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 risott0 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.

Last Week I Cooked….

Last Week I Cooked.... - Vegetal MattersButternut squash curry. This is essentially my favorite butternut squash soup, in curry form. I put in the whole can of coconut milk instead of just a cup. In a shockingly short amount of time you have a rich, fragrant, creamy curry with spice to your liking. Chickpeas would not be unwelcome here. I also made cauliflower that I roasted at 425F for about 20 minutes with a healthy dusting of cumin and cayenne. This is also a vegan meal which is fully satisfying and company worthy.

Marcella’s broccoli and potato soup. Mondays are when all the errands happen after work. Pick up produce at Potter Hill, go to the library. It also happened to be the night I didn’t plan a meal for. So I weighed options…there was broccoli I just picked up, potatoes I had. Salad was too cold a dinner for the blustery day, something on toast not enough of a meal. So I landed on this quick soup. The broccoli does get soft, but that didn’t bother me. As usual with soup the night of the flavors hadn’t really developed so a lot of parm was used, but the leftovers were great alone. To fill this out a bit more next time I would add some white beans.

Last Week I Cooked.... - Vegetal MattersCabbage and white bean soup. This was the first making of this soup, but I can promise there will be more. This is a hard soup for me not to love as it is entirely comprised of my favorite soup components: rich tomato broth, cabbage (and lots of other vegetables), and white beans. Again, better the next day.

Last Week I Cooked.... - Vegetal MattersPepperoni meatball spaghetti. This is not your grandmother’s spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs are huge and full of rich meats and spices. The sauce is intensely flavored, and the one spot I would pull back a bit. A full tablespoon of red pepper flakes is aggressive and they totally dominate the sauce. My date was a fan of this, but I would probably dial it down to a teaspoon and a half next time. This was a great dish to let bubble over a Friday night in, with a sumptuous finale.

Ruth Reichl’s spicy Tuscan kale. This might be taboo to Lady and Pups, but I felt the urge to serve an aggressively healthy vegetable along with giant meatballs and pasta. I halved the amount of kale and just used one anchovy, as I had a single one in the fridge and didn’t want to open another can, but also…the last time I cooked with anchovies I added one too many and they totally overpowered the dish, so I’m treading lightly. I also used regular curly kale and it worked just fine. The kale still retained it’s fresh green color, with a linger saltiness from the anchovy and the sweetness from onion and garlic. I left out the bread crumbs, but would add them next time if I wasn’t so focused on spaghetti and meatballs (and there will be many more next times with this dish).

Breakfasts this week included scrambled eggs with kale on toast with whipped feta (yes again, it’s SO good), a big omelette with kale, caramelized onions, brie, and ham (pictured at top), toast with jam, and whole wheat yogurt pancakes, with the raspberries replaced with one small apple, grated.

Last Week I Cooked…

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersMiso sweet potato and broccoli bowl. This is another recipe I rarely deviate from. The tangy miso sauce expertly balances the sweet potato. If I don’t have fancy rice I just use brown and little is lost. A redemptive weeknight meal that fills and pleases.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersLeftover chicken fra diavolo with beans and kale. The beans and kale I made in the style of this favorite recipe but without the anchovies (I thought they would be a bit much with the spicy chicken). The beans and kale appeared as breakfast later on in the week topped with a fried egg.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersBaked falafel with beet dip and pita bread. Admittedly this was a bit ambitious for a weeknight, but buying pita would make for a much simpler meal. I liked the falafel, but I’m not enough to settle on them as my go to recipe. My favorite falafel ever from Sofra is served with beet tzitziki, so that inspired pairing them with this beet dip (next time I’d do more yogurt and less beets to make it even more like Sofra’s version). This was my first time making pita and it was SO FUN. Watching them puff up into little pockets was incredibly satisfying. As you cook the pockets individually they do take a bit longer, but the process itself was very easy. My one misstep was for a few of the pita I rolled them out too thin and then balled them up and re-rolled them, and those did not puff into pockets like the others.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersMexican tortilla casserole. This recipe gets high marks for return on minimal effort, and it feeds a crowd. I subbed kale for the spinach because it was already on hand and added in the last of the leftover chicken fra diavolo (shredded). Flour tortillas instead of corn were my only other change. This is a great basic recipe to substitute whatever veg and beans you have around.

Last week I cooked - Vegetal MattersPizza with sauteed kale, pepperoni, and garlic oil. I’ve been using the dough recipe from Lady and Pups for all my pizza making recently and is the best dough I’ve made. I don’t always have bread flour and regular still makes an awesome dough (maybe even with a little wheat flour snuck in as well). Drained chopped tomatoes, thinly sliced stick pepperoni, lightly sauteed kale, mozzarella cheese, and finished with garlic oil (just like in the Lady and Pups recipe above, but without the capers) make for a richly flavored pizza. I love a bit of kale (which gets nice and crisp) to balance out the pepperoni (but that probably surprises no one).

Roasted cauliflower and garlic dip. I made this to take to a brewery (many let you bring food in if they don’t serve any) along with the rest of the beet dip, carrots, and chickpea crackers. I left out the pepitas and nutmeg and forgot the parsley and it was a big hit.

Chickpea crackers.  These were the easiest crackers I’ve ever made (and they’re gluten free if that’s your thing). There is no rolling, just spreading the batter on a baking mat. They were heavily spiced, so next time I think I’ll hold back on the cayenne and cumin.

Since I ran out of bread to make scrambled eggs with kale and whipped feta on toast I had to revert to the old standby, hash browns, kale and a fried egg. Breakfast was saved.

Not something I cooked – I’ve enjoyed my share of small plates with pretentious names and ingredients. But sometimes it can go too far, and this hipster bar menu generator does everything right. I love the balance of ridiculously namesd dishes and single items (oyster – $14).

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersThere are two tomatoes in a bowl on my counter. They are from the last of the tomato crop at Potter Hill, and the true end of the tomato season. They are not nearly as juicy as the tomatoes that come in during August and September, but I’m still holding on to them like they are made of gold. (Let’s not talk about eggplant) There are still greens and crunchy things available though, like carrots, cabbage, and kale that make for colorful meals. I’ve had some concord grapes in the fridge that I harvested before the frost from the vines that grow like crazy in the yard. I had jam priorities but need to find a food mill to deal with all the seeds so they were ignored, but shame on me because grape focaccia is a great thing.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersCabernet-braised short rib and chanterelle cobbler. This dish is definitely a show stopper. We subbed shiitake for the chanterelle’s because they were more reasonably priced, but otherwise kept everything the same. The biscuits were very easy to put together, and made for the perfect crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside topping. The stew was richly flavored and I liked the combination of vegetables and mushrooms a lot. The photo is of the recipe doubled, which added some time to the cooking as many things needed to be cooked in multiple batches.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersVichyssoise. This is one of the few recipes I never deviate from when I make it. It has the most delightful name and a perfect potato texture and leek flavor improved with cream and buttermilk. Serve with lots of freshly ground pepper.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersBBQ shiitake toast. This was another recipe tested from The First Mess cookbook. It was essentially a sweeter tomato sauce with mushrooms on toast, which isn’t a dish I’m super prone to be excited about. A spicy tomato sauce with mushrooms over pasta would be more my jam.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersRice bowls with roasted kohlrabi and tofu, carrot and cabbage slaw, and miso peanut sauce. These were pretty basic bowls with what was in the fridge. I’d never cooked kohlrabi, and this might not have been the best application for it. The tofu recipe is from the Thug Kitchen Cookbook (page 77, that’s how often I make it). The slaw was just thinly sliced cabbage with shredded carrot dressed with a little oil and rice vinegar. I substituted the tahini in the dressing with peanut butter, and didn’t like it quite as much as normal but it was better than making a special trip to the grocery store.

Whipped ricotta with honey and spicy salt (pictured at top). I used the recipe from The Homemade Pantry to made the ricotta, which was then whipped with cream cheese and a little milk. My whipped cheese spread of choice lately has been feta, and I missed the salty bite of it. I don’t think it will become my go-to spread, but I ended up being an excellent focaccia topping.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersGrape focaccia with rosemary. The rising timeline on this bread did not at all work with my schedule for a weeknight meal, so changes had to be made. I reduced the amount of yeast to 1/8 teaspoon and made the dough the night before I wanted to eat it for dinner. The morning of I flattened it in the pan as described and let it rise during the day. The grapes took a long time to de-seed (probably over 30 minutes), but their sweetness paired with earthy rosemary and topped after baking with honey-ed ricotta was a mouthful to behold.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersShredded kale salad with tomatoes. Another potluck, another kale salad! Some of summer’s last tomatoes made it into this.  A simple salad with a tart dressing and nice, salty feta. I left out the olives as I didn’t have any, and used parsley instead of the dill. I’ve made this twice, and both times one of the salad consumers has commented that it is their first time trying kale. It must be a gateway salad.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersSmoky red devil eggs. This was my first time making deviled eggs, and they aren’t so easy to make into pretty little filled orbs. But, they did taste good. I think my paprika is a bit past it’s prime because I wanted some more spice, but the rich tomato paste and slight bite of vinegar in the filling were great.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersTorissi’s chicken fra diavolo (are you sensing a theme?).  I didn’t shop for this until the day of, so I boiled some water about 5 hours before cooking and then soaked the chilies in that to soften the flesh. I was still able to get out about ½ a cup of flesh from the peppers. I followed the directions and removed the seeds and ribs, but was a bit disappointed that the sauce wasn’t spicier. Next time I will reserve some seeds and add them back in if needed. It was still a rich sauce that was nicely balanced by the yogurt. I don’t have a grill so I just roasted the chicken whole then cut it into pieces and topped with the vinaigrette. I had some kale leftover from all the kale salads this week so I used that in place of the frisée and radicchio.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersRye chocolate brownies. Since these were just for to I halved the recipe and used a loaf pan. They were thick brownies, and could have used more than 25 minutes cooking time (but a gooey center doesn’t stop me). I couldn’t detect a large different from the rye flour, and they were plenty chocolate-y. They were topped with a bit of ghost pepper salt to complete a very scary Halloween meal.

Last week I cooked…

Last week I cooked... - Vegetal MattersI didn’t plan any dinners for this week and I didn’t go grocery shopping. But yes, amazingly, we still ate. Because of the long weekend my shopping trip happened later last week and I had squash to make soup on Sunday night, plus a bunches of kale and celery in the fridge. Normally I would not think these would make a week of meals, but as a personal challenge to waste less and be more creative with my cooking I set off for the week, no plan in hand.

Winter squash soup with curry and coconut milk. I’ve gushed about this soup before, and it really is magical. The coconut milk makes for a velvety texture far superior to the normal graininess in squash soup. Warm curry spices, hot sauce, and the finishing sour notes of fish sauce and

Last week I cooked... - Vegetal MattersCarbonara with kale and bacon. I think I am ready to declare carbonara my favorite pasta dish. Though the sauce is rich and creamy, it is not overwhelming. Bacon provides a bit of fat and saltiness, and a strategically added vegetable make for a full meal. I mostly followed the zucchini carbonara recipe, but in place of the summer squash used 5 big leaves of curly kale that was thinly sliced, added to the pan with the bacon fat, tossed, covered, and cooked for 4-5 minutes until bright green.

Last week I cooked... - Vegetal MattersSichuanese chopped celery with chicken. This may be the only recipe in my repertoire that I would go out of my way to buy celery for. In fact I think this recipe is celery’s highest calling. In my challenge to not grocery shop this week I substituted the beef for two chicken thighs from the freezer which I cut up into ½ inch pieces and cooked in the wok before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. The ingredient list is short but a bit specialized. If you can get to an Asian or Chinese grocery store the chili bean paste and chinkiang vinegar are absolutely worth having in your pantry if you like Chinese cuisine. They make for a dish that comes together very quickly with a surprisingly complex sauce that is spicy and a tiny bit sour. That paired with the meat, crunchy celery and rice make for a dish far beyond standard takeout. I’ve made this with the beef as called for, but I’d also try this with turkey, pork, or tofu and I bet the result would be just as good at sending down the rice.

Butternut squash ravioli with brown butter balsamic sauce and fried sage (pictured at top). I had a vision of this ravioli. I couldn’t find a recipe that matched exactly what I wanted so I pieced one together from a few. I think my pasta making needs a bit of work as it wasn’t as soft as other fresh pasta I’ve had (I also don’t have a pasta maker, so I rolled the sheets out by hand which was not ideal). The filling was a mix of roasted butternut and marscapone, but next time I want to use goat cheese for a little more tang to balance the sweetness of the squash. I used this recipe for the sauce (but I think I would have preferred 1:1 butter:balsamic) and followed basic instructions for fried sage. It’s a work in progress.

Polenta with sauteed kale and an egg. The morning after I had this for breakfast I saw the NYT Food section posted almost the same recipe (except I used some marscapone and feta in my polenta). Melissa Clark, did you bug my kitchen? This is an excellent option for breakfast when you forget to buy bread. I made a bigger batch of polenta and then reheated it for breakfast the next couple days. About a cup of kale sauteed makes for a nice vegetal addition, but most anything else would work too (tomato sauce? sauteed mushrooms?). And as the NYT suggested, this would also make an easy dinner.

Last week I cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBroccoli cheddar soup. Yes, again.  Easy and a delight. Served with bread and a salad with roasted beets, apples, pecans, and a Dijon honey vinaigrette.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersEggplant parm and pesto pasta. This was dinner upon our return from the weekend away. Eggplant and pesto pulled out of the freezer, water put on to boil for the pasta, and dinner within 30 minutes of arriving back plus lunch leftovers.

Ottolenghi’s corn polenta with eggplant sauce (pictured at top). This is one of those recipes I’ve passed over a hundred times, always planning to get to it later. Well it was finally the time, and I pulled the last eggplant I picked from the garden last week out of the fridge that needed to be cooked right that second. The eggplant took longer than 15 minutes to brown on medium for me (maybe 25), but then the rest of the dish came together quickly. I didn’t have fresh corn, so I used regular polenta from the pantry and stirred in some whipped feta at the end. The eggplant sauce was intensely tomato-y in the best way possible, and a perfect topping to rich polenta. I waited too long to try this, but won’t to remake it.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersFrittata with leeks, kale, dried tomato, and feta and buttermilk biscuits. I have a little skillet and a very large skillet, and went with the large to make this frittata which was a bit ambitious (probably should have gone with the cast iron). What resulted was more like sautéed kale with a leek frittata base, but it was quite enjoyable. I rarely follow a frittata recipe anymore, but just saute the veg I’m using in the pan, beat the eggs with milk, salt, and pepper, add cheese (crumbly like feta goes straight into the pan, melty like cheddar goes into the eggs), pour the eggs into the pan and stick it in the over for 10 minutes on 400F. I just wanted a most basic of biscuit recipes so I used one from the Joy of Cooking which made for thin biscuits, but they did their job. I’m on the hunt for a go-to buttermilk biscuit recipe, if there are any suggestions.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters

Chickpeas and dumplings. This is another test recipe for The First Mess cookbook. A hearty, vegetable packed stew that thickened nicely with dill dumplings on top.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersThe return of oatmeal season!! I use 1:1 steel-cut to rolled oats, and 1:1 milk to water. If I have time, I toast the oats in a bit of butter before adding the liquid. Then I put in a chopped apple, pinch of salt, and sprinkle of cinnamon. Bring to a bubble on medium, and cook until all liquid is absorbed. Serve with maple syrup and dried cranberries.

Not something I cooked, but I watched the first few episodes of Chef’s Table this weekend and it is incredible. Fantastic production, fascinating chefs. I became disenchanted with food TV long ago (except for Alton Brown’s Good Eats, the eternal classic, and forgiving him for Cutthrout Kitchen). This show is devoid of cupcakes and EVOO references, and instead gets into the minds of great chef’s to understand their restaurants and what drives them to cook. It’s on Netflix, and worth using your free trial to watch (or invite yourself over a friend’s house to watch and offer to make dinner).

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersLast Week I Cooked... - Vegetal Matters

Spaghetti-stuffed roasted peppers. This was the least favorite meal of the week, but it was a good thing to work up from. There were a bunch of peppers to be used and all the other ingredients were on hand so it happened. I made a few modifications….I cooked the peppers as in this recipe because it was way easier, and used orzo because I had half a box in the cabinet and small pasta was going to be far easier to fit into my little peppers. I also topped them with a bit of mozzarella and parmesan because then needed a bit more something. Not the worst thing I’ve ever made (though I need to think on what that might have been), but not a stand out.

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Chorizo tomato salad. My favorite sausage maker started selling a chorizo-style sausage so I had to buy some and make this salad again before the end of tomato season. This time served with whipped feta on the toast instead of goat cheese. It doesn’t translate as well to leftovers, but still an awesome whole-meal salad.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal Matters

Thai-style cabbage slaw. Did you know Laura of The First Mess is writing a cookbook?! It doesn’t come out until 2017 but I’m so excited. When Laura put out a call for recipe testers I actually ran to a computer to email her and was lucky enough to get a handful of recipes to provide feedback on. This is one of them, and it was crunchy, bright, and herbaceous with elements of sweet and sour.

Sticky teriyaki eggplant with herbed coconut cashew rice. While I can’t give out the slaw recipe, this is one Laura already published that is delightful. Along with the slaw it made a great vegetable-packed meal. I don’t have a grill so I broiled the eggplant for 8 minutes on high, flipping halfway through. My one change would be to make more sauce (probably double it) so there is some leftover for drizzling over the cooked eggplant and rice.

Thai slaw and eggplant summer rolls (pictures at top). I was heading out of town for an extra long weekend (which is why my normal Sunday post is on a Tuesday), so no real dinner was planned for Thursday night. I had a serving left of the Thai slaw, plus some more cabbage and a few pieces of the teriyaki eggplant. Summer roll wrappers were tucked away in the cabinet, and peanut sauce was in the freezer (I’ll post that recipe someday, I promise). I added more shredded cabbage to the slaw to stretch it a bit (and the filling would have been too wet otherwise), chopped up the eggplant, and made my rolls with some of the extra basil from the weeks recipes. It morphed scant servings into a way more fun meal.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal Matters

Whipped feta is the cheese obsession du jour around here. This slightly messy but delicious breakfast that has been making regular appearances. A piece of toast slathered with whipped feta, topped with fried tomatoes and a fried egg.