Last week I cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersI refuse to answer the question “How was your summer?” I’m still eating my way through it!!! More than ever I’m experiencing serious recipe FOMO. There are so many things I should be cooking with so much summer produce. Eggplant parm (standard and pizza) and cherry tomato sausage bakes and zucchini carbonara and plum cakes and peach cobblers. A chorizo and tomato salad which is the marriage of two of my absolute favorite ingredients that I pinned years ago and still haven’t cooked. I haven’t made ice cream yet this summer (But this peach derby ice cream has to be in my future. It just has to be.). But I need to take this one meal at a time. I had tomatoes in every meal that I cooked this week, so that counts for something.

Epic roast chicken salad (from Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain, pictured above with dry English cider). This is a perfect summer Sunday meal. It has a longer cooking time, but it is mostly hands off. The balance of ingredients is inspired. Crispy, chewy bread, fatty bacon and chicken skin, sweet cherry tomatoes, crunchy green beans, meaty chicken and the acid and bite of vinegar and mustard. This is the dream salad I didn’t know I should dream about. And though the bread bits weren’t quite as good the next day, I still thoroughly enjoyed the leftovers. I added in extra cherry tomatoes and green beans, and still could have done with more.

Chickpea and cherry tomato curry (the recipe is in the booklet at the bottom, which has a bunch of other gems). The first time I made this curry was a revelation. Coconut and tomatoes?! But they add the perfect sweet and bright pop to a rich curry. I add in more tomatoes than called for, and always want even more than that. Just remember to start rice to serve it with before you make the curry…otherwise it leads to a late dinner.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters

Sabih (from Jerusalem). Though this recipe has a lot of parts, it is really just an open faced sandwich with salad and sauce and everything came together quickly. I found the eggplant to be a bit oily after frying…maybe because I didn’t have it hot enough? Or have enough oil in the pan? The eggs were a weird texture to me among all the vegetables, but they did make it into a heartier meal.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters

Shrimp in green sauce. I was the sous chef to my mom on this one, but I did provide the recipe and then thoroughly enjoy the product. Super easy, and vibrant in color and taste. Served with tomato salad and corn on the cob, finished with blueberry cobbler. Thanks Mom!!!!!

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters

Breakfasts this week were and ode to tomatoes and eggs. An omelet with sautéed cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and goat cheese and skillet potatoes. (When making omelets for two, I prefer to use a big pan to make one giant omelette and then split it in half for eating.) Fried eggs with fried tomatoes on buttered toast. Scrambled eggs with goat cheese on toast with sautéed tomatoes (pictured above). Egg and salsa burritos. My one rule is the tomatoes should be cooked before paired with eggs, because I don’t like cold things stealing the heat from my eggs, and they are often too watery uncooked.

Not something I cooked, but hilarious: So you want to write a food blog (via Shutterbean). “Remember, you never want to confuse your readers. I find it helpful to always provide a photo of each individual ingredient, in case your fans forget what food looks like, as well as a candid photo of a baby (it doesn’t have to be yours) in a bathtub full of chia seeds. Isn’t he adorable?”


French Pressing

French Press Method - Vegetal MattersEntering into a relationship inevitably leads to the melding of habits. Will and my morning routine’s both started with coffee, but the methods differed. I used my roommate’s coffee maker and made a strong brew every morning. Will made a weaker brew in his French press, with water boiled in a kettle right in his bedroom. Our processes slowly merged as we picked the best practices of each other’s methods. We switched to using a French press exclusively, but brewing with twice the amount of grounds.

Then we added a burr grinder to the process, which does add a few minutes in the morning but makes a huge difference (and is also the main reason we switch off coffee making duties daily). Someday we’ll spring for an automatic one, but this one works well and is very portable (best camping coffee ever).

Earlier this summer we visited Rochester, NY, and one of our must stops was Joe Bean, which Will claimed to be the best coffee shop he’s ever been to, but I think he undersold it a bit. The atmosphere is a cross between a food lab and a bar that you want to hang out in every day, starting in the morning for coffee and through the night for beer or wine. It is not a place you go for a fast cup. You talk to the baristas about what you like, what their current roasts are, and the brewing method that will best bring out your favorite flavors. On our first visit we had a Chemex, which made for an amazingly floral cup (a flavor I didn’t even know coffee could have). On our second visit we went a little wilder, and ordered a siphon, which was so fun to watch them make and equally complex. These were obviously THE people to ask about coffee, and since we couldn’t come back for a third visit I inquired about their French press brewing method. While the man I talked to said it was not his favorite brew method, he said he fills the press to the top, lets the coffee sit for a minute, gives it a big stir, and then puts the top on to finish brewing.

Before this we had been just barely wetting the grounds, letting them sit for a few seconds, and then pouring the rest of the water and letting it brew for four minutes. This little change made for an even bolder cup with the same amount of grounds, and finally solidified my status as the superior coffee maker in the couple (for now at least). It may seem like a minor difference, but the taste difference is surprisingly noticeable. Below is our full brewing method right now. The real aficionados weigh their grounds and water, and measure water temperature, but we’re not at that level yet.  This produces a consistent enough cup for our liking.

French Press for Two (or one very caffeinated person)

Yields 3 standard size mugs of coffee

Set 1 liter of water to boil. Measure out 6 tablespoons of coffee beans into the burr grinder and grind away on coarse. Put the grounds in the French press. After the water boils, let it cool for a minute so it is no longer bubbling. Fill the French press until an inch from the top, and set a timer for 1 minute. At the one minute mark vigorously stir the grounds and water. Place the top on the press and set a timer for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes press the coffee, and serve how you please (in our house: just a splash of milk, no sugar).

Last week I cooked…

Last week I cooked - Vegetal Matters I spent minimal time out in the world today, and still saw Oktoberfest beer and Halloween decorations for sale. COOL YOUR JETS retail, it is still August, which means we aren’t done with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, humidity, weddings, dining outside, or beach days yet.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal Matters

Eggplant Pasta. I admittedly set myself up for disaster with this one. I didn’t peel the eggplant so those pieces were more bitter, and I didn’t use a mandolin to slice it. The strips need to be incredibly thin for this dish to work with such a short cooking time. I cooked it for way longer than 10 seconds, but they still weren’t pasta texture. So know, this dish needs some skill and equipment to execute properly (and even then, I’m still skeptical of the short cooking time). I’m curious what this is like when executed properly, but next time I’ll just make Alton’s eggplant parm, which is one of my favorite foods.

Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad (pictured above). Paired with the eggplant noodles, and as much as the eggplant didn’t work, this dish did and it was entirely unplanned. I’ve been slowly reading through The Art of Simple Food to soak up its wisdom, and turned to the salad chapter for inspiration. I wouldn’t have put green beans and cherry tomatoes together, but as usual Alice was right. Easy red wine vinegar and shallot vinaigrette, and enough of a departure from my usual tomato salad. This one will forever be in my late summer rotation.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal Matters

Chard and feta quesadillas. A dinner disappointment is necessarily followed by a sure success. I cooked down a lot of chard (probably 8 large leaves, stems removed and chopped), and then cooled it a bit and squeezed out excess liquid. Flour tortillas filled with mild cheddar, feta, and the chard made for a fail-safe delicious meal paired with a tomato and cucumber salad.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal Matters

Skillet greens & beans with anchovy breadcrumbs. I would have eaten the entire pot of this if possible. This is a dish that is a flash to put together and everything I want in a meal. Filling beans, vegetal greens, and anchovy umami. I even burned the croutons for this (by bread wasn’t at crumb level) and it was still amazing. Last time I made it with dried beans that I cooked, which did hold their integrity much better, but I still liked that the canned beans I used this time broke down more to mix with the dressing. I used mature red Russian kale chopped, and cannellini beans, but will continue adapting it with what I have around for future versions. Even if you don’t think anchovies are your thing, give them a chance. They shine here.

This was a busy and earlier week at work, so my breakfasts were mostly fruit and granola eaten during morning meetings. But I made up for it this weekend with a perennial favorite (made with chard this go around), and then skillet potatoes with a goat cheese, zucchini, and cherry tomato omelette.

Besides a tiny batch of strawberry thyme honey jam, I haven’t done any canning this summer. But that all changed this week, because determined to make up for lost time I made tomato jam two nights in a row, followed by a double batch of dilly beans (I used the recipe from the book, which uses white vinegar, cayenne pepper and no peppercorns, but I may add those in next time). Still on my list: ketchup, roasted corn salsa, peach salsa and lots of tomatoes.

Gulp. and Thoughts on Taste

Gulp. and Thoughts on Taste - Vegetal MattersWay back in January I talked about food resolutions, and added on a few related books on my 2015 to read list. I’m pleased to say I’ve made some progress, and read More Home Cooking back in January (over a single very snowy weekend), and though I haven’t read The Unsettling of America yet, I did read another Wendell Berry book: Bringing it to the Table.

Gulp. by Mary Roach was another on my list, and has been on display at my local library and taunting me for months, so I finally grabbed it. Earlier this year I read Spook, her book about the science of the afterlife, so two books in I have a good grasp of her writing style and interest. Even though her books are popular science, they are much less about the science and more about the stories that made the science happen. She does talk about how things work, but her interest is far more in the people who did the research and the often very weird stories that relate to them. So Gulp. did have some overview information on how the alimentary canal operates, but it was overwhelmed by anecdotes and stories of scientists and research. If you’re interest is strictly in the science, then seek out another book (and let me know which one you read).

This is an easier read where Roach tries to be an olive oil tester, goes to a pet food manufacturer, visits saliva scientists, and reports on the creepy relationship between a man with a hole blown directly into his stomach and the man who researches digestion by sticking things inside him attached to a string and pulling them back out. Most interesting to me was the beginning about our sense of taste. Roach starts off with how little taste has to do with actually putting things on your tongue. Besides smell, sight and perception play heavily into how things taste to us. Since wine tasting is such a thing, many a study have been done on how various factors affect how wine tastes to people. One set up is having people taste wine without the labels or knowledge of the price, and then again with those factors. When the price is known, people often like more expensive wines better, but don’t when they are brown bagged. Roach also described an experiment where people were tasting white wine colored to look like red wine, and described it using the red wine lingo.

It is fun to try to get beyond someone’s perceptions of what a food should look and taste like. I work with students on the farm and we incorporate vegetable tastings into a lot of the programming. In the learning garden we grow three varieties of cherry tomatoes: sungold (bright yellow), sweetheart cherry (red and heart-shaped), and black cherry (dark green/reddish and the most delicious). A lot of the time getting a kid to try a new food can be a struggle, especially if they don’t come from a place where trying new things often is the norm. It’s much easier when you stay in a realm they are comfortable in. So if they have tried a tomato before, a black cherry tomato is still something mostly familiar, just with one factor changed (except the taste is also so much better than flat grocery store cherry tomatoes). And hopefully this makes different things seem a little less scary, and loosens the rigid perceptions of what any one food’s qualities should be. Maybe this could help lessen the strictness of what we all expect vegetables and other foods to look like, and embrace greater varieties and new definitions of perfection.


Last week I cooked…

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersMy cousin moved to Barcelona for a year this week, so last Sunday we had a Bon Voyage dinner. He requested my mom’s cilantro lime chicken fajitas, and I made salsas, bean dip, black beans, and Mexican corn to go alongside. The salsas were adapted from Mexico the Cookbook, the black bean dip from Thug Kitchen, and this Mexican corn. I did half ears of the corn since there were so many food options, and this is one of those super simple dishes that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Summer squash and brown rice gratin. I really liked the concept of this dish, and the brown rice substitution Sara made, but it didn’t come out quite as it was supposed to. I didn’t pay close enough attention to my squash juice and milk mixture as it warmed and it curdled (so really, just barely warm it). Mine also came out a bit soupy, and I used a summer squash instead of a zucchini, so it did not turn out to be the most attractive dish. I still mention it but because despite of all these missteps, it still did taste pretty good, used a lot of squash, and is worth trying again.

Roasted Zataar Carrots (from Bowl + Spoon). An easy side. I don’t think I’ll always make the tahini sauce, but this was a nice fast side to go with the squash gratin (and use up some fridge bounty). I don’t think the orange juice or zest is necessary, the carrots are sweet enough on their own.


Summer rolls with carrots, cabbage, cucumbers and peanut sauce. I don’t use a recipe for these anymore, just soak the spring roll wrappers in very warm water for 5 seconds, let the water soak in, and then fill with whatever vegetables  or other fillings are around. The peanut sauce I adapted from these delicious bowls. It’s a favorite I always double to freeze, and will get around to posting the full recipe at some point.

Soba noodles with eggplant (from Thug Kitchen). This recipe was dead easy and tasty, but I was left wanting a little bit more. Maybe other vegetables besides just eggplant, or a little something else in the sauce (tahini? miso?). Definitely not a full meal for four, more of a side dish (but I served with summer rolls).

Sriracha and lime corn slaw (pictured above on the right). I’ll admit I didn’t fully read this recipe, but I wanted to go with the flavor profile plus a few additions from my fridge to clean out all the produce before I went away for the weekend. I roasted the corn in the husk in the oven for about 20 minutes at 425F, removed the husk, and cut off the kernels. I chopped the quarter cabbage I had in the fridge, added that to the corn kernels, added the crumbled cotija and topped with a sriracha, lime, and olive oil dressing.

Tabbouleh with mint (pictured above on the left). This was part of my pre trip clean out the fridge salad pairing. I had half a bunch of mint hanging out in the fridge, so I used that instead of the parlsey, mint, and scallions. My bulger was definitely plenty cooked in under an hour. An excellent and easy salad to pull together with garden ingredients and a little more heft from the bulger.

Green scrambled eggs with mustard toast. A new summer breakfast favorite.

Green Scrambled Eggs with Mustard Toast

Green Eggs with Mustard Toast - Vegetal MattersThis breakfast was born out of another Sunday morning toast session at BirchTree. It is the kind of place you want to linger, so I brought a cookbook to flip through. In Bowl + Spoon, Sara has a recipe for barely creamed greens with eggs and mustard breadcrumbs, as well as a popeye protein bowl that involved scrambled egg whites, zucchini, spinach, black beans, and avocado.

Both of these recipes were combined and then adapted to fit my whims and kitchen contents. We left BirchTree with a loaf of bread for toast, and in one of my farmer’s market raids the week before I bought zucchini, kale, and eggs. This takes less than 10 minutes of effort to pull together, but is as healthful, hearty, and seasonal as a breakfast can get. And so good it bears repeating…4 days in a row. The mustard here is just meant to be a slight background brightness, not an overwhelming flavor (like a tiny smear in the best grilled cheese).

Green Scrambled Eggs with Mustard Toast

Small breakfast for 2 or hearty for 1

  • 1 cup of zucchini that has been quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup of chopped kale or other hearty green
  • 2 teaspoons of oil or butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of milk (or a splash if you are more like me in the morning)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar, or another cheese, or no cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (whole grain is extra fun)
  • 2 pieces bread

Put the bread in the toaster to your liking. Heat a small sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the sliced zucchini, and cook without disturbing for 3 minutes. Stir, and cook another 2 minutes. It should take on slight color, but not really brown.

While the zucchini is cooking crack both eggs in a bowl, add milk, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

Add the kale to the zucchini and stir. After a minute it should be just wilted and shiny. Lower the heat to medium low. Add the beaten eggs to the pan and stir. Stir every minute for 2-3 more, until the eggs are scrambled to your liking (I go until they are just cooked through but still very soft. Turn off the heat, add the cheese, and stir to combine.

Spread the mustard on the toast (you can do butter first if it’s a special morning), and serve with the egg scramble.

Last week I cooked…

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersTakeout-style sesame noodles with cucumber. I saw this posted on Tuesday, didn’t have a firm plan for dinner that night, and had all the ingredients for this in the pantry, plus cucumbers in the garden and it was the greatest. I’ve had trouble cooking rice noodles, but I watched these like a hawk and then drizzled them with sesame oil as instructed, and they didn’t turn out gummy or all stick together (hallelujah!). I always love a nutty, creamy, slightly sour sauce like this (which tastes strong on its own but mellows nicely with the noodles). After running around all day I knew I would need a more substantial meal, so I roasted some tofu a la Thug Kitchen (page 77 of the cookbook….that’s how often I use this method). Because of the tofu addition I served the noodles still warm and they were everything I hoped for.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal Matters

Braised cabbage with fried potatoes, feta, and dill (from Vegetable Literacy). Very fancy feeling. The creamy fried potatoes were nicely balanced with wilted buttery cabbage, salty feta and herbal dill (which I don’t cook with enough).  This would have made an excellent course at an Irish mid-summer farm dinner. Unfortunately I made just this for dinner, and Madison’s serves 4 definitely meant as a side not a meal.

Corn bread salad. I have to admit this did not turn out, but it was entirely my fault as I let the cornbread go south (I thought toasting it up again would save it…I was wrong). Even if I had done everything according to recipe, it probably would not be my favorite dish. I already don’t like croutons in salad, and then getting them all soggy just makes everything that much worse. But I tried it, and I think most people without soggy crouton aversions would like this, so have at it.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal Matters

Zucchini ricotta fritters. I’ve been on the hunt for the best zucchini fritters for a while now…and these still aren’t quite them. The ricotta made them super moist, but to the point of being hard to cook through. They stayed together really nicely, browned quickly, and then sat in the oven for a bit and still were super soft in the middle. Most zest and more salt next time, higher heat, and longer in the oven.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal Matters

Potatoes with kale and a fried egg. This remains one of my absolute favorite breakfasts. This time I cooked the potatoes cubed in the cast iron, and added some diced onion halfway through cooking. The potatoes aren’t quite as decadent that way, but they do cook faster.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal Matters

Toast with ricotta, honey, and peaches. My favorite breakfast, lunch, and coffee spot in Worcester is also a bakery, and most of their breakfast menu is just their incredible breads toasted with various spreads (like country bread with homemade raspberry jam, and olive and herb bread with whipped feta and olive oil). After eating there Sunday I wanted nothing but toast for breakfast all week, and did different renditions of ricotta with jam or honey and fruit.


Last week I cooked…

20150726_195049Spicy fried chicken sandwich. We had this for dinner on Will’s actual birthday. It was the first fried chicken sandwich I’ve ever made, and I see no reason to ever seek out another recipe. The chicken was spicy, crispy and tender, and the yogurt sauce/slaw was just the right creamy, crunchy contrast. For me this was a perfect balance of spiciness, enough to feel it and warrant spicy in the name, but not so much that it kept you from actually tasting everything. I suppose if your spice tolerance is low you will want to find another recipe, but I’ll be sticking with this one.

Lentil and chickpea salad with feta and tahini. Redemption after a weekend of barbecue and fried chicken. I love the onion salad on top of the creamy legumes. Paired with the tomato salad below.

Tomato salad with pomegranate molasses (from Persiana). I added in some cucumbers and cherry peppers from my garden instead of the Turkish peppers, but loved this simple but new take on a tomato salad. The dressing is super potent, so used sparingly.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersOttolenghi’s black pepper tofu. This has been on my to cook list for too long. The addition of butter is inspired (but really didn’t we all love rice with butter as kids?). The amount of pepper seems ridiculous, but the butter mellows it nicely. I halved the recipe to use a single block of tofu (which usually come in 14 oz portions on the US).

Spicy roasted bok choy. Paired with black pepper tofu. I think my red pepper flakes are especially potent, because this was super spicy, which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for to go with the pepper tofu. I mostly was excited about the ease of preparation and the fact that I didn’t also need to cook this on the stove.

Peach and corn coleslaw. #Summer. This slaw is sweet and a little sour and just the perfect summer salad. I used regular peaches, less cabbage, plus a cucumber.

Grilled eggplant and chickpea salad with pomegranate molasses. I guess pom molasses is the special ingredient of the week here. I made this for a picnic (to eat on Boston Common while seeing King Lear) and it was perfect. I roasted the eggplant since I don’t have a grill, along with green peppers and an onion,  For the picnic I also make a tomato and cucumber salad with balsamic vinegar and the zucchini cornbread again, and my friends brought couscous salad for the best summer salad compilation ever.

Blueberry pie with yogurt. If you ask me, the best way to enjoy leftover pie is for breakfast. Just take a couple big dollops of yogurt, and top with a small slice of pie and some fresh fruit if you have it. Really this is the same concept of those dessert yogurt cups, but 1,000x better.

Last week I cooked... - Vegetal Matters

Not something I cooked, but I went to Brattle Book Shop in Downtown Boston and the cookbook section was incredible. I’m embarrassed to be a born and raised Bay Stater/book store enthusiast and not have know about this place until this weekend. We walked away with Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain, Clementine in the Kitchen, and Moose Mousse.