Last Week I Cooked….

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBeef ragu with pinci (from Pasta by Hand). (Or, wormy pasta if two-thirds of your household works on a farm.) These were far and away the most rewarding recipes I’ve made from this book. The ragu was on the stove for close to 4 hours, but that was mostly hands off. The pinci were easy to shape and took about half an hour plus the dough resting time, which is much faster than other pastas I’ve made from this book. (I also learned my lesson not to double these recipes unless you have a ton of people to help shape). The ragu is finished with butter which made it ridiculously luxurious. Indulgent for sure, but well worth the effort.

Minestrone. I just read An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler (more on that soon) which inspired me to make the most of my crisper contents. This was a basic minestrone with onion, celery, carrot, kale, and chickpeas. The real revelation was making a salsa verde with garlic, shallot, parsley, and olive oil in the food processor. It added such vibrancy to an otherwise ho-hum soup.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBaked potatoes with broccoli, chourico, and cheddar sauce. While the potatoes baked I crisped up the sausage, boiled the broccoli, and made a cheddar sauce based on Joy the Baker‘s but I used all milk instead of the beer. Pretty much everything I could want on a loaded baked potato.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersRoasted salmon, haricots verts, and celeriac-yukon mash (from Bowl + Spoon). I think this is the first time I’ve cooked salmon. I usually prefer it smoked or raw, but it was my roommate Annie’s birthday and she requested salmon (and I don’t say no to cooking challenges). I think I left it in a wee bit too long, but I liked the shallot mixture on top a lot. The celeriac potato mash was a nice base, but my favorite part was the green bean and fennel salad alongside. The lemon dressing cut all the licorice flavor from the fennel, which made it much more appealing to me. All around a lot of benefits from stepping out of my cooking comfort zone.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersFajitas with chipotle orange chicken. I marinated three chicken legs in a mixture of chipotle en adobo, garlic, and the juice of one orange and one lime for about an hour. I roasted them in a 450F oven for 40 min, and then broiled peppers, onions and a jalapeño. Served on tortillas with some cooked pinto beans, avocado, and salsa.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersOld-fashioned banana cake. This was also for Annie’s birthday. The recipe was very similar to banana bread (which, let’s be real, is actually cake), but gussied up with some cream cheese frosting. The AWESOME penquin toppers I made from an Oh Happy Day printable. Party penguins are the greatest.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersWhole wheat sourdough toast with butter, honey, and smoked ghost pepper salt. I think this was the fanciest thing I ate all week. Simple perfection. (Regular salt and a few chili flakes would definitely work in place of the super special salt.)


Small Batch

Small Batch - Vegetal MattersOne of my favorite activities while traveling, near or far, is to visit places where food and drink are made. Or perhaps considering the fact that I work on a farm and cook immediately upon returning home, I just always want to be where consumables are made. But when not at work or home, I have to work a little harder for those experiences. Not much harder though, because makers are popping up everywhere you look, and visiting them has become a larger component of tourism and maker’s marketing strategy.

In MA the Brewer’s Guild put together a “Craft Brewers Passport” mapping out all the breweries to visit and prompting you to get your passport stamped at each one. Once you complete a section, or the whole thing, you can turn it in to the Guild in return for prizes. This is similar to vineyard tours in wine country, cheese trails, and food festivals of all kinds. The point is to experience where the product is made, meet the person doing it, and try the product (especially since it may not be widely distributed).

Small Batch: Pickles, Cheese, Chocolate, Spirits, and the Return of Artisanal Foods by Suzanne Cope looks at this cultural phenomenon and offers her analysis of this shift back to small scale food production. She focuses on the four categories of food mentioned in the title, and goes out to meet small scales makers producing each of the items. Each section offers some historical background which frames how the industry got to the point it is today. Pickles have re-surged from renewed interest in local eating and preserving vegetables to eat out of season.  Cheese became a value added product for milk producers that helped small producers becomes more sustainable in the face of consolidated milk production. Chocolate making has a history sullied by slavery, which is slowly being righted with fair trade production. Prohibition changed our country’s relationship with alcohol in ways that are still felt today

There is a lot of discussion about what it means to be an “artisanal” maker. Artisanal is a word that has been greatly diluted by mass producers using it to describe anything they want perceived as small batch, which in turn is supposed to denote high quality. Every venture started out as a one or two person operation, but a few of the makers Cope met have experienced such success that they were greatly increasing staff and machinery to keep up with demand, seemingly on the cusp of no longer being artisanal or craft makers. Some were having to make hard decisions about sourcing, like moving from a local producer they knew to an organic producer further away. Jasper Hill Farm has a large cheese cellar that they lease space in to other makers, which includes small farms who want to age cheese but don’t have the resources, and very large producers like Cabot who want to make a product that tastes like it was made by a small producer.

The truth is that the smaller a venture is often the harder it is to be sustainable. While the story of a maker with all local sources is compelling, so many of us are used to a global economy that makes all things available at all times, which greatly challenges a pickle maker with one farm to supply produce in town who is at the whims of weather (and the many, many other challenges that affect farming).

When asked to define “artisanal,” one of the maker’s interviewed described it as when the person who handles the product also handles the money. Cope likes this definition best, and I agree it is the most accurate. But the reality is we all can’t be fed by producers with their hands on every aspect of a food’s production (unless way more people want to their day jobs to start with milking goats at 5am). While there will always be limits to producers who want to want to be connected to every part of their process, and downfalls to those who expand production beyond what they can do on their own. Cope argues that while many of these producers may end up reaching a wider audience and having to drop their artisanal title, their products grew from an authentic care for quality, which we shouldn’t necessarily disregard once scale increases.

The final chapter acknowledges that any study like this has a limited sample, and many people she wished to talk to were unavailable. I understand that travel is expensive and time consuming, so Cope couldn’t exactly criss-cross the country trying every pickle, cheese wheel, chocolate bar, and libation she could find (but…best road trip ever???). The makers discussed were primarily from New York (especially Brooklyn), Massachusetts, and Oregon, with a few others in Vermont, California, and Washington. That is almost exclusively liberal, coastal, densely populated areas. Is the high sample size in those areas because those are the communities that most support this type of production? What does the picture look like in the rest of our vast country?

A lot of the value added to these products is the time makers take interfacing directly with consumers to tell their stories. This experience is worth seeking out, for the fun of visiting new places, meeting people, and getting to consume delicious things. Cope provides excellent background and analysis on this quickly emerging trend. As someone in the same age range as most of these makers (20s-30s), who constantly seeks out these foods and stories, it was fascinating to read about the historical influences and societal mentality that brought about this love of artisans.

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersLast Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersChicken tacos with kale and salsa verde (from Tacos: Recipes and Provocations). My second taco adventure from this book did not disappoint. These were less labor intensive than the chorizo ones I made last week, but with almost comparable flavor (it’s just that I love chorizo far more than chicken). I recommend enlisting a dinner guest to help roll out the tortillas and having them bring a salad to balance the indulgent tacos (Thanks, Betsy!).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSmoky tomato and potato soup (from Flour, Too) with grilled cheese. I didn’t have smoked pepper, but I added in smoked paprika for another smoky layer and was still disappointed from the lack of smokiness. That aside, this is a good standard tomato soup with some added heft from the potatoes.

This may have not been the most warming meal for a ski day, but it is certainly good, nutritious energy (photo at top). The chickpea salad was from Bowl + Spoon and was essentially like chicken or egg salad but with chickpeas for the protein. The quinoa salad has roasted cauliflower, scallions, and a light vinaigrette made with lemon and olive oil. The green salad is kale, shredded Brussels, celery slivers, and a Dijon lemon vinaigrette. Each solid on their own, but I really preferred them all rolled into one as a giant super salad.

Refried bean burritos (from How to Cook Everything: The Basics). I followed the recipe for the refried beans from the book, but everything else was dictated by my pantry. The leftover chicken and kale, queso freshco, and crema from tacos, plus avocado and some additional sauteed kale made up the filling. They made a reappearance the next morning as breakfast burrifos sans avocado and dairy products, plus scrambled eggs.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersScrambled eggs, kale sauteed in bacon fat, crisped Portuguese chourico, and toasted whole wheat sourdough.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersMaking good on my resolution to stop fearing fermenting with whole wheat sourdough.

Not something I cooked, but I loved this post on Lady and Pups about her visit to Madrid. It perfectly captures the feeling when you go to a place you deeply connect with, and also when you have the greatest love for your first of something, even though it may not be the best (and that is ok).

“It is widely circulated that La Ardosa – which was just a mere 10 min walk from our apartment if I should mention – makes one of the best tortilla de patatas in town.  But with the many others we had in Madrid, including Ardosa, the very first we ran into from Maricastana still remained as the best one in our perception.  Possibly a bias, but isn’t that true for everything else powered by nostalgia?  Mother’s pancakes, Grandma’s fried chicken.  Are they really the best?  Or does it matter?  In a lot of ways, being attached to an opinion of where “the best” something is, is an important emotional bond in that particular relationship.” – Lady and Pups

Buffalo Cauliflower Pizza with Bleu Cheese and Kale

Buffalo Cauliflower Pizza - Vegetal MattersThe beginning of my love for vegetarian delicacies in buffalo sauce can be tracked to these Thug Kitchen buffalo falafel. They opened up my world of buffalo things so far beyond wings. Those falafel were essentially deconstructed to make this recipe for buffalo cauliflower salad (which would also be excellent with the falafel on top if you’re willing to do a bit more work). From there the logical next step is obviously pizza.

We were grocery shopping with a vague plan for dinner and Will had the genius idea for this pizza. The first try I put too much butter in the sauce, which made for a soggier pizza but the flavor was everything we hoped for. This version hits all the right notes, with a spicy (less runny) sauce, creamy cheeses, enough vegetables to make this an acceptable adult dinner, and a fresh bite of onion at the end.

Buffalo Cauliflower Pizza with Bleu Cheese and Kale

Serves 6

  • 1  recipe for pizza dough (this recipe makes about 1.5 sheet pans worth of pizza, if your dough recipe makes less then you will have some extra toppings…use them on a salad or in a sandwich!)
  • 1 head of cauliflower (about 2.5 pounds once the leaves and stem are removed)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter (half a stick)
  • ½ cup cayenne pepper hot sauce (such as Frank’s)
  • 10 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 4 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 1.5 ounces chopped kale (from about 3 leaves)
  • 2 minced scallions

Preheat the oven to 425F. Slice the cauliflower in half and cut out the core. Cut the head into 1 inch pieces (bite-sized). Toss the cauliflower in the olive oil and a few pinches of salt, and spread evenly on 1 or 2 baking sheets (you want space between the pieces so they brown). Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing once, until the cauliflower is soft all the way through and has some charred spots. When the cauliflower comes out of the oven crank up the heat to 500F.

Melt the butter, add the hot sauce, and stir to combine. Spread your pizza dough out on 2 baking sheets (the recipe linked to makes for a very moist dough that I find easiest to spread on a silicone baking mat).

Put the cauliflower in a bowl and pour ¼ cup of the hot sauce and butter mixture over it. Toss the cauliflower to coat. Spread the remaining hot sauce mixture evenly over the doughs. Then evenly distribute the rest of the items in this order: kale, cauliflower, bleu cheese crumbles, and shredded mozzarella.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until the bottom pulls away from the pan and the cheese is bubbling vigorously. Let cool for a couple minutes, then sprinkle the scallions on top and serve.

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPotato and chorizo tacos (from Tacos: Recipes and Provocations). These were the real deal. I made the chorizo, salsa de árbol, and the flour tortillas. None of the individual components were that much work, but together they did take a full afternoon. Entirely worthwhile.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSpicy peanut squash soup with chickpeas (from Flour, Too). I’ve started this new thing where I make soup alongside whatever else I’m making for dinner on Sunday night to have for dinner on Monday. It has happened 2 weeks in a row and so far it works great. Soup always tastes better the next day, and Monday’s are busier after work so not having to think about dinner is much more relaxing. The soup was not supposed to be blended, but the texture of the un-blended squash was displeasing. Next time I would puree it and then add the chickpeas in after for some texture. The peanut butter added some heft and made for a smoother texture than just the squash had alone (maybe it is possible to like a blended soup without coconut milk!). The lime, cilantro, and sriracha at the end were just the right hits of sour, freshness and spice to finish it off.

Red lentil dal and roasted cauliflower (from Vegetarian India). I had to return this book to the library and I wanted to make something from it…but the first recipes I made from it were so good that I just made them again. I tripled the fried shallots on top of the dal so every bite had some and it was a great life choice.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersHippie bowls with citrus tahini miso dressing (from Bowl + Spoon). I mostly followed the recipe from the cookbook, and roasted the tofu cubes, and added slivered carrot and avocado, but for my cooked veg I used broccoli and Brussels sprouts. The flavor of the tofu was good, but I prefer the Thug Kitchen method of cutting into thin planks to roast. This sauce would make a rug palatable. Doubling it would not be a bad idea.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersChicken chili. What’s not to like about a chili that slow cooks the day away and is completely ready when you arrive home from work? I especially liked that this used dried beans to really maximize the slow cooker potential. I used a full bone-in, skinless breast and leg and fished the bones out before serving. Easy as can be and a delicious, thick chili. Oh, I also made a Greek salad to go alongside (entirely guided by what was in the fridge).

Apple pancakes. I substituted half the white flour for wheat, and added 2 small apples, grated to the batter.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBrussels sprout and potato hash. I parboiled the potatoes, then put them in a 425F oven for about 10 minutes. Then I put some shredded Brussels on the pan, tossed on a bit more olive oil and salt, and roasted for 5 more minutes. Finished with a fried egg and hot sauce (of course).


French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup - Vegetal MattersMy most recent recipe in the Grafton News is French onion soup. I originally wrote the recipe 5 years and a whole blog ago, but wanted to retest it, write clearer instructions, and take a new photo. I’m living clear across the country and have lived in four apartments since that one, but I’m still using that same chef’s knife. I’m also still greatly in favor of such a simple soup with a crispy, cheesy topper. It would be an excellent one to try out over a long weekend.

Last Week I Cooked…


This was a very redemptive week of cooking. Many salads and vegetable soups to recover from the holidays. All healthful things, but nothing that feels like punishment or tastes like cardboard (and there was still pizza).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBuffalo cauliflower pizza. I had a vague pizza plan for dinner, and while grocery shopping Will requested buffalo cauliflower (like this salad). For the sauce I used a standard 1:1 butter:hot sauce mix (which was way too runny, but I’ll work on it). I roasted the cauliflower first then tossed it in the same hot sauce mixture. Some chopped kale, red onion, bleu cheese crumbles, and sliced mozzarella also went on top. Great flavor, thin sauce, more pizza to be made. I made this salad again to go alongside.

Carrot ginger soup (from Flour, Too). Why do I keep trying to make root vegetable puree soups? The description of this was so convincing, yet I think without the power of an industrial blender there is no hope of a carrot or sweet potato soup ever being a texture I like. My only idea for a solution so far is to add coconut milk to every recipe as in this soup.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersKale + Brussels sprouts caesar slaw with pine nut parm. I bought some of the ingredients to make this salad last winter and somehow just got around to it. I can’t say that the pine nut mixture truly tasted like parm, but I can say that it was a nutty, buttery, lemony salad topping that I would like to make again and again. The crunchy chickpeas were a nice contrast to the dressing and greens.

Lentil soup. Winter is actually happening in MA. There was snow and ice on the ground and the day I made this it was below 10F. I had the cauliflower patties below planned for dinner, but something light and a salad just would not cut it. I had an onion and celery on hand, no carrots, but a few red potatoes went in. A tablespoon of tomato paste was added along with the smoked paprika for some additional tomato depth. Good, crusty bread alongside is key.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersQuinoa Cauliflower Patties. I always get cooking amnesia after making this. It seems easy enough to throw together (mix ingredients together in a bowl!), but after the mixture rests then comes the frying of the patties, which don’t stay together easily despite the 4 eggs included. They are better to make small and thinner, because big thick patties crack when you try to flip them. The whole frying process easily takes more than 30 minutes. After all this then you sit down and have them with a salad and dressing (that you made while the mixture was resting) and you have these surprisingly light patties with lemon, herbs, and a nuanced saltiness from the feta and they are SO GOOD. So you delight in their deliciousness and happily eat the leftovers and then a time goes by and you start craving them and the whole process starts over.

French onion soup (recipe forthcoming!) with kale salad with dried cherries and pecans and blue cheese gougères (both recipes from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook). The kale salad has a great Dijon dressing with can accompany just about anything. The gourgères have a lot of butter and eggs…but they are surprisingly easy and quite impressive. Plus with so much flavor in a tiny, airy puff! Delightful in so many ways.

Huevos rancheros (pictured at top). I love this method for cooking eggs and tortillas. The tortilla gets nice and crisp and the egg fuses to it with a little cheese. Top with whatever pleases you, but salsa, beans, and cilantro are very nice (I would have thrown on some avocado too if it was around).

Food Resolutions 2016

Food Resolutions 2016 - Vegetal MattersNow is the time resolvers are furiously compiling lists, joining gyms, starting the Whole30, or partaking in a dreaded juice cleanse. Drastic lifestyle change isn’t what I’m after at the turn of the year, but more a reflection on the last twelve months and plans for development. While it is a little ridiculous to think we should only start improving ourselves once January rolls around, the communal embrace of change and betterment is certainly inspiring.

Last year I wrote about my food resolutions and would like to uphold the tradition.  I did embrace simpler cooking (though that could still stand to be on the list) and read recipes more thoroughly (some of the time). I actually read Gulp. and More Home Cooking, a different book by Wendell Berry (which almost counts) and the other two are sitting on my bookshelf patiently waiting for me.

This year I want to be better at cooking with others. Cooking is my hobby (ok, obsession), and I love all aspects of the process. I also like to be in control of all aspects of the process. But socializing is important, and I think it could do me some good to let others help out more in the kitchen.

I will stop being afraid of fermenting. I’ve had a languishing sour dough starter my sister generously gifted to me in the fridge for about a year and barely used it (shame on me!). She’s also started making kimchi which is spicy, sour, and crunchy in just the right combination. I’ve taken The Art of Fermentation out of the library, and completely overwhelmed by all it contains, returned it barely read. I’ve been reading Phickle and other blogs that dabble in fermenting. It’s time to stop watching and reading and start doing.

I will waste less in the kitchen. Always planning recipes means I sometimes buy an ingredient for one recipe and then don’t always remember to use it up. So I’ve started leaving a night of the week with dinner unplanned to use up any scraps in the fridge. Plus this allows for a bit more improvisation. Tonight, for instance, as I type lentil soup is bubbling away. It is in the single digits out and my plan for dinner was not appropriate for the weather, so items from the pantry and fridge all came together for a needed, warming soup.

Besides the books that rolled over from my list above, these are queued up for 2016:

The End of Food by Paul Roberts.

The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher. This is actually five separate books, and so far I’ve read Serve It Forth.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan. I read this when it first came out, but it needs a reread for some discussion here.

Other food related books I should add to my list? Food resolutions from your kitchens?

Last Week I Cooked

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersI feel like I barely cooked this week, but after taking account of everything below that doesn’t appear to be true. I more made things that I contributed to larger gatherings instead of full meals, so it felt much simpler. Most cooking was more like this egg in a hole – easy and perpetually satisfying.

Eggnog waffles. These did not come out as crispy as usually like, but they were a nice fluffy waffle and easy to throw together.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersLime grilled chicken salad with black beans, peppers, avocado, and ranch dressing. This was maybe not the most appropriate thing to make on the day of the first real snow of the season, but I needed to eat some vegetables in between holiday celebrations. The chicken was marinated in lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper for 30 min before grilling. The rest of the ingredients were tossed on some romaine and I didn’t even make the dressing (though I thinned out some bottled dressing with a little lime juice).

Ginger garlic cocktail meatballs. I substituted turkey for the meat, which was a bit softer than beef or pork would have been, and in combination with some other wet ingredients made for a soppy mix. Next time I would wring out the bread and maybe use less soy sauce. Regardless they baked up nicely for a New Year’s Eve party appetizer.

Cashew morning buns. These are the same buns I made on Christmas day. I brought them to a New Year’s Day brunch, where they happily sidled up next to tiny meatballs, zucchini pancakes with labneh, deviled eggs, fruit salad, and homemade crackers and bread sticks (thanks for hosting Decker-Yan family!!!).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersRoasted potatoes and tomatoes with scrambled eggs with sun dried tomato goat cheese. I par-boiled potatoes and then roasted them with halved cherry tomatoes. The eggs were scrambled and then at the end I stirred in minced scallions and some sun-dried tomato dip my mom made with goat cheese.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersOther breakfasts included burritos with sauteed peppers, onions, and spinach, black beans, scrambled eggs, avocado, and salsa, and egg in a hole as pictured at top.

Chicken, chorizo and tortilla stoup. Ok, I didn’t actually made this, but I helped prep some of the ingredients for my mom and then she let me eat it. It’s a family favorite.