Last Week I Cooked….

It was my first week cooking in our new apartment! Though half of the kitchen was in boxes, things slowly found there homes. As of this hour the only box in the kitchen in a box full of empty boxes, and its beginning to feel more like I actually live here. Now, to find a new shelf for that ever expanding cookbook collection….

20161023_202327Curried roasted eggplant with coconut milk and black rice. It was only fitting to cook eggplant in my first apartment meal. I have had this pinned for far too long, and it took a night at home when we were tired of takeout and in great need of vegetables to get me to cook it. There are a lot of spices, but it smells heavenly. I didn’t have full cardamom pods so I used some ground. The eggplant soaks up all of the fragrant, coconut milk sauce. I certainly won’t wait years before making this again. I used black rice because I didn’t want to go to the store, but it turned out very dramatic and Halloween appropriate!

Burmese-Inspired chicken braised in coconut milk & turmeric with sweet potato. Apparently turmeric was the spice of the week here (but now I’m all out, so a trip to the spice market is in order). This soup was a huge hit. The coconut broth is loaded with herbs and spices, and the squash (I used butternut instead of sweet potato) soaks up all the flavors. My one change would be to double (or maybe triple) the squash/sweet potato to make for a more even chicken to veg ratio.

20161028_201904Eggplant parm. This was the last eggplant of the season here, and only eggplant parm would do it justice. I ran out of breadcrumbs before breading all the eggplant, but I just fried up the naked pieces and layered them between breaded slices and everything was just fine (and slightly easier!).

20161028_082812Roasted butternut with za’atar, yogurt, and fried bread. I adapted Molly’s recipe a bit because I already had butternut and za’atar. The fried bread coated in olive oil with yogurt was my favorite part, but I would be open to this whole combination for future savory yogurt breakfasts.

Scrambled eggs with goat cheese, sauteed collards, and toast. At the end of the season most of our garden collards were decimated by some caterpillars (I think), but after the cold weather kicked in some of the plants bounced back. I was able to harvest a last big bunch before we moved, and of course it found its way into breakfast.

Last Week I Cooked….

We’re in the process of moving, and as of this weekend are more in the new place than the old place. This has led to much more eating out then normal, and meals at home are mostly cobbled together with ingredients already on hand. We’re leaving behind a big l-shaped counter, with a convenient lazy Susan right below it that held all my oils and vinegars. But the kitchen in the old place was awkwardly located in the middle of the house with very little natural light and low ceilings. The new place has its own quirks, like the sink and the stove in different rooms (a weird feature of many apartments in this area), but it is awash in natural light and two (!) ovens. It’s still not quite at my dream of a house that is 70% kitchen, but it is a big step up.

Sausages with peppers and onions on toast with mustard. I can’t entirely take credit for this meal, because my mom gave me all the ingredients for it. But it is a simple favorite that always satisfies.

Tomato and sausage risotto. This risotto has been in my rotation for years. It doesn’t require broth (just tomatoes and water), stretches a small amount of meat to a meal for many, is an excuse to open a bottle of wine, and has a big pile of greens stirred in at the end.

Pasta alla norma. The key here is to use enough oil to fry the eggplant in to get it really soft. The process itself is simple, and I finished off the tomato eggplant sauce with a large portion of ricotta cheese. It doesn’t melt into the sauce like mascarpone would, but it still tastes great.

Bacon fat potatoes with kale and fried eggs. Essential this, but I cubed the potatoes and cooked them in a couple batches. There was a wild storm in our parts Friday night and it was just the night to have breakfast for dinner, crack open a growler, and pack up the kitchen with breaks to watch the lightning.

Cinnamon toast with ricotta, honey, and sea salt. I wasn’t in the mood for eggs at breakfast much this week (who am I?????), so this was a nice change of pace.

Making Vanilla Extract to Give to a Crowd

dsc01924Vanilla extract only has two ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka. Mix those together, give them some time to marry, and you have an incredibly potent elixir to bake with. If you’re going to go through the little trouble it takes to make extract, it is barely any more effort to make a big batch of it. Start that batch now, and you will have an excellent gift for friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors for the holidays. It fits into all kinds of diets, doesn’t go bad, and is one of those things that people don’t usually make so it seems more impressive than it is. To make a single batch you need a handle of vodka (nothing too fancy), about 25 vanilla beans, and some jars for gifting. The up front expense seems high (vanilla ain’t cheap), but it works out to about $5 a bottle (4 oz) for a homemade and actually useful gift. (I’ve seen nice vanilla extract go over $10 for 4 ounces.)

I follow the formula laid out here of 1 vanilla bean for every two ounces of vodka. This year I wanted to make a lot to give out, so I bought two 25 packs of beans, and two handles of vodka. The last few years I’ve used the US Kirkland Vodka from Costco, but any lower to mid-range vodka should work (not the worst, not the best). I use quart mason jars to make the measuring easy – just count fourteen beans for each jar, split them, put them in the jar, and then fill it up to the 28 oz line. A handle of vodka (750 mL) is just under 60 ounces, so that would fill two 28 oz mason and make about fourteen 4 oz bottles. This year I put fourteen beans in three quart jars and filled them, so I had about a half handle of vodka leftover from the two. I’ll use that to make a second batch with doubled-up used beans after Christmas that I can use myself. I have eight beans leftover that I’m saving for other cooking projects, as they are far cheaper bought in bulk like this.

dsc01927The shortest amount of time I’ve let them sit before gifting is five weeks, but longer is better. Order beans and vodka now, put them to steep, and by the holidays you will be all ready. How is that for lazy gift making? Past years I’ve bought twelve packs of Boston round bottles which are economical and just the right size, but I’ve found they leak a bit so I’m searching for a better sealed option.

I like to check up on them and give the bottles a shake every few weeks, but that is mostly just for fun and observing the process. The change in color is dramatic, especially after the first few days. I took these photos just two days after I started my jars and look at the difference already!

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So many gifts and celebrations around the holidays focus on rich foods and sweets. I like giving something that can help create decadence later on, but does not need to be consumed on top of the already collected mountain of extravagance. Someone can tuck it away in a cabinet and maybe not use it for months without the quality or usefulness being compromised. Start a batch now, and you can take care of your giving list before Halloween!

Last Week I Cooked….

20161014_181909This Friday the farm staff was invited over to one of our volunteer’s home for a Cowboy Cafe. This volunteer and her family regularly host these nights for friends where they cook entirely in cast iron over a fire. We had beans with bacon, onions, and garlic, stewed tomatoes and okra, grilled chicken breasts, blueberry streusel, steak, and salads. The food was incredible, and we had so much fun hanging around the fire while everything cooked. It made me want to cook everything in cast iron over a fire, but since that isn’t as easily achievable, at least come up with an easy party theme that I can execute reliably so entertaining is never a second thought. (Maybe meatballs?) While I didn’t help cook there, I still fit in a few other meals in this short week.

20161010_090050Almost full Irish. It’s tough to find blood sausage around these parts, and I did use use streaky bacon in place of rashers…but otherwise this has all the important bits. Bangers, mushrooms and tomatoes (cooked in bacon fat), an egg, toast, and Worcestershire. Simply cooked ingredients that are fantastic in combination.

20161012_195654Autumn vegetable soup with sausage and green lentils (from Flour, Too). This soup is not one you just throw together. There are a lot of ingredients, and they all need to be prepped and ready for the right time. I found myself pushing the soup pot off the burner a few times to give myself a bit more time to get the next step ready. All that work though, and it made for a great, flavorful soup. I loved all the spices (cumin, curry powder, fennel, smoked paprika, bay, oregano, turmeric, and cinnamon!), the mix of vegetables, flavor from the sausage, and lentils. Worth the time, but next time I will make it on a Sunday.

20161013_190837Roasted eggplant and za’atar pizza. I’ve been making this pizza for years, and it is always worth returning to. Two cookings makes for extra creamy eggplant, which always pairs well with tahini and feta.

20161015_105513-2Scrambled eggs with goat cheese, along with sauteed kale and tomatoes, and toast. Getting in the last of the cherry tomatoes!

Last Week I Cooked…

20161002_192936Lamb and eggplant moussaka. This was a big hit in the house with roommates, who it should be noted, are not quite as eggplant obsessed as me. There are a few steps here to make multiple parts, but the results are the perfect seasonal crossover dish.

Sweet cherry tomato and sausage bake. Why did I wait so long into tomato season to make this?! I even wrote about how excited I was to make it in August. It is dead simple, perfectly balanced sweet from the tomatoes, tart from the balsamic, and fat from the sausage.

Leek potato soup. An old favorite that is delightfully leeky.

20161004_192022-2Spaghetti squash noodle bowl with lime peanut sauce. I also made some brown rice to make these a little heftier. Tofu, veg (I used collards instead of broccoli), a zingy sauce, and herbs are always a win on this dinner table.

20161007_201554Two pizzas and a salad: butternut squash with goat cheese, red onion, and bacon; pepperoni and hamburg; greens with cucumber, pepper, and a champagne vinegar dressing.

Breakfast tostadas with egg, cheese, spaghetti squash, and black beans. I follow the basic method here, but topped with extra spaghetti squash (from the bowls earlier in the week), black beans, and hot sauce.

 

 

Last Week(s) I Cooked….

Apartment hunting and a weekend with friends visiting made for delayed blogging! I feel as if I now finally have time to truly devote to cooking again, and of course my favorite produce is on its way out. At least there are still greens, squash, and apples to embrace!

Spaghetti squash tacos with black beans. The first time I ate spaghetti squash was in these tacos. Ignore any notion you may have that spaghetti squash can only be used as a spaghetti replacement, and try these out. The squash shines in its own way with a punchy lime chili powder sauce.

Sweet potato nachos with black beans. I don’t know if I would call these nachos…loaded fries seems more apt. Either way, it was an excuse to pile beans and cheese on fries and call it dinner. I didn’t have smoked cheddar on hand, so I used a shredded Mexican blend. Easy and gratifying.

20160924_103331Pesto polenta with tomato and egg. I actual made this for dinner, with sauteed greens and garlic topped with an egg, and the leftover polenta became breakfast the next day with tomatoes instead.

Tomato cheddar galette. This galette was GOOD. Incredibly flaky crust, a thin layer of mustard, a dense cheddar base, and sweet tomato slices. It was like a great tomato grilled cheese….but with more butter. We had it alongside an eggplant salad, and to bulk the meal up a bit for lunch I made hard boiled eggs.

Vegetable soup with chickpeas and greens. This soup was entirely born out of the things in our fridge and a desire to clean out the freezer. I started the soup with a chopped onion, carrot, and pepper, and then added in 3 minced cloves of garlic. Then went in a couple quarts of stock, chickpeas, and a big pinch of salt. That simmered for a bit, then I added a huge bunch of chopped greens (kale, collards, and chard) until just wilted. Served with grated parm, a dollop of pesto, and toasted crusty bread.

20161001_165724Fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah. I didn’t actually try this since it was a gift, but I’ve made it before and it was delightful. It comes together including baking in about 3 hours, the directions are incredibly easy to follow, and then you’ve made challah! I don’t have a stand mixer with a dough hook, so I start the dough in the food processor and run it until the motor starts to get annoyed.

Spaghetti with vodka sauce. This barely counts as cooking because I took half a box of noodles out of the pantry, topped them with jarred vodka sauce that had been evicted from our freezer, and then finished with cheese. But you should know that I don’t always feel like cooking with much exertion.

20161001_105059Apple Dutch baby. An impressive breakfast without all the fuss of flipping. I skipped the step of cleaning the pan, reheating it, and then putting the apples back in. I just poured the batter in and stuck the whole thing in the hot oven and everything was fine.

A repeat breakfast recently has been toast, a swipe of Dijon mustard, fried tomatoes, and a fried egg.