Last Week I Cooked…

I’m still writing from Cork, Ireland, where we are finishing up our trip with Will’s grandmother. We have just one more day of vibrant green fields, glistening coastline, fast moving clouds and surprise rainstorms before our journey back to Massachusetts.

Chicken tikka masala. I had another dinner planned, but with a 3 hour cooking time and a late arrival home after a day of exploring I changed plans. I’ve made this many times and it is always pleasing. The recipe is written with an absurd amount of salt (I use about a teaspoon total), and I used a 15.5 oz can of diced tomatoes (because tomato puree in Ireland is tomato paste, and the only tomato sauce I found was flavored pasta sauce).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBaked falafel with roasted cauliflower, tzatziki, and salad. Vacation makes for a bit more indulgance than usual, which make me crave vegetables. The falafel was made with a potato masher, but the egg helped hold it together well for baking. The cauliflower I roasted with some olive oil, lemon zest, salt, and pepper at about 425F for 25 minutes. Tzatziki was made with some shredded cucumber that I squeezed dry, drained yogurt, lemon juice, and minced garlic. I made a dressing of just lemon juice and olive oil for the salad, and was very happy with such a dense dose of vegetables.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersVegetable chowder. The cabbage from the meal I didn’t made went into this soup. I started off sweating the leeks in butter, then added chopped carrots and potatoes, and about a quart of stock I made from the leek tops. That simmered for about half an hour, then I added half a chopped savoy cabbage. It was all finished with some pepper, cream, and a touch of vinegar for a vegetable packed soup.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersTomato, pepper, and cucumber salad with Irish sea asparagus. We went out for fish and chips and Will declared after that he was done with food for the day. That seemed to change after we went into Marks and Spencer and he spied with Scotch eggs and tiny pork pies. So they came home with us for an easy dinner, and I made a big salad of things that were already in the fridge plus the Irish sea asparagus (or sampire) that I couldn’t resist at the market. It has the water crunch of bean sprouts but with a little more chew and serious salty sea flavor. The woman at the market said it was very nice with cooked fish so I think that I will have to try it with some this week. But anyway, the salad was just a mix of chopped vegetables with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil.

VOatmeal with mashed banana, raisins, cream, and maple sugar. We needed a break from Irish breakfasts, so I cooked steel-cut oats with a 1:1 water:milk mixture very slowly over low heat while stirring regularly. At the end I added in a mashed banana, and then served with cream, maple syrup, and raisins.


Last Week I Cooked…

Hello from Cork, Ireland! Will and I flew over in the middle of this week, so my cooking schedule is a bit off. We are staying with Will’s grandmother though, so there is a kitchen to make use of all the awesome ingredients to be bought at the English Market. The rest of the time will be spent sampling pints of stout, chips, and various fish.

Chicken and dumplings.  This is a great spring stew, that is still warming for brisk days but not heavy. I made this with a full chicken that I broke down (backbone removed, and frozen for stock later). The skin that was removed before the chicken braised I crisped up in a cast iron for everyone to snack on.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersJoanne Chang’s hot and sour soup. Of course hot and sour, but also ridiculously quick to put together, hearty, and an amazing combination of textures with easy to find ingredients. I would have to be seriously convinced to try another hot and sour soup recipe.

Coconut chocolate chip cookies. I may eat a garden hose if it had coconut and chocolate on it. These cookies are made with coconut oil instead of butter as well as toasted, shredded coconut, so the flavor really comes through. I added in some cacao nibs, and I think next time I would use a bit less chocolate and more nibs. These were a snack while packing, and then dessert for the flight.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersWheat wraps with miso hummus, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted tofu, kimchi, sprouts, and lettuce. Vegan wraps are my ideal travel food because you don’t have to worry about refrigeration and I always want to pack in as many vegetables as possible before I’m tempted by so many less virtuous foods. Plus, making something saves you from spending money on something inevitably mediocre at the airport.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersIrish breakfast. Speaking of less virtuous foods….toast, eggs, mushrooms, tomato, bacon, and black pudding (blood sausage). You could order one out, but if you have a kitchen for about 15 Euro you can buy all the ingredients for a full Irish for a full week.

Leeks with mustard bacon vinaigrette. This is a fancy, indulgent salad I would eat every day if I could. I made it with duck eggs for extra fanciness, and Irish bacon.

Pasta with arugula and lemon cream sauce.  This pasta made the leek salad into more of a meal. I used arugula instead of the Brussels, that I jut tossed in to wilt with the pasta and sauce.

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations - Vegetal MattersNot all of the great cookbooks released last year can make it into Food52’s Piglet competition, so along with each day of the competition they post a Community Pick. They solicit five volunteers per cookbook to test and review it, then post the best. I submitted a review of Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak, which was not chosen, but the editor here at Vegetal Matters is still willing to post it.

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations

I’ve always had reservations about one dish and one ingredient cookbooks. Both my wallet and my space are limiting factors – so why would I invest in a cookbook with narrow uses? But I was overlooking the fact that my cooking repertoire were more like “cooking X without a recipe.” In fact a favorite dinner-on-the-fly game at my house is “Will it taco?”, including whatever is in the house in a tortilla topped with a sauce (so far, everything has taco-ed). Tacos: Recipes and Provocations has begun to change my mind on the worthiness of one dish cookbooks. This is more a formula for a dish that involves tortillas, salsa, and filling that can be interpreted infinite ways. Tacos provides the tools to execute that formula in constantly interesting iterations.

Stupak is non-negotiable on the subject of tortilla making: you make them at home or you don’t bother. He laments that truly great corn tortillas must be made with freshly ground masa, but it is impossible to do at home (and the more readily available masa harina must substitute). Corn tortillas also require a tortilla press, which I was not quite ready to invest in.  Flour tortillas seemed a much easier path to success with readily procured main ingredients (white flour and lard – look near the butter in the grocery store) and involved equipment I already own (a rolling pin). Even without a stand mixer the dough comes together easily and after a short rest is ready to roll out. Making circular tortillas is another story, for a greater perfectionist than I.

It is made clear that Stupak’s background is that of a high end pastry chef, but his influences range widely from his wife’s Mexican background and his own New England upbringing, along with experiences around the world. The recipes have an incredibly wide variety of ingredients, from basic chicken and shrimp, to pastrami, tongue, sea urchin, and suckling pig (and there are vegetarian options, but they are the minority). Just about every dish includes 3 or more recipes: the tortilla, salsa, and filling.

Some can be prepared in advance, but it’s safe to say these are mostly weekend cooking projects and not after work dinners. There are obscure ingredients and long processes that could classify this more as a “chef” cookbook, but it is balanced with enough basic recipes and familiar ingredients to make this book a kitchen workhorse and not a coffee table book (though the photos are gorgeous in their own right).

I went with dishes that contain ingredients most common in my kitchen: potato and chorizo tacos with salsa de árbol and chicken and kale tacos. The chorizo tacos involved toasting all of the spices, chilis, and nuts for both the chorizo and the salsa (not ideal if you have spice sensitive housemates). Stupak describes the salsa de árbol as his end-all-be-all of hot sauces, and I’m wholly on board.  The sauce had the real kick I want, acidic tang from the vinegar and an earthy sweetness. I’ve used it on much more than tacos, and I’ll have to make a plan for more when I finish the last tablespoon on my eggs tomorrow. Perhaps I am not the best judge for chorizo as I would eat it on a piece of bark, but this recipe was robust and worth all of the effort of toasting and grinding that went into it.

The chicken was roasted with lard and then stirred into a fresh tomatillo salsa along with kale, and topped with queso fresco and crema once in tortillas. The combination was surprisingly rich (or maybe not, see: lard) and well foiled by sturdy kale. Both chorizo and chicken took the better part of a Sunday afternoon, but were undeniably the best tacos that have come out of my kitchen. Since it is best to use up the tortillas that night, they make an excellent excuse to entertain (and enlist your gusts in tortilla rolling).

Though Stupak warns leftover tortillas are not worth eating, it has obviously been far too long since he had a premade tortilla. Yes, the texture was compromised, but the flavor was still far superior to their pale, grocery store brethren.

A cookbook with the subtitle Recipes and Provocations seems to be making a big promise for some lofty thoughts. The insightful essays did their full share of provoking. They included the untraditional American placement of beef in tacos, the true meaning of “traditional” dishes, and the ascribed worth of different cuisines. Each problem is something any cook making any cuisine in any part of the country has encountered.

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations was all I could hope for in a cookbook (specific to one dish or otherwise): excellent background on processes and traditional ingredients, scientific precision in recipe testing, varied ingredients and thorough directions.  All of these benefits were delivered in an amusing conversational but knowledgeable tone, along with some truly reflective essays. I still have a cup of lard in the fridge so there is only one thing to do: make more tacos.

Last Week I Cooked….

Late nights of meetings and work made this week feel disjointed. I got to make a few items that had been on my list for quite a while though, and a few old favorites.

Last Week I Cooked.... - Vegetal MattersShakshuka. I didn’t have any feta, but I added some white beans to bulk it up a bit. Every time I make this I think “why don’t I cook tomatoes and eggs more often?”. Eaten with pita bread.

Miso sweet potato and broccoli bowls. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made these bowls. They are dead simple, wholesome, and the sauce is dynamite.

Red lentil soup with lemon. This soup almost didn’t happen since I forgot to buy the lentils, but Will saved the day. We made it at the same time as the sweet potato bowls to have for dinner the next night. Besides chopping the onions, garlic, and carrot it was almost no work. The rest of the ingredients just get tossed in, and the lemon to finish takes a humble bowl of soup to a much more interesting level.

Last Week I Cooked.... - Vegetal MattersCauliflower Parmesan. This dish is billed as a winter substitute for eggplant parm, but it is probably no surprise that this doesn’t even begin to fill the eggplant parm shaped hole in my heart. It is also no surprise that cauliflower florets are much more awkward to bread and fry than round sliced of eggplant. It was good, as anything fried and then baked with tomato sauce and cheese would be, but further proved eggplant is the ideal vegetable for parmesan-ing.

Honey and harissa farro salad (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook). A couple winters ago I became slightly obsessed with this salad and made it on repeat. For some reason I forgot about it last year, but I’m so happy to have it back in my kitchen. I wasn’t able to easily get my hands on farro, so I used barley and barely noticed the difference. The sweet roasted vegetables with a spicy, tart dressing and a big handful of parsley (no mint for me) make for the greatest meal in a salad. If you need to make it even better for you, it is also excellent over kale (make a bit extra dressing).

Last Week I Cooked.... - Vegetal MattersBreakfasts this week were a little more thrown together, but included the classic avocado and egg on toast (with my sister’s kimchi as the newest addition), and some whole wheat yogurt pancakes with grated apple instead of the raspberries. I recently added a Chemex to our collection of coffee making appliances, and I love the floral (grit-less) coffee it makes. I won’t abandon the French press, but it will be forever in the rotation.



Last Week I Cooked….

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersCoconut polenta with Sriracha glazed carrots, coconut creamed collards, and Thai herb sausage. I entirely stole the idea for this meal from Jeff at Short Creek. He makes the most incredible sausage, and suggested this meal to go along with the Thai herb variety. If you don’t live in MA or NH, I think the best substitute would be making your own with ground pork. I haven’t had sausage anywhere else like this, and Jeff told me it was inspired by a recipe in Pok Pok. The carrots I just sauteed, doused with Sriracha, added water to cover, and cooked until tender (lid on for 5 min, off for the rest). I used coconut milk in the polenta instead of regular, and didn’t add anything else in.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersOlive oil braised chickpeas with feta. This probably should not have counted as dinner. It was too easy and too good. The only change I made was to cook my onion in a cast iron skillet, and then dump the rest of the ingredients in alongside for baking. It was hearty, simple, and covered in feta.

Tortilla soup (from The Thug Kitchen Cookbook). I’ve made other tortilla soups but I always come back to this one. And full disclosure, I had to work late so Will made this for dinner and it was ready when I arrived home (!!!), but I wanted to mention it because it is so easy and delightful. We used black beans in place of the chickpeas which I like way better.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersMa po tofu (from Every Grain of Rice). Quick to put together, but I think I added a bit more chili bean paste than I should have. I also stir fried some chard and a red pepper to go alongside, and ended up mixing it in with the tofu and rice (there was enough sauce on the tofu for everything).

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersKale salad with lemon olive oil vinaigrette, hard boiled egg, white beans, and avocado. I always pick the least appropriate après-ski meals, but a giant salad hit the spot.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersWagon wheels. My mom probably made this once a month when I was growing up. Though the original recipe called for wheel pasta (rotelle), I’ve made it with other short shapes like penne with much success. You cook spicy Italian sausage, remove it from the pan, and then saute onions, peppers, garlic, and some red pepper flakes. Cook the pasta, toss it in the pan and add the sausage back in. A much more appropriate après-ski meal.

Dad’s Chili

Dad's Chili - Vegetal MattersI’ve been honing this recipe for a few years and it is finally at the point where I can call it my ideal chili. The meatiness you expect from chili is balanced with beans, mostly because I love them so much, but also to make it healthier and more economical. (And when you’re using less meat, you can buy the really good stuff.) I realize to some of you the addition of beans disqualifies this as a chili, but I grew up in the Northeast where we put beans in our chili (if we want to) and still call it chili, and sugar in our cornbread.

There are multiple heat sources to provide a present but not overwhelming spiciness, and the perfect richness from tomatoes and tomato paste. I’ve made this including everything I could possibly want to be in chili, but that does make for a long ingredient list and some things could certainly stand to be substituted or left out (see head note).

Besides a life long love of chili (especially after ski days), I needed to get this in writing because my Dad asked me to teach him how to cook it. We are just about at the point of independence, and this posting should be a nudge to go forth on your own. It’s his favorite chili too, and hopefully will be yours.

Dad’s Chili

Serves 8. Adapted from Rachael Ray.

This is a flexible recipe. Use any combination of beef, pork/sausage, chicken, or turkey. Or leave them out entirely and double the beans. A bell pepper will do if poblano are not available; red, white, or yellow onion; any combination of black, pinto and kidney beans. If the chipotles were replaced with fresh jalapenos, or the tomato paste or Worcestershire was left out, the world would not end.

  • 1/2 lb  ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork or sausage
  • 2 poblano peppers (or 1 bell pepper)
  • 1 onion (about 1.5 cups)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1.5 teaspoons cumin
  • 1.5 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 chipotles en adobo
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 28 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup milder beer, such as an amber, wheat, or brown ale (Dos Equis works nicely)
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1.5 cups cooked black beans (1 15.5- oz can)
  • 1.5 cups cooked kidney beans (1 15.5- oz can)

For serving:

  • sweetened cornbread or tortilla chips
  • shredded cheese
  • chopped onion
  • sour cream or yogurt

Dice the onion and poblano. Mince the garlic cloves and chipotle en adobo (but keep them separate).

Heat a large pot over medium high and brown the beef and pork while breaking it up with a spoon. When the meat has turned from pink to brown and there are perhaps a few bits sticking to the pot, add in the onion and poblano. Stir to combine, and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is becoming translucent and the peppers are softening.

Add the garlic, cumin, and chili powder and stir to combine. When you can smell the garlic, add in the chipotle en adobo, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and salt. Stir to combine again, and saute for a couple minutes.

Add the beer, and cook for another minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, and then clean out the cans by pouring the beef stock into them, swishing it around, and then pouring the stock into the pot. Add in the beans. Stir to combine everything, and cover. When it starts to bubble, turn the heat to medium low, and simmer uncovered for 1 hour. When the consistency is where you like it (I go for a thicker chili), taste for seasoning and adjust.

Serve with sweetened cornbread or tortilla chips, shredded cheese, chopped onion, and sour cream or yogurt.