't happen to have them already slivered. Don't worry about making them perfect; just chop them any which way.

When the garlic has softened, add in the kale. You may need to do this in two batches, since kale is voluminous until cooked. Stir occasionally, making sure all the kale gets wilted. If you want spicy kale, you can add some sriracha sauce or sambal oelek. Cook for about five minutes, or until all the kale is tender.

At the same time, heat up a different small pan. Toast the chopped almonds in it, tossing frequently. Keep a close eye on them, since nuts can burn really quickly. When they turn golden brown, get them off the heat and out of the pan.

When both your kale and almonds are done, you can either combine them before serving or just get yourself a whack of kale and scatter your preferred amount of almonds on top. Yay garlic almond kale!

24 February 2012

Pasta with cream cheese marinara & lots of veg

penne with cream cheese marinaraSometimes you just need to get food into your face as quickly as possible. I find that a big pan of pasta is an excellent default solution.

The problem is that most pasta with red sauce isn't particularly great for you. OK. So let's add a bunch of vegetables and a whack of cheese to cram in some extra variety. The time and effort involved are minimal, but the end result is huge.

I especially like the cheat of adding soft cheese to the sauce of your choice. This will work with goat cheese, sour cream, thick plain yogurt, or my choice--cream cheese. This means you don't have to bother with making a roux to get a creamy protein element in your pasta sauce. WIN.

Penne with cream cheese marinara

penne or other pasta
olive oil
onion, garlic
red pepper, artichoke hearts, and other veg of your choice
dry vermouth (optional but nice)
tomato puree
cream cheese
salt, pepper, red pepper flake, oregano, basil, paprika
fresh parsley or basil to finish

First, put on a pan of salted pasta water. Cook your penne at an appropriate point in the sauce proceedings. I usually put mine on when I add the tomato.

For your sauce, dice and sauté some yellow onion and garlic in a slug of olive oil. While they're softening, chop up a red pepper and some artichoke hearts--jarred, marinated, frozen, or what have you. If you want to use other vegetables, feel free--this combination is just what I happened to have hanging around.

When the onion is translucent, add your other vegetables and a pinch of salt, stir everything up, and let cook for about five minutes. Deglaze the pan with some dry vermouth, and then add your tomato. I used canned tomato puree, but whatever form of saucy or fresh chopped tomato you have on hand should work fine. Season with a little more salt, freshly ground pepper, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, and paprika. Let simmer for five to ten minutes, or until the sauce has reached your ideal consistency. Taste and correct any seasonings.

penne with cream cheese marinaraWhen both pasta and sauce are cooked, drain your pasta and add it to the sauce. Take the pan off the heat and mix in a few chunks of cream cheese. Then let the whole business sit for a minute while you wash the pasta pot. When you come back, the cream cheese will have started to melt. Give the pan another stir or two to distribute the melted cheese.

Sprinkle with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand--I had parsley--and then plate and eat. Voila! Dinner!

20 February 2012

Playing catch-up

John has been back for over a week and I still haven't shown you guys practically anything I cooked while he was gone! Well, we'll just have to fix that.

First, I made some delicious spicy broth with somen. This kind of soup is especially good if you need to eat something immediately, as it takes maybe five or ten minutes to cook from scratch.

spicy somen noodle soupSpicy somen broth

This business was super easy. Sauté garlic, fresh ginger, hot and bell peppers, and mushrooms in olive oil; add broth of your choice and heat to boiling; add somen noodles and cook for one more minute. Somen noodles do really only take one minute to cook, so be careful!

Take the pan off the heat and season your soup with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and sriracha sauce or sambal oelek. Serve alone or over a handful of raw spinach. Garnish with fresh chopped herbs and greens, such as chives, green onion, or mint. Personally, I ate plenty of John's mortal enemy, cilantro.

Later, I had a number of plates of scrambled eggs with cottage cheese and veg, as previously mentioned. I had some oatmeal with toasted nuts and sesame seeds. And then I made a gigantic pot of jambalaya and ate it for four separate meals over three days. Oh man, was that ever a good idea.

Since I'd never made jambalaya before, I poked around the internet for suggestions, and eventually decided to make Anger Burger Sunday's jambalaya.

cajun spice mixMost of the procedure was pretty straightforward. I did have to make up a batch of the cajun spice mixture (never to be referred to as "Emeril's Essence," because ICK), but that was ok. It's a good thing I overbought several of the ingredients for our xmas bbq spice rub; otherwise I'd never have had garlic or onion powder on hand.

The final product was almost exactly what I'd wanted: a massive pot of thick, serious, medium-spicy stew full of tomatoes, pepper chunks, chicken sausage, and baby shrimp. I did end up adding some extra hot sauce to the mix, but that's no big surprise. SPICE FOREVERR.

homemade jambalaya recipeThis picture is from day three, at which point the rice had just about completely disintegrated. That was fine with me, though. It almost started taking on some characteristics of a spicy, meaty congee: perfect to eat before going blissfully off to sleep. Success!

14 February 2012

Broccoli soup yeah

creamy broccoli soupLast week John was in Boston for work. I, as usual, used this occasion as an excuse to make any food I wanted.

So I wanted broccoli soup. What's wrong with that?

Oh man, was this ever good. Broccoli soup is premium comfort food: steaming hot, creamy, & stuffed full of green vegetables. The leftovers were even better for lunch the next day. Clearly, I win.

Broccoli soup

olive oil
hot pepper
broccoli (stems & crowns)
broth (veg, bean, or chicken)
salt, pepper, paprika, bay leaf, thyme
optional dairy of your choice
apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
fresh herbs to garnish
a stick blender or other puréeing device

I was making soup for just me, so I used half my normal quantities.

Chop up half an onion and three cloves of garlic and sauté in olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot. The vegetable size doesn't matter too much, since you'll be pureéeing the soup later anyway. When the onion has turned translucent, dice and add half a rib of celery, a small carrot, and half a jalapeƱo pepper. Season with a little salt, pepper, paprika, a bay leaf, and thyme. I had fresh thyme, so I threw in a few sprigs. Stir everything up and let cook over medium while you tackle the broccoli.

To best use a broccoli stem, you need to remove its thick skin. You can chop it off with a knife, use a vegetable peeler, or follow my method of choice and peel it off with your fingers (& fingernails). An initial cut with a knife will help you get started here. It's a pain in the neck, but it also means you're left with the maximum amount of tender broccoli afterward.

So. Chop the stems off the stalks of half a bunch of broccoli. Peel the stems. Chop both the stems and the crowns into small pieces. Put all the broccoli into the soup pot, stir, and let sweat for about three minutes, or until bright green. Then add broth to cover the vegetables by a little less than an inch. Bring the pan to the boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is completely tender.

broccoli soupNow it's time to purée. Take the pan off the heat, remove the bay leaf and thyme, and let the entire business cool slightly before you go at it with the stick blender. You may find that your soup is a little difficult to purée due to all the little flower buds in the broccoli florets, but don't worry too much about it--a slightly rough purée tastes just as good as a perfect bisque.

Now check out your soup's consistency. Is it too thick? Add some more broth. Is it too thin? Put it back on the heat and let it simmer down a bit. Keep in mind that any dairy you add will change the texture as well; you don't want to have to boil the soup down again afterward.

Taste, correcting seasonings as needed. If you want to make your soup into cream of broccoli, add a dairy device of your choice to the pan. Cream, milk, sour cream, yogurt, or cream cheese will all work, as will various vegan versions. I stirred a spoonful of cream cheese into my soup over low heat until it melted adequately. Finally, stir in a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar--maybe a teaspoon--or a squeeze of lemon juice.

You're done! Serve your soup with a garnish of parsley, cilantro, green onion, or anything else that floats your boat. A spoonful of plain yogurt is a great idea. I also like to add sriracha sauce or sambal oelek for a spicier soup.

Obviously, a soup like this is crying out for not only toast but a full grilled cheese sandwich on the side. I suggest gruyere with dijon mustard.

13 February 2012


cheap genmaicha tea
Let's talk about genmaicha. It's green tea with toasted rice, and it's one of my absolute favorite teas of all time. Of all time! And yet I somehow never had any at home until this past Saturday when I took a walk up to 99 Ranch--one of several local Asian markets--to make my tea cabinet complete. Or, you know, at least to get some genmaicha. Realistically, the tea cabinet will never be complete.

My 7-ounce bag of genmaicha cost $3.99. Through the power of division, I discovered that the base price was 57 cents an ounce.

So let's compare this to some other genmaicha prices.
- Teavana gyokuro genmaicha costs $6/oz. In fairness, Teavana teas are really high-end, but still.
- Republic of Tea's Tea of Inquiry is $3.43/oz in the tin and $2.50/oz in bulk.
- Choice Organic Genmaicha is $3.97/oz with the Amazon discount, but $4.53/oz at full price.

This, chickens, is why you should check out your local ethnic markets. They are amazingly affordable as well as exciting. Go exploring and see what delightfully tasty yet cheap food you can find!

10 February 2012


valentine's carrot soupPersonally, the mid-February event I'm most excited about is this weekend's library book sale, but hey! Maybe your library isn't having a book sale. Maybe you want to have a romantic dinner for Valentine's Day instead. That's cool.

So last year I recommended pasta with cream sauce, asparagus, and chocolate, all of which are worthy endeavours. This year, though, it's been so completely mild (the high here was 70F yesterday!) that I feel the need for a much springier menu. Voila:

Carrot dill soup
Fennel and citrus salad
Seared whitefish filets
Strawberries if you can find them; poached pears if you can't.

While all of these are delightful, clean, and fresh, none of them are a lot of trouble to cook. In fact, two of them barely require any cooking at all! I just don't see much reason to stress yourself out with fancy food, even on holidays. Go for the good food that you really like to eat. That's all.

Now go make some dinner.

06 February 2012

Breakfast; lunch

scrambled eggs with cottage cheeseBreakfast:

Two eggs beaten with a big spoonful of cottage cheese, and scrambled with sautéed red onion, red pepper, and parsley. Salt and pepper at the table.

green beand and chicken sausageLunch:

Chicken & sun-dried tomato sausage cut into pieces, browned in a dab of olive oil, and mixed with chopped green beans and red pepper for the last few minutes of cooking.

This sort of thing perfectly illustrates why to own a decent frying pan: with it, you can make these two totally different meals (not to mention hundreds of others) in under ten minutes apiece. Who says you need time to cook?

04 February 2012


limoncello recipeThis endeavor was sparked by a visit from our landlord. What? Don't you get the urge to cook something after having your lawn mowed and your dead winter plants trimmed?

So the lemon tree next door was overhanging our driveway to an alarming extent. After the required pruning, we were left with a HUGE pile of lemons in our driveway. Even after our landlord took a bag, we still had 20 lemons left, about 10 of which were completely ripe. Yes. Well.

So I did what any rational person with a surplus of lemons and a 1.75L bottle of vodka would do: I started a batch of limoncello.

too many lemonsLimoncello

unwaxed lemons
a jar for infusion purposes

Limoncello starts out like any schnapps, with a main ingredient--lemon zest, in this case--cut up and steeped in vodka. So I started by microplaning seven lemons. It would also have worked to use a vegetable peeler, but I just couldn't pass up a chance to microplane my fingers, so. When you're zesting your lemons, make sure not to get any of the white pith; including this would make your limoncello bitter.

Put your zest in a jar of your choice, filling it approximately 1/3 of the way. I just used a standard quart canning jar. Fill the jar with vodka, cap it, and put it somewhere cool and dark to steep. I found all kinds of different information about how long to let your zest steep, from 4 days to 45, but I'm planning to strain mine after a week. Agitate the jar every day or so, or whenever you think of it. This won't be hard, since you'll get to admire (and smell!) your limoncello-in-process every time.

After the vodka has finished infusing, strain out the solids and flavor to taste with simple syrup. This sweetening step changes the lemon vodka from a schnapps to a liqueur, incidentally. Simple syrup is easy to make; just heat equal amounts of sugar and water together until the sugar dissolves. Let your simple syrup cool before you mix it with your vodka. I'm planning to start by adding about half a cup of syrup to my near quart of vodka, tasting, and going from there.

You may want to age the limoncello more after sweetening it. I find that just putting it in the cupboard with all the liquor (& sampling at your leisure) lets it age just fine.

Drink in appealing little liqueur glasses of your choice. I'm thinking this will be especially great in, say, July, when you can drink it in the sunny backyard while lounging about wearing big face-obliterating sunglasses and pretending that you're actually in Italy. Yay, limoncello!