Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters20151224_173010Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters

Uncooked macaroni and cheese to the left, cooked to the right.

Creamy macaroni and cheese. I can’t think of many things that look less appetizing than shredded cheddar, cottage cheese, and cold milk mixed with dry pasta. It is white and lumpy with yellow elbows swimming about. But I put my faith in Julia Moskin and the 1,500 people that gave this recipe a 5 star review and was rewarded. The effort is minimal, and the output intensely cheesy. Those 1,500 people were on to something.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersRoasted squash and radicchio salad. Luisa waxes poetic about this salad, and every word is true. It’s been a while since I made Delicata squash and I think it needs to be in the rotation more. The flesh is dense and a really nice texture. I used the smoked paprika but I would definitely try smoked chili powder next time. I also didn’t want to buy a whole container of buttermilk to use a third of a cup, so I used some yogurt and thinned it out more with additional lemon juice and olive oil.

Cashew morning buns (from Baking with Less Sugar, pictured at top). I lay awake worrying about these, because I decided to let them rise overnight in the fridge in the “goo” and thought I made a terrible mistake and I would wake up with bloated buns. But the buns rose as they should have and baked up nice and golden. The “frosting” is in the bottom of the pan as they bake, and it reduces into a perfect goo. Oh also I forgot the cashews that were supposed to go in these and didn’t realize until Christmas Eve so they became mixed nut buns and worked out fine. I think I’m ready to claim these for a Christmas morning tradition.

20151225_172358Superb pork loin boldly cooked with bay and vinegar with mashed potatoes and celeriac (from Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain). I think Jamie oversold this a bit, but it was still an easy main to put together with good flavor. I forgot my meat thermometer that goes in the meat as it cooks at home and should have taken it out earlier (which I didn’t think was necessary because my loin was 1.5 lbs heavier than the recipe called for). So it was a little more done than I prefer, but still a flavorful pork.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersLacinato kale gratin. This was a last minute decision and definitely is correctly dubbed a “genius recipe” by Food52. Insanely easy and super good. The crispy bits of sharp cheddar on top with the crunchy kale were the best part. (served with the pork above for Christmas dinner)

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersCabbage, celeriac, and apple salad with pomegranate and lemon vinaigrette (inspired by this white salad). I used about 2 pounds of cabbage, one peeled celeriac and 2 apples: all finely shredded. I juiced 1 lemon and added an equal portion of olive oil with a bit of salt. I dressed everything and topped it with the seeds of a whole pomegranate.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSticky toffee pudding (from Baking with Less Sugar). This was my first time making and eating sticky toffee pudding, but it was a simple dessert to throw together (the sauce was just three ingredients that needed to be stirred). As I’ve been finding while cooking through this book the desserts aren’t as moist as their sugary counterparts, but they have great flavor and just the right level of sweetness.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersCoffee toffee. I almost never make candy, but if I do it is this toffee. You do need a thermometer (not a meat thermometer, those don’t go high enough), but other than that all they take is some stirring and spreading. The hint of molasses and coffee in the toffee cuts the sweetness a bit, the crunch is contrasted with creamy chocolate, and the whole thing is topped off with nuts (which also smartly hide imperfect chocolate spreading).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersChocolate pots de creme (from Baking with Less Sugar). Something was just slightly off to me about these. Maybe they were supposed to be saltier than I like, but honestly I love salt and I tasted more of it that I felt I should. But I brought them into work for a coworker who loves chocolate and hates cake (she didn’t even want one at her wedding) and they went over great.

Dairy free chocolate and nut cookies. I wanted to make a dairy free option to go along with the pots de creme, and these cookies just happened to need 4 egg whites (and the pots needed 4 egg yolks!). They are essentially a very nutty chocolate meringue, and I liked them even more than the pots de creme. Given how much sugar they contain they are not healthy by any means, but an aggressively chocolate cookie that works for some dietary restrictions. (Another great gluten-free option I’ve made are these, but they contain dairy)

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSweet and spicy roast chicken. I had such high hopes for this dish but it was a bit off. Any spicy or sweet flavors of the chicken were totally overtaken by the sweet. It did not help that I used a mix of roasted beets, celeriac, and carrots instead of just the carrots, and the beets just took over. They were super sweet and there wasnt enough of the other ingredients to cut it. Maybe my chili flakes have lost their spice. Next time I would crank up the pepper heat, up the lemon, and serve it with some yogurt.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersLeeks with mustard-bacon vinaigrette (from My Paris Kitchen). Oh man. Can I have this again right now? I should have not bothered to make risott0 and instead made a double batch of this for dinner. The leeks basically melt after they have been steamed, and were the perfect vehicle for the bacon, egg, dressing, and parsley. I would serve this at all sorts of fancy things.

Kale pesto risotto. I wanted something to make a dinner out of the leek salad and had all the ingredients for this. I liked that some of the kale was just chopped and added into the risotto to wilt. It was good and I like the pesto risotto concept a lot, but not my favorite dish ever.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersGrated carrot salad (from My Paris Kitchen). This carrot salad  with a dijon dressing was not especially exciting as a stand along dish, but it was great to pair with the lentils and couscous.

Lemon-pistachio Israeli couscous (from My Paris Kitchen). This salad was easy to put together. The only thing that needs to be cooked is the couscous, and then you just add in the nuts and dried fruit. A whole preserved lemon went in as well, which I found overwhelmingly salty. Start with half and then see how you like it.

Lentil salad (from My Paris Kitchen). Green lentils with onion, carrot, celery and a mustard dressing. This is not unlike the dijon lentils I’ve made before, but a bit more streamlined. I prefer the vegetables sauteed, but if you are in a rush this method works. I would add a bit more dressing next time.

Polenta with sauteed chourico and brussels sprouts. I didn’t really have a plan for dinner, and my coworker gave me some Portuguese chourico that he needed taken off his hands (glad to help!!!!!). I made some polenta and added in some cheese that was languishing in the fridge, and then crisped up the diced chourico and removed it from the pan. Into the same pan went halved Brussels sprouts that I let brown for a few minutes, then deglazed with about half a cup of chicken stock. I covered the pan and let them cook for 5 minutes, then added the chorizo back to the pan to warm and served the whole bit over polenta.

Fried rice with broccoli, egg, and kimchi. A crown of broccoli was cut up small, and cooked in a wok with some peanut oil. Towards the end off cooking I added in 1 minced garlic clove and then took the broccoli out of the pan. In went a bit more oil, and then 2 scrambled eggs. Following instructions from Every Grain of Rice, I added the rice in before the eggs set and stirred everything up. Once the rice was heated through I added the broccoli back to the pan along with a splash of light soy sauce and sesame oil. Served with the kimchi my sister made, which I realize is not Chinese but it is SO GOOD.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPS – As promised in my gift guide, I found super cheap cakelet pans at the thrift store!!!! And there were more than just Christmas shapes. (N0, I didn’t buy it)

PPS – I updated the About page which provides more information than the basically nothing that was there before.

2015 in My Kitchen

The end of a calendar year always seems like an appropriate time to look back and take stock. It’s always interesting to reflect on the recent food trends, whether collective or just in your own kitchen. What ingredients did you use most in 2015? What new dishes became part of your repertoire? These are a few things that came into my kitchen for the first time or in force this year that will be around for a long time.

Last week I cooked... - Vegetal MattersMiso. I asked Will to pick up miso on his way home from work one day. I got a call from the grocery store that went like this:

“They only have miso in full pound bags. Do we want that much miso?????”

“How much is it?”

“$5.”

“Buy it.”

And we’ve never looked back. If you’re a miso newb, start with these sweet potato and broccoli bowls. From there step it up with this bowl and try it in dressings, soups, and sauces galore. Never stop.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersAnchovies. 2015 was the year I embraced these tiny fishes (please picture me actually doing this). It all started with the greens and beans that I made repeatedly, but they went into salads, pasta, kale and the like. If you’ve ever been afraid of them because of fishiness, start with just one in a dish. They add a unique complexity that is not fishy in the slightest.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersRoasted tofu. Page 77 of the Thug Kitchen cookbook. This revolutionized the way I cook tofu. I’ve done the whole deal where you cut it into cubes and spend 30 minutes standing over a wok of splattering oil trying to makes sure all six sides of each piece are perfectly browned. I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to fully marinate the tofu for the two hours suggested (see: full time job outside the house), but the flavor and texture is always great. Not quite as great as standing over the wok, but the lack of effort gets so many points.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersWhipped feta. I will try to stop talking about how good this is. I will probably fail. If you like salt and cheese, this is your dish. After eating it on the toast at BirchTree which I have mentioned too many times (and had again this past weekend…), I started making it at home with a halved version of Ina’s recipe. Try it with scrambled eggs and kale. Invite me over for breakfast.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersChinese food. I know that is broad. But after reading Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper it was all I wanted to cook. Every Grain of Rice has been my guide, and I would so highly recommend both of these books for anyone interested in Chinese cookery.

A few things I was obsessed with this year that aren’t food – Busy Earnin’ by Jungle. If you can teach me this dance…I don’t even know what I could offer you that would be equal. Something epic. Anthony Marra. I read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena right at the end of 2015, and it was a life changing novel. The Tsar of Love and Techno came out this year and it was almost as good.

Rainbow slaw with beets, carrots, and radishes

Rainbow SlawThis recipe for a rainbow slaw is in the most recent issue of The Grafton News. It is based off of a recipe in Jerusalem that I’ve simplified. It really holds up well over a few days, and the cold water soak makes for supremely crunchy vegetables. The mild weather does not have me rushing to cook lots of soups and braised things, plus I always crave some vegetables to balance the Christmas cookies so there have been quite a few salads like this in my kitchen recently. The roots for this recipe came from my favorite nearby farm, so there is still local produce to be found!

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersRed lentil dal and roasted cauliflower (from Vegetarian India). I got this book out of the library and may be on the fast track to purchase it. I made a simple dal with fried shallots on top that was so easy but then elevated with the perfect flourish. The roasted cauliflower was heavily spiced and definitely worthy of being the cookbook cover photo. I’m not very experienced cooking Indian food, but none of the recipes are that complicated and a trip to the Indian grocer should fill any gaps in my pantry (plus now I will know what to look for).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSweet potato cakes. I’ve been meaning to make these for years and it was about time I did. They stayed together well (always a worry with these kinds of veg patties) and had enough savory to balance the sweet of the potato. I liked the flavor of the lemongrass in the yogurt sauce but even after a whirl in the food processor the pieces were still pretty noticeable.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPasta with greens and white bean-anchovy sauce. I fiddled with the proportions here a bit based on what I had but this is a great formula for a easy weeknight pasta that goes a bit beyond red sauce. I used a combination of mustard greens and tatsoi with a single can of beans. Next time: even more garlic and lemon.

Pickled mustard greens. I was expecting these to be super intense but was a little let down. The brine was a bit watery even (and I followed the recipe exactly). The concept still excited me and I’ll work on them.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersMole squash tacos with crispy quinoa and pickles. The butternut squash I substituted didn’t work quite as well as the sweet potato would have (but it saved me a trip to the grocery store). I added in black beans as well which made the tacos a more substantial meal. The pickles were super quick because the brine is all vinegar, but I think adding in a little water would be a better balance (but they certainly were pretty and added a nice tang)

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPoutine (from Good and Cheap). Why have I never made poutine before? The gravy was so easy and quite flavorful (a whole teaspoon of cayenne is too much though). I followed Smitten Kitchen’s frites recipe, but my fries were a bit too thin and some burned (all my fault). This is certainly not my last poutine attempt.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersCeleriac, Brussels sprout, cabbage, and apple salad with pomegranate and mustard dressing. Bright, crunchy, and with little juicy bursts from the pomegranate. Everything a winter salad should be. (Also can you tell I finally bought a mandoline and just want to shred everything?)

Hot chocolate. The chocolate flavor was great but something in the texture was slightly off to me (maybe too much corn starch?). I will take one for the team and try making this again (your welcome).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersMolasses crinkle cookies. It’s not Christmas without these cookies. I really love the addition of the wheat flour – it gives them the ideal chewiness.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersGingerbread spiced Dutch baby (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook). Perfect holiday spice, and so much easier than little pancakes that have to be flipped. One and done. I used all wheat flour so it puffed up a bit less but the flavor does not suffer. I shared this and also had some yogurt with pomegranate arils to complete what may be my favorite December breakfast.

More Cookbooks for You and Other People

More Cookbooks for Your and Other People - Vegetal MattersCookbooks are one of my favorite gifts to give and receive. Yes, there is an internet’s worth of recipes at your finger tips. but it will never match the experience of diving into one author’s perspective of a certain cuisine, ingredient, or type of dishes. Sometimes you just want a recommendation from someone you feel like you know and trust. My cookbooks snuggled into a bookcase in my kitchen feel like backup forces of chefs and friends ready to provide inspiration, walk me through a new dish, or reliably guide me through cooking something I love.

All the books below have been in my possession for 6 months or (many) more. I have read them cover to cover and cooked at least 3 recipes from them (but probably more). Last year I wrote about five favorite cookbooks for gifts, all of which are still happily on my bookcase and in the cooking rotation. If this is just not enough books for you, then we should be friends, and you should also check out other cookbooks I’ve mentioned here as well as other books related to food in the Cookbooks and Read categories.

More Cookbooks for Your and Other People - Vegetal MattersEvery Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop. I got this out of the library after reading Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepperand then I got it out of the library again. Then I felt I was being unfair to other library patrons and bought my own copy. It is a beautifully designed book with rice grain art dividing each chapter. The recipes are nothing like the fried chicken in a sweet, goopy sauce you might find at a buffet. I’ve never been to China (please, take me!), but whenever I cook from this book I feel like I’m making dishes that could easily be what Chinese households are making.

More Cookbooks for You and Other People - Vegetal MattersInitially this did require special trips to find more obscure ingredients like light and dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, Chinkiang vinegar, and chili bean paste, but they were relatively easy to find at Asian grocery stores (and would be great to include along with your book gift!). Many of the recipes repeat these ingredients, so once you have the basics there’s no need to go searching for something new with every dish you cook. Dan dan noodles, vegetarian “Gong Bao Chicken,” fish fragrant eggplant, and Sichuanese “send-the-rice-down” chopped celery with ground beef are all in my eternal repertoire now.

More Cookbooks for You and Other People - Vegetal MattersThug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck by the authors of the Thug Kitchen blog The blog and book aim to destroy the notion that vegan food is pretentious, expensive, girly, and doesn’t taste good (and they succeed). The recipes are easy and call for very common ingredients, with the added bonus of being hilarious. BBQ bean burritos with grilled peach salsa, spring veggie bowl with curry lime sauce, tortilla soup, and the baked tofu I’ve made so many times I have the page memorized (77!) have kept me reaching for this book again and again. They released a new cookbook this year, Thug Kitchen Party Grub: For Social Motherf*ckersbut I haven’t had it long enough or cooked from it enough to provide an official endorsement. There is some pretty funny gear in their shop to go along with your book gift.

More Cookbooks for You and Other People - Vegetal MattersOn Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. This book does not have any recipes in it, but should still be on every cookbook shelf. It is essential to understanding why we use what techniques where and how foods behave when subjected to different processes. After reading it this year I wrote about all the greatness to be gleaned. Buy it for your own shelf too, and turn to Harold first every time you wonder why something occurs when cooking.

More Cookbooks for You and Other People - Vegetal MattersJamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life by Jamie Oliver. I already gushed about this book and my favorite recipes when I wrote about zucchini carbonara. I won’t repeat myself, but this book is worthwhile for the cherry tomato and sausage bake alone.

 

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersMarbled Pumpkin Gingersnap Tart from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. This is a very pretty tart. Unfortunately it was not the best tasting tart because I forgot to buy heavy cream but I was already in pajamas and could not be bothered to go out. I substituted whole milk and yogurt but the richness was sorely missed. Don’t make my mistake and you will have a beautiful AND decadent tart.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersChickpea, cauliflower, and Old Bay veggies burgers. I love veg burgers with cauliflower. They nicely lighten the burgers. These are fully flavored with the old bay and lemon, and are topped perfectly with creamy avocado. They would also be excellent over a salad. The vibrant root vegetable slaw alongside is from Jerusalem, and I’ll be posting an adapted recipe next week!

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPipa tofu from Every Grain of Rice. The tofu puffs get a 10 for being the absolute cutest. I was expecting a fully flavored sauce and it was quite mild. As I’ve never had this dish before I can’t say what exactly it should have been, but I wanted more punch. I had the leftovers with extra soy sauce and would add more in the sauce next time. Alongside I served tatsoi sautéed with a little garlic and ginger and miso eggplant.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersFresh rolls. Nothing like a little Vietnamese-Chinese-Japanese-Israeli fusion!! Fresh rolls have become my favorite way to upcycle leftovers. These had brown rice, tofu, miso eggplant, root vegetable slaw, cucumbers, scallions, and cilantro (just a little bit of everything). I made the sauce that The First Mess conveniently posted that same day which was a nice tart pairing.

Roasted sweet potato and leek soup with chorizo. I confirmed a lot of things about myself with this soup: sherry is not my favorite, I have a hard time liking squash/sweet potato soups without coconut milk, and I will eat anything with chorizo. The sherry comes through strongly, and I think I would halve it next time. I used an immersion blender and then pureed it again in the food processor, but just couldn’t get it really smooth.  Maybe I just need a Vitamix. The sherry vinegar at the end was really nice and the bits of chorizo added a nice meaty bite. This went over well at my work potluck so it is a good soup, just not perfect for me.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBreakfasts this week included mashed avocado and a fried egg on toast (I know, revolutionary), multigrain waffles and yogurt with maple syrup and pomegranate seeds. The waffles I’ve made numerous times and they work with all various of flour (though once I forgot the baking powder…those did not work). After finally making it with the pictured topping I can confirm maple syrup is really my favorite.  It was such a treat to have a pomegranate…with yogurt it made for the simplest breakfast that felt so special. Pomegranate arils have their own crunch so granola is not even necessary and they are tart, juicy bursts in the creamy yogurt.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersNot something I cooked, but this interview with Deb Perelman was a great read. I especially loved hearing how her career progressed to her blog because my career path has been similarly scattered (and still meandering).

More Kitchen Gear Everyone Needs

Last year I wrote up a very short gift guide of incredibly useful kitchen items that I fear are overlooked as gifts because they are not flashy enough. I still stand by every one of those items and continue to use them on a weekly, if not daily basis (especially my beloved scale). Very specific items (deviled egg plates! banana slicers! Moscow mule mugs!) may seem like the thing to get a cook that has everything, but the reason they don’t own them is because they aren’t needed. (In fact, Moscow mules are traditionally served in copper mugs because the girlfriend of the bartender who invented them had a copper mug company. Source: The Drunken Botanist)

And seasonal gifts like GingerBread Kids Cakelet Pans are useful (if you can call them that) a tiny portion of the year, and are exactly the kind of thing you donate when you move because the idea of putting time and effort into packaging and transporting something so trivial makes their absurdity very apparent. (Pro tip – Goodwill is full of cakelet* pans for real cheap right now!) Give kitchen gifts that people will box up last, and unpack first when they move into a new place. I love these three items so much I brought them with me to cook Thanksgiving last week. They reduce effort and waste, are constantly useful, and are useful for cooks of any skill level. Like last year, I’m linking to examples but it’s not the specific brand that is important here.

*I was not aware cakelet was a word until I found this pan. When did cakelets become a thing???

More Kitchen Gear Everyone Needs - Vegetal Matters

Silicone spatula – I especially like the models where the spatula is one piece (not a head with a handle made from another material). They wash nicely, and there is less chance of the head falling off or weird gunk getting stuck.  I probably don’t need to tell you these are essential for wiping down the sides of the food processor and getting every last drop out of measuring cups, bowls, and pans. Owning one is rarely enough.

Citrus squeezer – Yes, you can try squishing citrus on the counter with your palm or microwaving it to get more juice out (or squishing then microwaving, which Robert Wolke found in What Einstein Told His Cook to provide the highest juice yield). But those methods only make citrus easier to juice if you are doing it by hand. I find this low tech squeezer to greatly magnify my squishing power with its leverage and pressure. As a bonus feature it keeps almost all the seeds out of whatever you are making. I do also have one of these juicer/strainer combos that is better for larger citrus and/or higher quantities (read: cocktails), but I keep one of these squeezers readily accessible for my daily needs.

Silicone baking mat – I never want to go back to my life without this. I don’t even remember the last time I made cookies that stuck to the pan. Use it in any recipe that calls for parchment paper or a foil lining of a baking sheet. Nothing sticks, ever. I’ve had this one three or four years and yes, it is a bit weathered, but no worse for the wear. I use it for roasting tofu, crackers, cookies, rolls, and anything that threatens to be sticky.

If you are looking for even more ideas, I keep a board of items on Pinterest (but some are more dream items than small gifts, and since I don’t own them I can’t officially endorse). What are other hyper-useful gift ideas for the home cook?