2016 in my Kitchen

Last year I wrote about my kitchen trends, and I’m glad I did because now it is so easy to see how they led into this year. While there were plenty of standbys that will probably by in my kitchen forever (eggs with hot sauce, lots of homemade pizza, and big salads), these were the items that newly rooted themselves amongst the ranks of regulars.

Last Week I Cooked...- Vegetal MattersTofu bowls. A vegan meal I crave monthly, if not biweekly. I don’t like to repeat meals often, but I find myself craving these far more than other meals. Last year I wrote about roasted tofu, which features prominently in these bowls and I marinate them with a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, and garlic/ginger if I have it. I almost always use this miso tahini sauce, which unites rice, tofu, and any manner of vegetables into a delightful and filling bowl. I try to have a mix of raw and cooked vegetables. Raw are usually shredded carrots, radish, cucumber, or cabbage, and the cooked are literally whatever is around, roasted or stir fried. They are easy to adapt, please everyone, and always satisfy the craving for a healthy meal. Their one drawback is sometimes with so many components they take a bit to pull together, but I never regret spending the time.

20160709_174408Collards. If 2016 was defined by a vegetable, it was definitely the year of the collards. I planted some in the garden this year, and they thrived. They were ready to pick before anything else, and sprung up all over the place (within the tomatoes, outside the garden fence, 10 feet from the garden by the driveway…). Since they were growing outside my door they were always fresh, and never taking up space in the fridge wilting. People always seem confused by how to cook collards, but I just use them as I would any other green like spinach, kale, or chard. Sometimes I would pick a few leaves to saute and eat with eggs in the morning. We had them with whipped feta on crostini, with peanut butter, in tofu bowls (see above), in vegetable soup, in place of kale with potatoes and eggs, in chana dal and an eggplant gratin, in a frittata, in saag paneer (or, collards paneer), with cold sesame noodles, in salad, in beans and greens….do you believe in the versatility of collards yet??????????????

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersCanned fish. Last year anchovies were my gateway to canned fish. This year that world opened up to me even more. Will and I were lucky enough to go to a Portuguese food and wine class (here, and I highly recommend) and one of the beginning food and wine pairings included sardines. HOLY MOLY. Where have these been all my life?!?! We started having them on hand for easy dinners and picnics. One of my coworkers started bringing me back Portuguese tuna from the south coast of MA and it made me love canned tuna again. I had long ago given it up because big league tuna fishing is bad news and the watery canned stuff just didn’t do it for me anymore. This stuff is line-caught, packed in olive oil, and is actual chunks of fish. I just drain it now and put it on salads for a special treat.

What did you discover or cook the most in 2016?

A few things I was obsessed with this year that weren’t food: Upstate Rubdown, cloudspotting (because of this book and the awesome Facebook page), All the Single Ladies (seriously, no matter who you are: read this book), and explosively juicy IPAs from Brick and Feather (In Absentia) and Cold Harbor (Indian Summer).

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Last Week I Cooked…

Mediterranean braised chicken (from How to Cook Everything: The Basics). It took me a little longer than Bittman to brown my chicken because I did it in 2 batches, but otherwise this was a simple meal. I made Alton’s rice pilaf (from I’m Just Here for the Food) and cabbage salad with anchovy dressing to go alongside for a nice Sunday dinner. Along with the tomatoes, garlic, and onions, there were a couple anchovies melted in and olives as well. Next time I would chop up the olives so they flavor the whole sauce, but whole they did add nice flavor and were easily picked out by those who do not favor olives.

20161213_185054Chickpea burgers (from How to Cook Everything: The Basics) with sweet potato fries (from Sprouted Kitchen). I made the mistake of not adding enough salt to my burger mix to start, so I kept adding and blending. This made the mix more uniform than Mark suggests, but the burgers still held together surprisingly well.  Because mine were not as chunky they kind of mushed out of the buns as I ate it, but the flavor was great. I topped them with avocado, lettuce, red onion, and a 1:1 mix of sriracha and mayo. For the sweet potato fries I made a honey mustard dipping sauce (just honey and Dijon mustard, also 1:1).

20161214_190708Mexican tortilla casserole. I’ve made this a few times before and it is like deconstructed enchiladas that take far less time to make. This time I left out the corn and spinach, and used spaghetti squash and kale. It is great with any vegetable and feeds a crowd.

20161215_181729I was most proud of this meal. We finished all of the chicken from the braised chicken earlier in the week, but still had some tomato and rice leftover. The tomato sauce reminded me of shakshuka, so I reheated it in a frying pan and cracked a couple eggs into it. I covered the pan for about 5 minutes as it simmered away, added some crumbled feta at the end, and had it over rice. New dinner from an old one!

20161213_083124Greek yogurt with pomegranate arils. I may like this even more than yogurt with pie. The pomegranate arils are juicy, tart bursts within the creamy yogurt. I don’t even like to add granola, because it muddles the perfect contrast.

Last Week I Cooked….

Of course it turned out that the meals I put the least effort into turned out the best. I barely planned the burritos and finished making them in record time and the whole dinner table swooned over them. The squash dish took far too much time and once I finally got everything cooked through I wasn’t that impressed with the result. Sometimes trying new recipes leads to learning great things….but other times it is at least nice to know I can make something good all on my own.

20161205_193416Burritos with brown rice, roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, cumin cabbage slaw, salsa, avocado, and hot sauce. These were on the dinner table in an impressively short amount of time. I got home just before 7 and put the rice on. I preheated the oven, cut up the sweet potatoes into 1/2″ cubes, and dressed them with olive oil, salt, paprika, and cumin. They went into the oven for about 25 minutes, and in that time frame I sauteed a small onion and garlic, poured in 2 14-oz cans of black beans, and once they reached a bubble turned the heat down to simmer. Then I thinly sliced a quarter of a cabbage, then tossed it in the juice of half a lime, salt, and 1/2 a teaspoon of cumin seeds. In the last minutes I heated tortillas in the residual heat of the oven, and put out Greek yogurt, salsa, and hot sauce.

Mushroom pizza with thyme. I used my usual pizza dough, then topped it with olive oil, sauteed mushrooms, dollops of ricotta, shredded mozzarella and fontina, and thyme. (This was a clean out the cheese drawer pizza, using leftovers from last week’s baked pasta.) I think mushrooms get the prize for most improved food when they go from raw to cooked. Sauteing them first in small batches is key to a flavorful pizza. The result is earthy, cheesy, and herby.

20161207_193147Fried honey garlic delicata with white miso and crispy sriracha honey lime tofu over rice.  This was a case of not following my food intuition and being worse off because of it. I was suspicious that the squash would fully cook in the pan….and it didn’t. I cut it about 1/2 an inch thick, cooked it at least 10 minutes per side, and still didn;t cook it all the way through. I ended up roasting all the pieces for 20 minutes at 400F after frying them, which easily make the process and hour or more. Then the sauce was far too sweet – I would have reversed the proportion of honey to soy sauce and added even more miso. I’ve made the tofu before and it was good, but next time I would not make it alongside another dish that needed frying.

20161208_182449Bean and cheese quesadillas with cumin cabbage slaw, yogurt, salsa, avocado, and hot sauce. This was the meal I put the least planning into that pleased me the most. I used the leftover tortillas and beans from burritos, cheese from the freezer, and more of the same slaw I made for the burritos (adapted from The Homemade Kitchen). Just the beans and cheese went into the quesadillas, and everything else went on top like a big salad. Filling, with far more vegetables than you would expect with a quesadilla.

Breakfast sandwiches with scrapple, tomato, kale, onions, egg, and aioli on everything bagels. This was the meal I actually put the least planning into because Will came home with all the ingredients and I made them into these sandwiches. It was my first time cooking and eating scrapple, a cornmeal, spice, and pork mixture, which came from our pork share. The texture was reminiscent of a banger, which usually has some oats or flour mixed in with the pork.  Breakfast for dinner on Friday nights is a a great plan.

20161211_103110My second meal with the scrapple was garlic toast, sauteed kale, a fried egg, and hot sauce. I think I liked it a bit better in this instance, but that may have been because I love garlic bread so much.

20161206_083130This only happens a few times a year…but it is so glorious. Leftover pie with Greek yogurt for breakfast. Don’t knock it until you try it.

Books about food

dsc01942My favorite hobbies are in order: eating food, making food, reading about food. While the first two take precedence to sustain me, I wouldn’t be fulfilled without the third. The holidays are an especially great time to share this love of reading. While I don’t force food books onto everyone in my life, if I had to pick a few to share, these would be at the top of the list.

The Third Plate (Dan Barber). If you need a crash course on Dan Barber (and an awesome show to fall into), watch his episode of Chef’s TableThis book presented our food system in an entirely new way to me. Barber’s argument is that the fundamental problem with our food system is we don’t look at it as a whole. Consumers (chef’s included) demand large amounts of specific plants and animals (like tomatoes or beef), which incentivizes farmers to produce those in mass quantities. Though that may allow them to make a living, it takes a toll on the environment and depletes resources in the long run. He says we should instead be asking farmers what they need to grow or how they need to raise animals to preserve the health of the land, and then we should base what we eat off of that. This forces greater variety on the consumer, and necessitates using more of each plant.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Michael Pollan). I reread Cooked this year, and I’m so glad I gave it a second chance. While I was lukewarm after the first reading, I was completely enthralled this time around. I love the organization of the book, Pollan explores one food process to match each element: fire (barbecue), water (braising), air (breadmaking), and earth (fermentation). History, science, and technique are interwoven as Pollan shadows experts and attempts processes in his own kitchen (and backyard).

An Everlasting Meal (Tamar Adler). This book really straddles the line of book about food and cookbook. Recipes, techniques, and food philosophies stew together in Adler’s opinionated and often dramatic prose (“The degrading of mayonnaise from a wonderful condiment for cooked vegetables or sandwiches to an indistinguishable layer of fat has been radical and violent.” p31). Some recipes are written out in the standard ingredient list and instructions format, but the majority of them are within the rest of the paragraphs. While they are a delight to read like this, I have found them much harder to find and refer back to. As the title suggest, Adler believes each meal leads into the next, and we can cook in such a way so little is wasted and maximum flavor is extracted from each ingredient. While her tastes may not match everyone’s, I loved her fiery point of view and many suggestions for simple yet delicious food.

And a few other books I’ve loved: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Consider the Fork, Edible, and Catching Fire.

Last Week I Cooked

Turkey gumbo (from Thanksgiving). This was my first attempt at gumbo, and it did take some effort. I loved that my roux progressed just as Sam said it would, and really looked like shiny chocolate once I added in the onions. I made this roasted turkey stock to use, and though I did appreciate the extra fat that rendered out since I forgot to save any at Thanksgiving, I’m not sure if it was worth the extra effort. I also did not take the time to chill the stock and skim it before using it, so I think that contributed a bit too much fat to the finished dish. It was delicious in the end, and a great way to use up a ton of ingredients that you might have lying around after Thanksgiving without at all tasting like the same turkey meal. It makes a lot, so if your holiday crowd is still around you can feed the whole bunch.

Tofu bowls with miso tahini sauce, cabbage, carrots, and radishes. After all the turkey I needed an overly wholesome meal. Tofu bowls never disappoint for this purpose. I quickly sauteed the cabbage, but left the carrot and radish raw (a quick pickling would have been nice if I thought of it).

20161201_19221820161201_192507Skillet pasta with five cheeses. I fudged the cheeses here a bit….preferring to save my cup of bleu cheese for the next night’s meal. While I may have missed the additional complexity the bleu cheese would have added it would be hard not to like this molten and cheesy dish that took no time to put together. To make this a full meal I made a salad with shaved cabbage and Brussels sprouts and a honey Dijon dressing.

20161202_200506Pork chops with mustardy apples and onions, baked cauliflower with bleu cheese, and a mustard slaw. Will requested the cauliflower dish (which is from How to Cook Everything: The Basics) and is essentially baked cauliflower with bleu cheese and breadcrumbs on top. That gave me an excuse to cook up some pork chops from our pork share, and then I made a slaw with the same honey Dijon dressing from yesterday’s dinner. To be honest, pork chops are not my favorite cut of meat, but with a big pile of mustardy onions and apples on top I was able to forgive them for not being bacon.

Cranberry pie with pecan crumble. What business do I have making a pie the week after Thanksgiving? Well I made a pecan pie and a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but even the best version of each of them would not be my preferred dessert option. Those pies just made me crave a pie I really love, this vividly red and tart pie with a wonderful oat and pecan topping. The tart and sweet balance is just right, and the jammy texture of the cranberries is stellar. I especially like pies that are pretty on their own, with no fancy dough work required. Next year I will probably just bake this for Thanksgiving too, even if no one else wants to eat it with me.