Vegan Favorites

DSC01879After last month’s vegan puddle debacle, I felt that vegan food needed to be redeemed. Despite what my disappointing soup suggested, vegan food should not be bland and boring. It should be a celebration of flavors and textures in the most nourishing way. To remind myself how great vegan food can be, I returned to some old favorites and tried out a few new ones that have become fast favorites.

Curried Lentils with Coconut Milk – When made with red lentils this becomes much looser than the curry shown made with brown lentils, but it is no less delightful. The coconut milk makes for a rich dish that is heavily flavored (but not overpowered) with cumin, coriander, and turmeric. I like to serve this with some roasted or sauteed veg to mix in as well and give a bit more texture to the dish, like cauliflower or cabbage. The curry and a veg can be made in the time it takes you to make brown rice, so dinner is on the table in 45 minutes. (I’ve been cooking through Small Victories bit by bit and I am liking it so far. Julia’s lasagna is a revelation.)

Goodness Wrap – This is everything I look for in a vegan wrap: various textures, the bright acidity of a pickle, and a sauce to tie it all together. I made this in the same week that I made the curried lentils and just made some extra rice to include, but honestly I didn’t feel it added that much to the wrap. I also added in some chickpeas for extra heft, which felt necessary to power more active bodies. These were so, so good.

Thai Chopped Salad with Tofu – This salad is the most refreshing thing to eat a lunch on a hot day. The crunchy veg and slightly sour dressing are spot on, and the tofu marinade with curry paste is so flavorful you might forget you’re eating tofu.

Thai-ish Cauliflower Rice Salad – Sprouted Kitchen again with a wonderful mix of colorful vegetables in a Thai slaw. The cauliflower rice was a bit weird to me, and didn’t go with the texture of the rest of the dish (it just coated the other things in mush). Next time I would just roast the cauliflower to include, as there will definitely be a next time. I made the same roasted tofu as in the salad above to bulk it up and the flavors went really well together. The crunchy vegetables were nicely coated in the peanut sauce. This is definitely an indulgent dish as it calls for a lot of ingredients that are not always easily found, but so worth the time.

Summer rolls with peanut sauce (pictured at top) – Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that peanut sauce freezes super well so you make make a big batch on a colder day and then have it at the ready for those nights when turning on the oven would be torture. I just picked up some brown rice wrappers at Whole Foods that I am pumped to try with rolls this summer.  I use any mixture of chopped raw veg (collard, kale, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, beets, summer squash, etc, etc), herbs (mint, cilantro), and leftover protein in my rolls on hot nights to make the best cold dinner.

Advertisements

A story of three failures

I

A few weeks ago I made spinach pasta on a Sunday night. It wasn’t a particularly complicated recipe, but it involved cooking the spinach, straining and chopping it, then adding it to the dough as you made it, resting the dough, rolling it out, and cooking it. Since that didn’t seem like a particularly hard project (many parts, but none difficult), I was also prepping a few other things for the week ahead.

But the evening got away from me, and by the time I was actually cooking the pasta it was much later than I expected (almost 9pm). Since fresh pasta is often promised to be a transcendent and simple meal, I hadn’t planned to dress it with more than some butter, olive oil, and Parmeggiano Reggiano. I tasted some from the pan and was instantly disappointed by the blandness. Where was my transcendent simplicity????????????

This failure exacerbated stresses that were building for the work-week, and led to me sobbing over my terrible pasta that I had put so much effort into. (While I was finishing crying, Will excavated some pesto from the freezer and started defrosting it to save my dinner, and therefore wins Husband-of-the-Year one hundred times over.)

II

The next week I wanted to try a simple (catching a theme here?) vegan soup that involved a vibrantly green and thick herb coconut broth, broccoli, snap peas, tofu, and rice. In the cookbook photo the author used black rice noodles, which were incredibly dramatic and contrasted beautifully with the green broth. The photo of this dish makes you feel cleansed and restored just from looking at it. Like you’ve achieved absolute purity and suddenly understand why vegans forego meat and are ready to give it up forever too.

My first failure was in the liquid. A high speed blender was called for to combine the coconut milk, broth, and herbs. I don’t own a $500 blender, and I figured my stick blender could stand in as it usually does for pureed soups. Since the coconut milk/broth/lemongrass mixture is supposed to steep off the stove I tried to use my stick blender directly in the bowl it was cooling in. After a small wave covered my counter, I switched to the food processor. No amount of time processing would yield the thick, uniformly green broth the photo. Instead I was left with a thin broth with flecks of cilantro throughout. Given I wasn’t using the right equipment to start I wasn’t too dissuaded.

The recipe notes said to serve it with rice noodles or rice, and I happened to have black rice! I cooked some up, made my meager broth, and added in the vegetables and tofu. When it was time to serve, the rice went into the bowl, and was topped by the soup. But I had not rinsed the rice thoroughly enough. What had been a passable green broth, was now the color of mud.

I’m not one to judge a meal by its looks. But the photo I had for comparison was just so beautiful, and I was staring down at a puddle. I hoped taste would change my mind, but what I was eating did not live up to my expectations. It was thin, herby, flat, and very……healthy tasting. Like something I should always eat, but would never want to. It tasted like how people who hate vegan food on principle expect vegan food to taste. (I make vegan food on the regular and it can be overwhelmingly delicious, but this was not one of those times.)

III

Last week I knew I had an especially long work-day ahead of me, so I planned a fool-proof and almost effortless meal: tortellini with pesto and roasted asparagus. I was NOT making the pasta this time (it came pre-made from Wegmans). The pesto would be the last from the stash in the freezer that I was reminded about when Will used it to save my previous pasta dinner. The asparagus would go in the oven at 425F with salt, pepper, and olive oil for 15 minutes.

I put the asparagus in the oven and put the water on to boil. I had a double pack of tortellini, but decided to cook both in case we needed extra meals later in the week. This was a total of eight servings of pasta, which is way more than I usually make, but figured it would be useful when I had to work over the weekend.

The water on to boil, and put asparagus went in the oven. I put about the same amount of water in the pot I use for a pound of pasta, and didn’t think twice about it. The tortellini was in two separate but attached packs, and when I put the first in the pot was almost full, but it seemed like more could fit in. Partway through the addition of the second pack the water came dangerously close to the top, and I was in trouble. I took out a measuring cup to remove some of the water, but couldn’t remove enough of it in time. the tortellini threatened to boil over, and I knew the rest couldn’t fit in the pan…but I tried anyways.

Had I never made pasta before? Did I not understand that doubling the amount of pasta you make means you should also double the size or number of vessels you cook them in?

It was too late in the game to criticize myself; I just had to fix the problem. Some water went into the kettle to boil quickly, and I moved some of the pasta into a small pot. The tortellini monster was subdued for the moment. Eventually everything was cooked but somehow not overcooked, and I returned to the glass of wine I had hurtfully ignored.

The asparagus, by the way, was perfect.

IV

At work I teach kids cooking classes. Cooking with children is always an adventure, and often times they are doing something for the first time ever with me as their guide: cracking an egg, using a knife, measuring the flour. I always leave room for error in these situations and tell them this: sometimes when we cook we get delicious food, sometimes delicious food and a lesson, and sometimes just the lesson. But no matter what, you walk away with something.

Recent Cooking and Reading

Hey! How are you? What have you been cooking? April was a whirlwind, and half of the month was spent traveling around England visiting family and friends (more on that soon). Here are a few things I’ve been eating and reading.

Spaghetti Puttanesca (Serious Eats) – This whole year has been a building love affair with Serious Eats. Their recipes are so varied, reliable, and always delicious. This recipe has a quick turnaround, and the finished product has more flavor than it seems possible to produce in such a short period of time. I suppose putting capers, olives, anchovies, and garlic in a dish will do that. Even if one of those ingredients scares you, please still try this. They reach amazing harmony together, and no one ingredient overpowers.

20180426_192230Street Cart Style Chicken and Rice from Smitten Kitchen Every Day (adapted here) – I first made this dish in December, and can’t for the life of me figure out why I waited until last week to make it again. I’m even struggling to describe why it is so good. The mixture of spices? Slight acidity? Hit of heat from hot sauce and harissa? Creamy yogurt sauce? Crunchy salad? Just make it, and then again soon.

20180424_121025Everything bánh mì. Will and I finally found out perfect bánh mì spot (here if you live in MA!!!!). But, it is a longer drive than I find conducive to weekly bánh mì consumption. So instead I made this lemongrass bánh mì (but with chicken by accident…because I forgot to put tofu on the grocery list) and this breakfast bánh mì with the leftover daikon/carrot slaw, cukes, and cilantro. You can’t go wrong with either.

Green falafel (101 Cookbooks). Falafel is my Achilles heel. Every time I’ve tried to fry falafel at home it has disintegrated in the oil. Yes, I’ve baked them to some success, but they are never as good. This recipe is definitely a ways removed from what you would get at a falafel joint, but each to make, actually sticks together, packs in an impressive amount of greenery, and pan fries nicely. I think I can say I’ve found my go-to falafel recipe.

The New Noma: Frequently Asked Questions. I don’t know what I am going to do when Pete Wells retires. Who will I look up to???? He simultaneously makes me want to eat everything he does, and be a better writer so when I do eat at places like Noma I can write about them like this. I love how he switches up the formats of his reviews. (Do I even need to direct you here? If it’s your first read, YOU’RE WELCOME.) They are clever, playful, but also deeply appreciative and thoughtful.

A Long Answer to a Simple Question: How Do You Eat a Slice of Pizza? While out for pizza last Friday night I pulled this up to reread and was laughing out loud. Read the whole thing, preferably with a slice in hand.

The most memorable things I cooked in 2017

The last year was a busy one, so I didn’t spend as much time planning out and executing elaborate recipes. I cooked a lot of stand-byes, like pizza, big salads, and tofu bowls. These were the recipes that stood out the most in my memory (many new, one old).

20171118_182557 (2)Sicilian Pizza with Spicy Tomato Sauce. This is, without a doubt, the best pizza I have ever made. The fussiness of the dough and the indulgent nature rule it out as a weeknight regular, but as a special pizza it will forever have a place in my kitchen. You douse the pan in olive oil before stretching out the dough, which essentially fries the bottom of the pizza making for a perfectly crispy crust. I experimented with a few pepperonis and can’t say I found the natural casing pepperoni (which was suggested) to make that much of a difference. I would focus first on using the best pepperoni you can find.

20171220_191201Spaghetti Puttanesca. The amount of flavor packed into this pasta with such a short cooking time is incredible. I suppose you are starting with some punchy ingredients, but the cohesion in the final dish that is not overwhelmed by any one particular flavor is perfect. I also loved the method of cooking the pasta in very little cold water to make an extra starchy water for sauce thickening (plus, water conservation!). I did add in the tuna which was a nice bit of protein, but wasn’t so essential that I would need it every time.

Burrito bowls. I keep falling back on this recipe, at home and elsewhere. I coordinated an event at work where we were making lunch for 15 people, and everyone prepped a different part of the recipe. I also roasted a chicken that we pulled the meat off of, and made some cumin cabbage slaw. We left the yogurt out of the sauce and used 1/2 cup of oil total to keep it vegan.  Everyone built their bowl with what they liked. Depending on how you built your bowl, it could please vegans, vegetarians, gluten intolerants, and meat lovers alike.

20171017_193121Corn dogs. I can’t quite believe I am admitting to making these, but here we are. My roommate asked me if it was possible to make corn dogs, and I thought I would try it as a fun surprise. They were insanely easy (though my batter was way too thick as first, but a little more buttermilk solved everything), surprisingly delicious, and such a crowd-pleaser.

Instant Pot Minestrone. It’s true, I too have jumped on the Instant Pot bandwagon. I eased into use by just cooking single ingredients (such as beans or hard boiled eggs), and this recipe was my first attempt at making a whole meal in the pot. You start sauteing the aromatics (With the saute function!! Take THAT slow cooker!) and then add dried beans, water, and potatoes. Tomatoes and kale are stirred in at the end, and I also added pasta and a swirl of pesto when I served it. The fact that I started with dried beans and water, and ended with cooked beans in a wonderfully flavored broth an hour later, was just magical. Electric pressure cookers do have their limitations (mainly size – I could make a much bigger pot of soup on the stove), but their strengths make them a worthy kitchen edition.

20170607_185903Fried butterbeans and pizza beans. Two recipes, one (new to me) excellent ingredient: lima beans. This giant beans have been dubbed “potato beans” in our house. They have a fluffy, creamy interior and are an excellent vehicle for herbs, feta, and pizza toppings (though not all at once). I made these recipes about 6 months apart, and after the pizza beans was asked “Why don’t you make these beans more often??” The people have spoken, and more big beans will be cooked.

Call me crazy, but I planned the food for my own wedding: the initial plan (Part 1)

14079762_10101841976930277_313916221619506309_nWill and I got engaged in August of 2016 at the Athenaeum in Providence (the scene of our second date, and a most delightful place). While we did debate having one, we ultimately decided we did want to have a wedding. We’d both been to enough weddings to know the feel we wanted for our own: a comfortable, casual celebration. While we did want to have the big party, we didn’t want to get sucked into the wedding vortex and lose sight of the fact that a wedding is just ONE day (a very special day, but still just one). We wanted to host the people we love in a place we love, and share our favorite things with them as we declared our love for each other.

We decided to get married where I work, which is a farm with a large barn and a commercial kitchen. Not being a traditional wedding venue gave us more freedom in how we could run the event. There were no specific list of caterers we had to use, or minimum cost per guest. My mom did a ton of research on other venues, and from what she found I saw the more “wedding” specific a venue was, the less work you had to do to plan but you also were much more restricted in your vendor options. Places like where we got married are not as common, especially if you just use “wedding” as a search keyword, but they do exist. In the end, we couldn’t beat the convenience of getting married where we did, plus we have a personal connection to the place.

We started with a strict budget (about $8,000, which I think it is important to know because no one talks about how ridiculous wedding costs are), and stuck to it very closely. Being fairly cheap people, we planned to do the majority of the set up and clean up ourselves with help from very loving group of family and friends.Neither of us read any wedding planning books, but I did read One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding and Something New: Tales of a Makeshift Bride which both emphasize that a wedding should be just what you and your partner want it to be. We picked the traditions and trends we liked, and ignored the rest.

We sent emails for the save the date and invitation, only registered for about 10 things we really wanted, didn’t buy any decorations besides a few strings of lights, and used Spotify playlists for the music (except for the procession, when our roommate played her accordion). We used what we had or what our friends and family had whenever possible, including platters, tablecloths, speakers, and an arbor. We did rent some essentials we couldn’t borrow, including a tent, tables, and chairs, and hired a bartender for the night. I grew the flowers for the tables and bouquets, which admittedly was made significantly easier for me because I work on a farm and had access to a small section of land to use (but I have a friend who grew her flowers for her wedding at her house, so know it can be done). We had both the wedding and reception on site, and asked two of our friends to co-officiate.

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to have a heavy hand in the food.  Planning menus is what I do for fun, and cooking for crowds didn’t intimidate me, especially with the help I knew would roll in. We decided to cook all the food ourselves. This was my initial menu:

Starters

  • Bread and butter
  • Antipasti with olives, preserved peppers and eggplant
  • Pickles (scapes, cauliflower)
  • Hummus
  • Cheeses (brie, more brie, cheddar, bleu)
  • Salamis

Drinks

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Signature cocktails made with whiskey (Will) and gin (me)
  • Champagne

Dinner

  • Vegetable minestrone
  • Leek bacon salad? Other salad?
  • Whole chicken piccata with baked rice pilaf or baked polenta
  • Roasted vegetables with chickpeas (also serves as veg main)

Desserts

  • Variety of items made by my aunts

Everything was simple and could be done in large batches. There would be no tiny passed appetizers, and all of the foods could be prepared beforehand and would stand up fine to reheating.

(A quick side story. The first time I cooked dinner for Will was on Valentine’s Day. We had gone on our first date about a month prior, and then had gone to see a movie a few days before the fateful couple’s holiday. As you do on the 4th or 5th date, we were discussing when our next would be and Will suggested Friday (VALENTINE’S DAY). I had assumed he would completely ignore the fact that Valentine’s Day was happening and expressed that to him. His response was along the lines of “but why wouldn’t I spend it with you?” (And see why I married him?) I made gin and grapefruit cocktails with rosemary sugar, he brought a bottle of his favorite white wine, we had Alton Brown’s chicken piccata (one of my favorite dishes) for dinner, and chocolate for dessert.)

And this is why I was determined to serve chicken piccata at our wedding. We both love it, but it is not a dish meant for entertaining as you pan fry the chicken and make the sauce in the pan right before serving. So my idea was to make a dish with roasted whole chicken (also the most economical way to buy chicken) with the flavors of the dish (lemon, capers, herbs). As the year went on and we got closer to the date, I was under pressure to figure out the logistics of this. How many chickens would I buy? How would I break them down? Where would they fit into my cooking timeline? What would I roast them in?

Since this post could go on for another 1,000 words, I’ll stop here and be back later with what I actually ended up doing.

Thanksgiving Menu 2017

20161124_145229Do you have your Thanksgiving menu planned yet? This year I will be at my mom’s, and she and I are splitting most of the cooking duties. If you need ideas, both Serious Eats and NYT Food have great menu planners.  Sam Sifton and Melissa Clark (both of NYT Food) were on On Point today discussion The Big Day. My favorite new piece of advice was to use a bit of stock to warm the turkey after carving and right before serving. Sam Sifton has many other great ideas (and even more opinions) in Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, which is worth seeking out as much for the writing as it is for the recipes.

Breakfast (Don’t forget breakfast!!!!!!!)

  • Bagels, cream cheese, and lox. This pleases everyone in the house, and doesn’t require actual cooking (there is enough of that going on).

Appetizers (all cooked multiple days in advance)

  • Bit and Pieces Party Cheese Ball: Mom made this for our wedding, but neither Will nor I actually got a chance to eat it. The reviews were great.
  • Shrimp cocktail: A classic, in case the rest of our experiments fail.
  • Hummus Masabacha: A new hummus variation (at my request).
  • Chicken Liver Pâté: I’ve never made pâté, but I thought a meal with many other stars would be a good time to try it (so if everyone hates it, they will have many other options).

Simple Cranberry Sauce and Pumpkin Puree - Vegetal MattersDinner

  • Spatchcocked Turkey (prepped and cooked day of): Flat and fast!
  • Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce (cooked many days ahead): My mom has made this before and really liked it.
  • Dressing (not stuffing, because we NEVER put it inside the bird) (prepped the day before, cooked day of): I’m wavering between the one I linked to, and the dressing in Thanksgiving (which I made last year and is very similar, just sans sausage plus apples).
  • Giblet Gravy (cooked day of): I make the gravy after the turkey roasts with the drippings and giblets, following the recipe in Thanksgiving.
  • Mashed potatoes (cooked day of): Maybe now is a good time to tell my mom that I got some purple potatoes to include in here…
  • Brussels sprouts (prepped the day before, cooked day of): I may go with Sam Sifton’s recipe (also in Thanksgivinghave you bought a copy yet?), which has bacon and cream. If not, I may go with a simple roast.

20161206_083130Dessert

  • Cranberry Pie (prepped and cooked the day before): I’m sure this is considered Thanksgiving blasphemy, but apple and pumpkin pie don’t really excite me. This cranberry pie is the only pie I crave annually. Last year I made it for myself the week after Thanksgiving just because I wanted it that much.  (The photo above is this beloved pie over Greek yogurt for breakfast, or, my dreams come true.)

Drinks

  • Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub (cooked many days before): Shrubs are excellent for non-alcoholic cocktails with just some sparkling water, or with sparking wine.
  • Four Roses (perfect, as is): Because, as Sam says, the day should end with a glass of whiskey.

20161125_104847If you need even more inspiration, this is my game plan from a couple years ago. And don’t forget to be creative with your leftovers! Above are mashes potato cakes, Brussels sprouts, and an egg.

 

 

 

2017 Food Resolutions

20160730_164413The tradition continues! Here are my 2015 and 2016 food resolutions. But first, how did I fare on my 2016 resolutions?

Cook better with others. This may be a lifelong resolution, but I did make a concerted effort to just let things happen in the kitchen with others (though I maybe didn’t seek out as many of those situations as I could have). The biggest way I improved here was when cooking with kids. They learn so much more experimenting themselves, so I did my best to give them the basics and step back to see what happened.

No longer be afraid of fermenting – I’m not! I made a lot of sourdough bread, and tried my hand at sourdough cornmeal and waffles. I attempted kimchi twice, and full lacto pickles once. My bread ferments were far more successful than my veg ferments. The first kimchi was too salty, and the second too mushy because I left the veg in the brine too long. The pickles were indeed pickles, but I should have tested them sooner and they got softer than I would have liked. So I think it is fair to say I’m no longer afraid, but now I really need to work on being better.

Wasting less in the kitchen. Figuring out how to roll leftovers from one meal into another has become one of my favorite cooking challenges. I’ve been better at checking the fridge to see what should be used up before I plan my meals for the week, and leaving a night unplanned as an opportunity to use up extra leftovers. It has also helped to be less obsessed with everyone having a complete planned lunch (and all three of us eating the same thing). There is always enough for everyone to eat, even if things might be a bit more haphazard than my usual leftovers. I did fall victim to the times something would be pushed to the depths of the fridge and were forgotten about. The next level of this goal is having a fridge that looks like Heidi Swanson’s.

On to 2017 resolutions!

Take on long-term projects. This starts in the kitchen, but translates also to the blog and the rest of my life. It is so easy to focus on short term projects that are quick and satisfying. I want to take more time to do things that can’t be done in a day or a week, whether than involves cooking, writing, or something even bigger.

Read and cook from more diverse books. 2016 put an especially bright spotlight on the need to interact more with people unlike ourselves. The day after the election I was at a loss of what to do with myself, but craved tangible, achievable projects. I made a simple salad with dressing, and then gave my cookbooks a new home (we had moved weeks before and they were all sitting in boxes). I realized I have cookbooks from an incredible variety of cuisines, but the majority of them are by American or British authors writing about another cuisine (such as Julia Child, David Leibovitz, Fuschia Dunlop, Andy Ricker). These voices are still incredibly important, and in many cases brought cuisines and recipes that had never been translated for an English audience. But now the availability of books being translated from other languages is only getting better. Food is a great uniting force, and learning about other cultures through food can only help to lessen our cultural misunderstandings.

Books!

I somehow still keep pushing off The End of Food….but 2017 will be the year! I also didn’t tackle more of The Art of Eating but I have it at the ready.

New this year, it is time for a reread of The Third Plate, plus Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, and Free for All: Fixing School Food in America

Any resolutions in your kitchen? Awesome books from interesting cuisines I should cook from? Books to add to the reading list?

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).

Beer Advent Calendar

beer-advent-calendarIf you need a great gift for a beer lover, a beer advent calendar is hard to beat. Many liquor stores or specialty beer stores (like Craft Beer Cellar) sell single bottles or make your own six packs. (Looking on the Craft Beer Cellar website right now it even looks like they sell something to make a beer advent calendar…but you can do it on your own!) Find 24 distinct beers, keeping in mind the preferences of your beer drinker, but also the fact that you are buying single bottles of beer which is an excellent opportunity to take some risks. I went with 12 ounce bottles and a few 16 ounce cans, but if you are a big spender you can go for 22 ouncer bottles or bombers. It’s fun to make at least the final beer a bomber, and last year I ended with Culmination (which pleased me greatly). I used paper grocery bags to wrap them and just wrote a number on each, but you could get even fancier (that effort would have been lost on my recipient, so I did not bother).

I love the calendar concept for a gift, even if beer is not your chosen medium. Mix it up with other beverages, chocolates, love notes, or anything else. Combine the childhood delight of getting a new gift every day with your expanded adult tastes (or just make one for a kid, they will still love it). Will liked this so much that we decided it would be an annual tradition and switch off making them for each other (which greatly simplifies the process, because buying and storing beer in secret in this house is HARD).

Another huge benefit of the beer advent calendar (besides maybe getting to partake in the consumption yourself), is the entire prep is done before Decemeber even starts, so you’re immediately ahead of the gift game. Instead of dealing with crowds Black Friday, spend a couple hours curating an awesome gift that lasts all month. Cheers!

Eating in August

20160726_174607The best month of the year for eating is finally here. It feels like I’ve waited much more than 10 months for tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers from the garden and nearby farms. Here are a few recipes I hold off on making all year, because they are truly their best right now.

Tomato salad. There are hundreds of ways you can go about this. The classic version my mom always made was just chopped tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Dress and toss the salad a few minutes before eating, so the tomatoes can release some juices and create a dressing with the olive oil. You can of course add cucumbers, red onion, peppers, mozzarella, feta, balsamic….I could eat a version of this salad every day of tomato season.

BLTs. There is a reason people make this sandwich again and again. It is the perfect intersection of salty fat, mild acid, and crispness. And with so few ingredients, freshness and quality are everything. Now is the time!!

Sweet cherry tomato and sausage bake. I’ve raved about this before…and will continue to do so forever more. So simple, SO GOOD.

Eggplant parmesan pizza with crispy capers. While this can’t quite top a traditional eggplant parm, it gets damn close. The crispy capers are a brilliant addition of crunchy saltiness.

Roasted eggplant and za’atar pizza. If eggplant parm isn’t your thing, then give this pizza a shot. The creamy tahini base does wonders for herby eggplant and cheese.

Roasted corn, zucchini, and black bean enchiladas. This dish is a bit more involved, but makes a ton of food that you can easily reheat with a salad, freeze, or share. It is a main and vegetable in one and can easily stand on its own if you are too tired to make other things.

The tomato crostata, tomato jam, and tomato curry from The Yellow House’s most excellent tomato diary (which comes along with some wonderfully provoking thoughts on the local food movement).

If you haven’t eaten pasta with fresh pesto before the end of summer, then I will go so far as to say you haven’t really had a summer. if you have a food processor, then dig it out, otherwise a knife and a little time will do you just fine.

Baked orzo with eggplant and mozzarella. A delightful one dish meal.

Fish fragrant eggplant. After I read Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper last year, I dreamt of this dish for months. It is delightfully spicy and sour, plus makes excellent use of eggplant’s sauce absorbing powers.

Peach and tomato salad. Not the tomato salad I grew up eating, but one I’ve very happily added to the rotation.

It is National Farmer’s Market Week, a time of wonderful abundance, the perfect time to support farmers, and eat the most delectable vegetables.

Tofu Marinating Hack

Tofu Marinating Hack - Vegetal MattersMarinating and roasting tofu has become my go-to preparation. When I first started cooking tofu I would cut it into cubes and painstakingly fry it so that each side was perfectly golden. Often I would hover too much and try to turn them before they had time to crisp and they would break apart. I didn’t own good tongs so I would try to turn them with my fingers which led to inevitable burning (sorry, Mom).

I owe my much improved method to the Thug Kitchen cookbook, which calls for tofu to be cut into thin planks, marinated, and then roasted at 450F for 30 minutes, flipping and topping with extra marinade at 15, 10, and 5 minutes. I roast mine on a silicone mat to ease cleanup, and the result is firm but slightly crispy tofu with concentrated flavor. You can serve the planks as is, or cut then into small strips (my usual preference).

The flaw in this execution is the marinating container. I don’t own a bowl that exactly fits the tofu, so the marinade only comes part way up and I have to flip the planks around to get them evenly marinated. I’ve been doing this for years. Last week I was wishing once again that I had a container exactly the size of my tofu to marinate it in, so that I could use the minimum amount of marinade to cover maximum surface area. And then it dawned on me that I have been buying my tofu in said container every single time and then throwing it in the recycle bin before struggling with inferior containers. Really, Tori? REALLY?

So I fished the little container out of the recycle bin, washed it, put my tofu planks right back inside and covered them with the marinade. Immediate, complete coverage. Hallelujah!

This method works great with cutting the block into planks because they just snug right back up against each other. It would be a bit more of a puzzle to put together if you prefer to cut into cubes, but still possible. If someday down the line I start making my own tofu I will be right back to the container drawing board, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. (There is a tofu recipe in The Homemade Kitchen I’ve been eyeing, but I haven’t taken the plunge.) For now this simple solution makes a favorite cooking process even better. I’m sure this has been thought of before, but I can’t believe it hasn’t be written into every recipe that calls for tofu marination. Let’s change that!

(The tofu marinating in the photo is from the Thai chopped salad with tofu I made last week. I followed the recipe for the marinade, and then used the Thug Kitchen method for cooking.)

Easy Breakfast Ideas

I make breakfast almost every day. Yet, it seems to be the meal I most often panic before as if it if my first time cracking an egg. Probably because it’s not a meal I really plan for. I make sure there are eggs and some kind of base for them in the house (bread, tortillas, potatoes, polenta), plus leftover vegetables from dinner.

On a weekday I spend 10-15 minutes making breakfast for two, usually more than that on the weekends. Weekdays are never fancy, and often just repeats of the same items in slightly different iterations (toast + veg + egg + hot sauce). More than anything this is a reminder to myself of just how many options I have, for the next time I’m staring at an open carton of eggs at 8:15am. Meat doesn’t usually make it into the meal, but I do always save the fat from cooking bacon to use for sauteing veg or frying eggs.

Reliable Weekday Rotations

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersToast with butter, honey, and flaky salt. This is one of the most delightfully simple combinations, but it is relatively new to me. I’ve found the key is to go heavy on the butter and honey so they really soak into the bread. This is also the time to bring out your fanciest salt.

It is barely worth mentioning, but a lot of toast with a vegetable topped with a fried egg happens around here. Avocado or tomatoes heated in the pan are definite favorites. Green scrambled eggs with mustard toast are a little fancier. Egg in a hole is somehow so much better than toast with a fried egg, and also so much more fun.

Toast with whipped feta, kale, and scrambled eggs. This was inspired by the best bakery in central MA, which just does toast with whipped feta, olive oil, and parsley. I took it a step further and added sauteed kale and scrambled eggs for an explosion of my favorite things.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersHuevos rancheros. Flipping these takes a bit of skill, but the crispy tortilla and runny egg make an excellent base for other accouterments (I don’t usually use cheese). Chopped avocado, sauteed vegetables (whatever is around), beans, cilantro, leftover green sauce, and hot sauce work in any combination (or ideally all together).

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersBreakfast burritos. My version of these look miniature compared to a normal burrito. I use 10″ flour tortillas, and warm them in a large pan while I scramble the eggs (1 per person). At minimum I put in beans and eggs, often a sauteed vegetable, sometimes cheese, salsa, and always hot sauce. I leave the pan I heated the tortillas in on the heat while I fill them, and then once rolled return them to the pan, seam side down, to crisp. This step is absolutely key in achieving perfect tortilla texture.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersPolenta with veg and an egg. I don’t usually make the polenta on a weekday morning, but I make extra when I make some for dinner or for a weekend breakfast. This past weekend I whisked in some cream cheese at the end, but I’ve used just about every cheese that’s been in the fridge (or even none at all). Greens and an egg are my favorite toppings (do I even have to mention the hot sauce?), but this spicy polenta breakfast bowl is an excellent version as well.

When I have to be at work extra early to run camp programming, I buy a tub of Greek yogurt, some fruit, make a batch of granola, and then just have to assemble them all in a bowl with an extra drizzle of honey or maple syrup each morning. The earlier I eat breakfast the earlier I get hungry again, so I make a batch of whole wheat chocolate coffee banana muffins for a mid morning snack.

Weekend Breakfast Extravaganza

Hash browns with kale and eggs. This is usually a weekend meal since the potatoes take a bit longer. Sometimes I make them more like a giant latke, sometime I cube them and cook them in a pan, other times I roast them. The potato-egg-kale combo never fails me.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersShakshuka. I think of this more as tomato sauce with whatever beans or veg you have around, plus eggs and bread. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook has an excellent Mexican inspired version with black beans in the sauce and topped with crispy tortilla bits.

The best buttermilk pancakes. I’ve been making these for years. The batter is simple as pie (cake?) to put together, but the cooking does take a good 15 minutes. Sometimes I try to squeeze these in on a weekday, but that is when I’m feeling my most ambitious. These whole wheat raspberry yogurt pancakes are a more healthful version, which are also making me desperately crave raspberry season.

Multigrain waffles. These have worked flawlessly for me every time…except for that one occasion I forgot to add the baking powder (they were very flat, and it took me far too long to figure out why). I’ve only made them once as pictured (with yogurt and pomegranate), because this born and bred New Englander much prefers maple syrup.

The most decadent item in my repertoire (which also requires prep the day before)…buns. Most recently cashew morning buns and this standby chai version.

In case you need even more morning inspiration, I have an entire Pinterest board of breakfast ideas. What am I missing?

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters20151224_173010Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters

Uncooked macaroni and cheese to the left, cooked to the right.

Creamy macaroni and cheese. I can’t think of many things that look less appetizing than shredded cheddar, cottage cheese, and cold milk mixed with dry pasta. It is white and lumpy with yellow elbows swimming about. But I put my faith in Julia Moskin and the 1,500 people that gave this recipe a 5 star review and was rewarded. The effort is minimal, and the output intensely cheesy. Those 1,500 people were on to something.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersRoasted squash and radicchio salad. Luisa waxes poetic about this salad, and every word is true. It’s been a while since I made Delicata squash and I think it needs to be in the rotation more. The flesh is dense and a really nice texture. I used the smoked paprika but I would definitely try smoked chili powder next time. I also didn’t want to buy a whole container of buttermilk to use a third of a cup, so I used some yogurt and thinned it out more with additional lemon juice and olive oil.

Cashew morning buns (from Baking with Less Sugar, pictured at top). I lay awake worrying about these, because I decided to let them rise overnight in the fridge in the “goo” and thought I made a terrible mistake and I would wake up with bloated buns. But the buns rose as they should have and baked up nice and golden. The “frosting” is in the bottom of the pan as they bake, and it reduces into a perfect goo. Oh also I forgot the cashews that were supposed to go in these and didn’t realize until Christmas Eve so they became mixed nut buns and worked out fine. I think I’m ready to claim these for a Christmas morning tradition.

20151225_172358Superb pork loin boldly cooked with bay and vinegar with mashed potatoes and celeriac (from Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain). I think Jamie oversold this a bit, but it was still an easy main to put together with good flavor. I forgot my meat thermometer that goes in the meat as it cooks at home and should have taken it out earlier (which I didn’t think was necessary because my loin was 1.5 lbs heavier than the recipe called for). So it was a little more done than I prefer, but still a flavorful pork.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersLacinato kale gratin. This was a last minute decision and definitely is correctly dubbed a “genius recipe” by Food52. Insanely easy and super good. The crispy bits of sharp cheddar on top with the crunchy kale were the best part. (served with the pork above for Christmas dinner)

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersCabbage, celeriac, and apple salad with pomegranate and lemon vinaigrette (inspired by this white salad). I used about 2 pounds of cabbage, one peeled celeriac and 2 apples: all finely shredded. I juiced 1 lemon and added an equal portion of olive oil with a bit of salt. I dressed everything and topped it with the seeds of a whole pomegranate.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSticky toffee pudding (from Baking with Less Sugar). This was my first time making and eating sticky toffee pudding, but it was a simple dessert to throw together (the sauce was just three ingredients that needed to be stirred). As I’ve been finding while cooking through this book the desserts aren’t as moist as their sugary counterparts, but they have great flavor and just the right level of sweetness.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersCoffee toffee. I almost never make candy, but if I do it is this toffee. You do need a thermometer (not a meat thermometer, those don’t go high enough), but other than that all they take is some stirring and spreading. The hint of molasses and coffee in the toffee cuts the sweetness a bit, the crunch is contrasted with creamy chocolate, and the whole thing is topped off with nuts (which also smartly hide imperfect chocolate spreading).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersChocolate pots de creme (from Baking with Less Sugar). Something was just slightly off to me about these. Maybe they were supposed to be saltier than I like, but honestly I love salt and I tasted more of it that I felt I should. But I brought them into work for a coworker who loves chocolate and hates cake (she didn’t even want one at her wedding) and they went over great.

Dairy free chocolate and nut cookies. I wanted to make a dairy free option to go along with the pots de creme, and these cookies just happened to need 4 egg whites (and the pots needed 4 egg yolks!). They are essentially a very nutty chocolate meringue, and I liked them even more than the pots de creme. Given how much sugar they contain they are not healthy by any means, but an aggressively chocolate cookie that works for some dietary restrictions. (Another great gluten-free option I’ve made are these, but they contain dairy)

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSweet and spicy roast chicken. I had such high hopes for this dish but it was a bit off. Any spicy or sweet flavors of the chicken were totally overtaken by the sweet. It did not help that I used a mix of roasted beets, celeriac, and carrots instead of just the carrots, and the beets just took over. They were super sweet and there wasnt enough of the other ingredients to cut it. Maybe my chili flakes have lost their spice. Next time I would crank up the pepper heat, up the lemon, and serve it with some yogurt.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersLeeks with mustard-bacon vinaigrette (from My Paris Kitchen). Oh man. Can I have this again right now? I should have not bothered to make risotto and instead made a double batch of this for dinner. The leeks basically melt after they have been steamed, and were the perfect vehicle for the bacon, egg, dressing, and parsley. I would serve this at all sorts of fancy things.

Kale pesto risotto. I wanted something to make a dinner out of the leek salad and had all the ingredients for this. I liked that some of the kale was just chopped and added into the risotto to wilt. It was good and I like the pesto risotto concept a lot, but not my favorite dish ever.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersGrated carrot salad (from My Paris Kitchen). This carrot salad  with a dijon dressing was not especially exciting as a stand along dish, but it was great to pair with the lentils and couscous.

Lemon-pistachio Israeli couscous (from My Paris Kitchen). This salad was easy to put together. The only thing that needs to be cooked is the couscous, and then you just add in the nuts and dried fruit. A whole preserved lemon went in as well, which I found overwhelmingly salty. Start with half and then see how you like it.

Lentil salad (from My Paris Kitchen). Green lentils with onion, carrot, celery and a mustard dressing. This is not unlike the dijon lentils I’ve made before, but a bit more streamlined. I prefer the vegetables sauteed, but if you are in a rush this method works. I would add a bit more dressing next time.

Polenta with sauteed chourico and brussels sprouts. I didn’t really have a plan for dinner, and my coworker gave me some Portuguese chourico that he needed taken off his hands (glad to help!!!!!). I made some polenta and added in some cheese that was languishing in the fridge, and then crisped up the diced chourico and removed it from the pan. Into the same pan went halved Brussels sprouts that I let brown for a few minutes, then deglazed with about half a cup of chicken stock. I covered the pan and let them cook for 5 minutes, then added the chorizo back to the pan to warm and served the whole bit over polenta.

Fried rice with broccoli, egg, and kimchi. A crown of broccoli was cut up small, and cooked in a wok with some peanut oil. Towards the end off cooking I added in 1 minced garlic clove and then took the broccoli out of the pan. In went a bit more oil, and then 2 scrambled eggs. Following instructions from Every Grain of Rice, I added the rice in before the eggs set and stirred everything up. Once the rice was heated through I added the broccoli back to the pan along with a splash of light soy sauce and sesame oil. Served with the kimchi my sister made, which I realize is not Chinese but it is SO GOOD.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPS – As promised in my gift guide, I found super cheap cakelet pans at the thrift store!!!! And there were more than just Christmas shapes. (N0, I didn’t buy it)

PPS – I updated the About page which provides more information than the basically nothing that was there before.

2015 in My Kitchen

The end of a calendar year always seems like an appropriate time to look back and take stock. It’s always interesting to reflect on the recent food trends, whether collective or just in your own kitchen. What ingredients did you use most in 2015? What new dishes became part of your repertoire? These are a few things that came into my kitchen for the first time or in force this year that will be around for a long time.

Last week I cooked... - Vegetal MattersMiso. I asked Will to pick up miso on his way home from work one day. I got a call from the grocery store that went like this:

“They only have miso in full pound bags. Do we want that much miso?????”

“How much is it?”

“$5.”

“Buy it.”

And we’ve never looked back. If you’re a miso newb, start with these sweet potato and broccoli bowls. From there step it up with this bowl and try it in dressings, soups, and sauces galore. Never stop.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersAnchovies. 2015 was the year I embraced these tiny fishes (please picture me actually doing this). It all started with the greens and beans that I made repeatedly, but they went into salads, pasta, kale and the like. If you’ve ever been afraid of them because of fishiness, start with just one in a dish. They add a unique complexity that is not fishy in the slightest.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersRoasted tofu. Page 77 of the Thug Kitchen cookbook. This revolutionized the way I cook tofu. I’ve done the whole deal where you cut it into cubes and spend 30 minutes standing over a wok of splattering oil trying to makes sure all six sides of each piece are perfectly browned. I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to fully marinate the tofu for the two hours suggested (see: full time job outside the house), but the flavor and texture is always great. Not quite as great as standing over the wok, but the lack of effort gets so many points.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersWhipped feta. I will try to stop talking about how good this is. I will probably fail. If you like salt and cheese, this is your dish. After eating it on the toast at BirchTree which I have mentioned too many times (and had again this past weekend…), I started making it at home with a halved version of Ina’s recipe. Try it with scrambled eggs and kale. Invite me over for breakfast.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersChinese food. I know that is broad. But after reading Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper it was all I wanted to cook. Every Grain of Rice has been my guide, and I would so highly recommend both of these books for anyone interested in Chinese cookery.

A few things I was obsessed with this year that aren’t food – Busy Earnin’ by Jungle. If you can teach me this dance…I don’t even know what I could offer you that would be equal. Something epic. Anthony Marra. I read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena right at the end of 2015, and it was a life changing novel. The Tsar of Love and Techno came out this year and it was almost as good.

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersRed lentil dal and roasted cauliflower (from Vegetarian India). I got this book out of the library and may be on the fast track to purchase it. I made a simple dal with fried shallots on top that was so easy but then elevated with the perfect flourish. The roasted cauliflower was heavily spiced and definitely worthy of being the cookbook cover photo. I’m not very experienced cooking Indian food, but none of the recipes are that complicated and a trip to the Indian grocer should fill any gaps in my pantry (plus now I will know what to look for).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSweet potato cakes. I’ve been meaning to make these for years and it was about time I did. They stayed together well (always a worry with these kinds of veg patties) and had enough savory to balance the sweet of the potato. I liked the flavor of the lemongrass in the yogurt sauce but even after a whirl in the food processor the pieces were still pretty noticeable.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPasta with greens and white bean-anchovy sauce. I fiddled with the proportions here a bit based on what I had but this is a great formula for a easy weeknight pasta that goes a bit beyond red sauce. I used a combination of mustard greens and tatsoi with a single can of beans. Next time: even more garlic and lemon.

Pickled mustard greens. I was expecting these to be super intense but was a little let down. The brine was a bit watery even (and I followed the recipe exactly). The concept still excited me and I’ll work on them.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersMole squash tacos with crispy quinoa and pickles. The butternut squash I substituted didn’t work quite as well as the sweet potato would have (but it saved me a trip to the grocery store). I added in black beans as well which made the tacos a more substantial meal. The pickles were super quick because the brine is all vinegar, but I think adding in a little water would be a better balance (but they certainly were pretty and added a nice tang)

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPoutine (from Good and Cheap). Why have I never made poutine before? The gravy was so easy and quite flavorful (a whole teaspoon of cayenne is too much though). I followed Smitten Kitchen’s frites recipe, but my fries were a bit too thin and some burned (all my fault). This is certainly not my last poutine attempt.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersCeleriac, Brussels sprout, cabbage, and apple salad with pomegranate and mustard dressing. Bright, crunchy, and with little juicy bursts from the pomegranate. Everything a winter salad should be. (Also can you tell I finally bought a mandoline and just want to shred everything?)

Hot chocolate. The chocolate flavor was great but something in the texture was slightly off to me (maybe too much corn starch?). I will take one for the team and try making this again (your welcome).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersMolasses crinkle cookies. It’s not Christmas without these cookies. I really love the addition of the wheat flour – it gives them the ideal chewiness.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersGingerbread spiced Dutch baby (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook). Perfect holiday spice, and so much easier than little pancakes that have to be flipped. One and done. I used all wheat flour so it puffed up a bit less but the flavor does not suffer. I shared this and also had some yogurt with pomegranate arils to complete what may be my favorite December breakfast.

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersMarbled Pumpkin Gingersnap Tart from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. This is a very pretty tart. Unfortunately it was not the best tasting tart because I forgot to buy heavy cream but I was already in pajamas and could not be bothered to go out. I substituted whole milk and yogurt but the richness was sorely missed. Don’t make my mistake and you will have a beautiful AND decadent tart.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersChickpea, cauliflower, and Old Bay veggies burgers. I love veg burgers with cauliflower. They nicely lighten the burgers. These are fully flavored with the old bay and lemon, and are topped perfectly with creamy avocado. They would also be excellent over a salad. The vibrant root vegetable slaw alongside is from Jerusalem, and I’ll be posting an adapted recipe next week!

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPipa tofu from Every Grain of Rice. The tofu puffs get a 10 for being the absolute cutest. I was expecting a fully flavored sauce and it was quite mild. As I’ve never had this dish before I can’t say what exactly it should have been, but I wanted more punch. I had the leftovers with extra soy sauce and would add more in the sauce next time. Alongside I served tatsoi sautéed with a little garlic and ginger and miso eggplant.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersFresh rolls. Nothing like a little Vietnamese-Chinese-Japanese-Israeli fusion!! Fresh rolls have become my favorite way to upcycle leftovers. These had brown rice, tofu, miso eggplant, root vegetable slaw, cucumbers, scallions, and cilantro (just a little bit of everything). I made the sauce that The First Mess conveniently posted that same day which was a nice tart pairing.

Roasted sweet potato and leek soup with chorizo. I confirmed a lot of things about myself with this soup: sherry is not my favorite, I have a hard time liking squash/sweet potato soups without coconut milk, and I will eat anything with chorizo. The sherry comes through strongly, and I think I would halve it next time. I used an immersion blender and then pureed it again in the food processor, but just couldn’t get it really smooth.  Maybe I just need a Vitamix. The sherry vinegar at the end was really nice and the bits of chorizo added a nice meaty bite. This went over well at my work potluck so it is a good soup, just not perfect for me.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBreakfasts this week included mashed avocado and a fried egg on toast (I know, revolutionary), multigrain waffles and yogurt with maple syrup and pomegranate seeds. The waffles I’ve made numerous times and they work with all various of flour (though once I forgot the baking powder…those did not work). After finally making it with the pictured topping I can confirm maple syrup is really my favorite.  It was such a treat to have a pomegranate…with yogurt it made for the simplest breakfast that felt so special. Pomegranate arils have their own crunch so granola is not even necessary and they are tart, juicy bursts in the creamy yogurt.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersNot something I cooked, but this interview with Deb Perelman was a great read. I especially loved hearing how her career progressed to her blog because my career path has been similarly scattered (and still meandering).

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersChili. I think I’ve finally landed on my perfect chili recipe. It’s based on this old Rachael Ray recipe, and I’ll post my version soon.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal Matters

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersPasta with sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers, tatsoi, garlic thyme olive oil, and mozzarella. So this pasta was meant to be pizza. The dough had been rising all day, and a little before I was ready to cook I put it on top of a wood stove to warm a bit more. I promptly forgot about it as I was cooking all the other components, and by the time I got back to it the bottom half was cooked through. I probably should have left it there to keep cooking and called it oven top bread. But, I tried to salvage the top half which would have made a meager pizza for the five people I was feeding. A furious search through the cabinets (this was not in my kitchen) thankfully resulted in a box of spaghetti. The garlic oil I intended for a white pizza with sautéed mushrooms became the sauce, the firm mozzarella was cubed and added into the pasta at the end to melt a bit. With a salad alongside, dinner still happened.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersCassoulet with lots of vegetables. This is a soup with lots of options, yet I seem to always make it in a very similar manner. I start with sausage, spicy if possible, and then proceed with the vegetables (minus the zucchini). The liquid does vary according to what I have, which this time around was leftover beef stock from the chili and bean cooking liquid. At the end I stir in some shredded cabbage. The result is a hearty almost all vegetable soup with a bright tomato base (that is really not at all like cassoulet, but that’s ok).

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal Matters

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersLast Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersThanksgiving! I stuck mostly to the menu I set out with. The turkey brine was Sam Sifton’s, but the method was Alton Brown’s. Most of the other dishes were straight from Thanksgiving. We had mashed potatoes, creamed Brussels sprouts with bacon, green beans with lemon and butter, fresh bread dressing with apples, onion, and celery, mashed buttercup squash with butter and sage, and giblet gravy (which was my favorite item on the table). I adapted my simple cranberry sauce just slightly by using fresh orange juice and half sugar for the honey (because I ran out of honey). Lastly I made these sweet potato rolls which were a hit but I think can be improved upon. I want to experiment with sourdough more often (a new year’s resolution perhaps?) and I think they would benefit from a heftier flour.

I took the week off work so I actually cooked some lunches (but just barely). One day I had a quesadilla with sautéed tatsoi, another was a quesadilla with scallions and a simple black bean spread made with sautéed onions and cumin. And another was the requisite leftover turkey sandwich on a sweet potato roll.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersCranberry grilled cheese. I may like this version more than the traditional Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. I used cheddar cheese and added in some turkey. And never, ever, leave out the swipe of Dijon mustard.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal Matters“Exhaustive research into the business and culture of American breakfast suggests you can always put an egg on it” – Sam Sifton, Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well. AMEN. My favorite breakfast this week was repeated twice: mashed potato cakes (just mashed potatoes grilled in a cast iron), topped with creamed Brussels sprouts with bacon and a fried egg.

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersShakshuka. I scaled this way down to just serve two. I used maybe ½ a cup of onion, a stalk of celery, a 15.5 oz can of chopped tomatoes, and a couple garlic cloves. No pita was to be found, so I served it with toasted bread and it was all ok. It is hard to go wrong with a paprika spiked tomato sauce, eggs, and feta.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersPancetta and white bean pot pies. I believe this was the first recipe I made from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook when it came out. This time around I didn’t start with the pancetta because there was a vegetarian in the bunch. Maybe because the pancetta fat wasn’t the base of the sauce, but its flavor was barely detectable in the finished dish so next time I wouldn’t bother. I used kale in place of the chard because I already had a bunch and it worked just as well. There is so much butter in the crust. So much. I even scaled back a tablespoon and replaced it with olive oil. I may go even more next time. So these pies are a bit indulgent, but since there is barely any meat they are still lighter than your usual pot pies. They are nice and creamy, but full of vegetables. They were extra fun dinner party fare.

Escarole salad. Ok I didn’t cook this, but my mom made it to go alongside the pot pies and it was excellent. The dressing was bright with the complex saltiness of the anchovies and none of the fishiness. I especially liked such an acidic dressing to balance the creamy, buttery pot pies.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersCauliflower báhn mì. This is the first recipe I’ve made from Thug Kitchen: Party Grub (it’s also the cover photo). I didn’t drain the cauliflower sufficiently (or at all….) so my bread crumbs got a bit soggy. They may be better just sprinkled on top of the cauliflower. I thought it was a bit weird to call for just two shiitake mushrooms. Maybe the mushrooms in LA are bigger, but mine got totally lost in the cauliflower (also, this is why ingredients should be defined by weight!!). Next time I would add more or leave them out entirely. This makes a great sandwich though, all the right báhn mì flavor and texture combinations. I’ve heard so many times that you should taste your jalapeño before adding it to a recipe, and this is something I rarely take to heart. Thankfully the jalapeños in this recipe were easily removed, because I ate half a slice and my mouth was ON FIRE (and I enjoy some nice heat). Lesson learned.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersSmoky tortilla soup (from Bowl + Spoon). I love how fast this was, and the ancho chilies did add a nice smokiness. I used the pinto beans instead of chicken and a 28 oz can of whole tomatoes that I pureed instead of the fresh (see: November), and topped with sour cream, cilantro, tortilla chips, and avocado. My one complaint was the cornmeal was hard to integrate in the soup just by stirring and ended up clumping. Next time I would add before pureeing the soup. I’ve also made the tortilla soup in the first Thug Kitchen book which is excellent, and calls for less exotic ingredients so that will likely remain my staple.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersSalad with escarole, roasted cauliflower, and celery. This salad was unplanned, but just an attempt to use up items in the fridge before heading away for the week and of course ended up being the best thing I made. There was maybe a cup of escarole left over, so that went into a bowl with one thinly sliced stalk of celery and ½ a cup of chopped Kalamata olives. Half a cauliflower (leftover from the báhn mì) was chopped into bite sized pieces and tossed in olive oil, zest from one lemon, and salt. Roasted for 20 minutes at 425F it took on a nice char. While that cooked I made a dressing with the juice from half a lemon, a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Once the cauliflower cooled a bit it went into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients, and everything was tossed in the dressing. I want this again right now.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersBreakfast for a couple days was the eternal favorite, country toast with mashed avocado topped with a fried egg and hot sauce. Other days it was the other eternal favorite, scrambled eggs, pinto beans (I made extra when I cooked some for the tortilla soup), and mashed avocado in a flour tortilla. The key is to toast the burritos in a dry pan once they are filled to uniformly heat the ingredients (and melt and cheese if you added it), and crisp the tortillas.

Thanksgiving Gameplan

Thanksgiving Gameplan - Vegetal MattersI’m the boss at Thanksgiving this year. As always, with such power comes responsibility. There is a menu to plan, shopping list to make, tasks to dole out, and the added complication of not cooking in my kitchen, so I have to make sure any needed equipment makes the trip as well. This isn’t my first Thanksgiving rodeo though, so fear not.

My menu so far is easily executable versions of classics. Though what I consider classics may be debated. I to this day have never consumed green bean casserole. I have only once attended a Thanksgiving where marshmallows were allowed on top of sweet potatoes (it was with an ex-boyfriend’s family – maybe a sign that it wouldn’t last?). To me, marshmallows on sweet potatoes are as outlandish as capers on ice cream. Mashed potatoes are a given, perhaps something with sweet potato or a squash, and the green things vary. I think I recall sautéed green beans on the table growing up, but I can’t say that for sure. I’ve tried out Brussels sprouts the last few years which I love, but they aren’t appreciated by all. This year I’m going to use Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well as my guide, but wanted to offer up a few options I’ve made before to fill out your menu.

The turkey. Every time I’ve been in charge of the turkey, I’ve made Alton Brown’s and it had not failed me. Brining makes for a moist bird, and his hands off approach is so logical – why would you keep opening the oven to baste when that lets all the heat out? Thought maybe it just appeals to me because I don’t want to be tending to the bird anyways. There is also a recipe for brined turkey in Thanksgiving that I may try out.

Stuffing (or dressing, if we are being technical). I’m most undecided about stuffing. This kale and caramelized onion stuffing looks so good, but I’m not sure it would be a crowd-pleaser. I may have to save that for anther time. I’ve made cornbread stuffing and more traditional bread and celery stuffing, but I can’t say any recipe stood out enough for repeating. Suggestions?

Mashed potatoes. I think this is the only Pioneer Woman recipe I’ve ever cooked. You would be creamy too if you had this much cream cheese, cream, and butter in you.

Sweet potatoes or squash. Chipotle smashed sweet potatoes are a bit of a departure from normal fare, but are a welcome spicy/sweet combination.

Green things. I’m deciding between these Dijon braised sprouts (which I like a whole lot) and the creamed ones with bacon in Thanksgiving. I may lean towards the creamed ones to make one more attempt at converting Brussels sprout haters, who are often swayed by cream and bacon. And I supposed I should offer a non-sprout green…maybe green beans?

Gravy. Yes, another Alton recipe (for big holidays, I tend to rely on my dependable favorites).

Cranberry sauce. I like my cranberry sauce in a blob rather than a cylinder. This recipe makes for the perfect complement to all Thanksgiving fixings, only has 4 ingredients, and can be made ahead. You can go even simpler as all you need to make cranberry sauce is cranberries, sugar/honey, and water, or fancier with the addition of liqueur or nuts.

Extras. This fresh cranberry cocktail is tart and festive. It takes a bit of premonition, but serving is easy. I’m not a huge pie fan, and the marbled pumpkin gingersnap tart with cheesecake swirls is just the perfect thickness and amount of pumpkin.

Even more ideas.  I made a Pinterest board a few years back to keep track of Thanksgiving ideas. Last year the New York Times posted Thanksgiving Recipes Across the United States. Some suggestions are very questionable, but they are fun to read through. And lastly, Thanksgiving can be an expensive meal not in reach for everyone. Many food banks and pantries are accepting donations right now for their Thanksgiving distribution. Here is a great list of foods to donate now and all year long.