Saturday, December 13, 2008

Office Party

Terry and Isa of Veganomicon fame, quit making me like stuff! Before today, I would have said I don't like cranberries and that I can give or take cucumbers. But these two dishes made a convert of me. It goes to show that you really have to keep trying new ways of preparing produce until you find one you like. Vegetable haters, take note!

Tonight is the office holiday party. Another celebration, another chance to make healthy, tasty food.

Cashew Cucumber dip with olives and pita. Very Greek, very good.

Cranberry Orange Nut Bread. Tastes like Christmas, if you're into that kind of thing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I make up the rules as I go along

I'm trying to use up as much of the food in the house as I can before I move to Texas at the end of the month. The problem with having ten kinds of beans is that you have to pack ten kinds of beans. So that's how I ended up making chickpea polenta.

I only had about half a cup of stone-ground cornmeal left, not enough for a whole meal. So I added half a cup of chickpea flour (sometimes called besan) to my polenta. It worked great, and honestly didn't taste much different. I might be doing this more often since chickpea flour is lower in carbohydrates and has more protein. Besides, we eat too much corn as it is.

I ate my polenta topped with stewed tomatoes. (Tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, Italian spices, and a pinch of sugar simmered for twenty minutes.) A good dinner made from pantry staples.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thanksgiving and more soup

Third time is the charm for Thanksgiving. I made these mushrooms in puff pastry for the vegetarians at my Thanksgiving. It was a success, but what was even better was the pie. If you haven't tried Isa's smlove pie yet, do it now! My entire pie was gone before the family even sliced into either of the two Sara Lee pumpkin pies. Not that I bragged all weekend or anything.

I wasn't measuring since the mushroom puffs were just for myself, but it's onions, mushrooms, and pecans sauteed in oil with a splash of brandy, a big splash of soy sauce, nutmeg, and pepper all wrapped in puff pastry squares.

It's also soup season again. Here's cashew-butternut squash soup with red curry drizzle.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

So a lot has happened since I last posted. Last you heard from me, I was exploring the storm damage from Hurricane Gustav in my neighborhood. Soon after that, I found out that my office building was badly damaged. We've packed up and moved to temporary offices way across town, and I am now a wretched commuter.

I got engaged. And I got a lovely kitten.

Meet Desomond. Some fool dumped this kitty off outside my work, and I just couldn't say no. Desmond enjoys sleeping in my lap and helping (or hindering) making the bed.

And lately I've been testing out Thanksgiving recipes. First I tried a Mark Bittman recipe: Autumn Millet Bake.

It's millet, squash, and cranberries with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. The very essence of all things fall. But this isn't The One for me. I don't think I really care for whole cranberries. I know the stuff is full of all that is wrong with food, but I'm an in-the-shape-of-the-can cranberry jelly kind of girl.

Next I tried a portobello mushroom en crote.

En crout is just of fancy way of saying wrapped in puff pastry. If you've been letting puff pastry intimidate you, don't. Working with this stuff is really easy.

This recipe is much more what I was hoping for. It's impressive (who wants dry turkey when you can have decadent, flaky puff pastry). I can serve at room temperature if I can't get to the oven to heat them up. And it's pretty easy. Unfortunately, it's just too much food. We'll be having salad (with my family's special only-on-Thanksgiving salad dressing), roasted Brussels sprouts, rolls, cranberry jelly, stuffing, and sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. The side dishes are really the stars, and there's just no room for a main that will stuff you to the gills.

I think in the end I'll be going with some kind of cremini mushroom mixture en crout so I can make smaller portions. And I suppose I'll just have to suffer through a trial run. Mmm flaky.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Photos from my neighborhood

This is just a sampling of the hurricane damage in my neighborhood.

The sidewalk here buckled probably from all the water in the soil. I walk here every day.

Many people in Baton Rouge are still without electricity. Some of my coworkers don't expect to have their electricity restored for a month. That's a month without air conditioning, hot showers, cooked food, refrigeration, or the ability to charge your cell phone. Some people and businesses have generators. This generator is powering a hotel where many first responders (and politicians) are staying.

Even though my neighborhood is powered right now, it's a precarious situation. Many trees like this one are just a good gust away from pulling down power lines. This tree was outside the oldest home in my neighborhood and was likely over a hundred years old.

All throughout the city, power lines are down and stoplights are out.

Many streets are blocked because of fallen trees. People are piling the debris on their sidewalks in an effort to get rid of it before Hurricane Ike's winds hit. Right now, all these broken limbs are potential flying objects.

This is the Old Governor's Mansion.

And this is why we shouldn't be complacent about Louisiana's levee system. The levee outside of Baton Rouge is the highest, and probably the safest, in Louisiana. But when even the safest levee is bulging and losing sandbags, something needs to be done. This bulge in the levee first appeared after the Mississippi flooded in the spring.

Friday, September 5, 2008

On ice cream and evacuation

Hello everyone. It's been a while. I evacuated from my hometown for Hurricane Gustav, and I'm so glad I did. Pretty much all of my city was without power for days. It's four days later, and my workplace and many of my friends are still without electricity. I lost several trees, and one narrowly missed hitting my house. The city is under a curfew to prevent crime and new emergencies. (Lots of trees in the roads and dead stop lights make driving interesting.)

I've been holed up in Austin for about a week, and the city has been very nice to me. On my first night here, Dewey and I stopped by Amy's Ice Cream, an Austin tradition. I had a lovely grapefruit sorbet, and Dewey had Shiner Bock ice cream. I was so intrigued I had to recreate it myself. Since I'm in the land of magical second-hand shops, I picked up an ice cream maker at Goodwill.

I took a basic ice cream recipe (the one from Veganomicon) and dropped the vanilla extract and replaced 1/2 cup of soy milk with 1/2 cup of shiner. Dewey has been dying for cinnamon apple ice cream, so that will be our next try.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Indian food

I used to be really intimidated by recipes for Indian food. They always had a mile long list of ingredients. Last year I took an Indian cooking class through the local university. Everyone in the class was intimidated by the instructor. "You didn't practice making all the recipes this week!" she would bark at people. "What could be more important than that?" The teacher didn't intimidate me though, and by the time the classes were over, Indian recipes didn't either. If you prep all your ingredients ahead of time and measure out your spices, all that's left is combining everything in the right order.

Going clockwise from the left, that's raita, pulau, rajma, tandoori tofu, and saag. And in English, that's spiced yogurt; rice with vegetables, fruit, and nuts; red beans; tofu baked with a spicy rub; and spinach.

Pulau, sometimes called pilaf, is really flexible. You have to have rice, but you can vary the vegetables, nuts, and dried fruit you use. Here's how I made it.

4 cups cooked brown rice
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 onion, sliced
a cinnamon stick
a cardamom pod
2 cloves
1 clove garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, minced
1 teaspoon cayenne
bay leaf
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, peas, lima beans, corn, green beans)
1/4 cup raisins
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
garam masala (optional)

Combine all the spices and set aside. Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the spices, garlic, and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onion and cook for another three minutes or until the onion begins to look translucent. Add the vegetables and cook until warmed through. Add the raisins and sunflower seeds and cook another minute. Salt to taste. (You may want to remove the cinnamon stick, cardamom pod, and bay leaf now.)

Combine the vegetable mixture with the cooked rice. You can sprinkle everything with garam masala if you want.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I once told my mom that she only made two vegetable dishes: stir fry and ratatouille. And the only difference between the two was that the ratatouille had tomatoes. My mom didn't find this funny.

And of course, I've inherited a lot of my mother's cooking style. She may have been right about this one. (Don't tell her I said that though.) This family recipe is another one of those 'throw a bunch of things in a pot and let it cook' types. The beauty of this Mediterranean peasant dish is that all of the ingredients grow at the same time. All of the vegetables in this dish can be found in my parents' garden (probably why it showed up so often). As an apartment dweller, I don't yet have a garden, but I found all of these vegetables at my farmers market (and I snagged the rosemary from a bush outside the museum. Shhh!)


1 onion, chopped
1 medium eggplant, chopped
3 summer squash, a mixture of zucchini and yellow squash, sliced into rounds
2 tomatoes, chopped
6 mini or 2 medium bell peppers, assorted colors, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup olive oil
rosemary (and/or oregano, thyme, marjoram, chervil, or basil)

Combine all the ingredients in the largest pot or sauce pan that you have. Simmer uncovered (don't brown) on medium low for 45 minutes to an hour, until everything is soft. Stir occasionally. The eggplant will be the last to soften. By the time the eggplant is ready, the tomatoes and the onions will have almost disintegrated.

That's it! Use what vegetables you have on hand. My mom sometimes adds mushrooms.

Other eggplant recipes
Eggplant dip
Spicy eggplants

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Eggplant dip

When I was learning to cook in college (not what I went to college for!), one of the things I did was keep a recipe box just for vegetables. I made it a goal to find five recipes I liked for each vegetable. I never got to five for everything, but I developed a good pile of recipes and ate a few more vegetables than I would have otherwise. Now that I've discovered some new vegetables (kale) and I'm trying to cook more seasonally, I've decided to revive the practice. So starting now, five recipes for eggplant.

Eggplant is one of the things my parents usually plant in their vegetable garden. And this eggplant dip, similar to baba ghanouj, is something my mom made often.

Roasted Eggplant Dip
1 medium eggplant
4 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
cayenne pepper

Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Separate the garlic cloves from the head of garlic, but don't remove the skin from the cloves. Place the eggplant and garlic in your roasting dish and drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over them. Roast at 350 degrees until the eggplant and garlic are soft, stirring once or twice. The entire process will take 45 minutes to an hour depending on how big your eggplant is. The garlic may finish earlier. If so, remove the cloves and set aside.

When the eggplant is soft, remove from the oven. Scoop the eggplant flesh from the skin and squeeze the garlic from the skins. Combine the eggplant flesh, garlic, and remaining olive oil in a food processor and process until smooth. Salt to taste.

Place the eggplant in a bowl, drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with cayenne.

Other eggplant recipes
Spicy Eggplants

Friday, July 18, 2008

This post is not as graphic as it could be.

So I've been sick. Again. Both times I suspected food poisoning. So, between sipping ginger ale and reading mysteries, I decided this would be a good time to challenge my beliefs a little. I'm a big advocate of buying local food as much as possible. Partly, I like the routine of walking to the farmers market every Saturday and returning with a week's worth of produce. I like being in the swirl of the community. I like handing my money directly to the person who plucked the food off the tree or out of the earth. And I like knowing where and how my food was grown.

I've always said, part of the advantage of eating locally is that it's so easy to ask questions. I can ask the nice man who sells me oranges what sort of fertilizer he uses or what his policy on pesticides is. If I want to know the same thing about the orange I got via Sunkist, who do I ask?

Raw garlic was the only connection I could find between the two times I was sick. So I looked up the number of my garlic farmer and gave her a call. The call went right to her home phone number. And we chatted for a bit. No one else had called her about food poisoning in the past few months. Matter of fact, she hasn't had a complaint in the thirty years she's been growing garlic. And what reassured me most of all, she told me about her dinner last night, served to her entire family, that included several bulbs of that same garlic.

So where does that leave me? There's really nothing you can do about food poisoning beyond prevention. There's no pill or medicine to make you feel better, and most people will recover fine without ever visiting a doctor.
  • You can report food poisoning to the health department. There's an "easy" form from Michigan State University. "Easy" because they want you to report what you ate the four days before you were sick, where you ate it, and where all the ingredients came from. I cook just about everything I eat myself, so that part was easy. But by the time I felt well enough to fill out this form, they were asking me to think back to breakfast five days before. That's pretty hard to do. And the canned beans I ate, were they the can I bought at the local store or the can I bought at Albertsons? And which brand were they?
  • You can be very, very careful cooking and cleaning up after the most easily contaminated foods. According to the Center for Disease Control, these are: raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, unpasteurized milk, raw shellfish, and sprouts. Foods that mingle lots of raw ingredients together from different sources are particularly at risk. These include ground meat, bulk raw milk, and bulk raw eggs. I don't really eat any of these. I have the occasional sprout when I'm on vacation eating the ubiquitous "vegetarian sandwich", but that's about it.
  • You can store your food properly. Don't store your meat with your veggies. Prepared food shouldn't be out of the fridge for more than four hours. This might be where I fell down. Where do y'all keep your garlic? I usually put it in my "root cellar" next to the potatoes. My mom always refrigerates it, but she puts tomatoes in the fridge, too.
  • I don't have to tell you to wash your hands, right? My high school Trig teacher told us we should wash our hands for the amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday". Don't ask me why my math teacher was giving us hygiene advice. Every time I turn on the tap this song floats into my head now. Be sure to wash up after handling messes from babies and other animals, too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cornbread salad

I was sick last week and then my boyfriend came for a visit, so my fridge is all out whack right now. Tonight's dinner mission: use up as much of the food as possible before it goes bad. There was half a pan of cornbread and my boyfriend bought me THREE avocados that were too hard to use until today, so this is what I came up with. Since I made this up by the fly of my pants, substitute away.

Cornbread salad with avocado-lime dressing
cornbread pieces, about two cups
tomato, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 scallions, green and white parts, chopped
an avocado, chopped
juice from a lime
jalapeno, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Mix together cornbread, tomatoes, bell pepper, scallions, and half the avocado. In a food processor, mix together the rest of the avocado, the lime juice, jalapeno, and cilantro. Thin the mixture with water until it's to your preference. I probably used two teaspoons water. Salt to taste. Dress the cornbread salad with the avocado-lime dressing.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Roasted okra

Okra is another one of those misunderstood vegetables. And I admit it has an obvious drawback. It can be rather slimy. There are two ways to deal with the sliminess of okra. One way is to make the most of it and use okra in a stew. The other, is to cook it whole. If you don't cut the okra, the sliminess is trapped within. My favorite way to prepare okra, and really any unloved vegetable, is to roast it. My strategy for roasting is the same for just about any vegetable. Add copious amounts of oil and salt, and then roast at 350 degrees until soft and slightly browned or blackened.

In the oven, oil tends to stubbornly stick to the roasting pan. Many people suggest lining the roasting pan with tin foil. I hate throwing out all that foil though. Instead, I have one pan devoted to roasting vegetables. It is not a pretty pan, but that's OK. It does its job.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Potato Kugel

Another day, another kickball dinner, another kugel.

When I told my mother I made her potato kugel she said, "Did you make it right?"
"What do you mean?" I stalled.
"Did you make it in a muffin tin?"
"Of course I did!" I sighed in relief. She forgot to ask the other question. According to my mom, when making her potato kugel, one must always cook it in a muffin tin, not an ordinary casserole dish. And one must grate the potatoes by hand.

Grating five potatoes by hand doesn't sound so bad. But then there's that onion you have to grate, too. The crying! And you have to grate so fast. The potatoes start to turn pink, then brown, then black. Faster, faster, my mother goads.

So, if my mom isn't looking over your shoulder, go ahead. Use a food processor.

Potato Kugel
4-6 medium potatoes
1 medium onion
1 tablespoon non-dairy margarine, melted
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (or another tablespoon flour)
1/2 cup silken tofu

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray (or oil thoroughly). Chop the onion and process in a food processor (or grate by hand). Add the tofu to the processor and process until combined. Add 1 tablespoon melted margarine. Set aside.

Working quickly, peel and roughly chop the potatoes. Process in the food processor. If you must do this in batches, cover the pureed potatoes with plastic wrap and refrigerate to keep from turning brown.

Mix together the potato, onion-tofu mixture, flour, nutritional yeast, and salt to taste. Fill the oiled muffin tin with the batter. The kugel doesn't rise much, so you can fill the cups nearly to the top. Bake for 1 hour or until the tops are browned.

EDIT. If you want to make these for Passover, sub matzah cake flour (ideally) or matzah meal for the flour.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

33 million: the number of cars needed to produce the same level of global warming as is caused by the methane gas emitted by livestock and their manure
--Six Arguments for a Greener Diet

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Stir-fried leeks

I hate wasting food, so I'm always trying to think of ways to use up leftover bits of food. Awhile back I made an Asian marinade for tofu. I didn't want to throw it out, so I added tomato paste and red wine to it and used it to marinade more tofu. After cooking the tofu, I threw in the leftover marinade and thickened it up for a sauce.It was one of the best tofu dishes I've ever made, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I tried to recreate it tonight, but it wasn't successful. So there's no recipe for that. I'm going to keep trying. But the stir-fried leeks I made were great, and I know exactly how to make those.

Stir-fried Leeks
This served one vegetable-loving person. Feel free to double or triple the recipe, just don't crowd the pan.

1 leek
2 teaspoons minced ginger (feel free to leave the peel on)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce*
1 tablespoon mirin
1/4 cup broth
oil for stir-frying (I use canola. No use wasting the good olive oil for this)

Clean the leek and chop it into 1-inch pieces. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Add ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook for thirty seconds or until fragrant. Add leek and stir fry until bright green and slightly blackened, about five minutes. Add dark soy sauce, mirin, and broth and cook until most of the liquid has disappeared.

*Dark soy sauce is completely different from light soy sauce (the most common kind). It's darker (obviously) and has a more intense flavor. Use 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce if you don't have the dark.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Food in season

Library of Congress

Eating fruits and vegetables in season is better for your health and the environment. Growing a tomato in a greenhouse in December takes a lot more resources than a summer-grown tomato. And that June tomato has more nutrients, too. And it probably tastes better. But say you grew up in a city or the suburbs. And you have no access or inclination to garden. And your farmers market is filled with out of season produce from Chile (I'm looking at you Dallas). How do you know what's in season? Epicurious, the Web site associated with Bon Appetite and Gourmet magazines, has a peak-season map. And the Natural Resources Defense Council has a more extensive list. And often, your local paper will have a list of what to expect at the farmers market.

Not everyone has a farmers market or produce stand near by. And often, they're only open a few hours a week, possibly when you're working or, um, sleeping in. And that's OK. Even the vegetables at your local grocery store will be cheaper and healthier when you buy in season.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spicy Eggplants

This recipe comes from my friend La. I have no idea where she got it from. When we lived together, the two of us went on a glut of copying down recipes. We each had a stack six inches thick of things we wanted to try, and we would have to take turns being in charge of the cooking because we both wanted to choose the recipe.

I've changed the recipe around a bit (who has szechuan peppers?) and added some quantities (the recipe just says "chili" what kind and how much?). This is a good one to try on eggplant haters. It's also good for that eggplant that's been sitting in your fridge too long and is starting to go bad. Just cut and discard any brown spots.

Spicy Eggplants
1 pound eggplant (about one med to large)
3 tablespoons oil for frying
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch of ginger, chopped
1 onion, sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 1/4 cups broth

Cup eggplant into cubes. Set in a collander, sprinkle with salt, and let the juices drain. After about 30 minutes, squeeze any excess liquid from the eggplant and rinse off the salt.*

While you're waiting, combine soy sauce, hoisin, chili garlic sauce, sugar, rice wine vinegar, and broth. Set aside. (This is a good time to start the rice, too.)

Saute the garlic, ginger, and onion in the oil over medium heat for about 30 seconds, or until they are fragrant. Add eggplant and saute another 2 minutes.

Add the sauce mixture, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until eggplant is tender. Increase the heat to reduce the sauce until thick. This took me about six minutes.

*If you're in a hurry, you can skip this step. Salting the eggplant is supposed to get rid of any bitterness. It's more important if your eggplant has been sitting around for a while, but if you just bought it today, you can skip it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Access to food and walkable communities

I moved to Louisiana just after college. I spent the four previous years living carless in Philadelphia. The transition from a carless lifestyle in a city to what I like to call the smallest big city in America was eye opening. So many things about that move changed how I view food and the way we buy, prepare, and eat it. Two things about my personal experience really stick in my mind: access to healthy food and walkable communities.

I moved to southeast Louisiana just a few weeks after Katrina and Rita hit. Everything was in chaos, and I'm still amazed that I managed to find a place to live. People laughed when I asked if they had any vacancies. A friend of a future coworker decided it was easier to rent to me than to call back all 400 people who had left messages on his answering machine about his one vacant apartment. I rented the apartment sight unseen.

The dishwasher was broken, the water tasted fishy, the bathroom walls were made of glass, and there was a hole in the doorway where one night a frog wandered in and climbed into my bed. And yet I was relieved to have anywhere to live at all. But what a change it was from Philadelphia.

Just like in Philadelphia, I lived within a mile of a supermarket, a pharmacy, a video store, and a park. But in my new neighborhood, it was impossible to walk to any of them. There were no sidewalks, the road, where cars careened at 50mph, had no shoulder, the edge of the road quickly gave way to a water drainage ditch that was tacky with mud, and an interstate highway separated me from that supermarket. And so I no longer walked to work and on errands. I no longer took an evening stroll to relax. And I gained 10 pounds.

As I neared the end of my first year, I began looking for a new place to live. A year after Katrina and Rita, the vacancy rate in my town still rivaled Manhattan's. I had two requirements for a new apartment: sidewalks and somewhere worth walking to. It took a month of combing the streets looking for "for rent" signs (no one bothered to advertise, places went so fast), but I finally rented the first floor of a building downtown. There were sidewalks. And I could use them to walk to a library, museums, restaurants, the post office, parks, the bank, and the Saturday morning farmers market.

And slowly the weight came off.

But I haven't gotten rid of my car yet. Even though there are many, many places for me to walk to in my new neighborhood, there's not a single supermarket. The closest grocery store is about three miles away down a very busy street. I considered taking my bike, but a friend who works in the ER told me how she always sees immigrants in the ER who have tried to bike down my city's main streets. And I, too, see them every week. I hold my breath as I watch them pedal down the street, groceries hanging from a broom stick tied to the handlebars of their bikes as cars pass them honking their horns.

For people in my neighborhood without cars, and many of my neighbors can't afford them, the only choice besides the farmers market (only open for four hours on Saturday morning) or restaurants is a convenience store. The kind of store where you can buy packaged, shelf-stable food and a gallon of really expensive milk. The kind that doesn't carry any fresh food whatsoever.

And it became clear to me that there's no one big problem with our food system. It's a series of problems. I constantly hear people say that fat people have no self control and that the poor could eat well if they really tried. But it's not lack of control and laziness. It's a hundred little obstacles in the way like a highway blocking the path to the grocery store.

Monday, June 9, 2008


This past weekend, my kickball team got together for matzah ball soup. The woman who hosted everything was nice enough to make a vegetarian soup, too. So of course, I had to bring a kugel.

Kugel is basically Jewish casserole. If you're British, you might call it pudding. Potato kugel, sweet or savory noodle kugel, and broccoli kugel are all traditional. This is cauliflower leek kugel. And it is not at all traditional. There are herbs! And leeks! And nuts!

The first time I made this someone told me he didn't finish his first helping because it was so good, he thought it wasn't kosher. This past weekend, a woman told me it was better than her grandmother's kugel. I don't want to get anyone in trouble with their Bubbeh, but this stuff is good.

This is all to prepare you for the matzah ball soup. See, Eastern European Jewish cooking hasn't changed much. Did you see how excited I got about the fresh herbs? So when I saw that my friend had added vegetables to the soup, I was amazed and delighted. Green beans and new potatoes in the matzah ball soup. It was enlightening. Traditionally, matzah ball soup is just matzah balls and broth. Maybe a sliced carrot. (But never in my mother's soup.) So the idea of adding fresh, spring vegetables really blew me away. Enough that I went home and made my own matzah ball soup. I made this recipe, boiling the vegetables in the broth while the matzah balls cooled in the fridge. The cooked vegetables hung out in a bowl while the matzah balls cooked. If you've read much of my blog, you'll know to trust me when I say the matzah balls absolutely have to wait in the fridge an hour before you cook them. I'm all about the short cut, but you don't want to end up with matzah balls that disintegrate.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Vegetable pasta, two ways

Looking over my posts, two things are pretty obvious. One, I eat 90 percent of my food out of bowls. And two, I like cooking techniques that let me throw things together without fussing too much about recipes and measuring. In honor of both of these things, I present you two vegetable pasta dishes that look and taste pretty different, but are prepared using the same method. And in a bowl.

Corn-Tomato Pasta

Green Beans and Caramelized Red Onions with Spaghetti

So here's the loose method.

Step 1. Boil pasta. You know how to boil pasta right? (Did I ever tell you about the time I tried to teach a roommate how to boil pasta?)

Step 2. In a frying pan, heat enough oil to coat the pan. I usually swig my bottle of oil around the pan twice. If you're a measure-er, this is probably about 2 tablespoons. If you're using onions or garlic, add those to the pan first. You want to give them enough time in the pan to mellow out so you don't get that sharp taste from either of them. When it's time to add your corn or green beans, turn the heat up. You want the outside of these vegetables to get crispy, even a little blackened. It adds flavor. You can test whether the vegetables are done by poking them. I suggest using a fork to poke. Fingers are too easily burned. The vegetable should give a little, but not too much. You can also try biting into a vegetable, but remember they're hot.

Step 3. Add the tomatoes to the saute pan last, if you're using any. They're going to release a lot of liquid, and this means that your other vegetables won't be frying so much as steaming. Cook the tomatoes until they start to fall apart. Depending on how small you chop them, this can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. The juices from your tomatoes will mix in with the oil and create an orange-colored sauce. This is a good thing.

Step 4. Add the drained pasta to the vegetables and mix everything together well. You might want to add some olive oil for more flavor. You definitely want to add salt. Serve in a bowl.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

blueberry crumple

This was the last week for strawberries at the farmer's market ($1/pint!) and the first week for peaches and blueberries ($3/pint!). The blueberries were so cheap, I bought two pints. So now I have three pints of fruit. Did I mention I have a hard time eating fruit? A pint of blueberries is going into the freezer, but that still leaves two pints of fruit for berry desserts. And so we have, individual blueberry crumple. Not quite a cobbler, not quite a crumble. Still delicious.

I was out of oatmeal, so I made my usual crazy cobbler recipe without the oatmeal. Like most of my favorite recipes, it doesn't really have a recipe.

Blueberry Crumple

Mix equal parts flour, margarine (or oil), and sugar*. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon if you feel like it. The mixture should be crumbly. If it's too wet, add more flour and sugar. If it's not sticking together enough, add more fat.

Put your berries in a baking dish. If they aren't very sweet, add a bit of sugar of your choice. Sprinkle the flour mixture on top and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until it smells too good to wait any longer.

*If you want to go the traditional crumble route, add an equal amount of quick or regular oatmeal.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

You made what?

I love to thumb through cookbooks. If you invite me over to your house, I'll probably take a peek at what's on your cookbook shelf. And sometimes, the odder the recipe the better. I found the above recipe in an old community cookbook. In case you can't read the recipe card, the ingredients are a pound of spaghetti, half a slab of velveeta, a cup of ketchup, and butter (the butter is for frying of course). The recipe is called "Mother's Famous Spaghetti Recipe". I copied this recipe back in the days when I didn't give a second thought to eating food products like velveeta. But even then, this was never a recipe to make. I copied the recipe down onto an index card just so I can stare at it every once in a while. Someone once thought, "You know what would make an awesome spaghetti sauce? Ketchup and velveeta. Ooo, and when it cools down, I can fry slabs of it in butter!" Genius.

I still sometimes see a recipe and think, that's so weird. I have to make it. When I first got How to Cook Everything Vegetarian I found a few recipe ideas that fascinated me, including this recipe for seaweed mayo. That's right. Mark Bittman wants you to blend seaweed with olive oil in your food processor and then eat it as a spread on a sandwich. I couldn't resist.

And actually, it's pretty good. Surprisingly good. It looks almost like a pesto. And it doesn't taste like a catfish pond, which is what I expected. The fishy flavor is mild, and there's a bit of rice vinegar in there for tang. This is the kind of thing that you eat spread on a sandwich and think, what IS that. Taking one bite after another until it's all gone and you still don't know what you ate. I'll definitely be making this again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More food in a bowl

Chickpeas in their own broth

I finally got it together this weekend to cook up a pot of beans. Once a month or so, I like to cook a pound or two of beans. I use some up right away, and the rest goes into the freezer. The bean of the month for May is the chickpea. Chickpeas are one of the longer cooking beans, taking up to three hours to soften. Fortunately, I was so together this weekend I even managed to soak the beans overnight. Soaking isn't absolutely necessary to cook beans, but it dramatically reduces the cooking time. After soaking for ten hours (I had a good long sleep), my chickpeas cooked up in just over an hour.

While the beans cooked, I came up with a list of ideas for what to do with them. I'm just about out of tahini, so hummus was out of the question. Chickpea cutlets, warm chickpea salad, roasted chickpeas, saffron rice with chickpeas, and the simple dish above all made the list.

Chickpeas in their own broth is another Bittman inspired dish. He raves about the flavor of chickpea broth, and I have to agree with him. I'm never pouring this stuff down the sink again. The chickpeas are spooned into a dish with their liquid, and then drizzled with lemon juice and tahini and sprinkled with spiced toasted bread crumbs. I love dishes like these because they're practically recipe-less.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tortilla Soup

The first of the summer's squash showed up at this weekend's farmers' market. And tortilla soup is always the first recipe I think of when confronted with a vegetable drawer full of summer squash. My friend Merf taught me to make tortilla soup this way one summer when we both worked testing ESL students. After tasting this, our coworkers wanted to know why we were bothering to go to college. After all, we already knew how to cook.

Merf is the kind of cook who throws in a cup of this and a dash of that and mixes it up up with her hands. Every time she makes a dish it comes out a little different, and it's usually pretty delicious, too. The amounts in this recipe will be vague because it just wouldn't be right otherwise.

Free Spirit Tortilla Soup
oil for sauteing
an onion, chopped
garlic, minced
summer squash, sliced and cut in half if the pieces are large

Saute the onion over medium heat until soft. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (about thirty seconds). Add the squash and saute until the squash is golden and soft but not mushy. Add the broth until it covers all the vegetables by about half an inch. Heat the soup and salt to taste.

My friend E tells me that when Merf taught her to make this soup, they added tomatoes with the broth. So feel free to add tomatoes. Or anything else.

The most important part of this recipe are the garnishes. Garnish with

a squeeze of lime
avocado, chopped
broken tortilla chips

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Passover No More

Passover is (finally!) over. It seemed much harder than usual this year, but I suspect that had more to do with some interview induced cookie cravings than anything else. Here is my first post-Passover meal. I had spinach-cannellini dip with toast rounds, radishes straight up from the Farmers' Market, and corn cakes topped with spicy cinnamon tomatoes. Oddly enough, the radishes were the best part of the meal. They're still tiny, so they aren't too pungent. The man who sold them to me gave me an extra bag for free, so I'm sure I'll be enjoying them all week. (Free produce is only one benefit of being a lie-abed.)

I had high hopes for the cinnamon tomatoes, but they were only so-so. I'm hoping the flavors will do that mingling thing and they'll taste better tomorrow morning. If they do, I'll post the recipe. If not, they'll have a second life as pasta sauce.

The tomatoes were a bust. It was this recipe from the Kitchn. They made a great spaghetti sauce though. Tomato sauce cooked with cinnamon and bay leaves actually ended up being my favorite back when I tried to make all of Bittman's pasta sauces.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Passover Seder

Passover is a meal of symbols. Each food eaten has a meaning. Before the meal, a service is read to explain the meaning of each food and to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt. (In fact, the word "seder" means order.) Here's my seder plate: beets with horseradish sauce, carrot tops, asparagus, a carrot, haroset (apple-walnut salad), and roast potatoes. At the top left of the photo you can just see my whole-wheat matzah peeking out.

The haroset represents the mortar used by Jewish slaves to piece together the bricks of the pyramids. Every Jewish family has a recipe for haroset. In Egypt, they use dates and raisins for the fruit. Persian recipes use pistachios and almonds. My family makes a pretty traditional Ashkenazik recipe.


3 apples (I used gala, but anything sweet is good)
1/3 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon agave nectar or sugar
3 tablespoons sweet red wine
a sprinkle of cinnamon

Peel the apples and cut them into small chunks. Crumble the walnuts into the apples. Add the agave, wine, and cinnamon. Mix everything together and refrigerate until ready. Haroset is one of those foods that gets better with time. The wine soaks into the apples and turns them a rosy red.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Toffee bars

These bars are a beloved family tradition passed on to me from my mother who got the recipe from her mother who probably got it from a newspaper or magazine. Or maybe the back of bag of chocolate chips. But three generations in the U.S.? That's tradition. After this weekend, I can now testify that they even taste good when baked on a Wednesday in one state and consumed on a Sunday in a different state. Magic.

When I cook, there's one thing I always keep any eye out for: dishes. Any recipe change that lets me spend less time washing dishes is an improvement for me. So this method is slightly different from the way my mom (and grandmother) make it, but they'd never know it.

A Lazy Person's Toffee Bars
1 cup non-dairy margarine
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 drops maple or rum flavoring OR 1 tablespoon maple syrup
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup walnuts

Combine margarine and sugar in a bowl. Mix in flour and flavorings (or syrup). The batter will be dense. Spread in a pan and smooth with a knife or the back of a spoon. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the bars and bake an additional 5 minutes, or until the chocolate is spreadable. Take the bars out of the oven and quickly smooth over the chocolate. Crumble the walnuts evenly over the chocolate. (A less lazy person might use pre-chopped walnuts.) Refrigerate the bars until the chocolate cools enough to maintain its shape (about 15 minutes). Cut and serve.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Peanut Cauliflower Soup

This soup was a Friday night soup. Saturday is my day for grocery shopping, so that makes Friday my day to use up odds and ends in the fridge. One Friday, I had celery, carrots, part of an onion, and half a head of cauliflower to use up. The celery and carrots weren't good enough to be eaten raw, so soup it was. I remembered seeing a recipe for Virginian Peanut Soup in Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The soup called for potatoes. Pureed potatoes make for a pretty creamy soup. People make mashed cauliflower in place of mashed potatoes all the time. So I figured why not?

Peanut Cauliflower Soup
oil for sauteeing
half an onion, minced
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 cup cauliflower, chopped
salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
enough vegetable broth (or water) to cover
1 cup of soymilk (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 cup peanut butter
cayenne pepper

Sautee the onions until soft (about 3 minutes). Add the celery and carrots and cook another 3 minutes. Add the cauliflower, bay leaves, and enough broth or water to cover everything. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Puree the soup with a hand blender (or in batches in a regular blender). Stir in peanut butter and soy milk and season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Warm the soup on the stove without letting it boil. Serve with a dollop of peanut butter and a sprinkle of cayenne.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A colorful dinner

This was a pantry dinner from a bit ago. Red cabbage slaw, broccoli rice casserole, and BBQ chickpeas. The chickpeas and the broccoli rice casserole are "throw a bunch of stuff in a pan and bake" dishes, so this is an easy weeknight dinner. I adapted the BBQ chickpea recipe from The Compassionate Cook. It's basically all the ingredients for barbecue sauce cooked with chickpeas. I changed the recipe to include my favorite barbecue sauce ingredients. It's pretty flexible, so feel free to play around with it.

BBQ Chickpeas

2 16-oz can chickpeas, rinsed (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 16-oz can tomato sauce (or chopped tomatoes) (about 2 cups)
1/3 cup molasses (or brown sugar)
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons mustard
1 tablespoon vinegar
a pinch of hot pepper flakes
black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a casserole dish and mix well. Cover and bake at 350 F for an hour or until the sauce slightly thickens.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tamarind Lentils and Millet

Recently, I made my way to the local Indian grocery store. I came home with chickpea flour (besan), black salt, tamarind concentrate, and a ginormous bag of cumin. I knew I had seen recipes using tamarind, so I was off to my cookbooks for research. The result was these delicious Tamarind Lentils (also from Veganomicon). Tamarind is a tropical fruit used often in Latin American and Asian cooking. You're probably most familiar with it as an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. Tamarind is tart, somewhat like a cross between lime juice and molasses. I ate the lentils over a bed of millet.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fried Tofu

I've been fooling around with tofu for about a year now, and I think I'm finally ready to commit. This recipe uses frozen and thawed tofu. Freezing the tofu makes it chewier. I've heard the texture of frozen tofu described as spongy before, and it really is freakishly spongy. Squeeze it with your hand and tofu juice shoots out. Let go and the tofu resumes it's shape. Freezing tofu adds an extra step, but if you pop it in the freezer still in the package when you get home from the grocery store and move it to the fridge the night before you want to cook with it, it's really not that difficult.

This recipe claims to be "KFC" tofu, and I don't know about that. But it sure is crispy and yummy dipped in ketchup. That's good enough for me. And I think I've moved past my fear of frying!

1 t salt or seasoned salt
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1 t black pepper
dash cayenne
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 c nooch (optional)
1/4 c prepared mustard
2 T baking powder
1/2 c water
1 lb frozen and thawed tofu
oil for frying

Mix together the first 7 ingredients in one bowl. In a second bowl, mix together mustard and water. Add 1/3 c of the flour mixture to the mustard mixture. Mix the baking powder in with the remainder of the flour mixture. Cut the tofu into slices. Dip each slice in the wet mixture and then the dry mixture. Fry in oil until golden brown, about five minutes total.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

This tastes better than it looks.

I tried one last soup recipe from my new cookbooks. Cholent is a Jewish stew usually made on the Sabbath. It's started at sundown Friday night, and then cooks at a low heat until Saturday lunch. Traditionally, cholent is a combination of beef, beans, potatoes, lentils, and carrots. The more ingredients the better. Just like Italian grandmothers and their tomato sauce recipes, every Ashkenazic Jewish family has their own cholent recipe. This one from Veganomicon is full of kidney beans, butter beans, lentils, tvp chunks, potatoes, and carrots. It was flavored with caraway seeds, and I'm not sure what I think of them yet. Caraway is the seed used in rye bread. I took the cholent over to a friend's house, and he thought the lentils were rye. Don't worry, I didn't know what to say about that either. Other than baking rye bread (you know how I feel about yeast), anyone have a favorite way to use caraway seeds?