Saturday, January 30, 2010

just like the real thing


When our dear friend Allison saw that I was trying to eat vegetarian while keeping a carnivore happy, she very helpfully offered a handful of "meat and potatoes"-type recipes, including one for Seitan Bourguignon.

Having to wait for 3 hours while it simmered was absolutely agonizing. I'm not sure what else beef could have added to the aroma to make it any better. The side of garlicky arugula turned out to be the perfect thing to cut the richness of the dish. I served it over some fusilli because a full baking sheet of perfectly roasted potatoes fell right off the counter. I mean, I have never said the f-word so loud in my entire life. Not even in traffic.

As Matty commented, you can definitely tell this is vegan. There's no mistaking the seitan for beef, and the veggie bacon is DEFINITELY not bacon. But what I'm learning is eating vegetarian isn't about comparing - it's about appreciating what I'm eating for what it is. I actually really like seitan. It works well in this dish. And that broth boils down to such concentrated goodness that I would be just as happy using a beef broth substitute when I try Julia's real deal. (You see, I'm already plotting my meat comeback).

Seitan Bourguignon
2 pounds seitan, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 bottle of dry red wine
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
olive oil
6-8 slices veggie bacon, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 onion, sliced
3 T. flour
2 c. vegetarian “beef” broth
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
3-4 sprigs thyme
8 oz. pearl onions
salt and pepper, to taste
1 T. margarine
1/4 lb. mushrooms, quartered

Place the seitan chunks into a large dish. Pour entire bottle of wine over seitan and add 2-3 sprigs of thyme. Stir to make sure thyme is into the wine and chunks are covered. Marinate in refrigerator for 3-4 hours or overnight.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large pot. Add bacon and sauté until lightly browned. Remove from pot and set aside.

Drain the seitan, reserving wine marinade, but discarding the thyme sprigs. In the same pot that was used for the bacon, brown the seitan in olive oil, working in batches if necessary. Remove and set aside.

Still using the same pot, add carrots, celery and onion (and more oil if necessary). Cook and stir 3-4 minutes until vegetables start to soften slightly.

Add the seitan back to the pot and sprinkle with flour, 1 tbsp. at a time, stirring after each addition. Add reserved bacon and stir through.

Slowly add reserved wine stirring constantly. Pour in enough broth to cover. Add in garlic, bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

Keep on medium-low heat, cover and bring to a boil. While waiting for boil, peel pearl onions. Once pot is boiling, add pearl onions, salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat to very low and simmer for 3 hours.

When bourguignon is ready, melt margarine in frying pan. Add mushroom chunks and fry to brown. Add to pot and stir through. Serve hot.


Make 6 servings

Friday, January 29, 2010

light in the dark


Horror of horrors. As soon as my last post went up, I realized I had posted consecutive cabbage/noodle posts. Sorry to be so boring! I'm on this kick where I'm planning out my menu for the week on Sundays and then farmers marketing enough supplies to last all week, so when things don't go as planned, I'm left with the remains of a massive Napa cabbage (I mean, folks, it was baby-sized) that I have to use up.

Tonight's dinner wasn't that fascinating either - just a whole wheat couscous pilaf with some bok choy that hasn't been used this week, half-opened bags of cashews and almonds from the pantry that I didn't want to look at anymore and the remains of a veggie tray I brought to choir practice Wednesday night. However, the reason I'm posting dinner is the Maple Tofu (and Scallops for Matty).

I may even like it better than this Caramelized Tofu. It's very addicting - I nibbled on a couple pieces as I was cleaning up leftovers. Because it's not fried very deeply, it remains soft and not terribly chewy. The maple syrup, however, does caramelize a bit and adds a nice sweet crunch to the crust.

Maple Tofu
adaptable to serve as many as you like
one part maple syrup
two parts vegetable oil (anything neutral)
tofu, sliced about 1"x2"

Vigorously whisk the maple syrup and oil until the mixture is homogeneous. Pour enough to coat the bottom of a small skillet and add tofu slices without crowding. Fry for a few minutes on each side until mostly golden. Drain on paper towels (be careful when removing - some pieces may stick). Delicious with couscous, brown rice, soba noodles, in a spring roll, etc.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

a better plan


I had a plan for homemade dumplings tonight. I've had the plan since Tuesday when Matty was out having drinks with a friend. I was going to put on a record, make myself a Brie sandwich and quietly make about 4 dozen dumplings to freeze for a later meal. Instead I parked myself on the couch, Facebooked and read wedding blogs (for my sister) until bedtime.

Then I had choir rehearsal yesterday, and made myself another Brie sandwich when I got home. (I need to note that this is nothing fancier than a slice of Brie tucked between a slice of toasted Trader Joe's French Village 8 Plus 2 Stone Ground Whole Grain Bread with Soy and Flax Seed, aka the greatest bread known to humans. Just thinking about it makes me want to toast up a slice, and I've just eaten).

Anyway. On my way home, Matty called up saying he wasn't feeling 100% and thought he might be fighting a cold. That means only one thing. Tom Kha soup from Tub Tim Siam. And no dumplings.

Oh well. I was still itching to be in the kitchen after two days off, so while he braved traffic and picked up soup (complete with slightly offensive soup container, egg rolls and spring rolls, of course), I set out to conquer the remaining Napa cabbage I had in the fridge and made Cabbage with Hot Sauce.

Instead of using a wok, I threw my olive oil-showered 1-inch cabbage pieces into a 450-degree oven for about a half hour. I eyeballed the measurements - enough Sriracha to smoke out Matty's cold, but not too much that I couldn't partake, and just a touch of soy salt since I had already salted the cabbage pre-roasting. Then I threw in about 6 oz. of soba noodles, greased with a little sesame oil so they wouldn't stick to each other.

And oh my. Plenty have waxed poetic about this humble dish, but I'd still like to join the chorus. I loved the roasted green cabbage, but I think I may like roasted Napa better. The larger white ribs (or what would you call them?) stay nice and juicy while the curly tops caramelize and crisp. The spice factor was the perfect way to wake up what would normally be just-good-enough comfort food and made it lively and interesting. The barely-seasoned soba noodles made it the perfect one dish supper.

I'm debating whether it's polite to microwave leftover cabbage in a shared work space tomorrow, but this was so tasty I may have to shove manners aside. Sorry in advance, gentlemen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

contrast and compare


I intended to save Mark Bittman's Faux Pho (scroll up to page 143) for dinner tomorrow night, when rain is scheduled to return to Southern California and reduce us all to whimpering messes, but after a day in my absolutely frigid office, all I could think about was cuddling up to a nice noodle soup.

I've never made pho from scratch before, and while it's on my bucket list, I've just never had the time and patience to see it through. However, Bittman's vegetarian version seemed to be right up my alley in terms of prep time. I added about 8 oz. of diced tofu to mine, and added about 8 oz. of diced chicken breast to Matty's along with the Napa cabbage.

My only complaint was that the broth wasn't as full-bodied as I would have liked it. Obviously, it's not going to get very round being that it's just water - I should have gone ahead and used veggie stock. I had also thought about dropping in some sliced onions and a carrot and celery stalk, thereby making my own quickie stock, but I got lazy, and by the time I thought about it I was too busy cursing how my garlic and ginger was getting absolutely scorched in the crappy pots I was using. I had also forgotten to pick up some hoisin sauce, my absolute favorite pho condiment, and by the time I remembered, I had already been standing in the grocery check-out line for what seemed like an interminable amount of time, and I wasn't about to give up my spot.

But as I started eating, the fragrant broth garnished with shards of mint, basil, cilantro and lime, I started thinking how good this actually was. I mean, it's a huge departure from the pho dac biet's I'm used to eating that have all kinds of cow bits, but as I worked my way through the bowl, I realized the point was not to compare the two, but to take this for what it is. And what it is, is pretty solid.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this


I am literally typing this between long, extended blinks. I feel a food coma coming on.

This is possibly the best Mac + Cheese ever. I may have waited my whole life for this. It requires attention, but it's not fussy, and the reward for your patience is the richest pasta, creamy down to its core. And don't worry - I made sure to check that there were no eggs involved in the making of this fusilli.

I used half and half because mine was just within days of expiration. We don't use too much milk around here, so I didn't want to buy some just for one dish. I would easily let up and use milk next time. I'd also like to use a Cheddar for a more traditional coloring, but the jalapeno jack I used tonight was pretty delicious. Matty wants to try this cooking method with the cheese from our Habenero Mac + Cheese. My heart just jumped thinking about it.

And to reduce the guilt of having cooked carbs in cream, I made my friend Allison's Autumn Greens Salad with Sunflower Seeds.

1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 T. whole-grain mustard
3 T. fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
3/4 t. coarse salt
1 T. plus 1 t. pure maple syrup
2 T. sunflower oil, preferably cold-pressed
1/2 lb Brussels sprouts, very thinly sliced (3 cups)
4-6 large leaves of leafy greens such as Swiss chard and kale (preferably lacinato), stemmed and thinly sliced (3 cups)

1. Preheat oven to 375. Toast sunflower seeds on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer until golden, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Note: I did this step on the stove top in a large skillet as I find it's easier to control the toasting of nuts and seeds this way.

2. Stir mustard, lemon juice, salt and maple syrup together in a small bowl; whisk in oil until emulsified.

3. Toss Brussels sprouts, chard and kale together. Stir in sunflower seeds and pour in dressing; toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Wow. Brussels + chard + kale is good enough, but the dressing is killer. If I could say it any better, I would, but here are Allison's thoughts:

On the day I made it, I wasn't in the mood for a raw salad, so I put all the greens in a steamer basket and wilted them ever so slightly. The result was fantastic - a warm salad with crunch from the seeds and zing from the dressing! I'm sure it's great raw, too, and plan to try it that way at some point, but I like the warm version so much....maybe not!

moving along


It may have been that it's 3:00p, and all I've eaten today is a banana, but this Portobello and Herbed Ricotta sandwich was the most delicious sandwich I've ever had.

I halved the recipe, which makes for some really fussy measurements, so I just eyeballed the herbs and spices. I ended up using 6 Tablespoons of ricotta with half a Tablespoon of minced parsley, two pinches of truffle salt, two shakes of red pepper flakes and a pinch of lemon zest. I'm not usually a fan of adding lemon zest to savory applications, but this was actually very nice - brightened up the sandwich, and was a great contrast to the earthy, caramelized mushrooms.

I added arugula for a boost of vitamins, and a slice of prosciutto to Matty's sandwich for a boost of protein. Which brings me to the next phase of this vegetarian-eating business: now that I'm entering my second week and feeling a little better about not eating meat (I didn't even want prosciutto on my sandwich), I'm getting curious about the nutrition factor. I wonder where/how I'm getting enough protein. I have been working out like a fiend, and kind of want to make sure I'm not stalling my progress by not eating correctly. I feel like my meals are fairly balanced, but I am excited for this little research project.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

a thousand words


Yikes. I mean, I know my photography skills are poor, but you can't at all tell what's going on with this dish. I mean, first of all, it's pretty monochromatic, and our lighting is fairly, um, vintage, which doesn't help at all. Let's see what my fabulous prose skills can do to help out. :)

Mark Bittman's Naked Tamales with Chile Cheese Filling. Scandalous. They're naked because they're not made in a corn husk. The original recipe called for making them in individual ramekins, but I don't have enough so I made it in a loaf pan, layered crust/filling/crust. I think they'd definitely be neater in a ramekin - even though I let the loaf rest after taking it out of the oven, the time wasn't nearly enough to let it set well enough to make neat slices.

Luckily, delicious food has nothing to do with being neat. Let me tell you all the ways this was wonderful:

- The crust: Made very simply with masa harina, veggie broth, olive oil and baking powder. I was initially drawn to this recipe because it called for using solidified (frozen) olive oil to mimic the creamy texture that comes from using the traditional lard. Unfortunately, my olive oil never froze (which I was actually skeptical it would do), even after an hour in the freezer, but it did not adversely affect the end result. And between the stock and the olive oil, the dough was already so flavorful that I was licking the spoon like it was cake batter.

- The filling: Bittman calls for 3 red bell peppers and 2 poblano peppers either as is or roasted. Since I was lazy and didn't want to add the time it takes to roast and peel to the recipe, and because we have jars of roasted red peppers hiding in the pantry, I just pulled out 5 and called it a day.

- The cheese: Actually, the cheese didn't make it wonderful. Between the deliciously thick dough and the beautiful potency of roasted peppers and onions, I hardly tasted any of the cheese. Next time, I'd forego it altogether and make this dish vegan.

- The side: Pan-roasted cauliflower that had been chopped into tiny bits, seasoned with 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika, salt and plenty of black pepper. Like Spanish "Rice" except easier.

Friday, January 22, 2010

something for everybody


Matty's been amazingly supportive of my newly-acquired vegetarianism, playing along at dinner every night this week. Well, he did get to "cheat" Wednesday night at a dinner party, and what happens at lunch stays at lunch, but all in all, very supportive.

But it's Friday night, and well, what the heck - let's get nuts. Using Heidi's Heirloom Beans + Seitan as a template, I made two skillets - mine with homemade seitan from the Real Food Daily cookbook, and his with Vietnamese Shaking Beef, or Bo Luc Lac. To ensure that there would be leftovers, I used one pound of protein and one can each of cannellini and kidney beans per skillet.

We were both very happy with our respective meals. Matty even grabbed a couple pieces of seitan and was pleasantly surprised by how much he liked it. And I won't lie - the beef smelled incredible. When I was putting away the leftovers, it took everything I had to not pop a cube of steak in my mouth.

Patience, patience. 5 days down, 44 to go.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

one more try


As hippy-dippy as I can sometimes be (or am accused of being), I never got into quinoa. I know how good it is for you - yeah, yeah, it's a complete protein - I get it. It just seemed rather boring. Until I read "Quinoa: The Story of a Cursed Crop." Nerd alert: I cannot wait to read Part 2 next week!

And maybe it's that intrigue that got me to give quinoa another go. I'm really glad I did, too - I think filling it with warm, delicious things is the key. Tonight's version had roasted cabbage and mushrooms (a mixture of shiitake and portobello), but is endlessly adaptable to what's in season and/or what you need to get rid of in your fridge.

I won't insult your intelligence by posting it as an actual recipe. Just roast your favorite veggies in a 425-degree oven, follow the instructions on the box of quinoa for the number of people you're serving about 15 minutes into the roasting time, and then mix the two together. Season to taste, and if you're feeling sassy, drizzle on a little balsamic vinegar - not enough to necessarily taste the tang, but just enough to bring out the sweet notes in the roasted veggies.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

branding me with deep cuts


I thought a Truffled Chanterelle, Celery Root and Potato Gratin would be a nice comforting meal for such a blustery day, and indeed it was. I knew it was going to take a little while to pull together, so I had budgeted for grocery shopping, prep time and baking time, but what I did not account for was the possibility that, while I was slicing potatoes "two/three credit cards thick," I would also slice my right thumb "two/three credit cards thick."

You guys, I really nailed this one. I know there's a lot more suffering out there in the world, but I let myself wallow in self-pity for a second (well, closer to half an hour), just whining about how much this hurt. I mean, there was blood everywhere. I got light-headed, I needed a glass of water, I had to lie down - the works. I'm being held together by a cotton ball and a Band-Aid that is on perhaps a little too tight. And I'm just realizing how much I use my right thumb on the space bar because every now and again, I'll forget and whack that space bar with the wound like it's my job. Wah.

So we didn't have dinner until almost 10p after Matty graciously stepped in and followed the instructions I barked out to him. The gratin was fine, if a little soupy. Either I didn't reduce the liquid enough, or I shouldn't have tried to use such a deep casserole to bake in. But whatever. At 10p, truffled chanterelle, celery root and potato stew tastes pretty good, too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

back to basics


Day 1 of vegetarian eating: it may not look like much, but it was the absolute perfect thing for one of the worst rainstorms in recent memory. We were pelted by rain today - rain that came at us sideways. It was truly wretched.

It was hours before we were able to get out of our soaked clothing, and hours again before we finally got warm, but it was only about a half hour to make Glazed Carrot Soup with Avocado Toast.

I knew I would rely heavily on Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian", so it was no surprise to me that the first recipe that called to me came from the book. There are a couple lovely variations (hello, tequila-lime soup), but I made it pretty straight-forward - with the oil instead of the butter, with maple syrup as the sweetener, with water because I didn't have stock in the house, and I'd be damned if I was going to get back out in the rain, and with the addition of a tablespoon of minced ginger and 3 smashed cloves of garlic.

It's a pretty hands-on soup - it's not hard, but it does require your attention every 5-10 minutes for a stir here and there. It's well worth it, though. Even with just water and a minimal amount of seasoning, it's a rich, flavorful and filling soup.

The perfect accompaniment was a piece of sourdough wheat toast spread with half of an avocado, mashed and sprinkle with the tiniest bit of truffle salt. My omnivore fix for Matty was to offer him some sardines sprinkled on top of his toast a la Alton Brown, but he declined. I don't know why - since I knew my meat-eating days were numbered, I made myself a "sardicado" sandwich Saturday afternoon, and it was incredibly tasty. I didn't bother with all the fancy steps - just mashed each half in its skin and transferred the mash onto a slice of bread, broke pieces of sardine on top, and squeezed a couple drops of lemon over it all.

But anyway, I digress. Soup = good. Sandwich = good. Sometimes, it's the little things.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

so let go


There's really no gentle and graceful way for me to say this, so I'm just going to say it. My aunt passed last Wednesday night. She's lived with my parents since before I was born, so she had as much a hand in raising me as anyone else. She was diagnosed with colon cancer two Aprils ago, and now she is finally in a better place.

This is my first funeral. I've been to memorial services, but never a funeral, and obviously never a Vietnamese one. Part one was this morning, and the burial is tomorrow. Lots of the rituals are lost on me, and I don't even think my parents know exactly what they are. I mean, they know what they're supposed to do, but the symbolism itself - who knows.

One of the post-funeral rituals is to go to temple once a week for the next 7 weeks. And then I heard that you're also supposed to eat vegetarian (no eggs, but dairy is okay - just nothing that was once life) for those 7 weeks. Upon Wikipedia'ing Buddhist funerals, I learned that there are 49 days between death and rebirth/reincarnation. The idea is that everything the family does in those 49 days (going to service, forgoing meat, etc.) all contribute to the departed spirit's journey. So here we go, Aunt Hoa - for you.

I post this Tortellini with Truffled Kale and Balsamic Onions not because it's so genius, but because it's a starting point for what will undoubtedly be a difficult 7 weeks. I mean, I don't eat meat during the day anymore anyway, but part of the reason that works is that I knew I would usually have some for dinner. And I won't be taking it away from Matty's dinner - hence this post.

Do you all have ideas for vegetarian meals that can be easily adapted to include a mainly carniverous boyfriend? For example, I reheated some leftover chicken, and topped Matty's pasta portion with it. I know there was an entire cookbook that just came out dedicated to this very subject, but I'm not allowed any more cookbooks - we've run out of space to hold them!

And, AND! It was only halfway through what turned out to be a pretty amazing combination of flavors that I realized the pasta probably had eggs in it. Balls. Well, I didn't want to fall into the trap of eating vegetarian by focusing too much on carbs anyway.

So, challenge: vegetarian meals that can either satisfy or be adapted for the meat-eater I share my meals with. No eggs. Day 1 is tomorrow. Go!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

be good


I feel like I haven't baked in a long time. We've been trying to be good, so constantly having sweets around was out. However, we were gifted with a load of Meyer lemons from our friends' tree, and I had to do something with them.

Lemon Ginger Muffins were that something. And they're fairly magnificent. I used Ener-G egg replacer (more on why in another post), but otherwise followed the recipe so it wasn't entirely vegan. However, I think this would be really easy to veganize with margarine and soy yogurt.

It'd be a nice breakfast treat on its own - it's not very sweet, and the lemon and ginger flavors are mellow. I'd actually add even more ginger next time - even though I thought 1/2 cup of chopped ginger sounded like a lot, it hardly registers in the final product but for the aroma.

As you can see, though, it's also fantastic as a receptacle for French vanilla ice cream drizzled with just a touch of our new favorite thing, the peach balsamic vinegar from Beyond the Olive. So much for being good.

Friday, January 15, 2010

simplify


Still in a pretty messy funk. I feel like I'm doing everything way slower than I usually do. And I'm a little sloppier about it. Thank goodness that didn't matter with dinner.

I found a bag of chicken thighs in the freezer last night and set them out to thaw. I couldn't even tell you when/where they came from, but they didn't look too frost-bitten, so I daydreamed about that Suzanne Goin Deviled Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks recipe that's all over the interweb. Then I started making my way home from the longest week ever, and realized that I didn't have the energy for that many steps. My fix? Breaded and Baked Chicken Thighs with Roasted Cabbage.

The chicken couldn't be easier. Since I had 7 thighs, I doubled the mustard mixture, subbing out the mayo for plain yogurt. It's tastier than it sounds - think buttermilk fried chicken without the overnight marinade. Next time, I would bake it on a rack over a baking sheet as opposed to in a roasting pan so that the bottom gets a chance to crisp up as well.

And as is very often the case around here, the star of the meal was the slightly weird vegetable accompaniment. I mean, "roasted cabbage" doesn't sound particularly appetizing, but I figured I'd give it a go since I so enjoy their smaller Belgian brethren so much. We split half a head of cabbage - roasted in six wedges in the rack above the chicken.

The smell of it roasting, not altogether unpleasant, brought us back to plenty of childhood memories. My childhood memory having to do with a stuffed cabbage soup, I'd like to experiment with serving the cabbage over pasta with plenty of albondigas-style meatballs, perhaps even en brodo. But let's be honest - if this ritardando in my daily function continues, I'll just be roasting the other half of the cabbage and calling it a meal this weekend.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

on the outside


As soon as we cleaned off the platter above, I went back to the stovetop and scraped every last bit of remaining sauce into a Pyrex to go on top of my lunch tomorrow. I mean, really - run, don't walk, to make this Pasta with Butternut Parmesan Sauce.

It still fits in the theme of eating lightly this week - it only has the tiniest bit of cream and cheese. Tiny. And we balanced it out by using an entire box of arugula (easily about 5 cups worth) and at least another 2 cups of spinach as a bed for some simply seared scallops. Score one for another step to cleaning out the fridge. Score two for finally figuring out that I like arugula - it just needs to be cooked first.

But that butternut squash sauce. It is just perfect. A little sweet, a little creamy with just a little sharpness from the onions (I subbed out the shallots because I didn't have any on hand). As Elise mentioned - squash is a perfectly acceptable ravioli filling. Why not put the filling on the outside? I was a little out of it today, so I felt everything went really slowly for me, but once you get that squash roasted, the whole dinner comes together in the time it takes to cook the pasta.

And think of the endless possibilities with it - we went the seafood route today, but I had originally planned to make some sort of short rib creation to mimic one of my favorite dishes at Amalfi - the pumpkin ravioli with braised short ribs. You could also probably thin it out with a little water or broth and make a lovely soup. Sweet butternut squash dreams, everyone.

Monday, January 11, 2010

we all need some light now


I'm trying to keep things light around here this week. If all goes according to plan, this weekend should be very meat-centric. I've got a London broil to test for a cookbook, and I'll be trying to recreate a restaurant favorite for Matty since he didn't get what he wanted the last time he was there. Oh, and it's also the NFL playoffs. I'm going to eat food that's bad for me and not feel guilty about it. I mean, I need the sustenance for the screaming. But I guess I should balance it out a little.

So Roasted Halibut with Potatoes, Olives + Bay Leaves it is. I halved the recipe and baked it in an 8x8-inch pan since it was just the two of us. Now I don't know how thinly the potatoes should have been sliced, but the way I did it, I ended up with enough to make 5 layers in the pan. I have no idea how it would fit in one layer with just a little overlap even in the bigger pan with the half recipe. Luckily it didn't matter - I did end up having to add 5 minutes to the potato-roasting time, but the potatoes cooked to a lovely crisp around the edges and wonderful melting comfort in the middle, both great contrasts to the firm halibut. Paired with roasted haricots verts (tossed with truffle oil and truffle salt), this meal was perfectly healthy comfort food.

Those oil-cured olives pack a wallop of salt, though, so take care in adding any more. I may leave them out next time, but haven't decided what I'd replace them with. Suggestions?

Friday, January 8, 2010

may you find some comfort here


If there was a warm, safe place where I could go to hide from all of the Pete Carroll rumors swirling around today, it would be inside this Cashew Curry. All the chopping was also a great coping mechanism.

This recipe is entirely customizable - you control the heat, you control the thickness, and you can use whatever vegetables you need to empty from your refrigerator. I actually forgot the cashews (I mean, duh, it's in the title), but my version made plenty of leftovers, so there's always tomorrow.

Vegetable Curry
1 red onion, cut in large chunks
2 T. olive oil
4 T. curry powder (or to taste)
2 14-oz. cans coconut milk
4 carrots, sliced into coins
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
12 oz. cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 lb. haricots verts, cut into 1-inch segments
1 c. vegetable broth or water
2 c. chopped spinach
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large saucepan. Add onion and saute until shimmery. Add 2 T. curry powder and stir until it smells great.

Add one can of coconut milk, carrots and tomatoes. Simmer over low heat until carrots just start to lose their crunch.

Add remaining coconut milk, cauliflower and haricots verts. Stir to combine. Thin to desired consistency with vegetable broth or water. Add remaining curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Don't be shy with the salt - it's a lot of liquid and there's a lot of sweetness from the veggies, so it may take a bit to balance.

When the cauliflower and green beans are just about done to your liking, stir in the spinach. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve over brown rice.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

i've got to have it


Criteria for tonight's dinner: a) it had to be quick because we were heading to Hotel Cafe for Matty's show with Jay Nash, and b) it had to involve Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Hazelnuts and Fried Capers.

Check and check. As soon as I read that title and saw that photo, my Mail folder bursting at the seams with recipe links and my stack of magazines with mini Post-Its all went by the wayside. This had to be made immediately.

If I were home alone, I would have probably gone for the whole pound of sprouts as dinner, but since Matty's home, and I should be civilized, I wandered the aisles of Trader Joe's trying to find a suitable accompaniment. I kind of wanted to poach some fish again, maybe a nice halibut this time, but we had indulged in a sushi craving on Tuesday, and I thought maybe halibut with be a bit much.

I stopped in front of the meat section and decided to go with pork chops, realizing that I've never made pork chops. A couple of tenderloins, but no chops. Here we go, then.

There are lots of recipes out there for wonderful-sounding braises and roasts, but since I was strapped for time, I decided a quick pan-fry would be my best bet. I rubbed the chops with lots of pepper and truffle salt and fried them in truffle oil for about 5 minutes on each side. I took them out after a thermometer inserted horizontally in the side of the chop crept over 140 degrees F. Remember, it won't kill you if your pork is a little pink, but it will kill your tastebuds if you let it cook into a cardboard-y mess.

And back to our star - those sprouts. I pretty much did everything according to the recipe, but I would tweak a couple things for the next go-around.

- Serve immediately: yes, the recipe does say to do that. What did I do? Oh, kept it warm in the oven while cooking the pork chops. I just didn't want to use another pan (and then have to clean another pan). Serving them immediately would preserve some of those enjoyable crisp edges I snuck out of the pan when seasoning instead of steaming them away in the oven. Still good, but could be better.

- Less lemon: unless my lemons (and by "my," I mean our friends Kat and Brandon's Meyer lemons from their tree) were extra juicy, I would suggest just starting with the juice of half a lemon and go from there. Half was all I needed.

- Crispy capers: I didn't feel the capers were that present in the dish, so to make them pop more next time, I think I'd toss them with a little cornstarch, fry them (a la this), and use them as a topping as opposed to sauteing them all together.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

whipped cream (and other delights)


On my way to work this morning, I heard on the radio that today was National Whipped Cream Day. After shaking my head that there's a holiday for everything, I suddenly remembered that I never bragged about the Meringue-Nut Layer Cake (Julia, Vol. 2, p. 497) that I made for our NYE dinner.

What started out as a bit of a stressful event came out to be one of the lovelier desserts I've made in a while.

Stress #1 was finding room to bake 3 8-inch circles of meringue. Luckily, I found that the new baking sheets I bought, which exactly fit inside my oven, were the perfect size. I didn't want to mess with a piping bag so I just divided the meringue into 3 equal parts and smoothed them into 8-inch rounds with a spatula.

Stress #2 was the buttercream that was supposed to go between and around the meringues. It never set up. I started the process in the morning, and by dinner time, it was still not of "mayo like consistency." It tasted great, but it wasn't going to be buttercream anytime soon, if ever. Oh well. Whipped up a quart of cream with a major splash of Bailey's and called it a day.

So in the end, it was meringue round + 1/4 whipped cream, meringue round + 1/4 whipped cream, meringue round + remaining whipped cream over top and around sides. And because I am frightful at frosting, I sprinkled on some mini chocolate chips for decoration.

It was like eating clouds. The meringues were either soft to being with, or absorbed a lot of the moisture of the cream and kind of melted into each mouthful, leaving just the faintest texture of hazelnuts. The Bailey's gave an adult edge to the cream, any the chocolate chips gave a hit of sweetness rounding into a pleasantly dark after-taste.

I actually can't imagine this with buttercream now - it would have been impossibly heavy. Besides there's no National Buttercream Day. Yet.

Monday, January 4, 2010

shallow, so shallow


Now that the holidays are over, it's time to detox. No more insanely decadent dinner parties - just light, clean, easy food. At least until the next round of dinner parties - you know, the ones with the folks you tried to see during the holidays but have now promised to see once things "settle down" in the new year.

Anyway, an excellent source of such meals is Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, a Christmas gift from my co-worker Dana. I knew that after what we were getting into on New Year's Eve, we would need her Shallow-Poached Salmon (p. 146).

Matty told me he'd always eat salmon any way I cooked it, so he wasn't much help in the feedback department. I'll just gush my opinion, then. I absolutely loved it. It was so amazingly simple. I used about a pound of salmon fillets and cooked them in a 10-inch nonstick skillet, which means my poaching liquid was 2 cups of water and 1/4 cup dry vermouth. I've never been a fan of too much masking the flavor of salmon, and with this recipe, I didn't have to worry about that at all. This is salmon in all its glory.

I paired it with some pearl couscous inspired by Pasta with Mint Pesto, Peas and Ricotta Salata. Instead of the half pound of pasta, I cooked a cup of couscous in just over a cup of vegetable broth. Added a cup of frozen peas (unthawed) in after it was done, and kept the lid on while I prepared the salmon. By the time that was finished, the peas had cooked perfectly, and it was ready to be doused in the mint pesto. I would maybe halve the amount of oil called for in the pesto recipe - I prefer my pesto a little chunkier. I also like my pesto stronger in the garlic department, so next time, I would skip cooking the garlic in oil and just toss the raw cloves right in the food processor.

Other than that, pure perfection. I can't wait to go back to this again after blowing my stomach out on the next extravagant dinner event.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

uh, yawn


The girls and I managed to squeeze one last holiday celebration in before we all have to go back to work tomorrow - our annual Secret Santa gift exchange/potluck dinner.

My contribution was Paprika Roast Chicken. It smelled amazing while cooking up, and was perfectly moist and juicy. I only wish it had tasted like anything. I have no idea why it ended up so bland. Let me back up.

I bought full leg pieces because they were ridiculously cheaper than buying thighs and drumsticks. The package came out to just under 4 1/2 pounds, so I doubled the rub ingredients. I also decided to apply the marinade and refrigerate the chicken about 3 hours before cooking.

Did the paprika somehow lose its potency in the fridge? Should I have just tossed the chicken and marinade right before cooking? I'm at a loss. That said, I really like the high-blast method of roasting - it just seems a waste to use so much smoked paprika and only get to smell it and not taste it.

Friday, January 1, 2010

vintage people


We love hosting NYE - it's never a large affair, and we don't bother watching the ball drop, but I've always enjoy making it an occasion to celebrate. Any excuse to dress up and eat. :)

We decided to go vintage to celebrate this new year. For Christmas, Matty had given me the two-volume set of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I had given him Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. He made vespers, and we quality-controlled various gin cocktails while I cooked. This may be the one time I admit to having made too much food.

Green Caesar Salad
I love anchovies. I love Caesar salad. In the rush to get everything done, I forgot to make the croutons. No matter. The dressing was to-die-for, and I thought it was super fun to serve the Romaine in wedges.

Braised Goose (Julia, Vol. 1) with Chestnut Stuffing
I love goose. I love chestnuts. I had never had either until last night.

Man, oh man. Goose tastes like a cross between turkey and duck. It's got the texture of turkey, but that gorgeous fatty, rich flavor of duck. I am absolutely in love. I would love to have put it in a huge Dutch oven so that the cover stayed on properly, but I don't have $350 to just throw around on one dish, so I used a disposable roasting pan that just barely fit in our oven, and covered it with foil. A girl can dream, though, and since I plan to add goose to a more regular rotation, maybe I can convince my bank account that the Dutch oven would be a good investment piece.

I decided not to use the stuffing Julia makes to accompany this braise because it includes veal and pork, and our friend Kat doesn't eat red meat. The vegetarian option at Saveur was still quite tasty. I don't know that I would bother roasting (and peeling) my own chestnuts again, but I'll be first in line if someone's got it roasted for me. I mean, I have never been more in fear of losing digits than when trying to cut an "x" on the chestnuts pre-roasting. Not even cutting up butternut squash compares to this kind of fear.

I'd love to try roasting the goose properly on a rack next time, as opposed to the braise. I can already imagine more fat rendering, leaving the skin perfectly crisp. And there is something absolutely fascinating about the foie gras-stuffed prunes that Julia has accompany the roast goose recipe.

Beef Wellington
I wanted to do Julia's recipe (in Vol. 2), but the thought of adding bread-making to my to-do list (for the crust in lieu of puff pastry) was just a little too overwhelming. She also calls for the tenderloin to be sliced and stuffed before wrapping in dough, and I was clumsy enough with the whole tenderloin.

What a magnificent creation, though. This definitely falls into "Last Meal on Earth" category. I didn't have truffles, so I just sauteed the mushrooms in truffle oil and seasoned them with truffle salt. Between that and the foie gras adding even more amazing meatiness to an already perfectly rare tenderloin, it was really all I could do to not pull the leftovers out of the fridge for a 3a snack.

Mushroom Marsala Pasta with Artichokes
This was another option for the non-meat eaters. I got so frazzled at this point because it was getting to be a little later than I had planned for dinner to be served, so I skipped the cream and cheese part. It was still fantastic. If you're a mushroom lover, this one's for you. I might not even bother with the artichokes in the future - it's all about the mushrooms. I do plan on adding the cream and cheese part when I reheat the leftovers, though.

Haricots Verts a la Provencale (Julia, Vol. 1)
I actually didn't have any, but our friend Paul asked for more when I served him and more in his doggie bag. Good enough for me. :)

Carrot Souffle
Kind of the sleeper hit. I mean "carrot" and "souffle" should not sound good together, in my opinion. But it was. And it's actually a very good party dish because it didn't deflate at all (it didn't rise either - just kind of set up a bit). Don't know if that's because I didn't get my eggs frothy enough, but that turned out better for me in terms of timing all the different parts of the meal.

Kat thought it was very dessert-like, which of course led my mind to racing about maybe replacing all of the savory ingredients with a little brown sugar and cinnamon.

And because I'm about to face-plant into my keyboard from being up at a godawful hour this morning to try on bridesmaid dresses (after obviously not very much sleep last night), I will tell you about our actual dessert, Meringue Nut Cake (Julia, Vol. 2), tomorrow.