Last Week I Cooked…

Baked pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage. I come home later on Mondays so I ended up putting this together on Sunday night. I did everything but heat the pasta in the oven and it held over perfectly. I used chicken sausage instead of pork because I wanted something lighter (as much lighter as a baked pasta dish full of cheese can be…), which it was, but I would prefer Italian pork sausage otherwise. The bechamel is a bit of work, but it is mostly being attentive and whisking while everything else boils. This was a big hit at dinner, and even reappeared as breakfast later in the week.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersRoasted cauliflower and lentil salad. I left out the cinnamon, ginger, and dates here, and swapped kale for the arugula. Instead of letting everything cool and then tossing the salad, I tossed the hot cauliflower and lentils with the kale so it would wilt a bit and be easier to eat (with great success). I wanted a little extra acid, so I squeezed another half a lemon on the finished salad. It was filling and absurdly healthy, a perfect counterpoint to the pasta full of cheese from the previous night.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersRice bowls with avocado, mango, and green sauce. I intended to use a green mango I had but didn’t give it enough time to ripen, so I resorted to frozen mango. I sauteed the onion and then added the cooked black beans and their liquid, and let it simmer enough so the black beans thickened. Then I added a teaspoon of white vinegar and some salt. The green sauce and a few dashes of Tapatio made this into the easiest weeknight dinner.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersI made extra rice for the burrito bowls and intended to make it into fried rice.  But there didn’t end up being as much leftover rice as I hoped and there were way more leftover black beans than I intended, so dinner changed course to be “everything in the fridge that could go on a tortilla.” There was some leftover squash from a week ago, leftover buffalo tofu, lettuce, avocado, salsa, and I made some small salads from the cucumber, cherry tomato, cilantro, red onion and cider vinegar. All the leftovers in the fridge were used up and everyone was happy. WIN WIN.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersI’ve kept up my sourdough making and this time I tried adding oats, which my sister warned me would disappear in the bread and she was right. But it still makes excellent toast with butter and honey, or avocado. I also made a few breakfast burritos with black beans, scrambled eggs, and whatever else I found in the fridge.

A few extra things to read this week. After reading Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper I’ve been on a constant hunt for (and creator of) Sichuan food. Pete Wells wrote about a restaurant this week that I want to go to right now: “Corn kernels stir-fried with pine nuts are strangely easy to get along with.” And the Piglet started this week!! I took out Brooks’ book from the library after he won the Piglet last year and I have to admit it didn’t grab me. But it was unlike any cookbook I’ve ever read and he was a great pick for judging the first Piglet round. I loved that he took on two cookbooks so different from his own style, tested them with his restaurant staff, and compared similar recipes from both cookbooks. Looking forward to the rest!


What kind of cook are you?

What Kind of Cook /are You? - Vegetal MattersI happen to live in the same state as Alana Chernila, author of the blog Eating from the Ground Up, The Homemade Kitchen, and most recently The Homemade Pantry,  and used her cookbook release party as an excuse to visit the lovely Berkshires and be a blog fangirl. When it was my moment to chat with Alana as she signed my books, she asked me “What kind of cook are you?”. For someone who spends almost every waking hour of her day doing something food related, this should be a very simple question. But I stumbled. More out of shock that no one had asked me this before and I hadn’t thought to ask myself either. “What do you like to cook?” is the more common lead in with an ever-evolving answer. With a line behind me I more answered this question than the one asked, and said I like to cook with lots of vegetables. Not the most eloquent, but certainly a true answer.

Defining what kind of cook I am has been on my mind since the event (which was in October, and I’m sure will be an eternally ongoing question). The answer is still not complete and definitely not succinct, but it is forming. I am a cook that constantly tries new things. New recipes from new chefs with new ingredients. Dishes that I’ve read about but only tasted in my own kitchen. Processed items that I’ve bought and have a curiosity about how their made. Foods I’ve eaten someplace distant or at least inaccessible on a daily basis, and want to have again and again.

Depending on the recipe and mood, I made just read one for inspiration and then go on an entirely different track, half follow one and let my instinct direct me otherwise, or follow it exactly. It entirely depends on what kind of cooking I’m doing, how comfortable I am with the dish, and what my goal is (learn something new? just get dinner on the table?). I have great appreciation for well written recipes and when reading and writing recipes I want exact ingredients (weights please!!!), even if I don’t think you should always follow them (but they should be there for when you need to).

As mentioned in haste, vegetables are far and away my favorite food group to cook with and to eat. I relish the challenge of cooking one vegetable in it’s season as many ways as I can think of, to test out all its potential and keep dinner interesting. This is also how I get other people to eat eggplant repeatedly, even though it is never as much as I want to. Perhaps absurd to those who have to eat rice and beans out of necessity, I cook them constantly. The practicality, cheapness, stability, nutritional completeness, and varied cultural traditions that are packed into such an elementary dish make it endlessly pleasing to me.

I appreciate the art that food can be elevated to, and the influences of high end cuisine on more accessible restaurants and home kitchens. But the kind of cooking that means the most to me is practical home cooking, where you make substitutions with what you have and it is ok to use ingredients a bit past their prime to avoid throwing them out. Food that doesn’t have to be pretty, but is nourishing and more quietly delightful. I may get the most joy out of cooking when given a real life Iron Chef challenge: make something good to eat with only what you have here. Those meals may not go down as the best things I’ve ever eaten, but are when my skills are best used and I’m proudest of what I’ve made.

This may not be the kind of cook I am right now, but it is what I’m constantly aspiring to be: resourceful, creative,  fearless, skilled, and practical. One that doesn’t waste, can adapt to people’s tastes, but also get them to try and like new ingredients and dishes. One that can pass on all of these skills to others. And one who can effectively translate these experiences from the kitchen onto a page. Alana, thanks for asking. What kind of cook are you?

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersI feel like I’ve barely cooked or eaten this week, though these photos and the fact that I’m still able to type prove otherwise. My time and mind was dominated by the agriculture, nutrition, and cooking winter break camp with 4th-7th graders I ran. We planted, learned, crafted, and cooked all week.

My favorite activity was perhaps having each kid plan out a week’s worth of meals and the shopping list to go along with it. I brought in a whole bunch of cookbooks for them to go through and I think greatly excited a bunch of parents who realized this was a task their kid could take over. We cooked every day, and I’ve done this enough to have the basics down. Go over knife safety every time, but let them do the work themselves. Make sure everyone has a task at all times. Give them room to experiment.

We made pizzas on tortillas and English muffins, hummus and black bean dip, fruit salad, snacks with nut butter, and smoothies (I used Alton’s hummus recipe, and one of the campers came back to ask for the recipe so her dad could make it for his next party). The smoothies were probably the biggest hit. After making a basic recipe they added spinach or kale leaves one at a time, but then they just kept experimenting with the rest of the ingredients until we ran out. Even the kids who asked me if they absolutely had to add the greens were slurping them up. Heck yes.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersWinter salad with mind-blowing sauce. I wouldn’t necessarily go with “mind-blowing,” but it was a quick, interesting sauce that made a giant platter of vegetables very enticing.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSteak, Guinness and cheese pie. This isn’t exactly quick or easy….but so delicious. Each time I make it I’m amazed that such a complex sauce emerges when the only liquid is Guinness. Not something to make often, but most certainly worth making. Make sure you have a crowd to feed, because though the recipe says it feeds 4-6 it is more like 10-12. Let it cool for a bit if you can wait before serving so the filling doesn’t spill out of the crust as much.

After a half-day drive and a long shopping trip, a fast dinner was in order: quesadillas with pinto beans, scallions, sauteed kale, cherry tomatoes, and chopped scallions.

Somehow I made one too many pans of stuffing at Thanksgiving, so this has been waiting for it’s day in the freezer. To go alongside I roasted a chicken following the basic instructions in The Homemade Kitchen and I made a salsa verde with shallots and parsley (from An Everlasting Meal). The shallots in the salsa verde were soaked an vinegar and drained, so I used the vinegar on a big mountain of sauteed kale. Classic combinations for a reason.

Polenta with chicken ragu, sauteed mushrooms, roasted cherry tomatoes and peppers, and salsa verde. I read through This is Camino which inspired the ragu which was basically a well-cooked mirepoix with cooked chicken and broth (from that roasted chicken earlier in the week). Another reminder of how polenta is an excellent base to make a meal out of whatever else is kicking around in your fridge.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBuffalo blue cheese deviled eggs. I can’t believe I used to not like deviled eggs. Probably because they were lacking blue cheese and hot sauce. These came together in about as long as it took me to cook the eggs, and they will be coming back again.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSteak with mustard butter and frites (from My Paris Kitchen) with creamed spinach. I started with a really nice steak so I didn’t do much work there, but these frites make something incredible from a most humble potato. My next poutine attempt will start with these fries.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersQuinoa with buffalo tofu, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and ranch. This barbeque tempeh recipe was my inspiration, but as I was about to make this I realized I didn’t have any barbecue sauce or the energy to make some. So this became buffalo tofu, marinated quickly an a 1:1 of Frank’s and olive oil, then roasted. The sweet potatoes were roasted, and the broccoli was steamed (because I was out of oven space). I made a non-vegan ranch with buttermilk, a little mayo, garlic, lemon juice, and dill. It’s safe to say this will all happen again.

Since I had to be at work much earlier for camp I ate most breakfasts at my desk this week. Before I left I thawed some frozen berries and mango in a jar and topped them with a big scoop of Greek yogurt,  maple syrup, and my mom’s granola. I also made a batch of whole wheat chocolate coffee banana muffins because they are the best.

Last Week I Cooked….

Crispy wing with three-flavored sauce (from Simple Thai Food). These wings were a lot of work. They had to marinate, then be coated with flour, then rest, then be deep fried. While all that was happening the sauce had to be made and cooled. One of the ingredients for the sauce is tamarind pulp, which I couldn’t buy straight out so I had to hand squeeze it before making the sauce. I used brown rice flour instead of the white called for in the coating because it was on-hand, but most of it fell off in the frying process. After one bite, I would have done all of the work over again to have a second. They were seriously spicy, but with enough sticky sweetness to just mitigate the flame. I will crave these often, and make them occasionally.

Vegetal Matters - Last Week I CookedGlass noodle salad (from Simple Thai Food). This was a slightly sour salad with cooked and dried shrimp and ground pork. It was good, but any dish would be hard to follow after the intense flavors of the wings. I’m more excited to try other recipes in the book before making this one again.

Sichuanese Chinese chopped celery with pork. I’ve made this recipe with the called for beef, chopped chicken thighs, and now pork. Any which way it is absolutely delicious. Some of the ingredients go beyond the usual pantry items, but once you have them you can make this dish with ease.

Twice cooked chard (from Every Grain of Rice). This was a lot of greenery to go with the celery dish, but as I’ve come to expect from Fucshia, it was a full-flavored dish that brought out the best in the chard.

Sweet potato with Thai curry and coconut soup. Will put this together while I made the elaborate wings during the Superbowl. It is a hearty, vegan soup that takes a bit of time to put together (you roast the sweet potatoes first), but minimal effort beyond the chopping. It’s a great option beyond the usual vegetable and broth offering.

Vegetal Matters - Last Week I CookedPasta with red sauce and linguica. I had planned to make a curry from Simple Thai Food but when I got home from work it seemed like an insurmountable task. So I turned to the pantry and freezer. In the freezer I found some tomato sauce, the fridge had a sausage and butter, and the pantry contributed pasta and onion. It was simple, satisfying, and zero stress.

Pasta with yogurt and carmelized onions. I finally got the chance to try this recipe and… was good, but not mind blowing. Sure, using just yogurt for pasta sauce is pretty ingenious,  the caramelized onions add a perfect complementary sweetness, and really you only need 3 ingredients for the whole shebang. I’m happy to have this recipe in my back pocket for when I’m stranded with just these ingredients, but I won’t be going out of my way to regularly make it.

Acorn squash with chile-lime vinaigrette. The flavar of this was great…I just can’t get myself to love the texture of acorn squash. Maybe I didn’t cook it for long enough? I’ve made a very similar Ottolenghi dish with butternut that I liked much better.

Vegetal Matters - Last Week I CookedGrapefruit olive oil pound cake (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook). This is probably my most repeated recipe from this cookbook. If you adore grapefruit, this cake is perhaps its most worthy showcase.

Belgian brownie cakelets. There was some disagreement in our house about the name of this dessert. To me, they definitely skewed more cake than brownie. I prefer a fudginess in my chocolate baked goods so I will try something else before making these again, but they were still just 5 ingredients and pretty good if you aren’t as picky about brownies (or cakelets).

Vegetal Matters - Last Week I CookedFrench toast with bananas. I can’t tell you the last time I cooked or even ate French toast. It was my favorite breakfast as a kid though, and one morning this week I indulged my craving. This won’t be my everyday breakfast, but I shouldn’t go so long without it.


Last Week I Cooked…

This week was a true tale of rollover meals. The leftover chicken from the fajitas I made last week went into enchilada filling. I made more enchilada filling than I needed, which became the topping for burrito bowls. We didn’t use quite all of it for burrito bowls though, so the remaining bit turned into breakfast when topped with an egg, avocado, and some hot sauce. Plus I saved the bones from the roasted legs to go into stock, so they will just keep on giving.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersMattar paneer. This was a dish I’d never tried before making it. I’m sure there are better versions out there, but I wasn’t overly impressed with this one. I didn’t find the spices strong enough. Frozen peas probably didn’t do it justice, and next time I’ll try making my own paneer.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersGreens and beans with red wine and garlic sausage. This is the kind of dish that is barely any work, so adaptable, and I could eat every day. I used a mix of kidney and pinto beans (because they were already cooked in the freezer), lacinato kale, and toasted baguette instead of the breadcrumbs (because I always burn them). I can’t take any credit for the best part though, the Short Creek sausage which is incredible all by itself.

Roasted sweet potato, black bean, and chicken enchiladas. I followed the recipe for these enchiladas, but instead of zucchini and corn used roasted sweet potatoes and shredded chicken (from about 1.5 legs). My ideal winter version of this dish.

Cauliflower arugula bleu mac and cheese. If you have struggled to love cauliflower, this is the dish that will convert you. Bleu cheese too strong? Sub cheddar.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBurrito bowls with roasted sweet potatoes, chicken, and black beans with green sauce. Dinner needed to happen quickly so we could head out to trivia. I got home from work, threw on some brown rice, made the green sauce, and reheated the black bean, chicken, and sweet potato mixture. Dinner was on the table at 6pm (which NEVER happens), and we landed a solid third place at trivia. There was a round where they read classic recipes minus one ingredient and you had to guess what was missing (like deviled eggs but without the paprika and hollandaise sans eggs). It was my own trivia heaven.

Cauliflower Arugula Bleu Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese was my gateway to loving cauliflower. Growing up I only experienced it as a raw vegetable left sad and lonely as the last thing eaten on a crudités platter. But in my quest to revisit vegetables I dismissed in my youth I made Jamie Oliver’s Macaroni and Cauliflower Cheese Bake and never turned back. It’s no revelation that any vegetable in mac and cheese is lovable, but cauliflower is especially so. Will had been flipping through How To Cook Everything: The Basics and bookmarked the Cauliflower Gratin with Bleu Cheese, which intrigued me but I didn’t have other elements to make it into a meal.  The Jamie Oliver recipe is delicious, but creme fraiche is more expensive and not an ingredient I always have lying around. Marisa from Food in Jars posted a more basic veg mac and cheese last month that inspired me to work on my own basic mac recipe that I can adapt to whatever is in season or in my fridge.

My version has some different steps, including roasting the cauliflower (but if in a rush you could cook it with the pasta like Marisa does). Arugula is not a green I usually have around, and I might have otherwise used kale, chard, or spinach. There was a bit of cheddar sauce leftover from last week’s baked potatoes, and since the new sauce I’m making was essentially the same thing and I didn’t want to let it languish in the fridge I just added it on in. I think with this basic cheese sauce recipe I could make mac and cheese out of just about anything now.

Cauliflower Arugula Bleu Mac and Cheese

Adapted from Food in Jars. Serves 6.

  • 8 ounces short pasta, like fusilli or penne
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 4 oz bleu cheese, crumbled (or 8 ounces of a less intense cheese)
  • 2.5 ounces arugula or another green
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus more for the cauliflower and pasta water
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ cup bread crumbs (optional)
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425F. Chop the cauliflower into small florets that mirror the size of your pasta. Toss in the oil and a sprinkle of salt, and then spread onto 2 baking sheets (so there is enough room for them to brown and not just steam). Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing and switching the pans once.

Put the water on for the pasta, and start your sauce by melting the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. When it is starting to bubble, add in the flour and whisk to combine. Continue whisking while the flour and butter cook for about 3 minutes, until it smells a little nutty. Slowly add in the milk, whisking in between additions (or while someone else pours, if you have an extra set of hands).When all the milk is added let it cook over medium heat (or slightly lower if it starts to bubble a lot) for 5 minutes. The sauce should be visibly thicker at this point. Add in the bleu cheese and whisk to combine. Add in the salt and ground pepper and turn off the heat.

When your cooking water is boiling, salt it and add in the pasta. Cook until al dente, about 6 minutes. Reserve ½ a cup of cooking water before draining the pasta. Then return the pasta to the pot, add in the roasted cauliflower, the arugula, and the blue cheese sauce and mix it all up. You can stop here and enjoy a stove top mac and cheese with a nice creamy sauce.

To bake, grease a 9″x13″ pan and add in the pasta and veg mixture. Top with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Bake in your oven (still at 425F from roasting the cauliflower) for 15 minutes. Let cool for a couple minutes then dive in.