Last Week I Cooked….

This week I read via Dinner: A Love Story about how Brooks Headley describes the feeling of overwhelming options in the summer as “good anxiety.” Silly as it was, I think last summer it felt more like straight anxiety, because there were so many seasonal things I wanted to enjoy, and never enough time or meals in the day to do so. This year I’m taking it a little easier, and reminding myself as Jenny does: this is a good problem to have.

Sweet potato, chicken, and black bean tacos with radishes and avocado. This was a fast dinner made after returning from a long weekend (and without going grocery shopping). My mom made some extra spicy grilled chicken that I threw in, plus some radishes from the garden dressed in lime juice.

20160718_200642Taco salad. I used a bit more leftover grilled chicken, plus corn, black beans, cucumbers, and this spicy chipotle dressing.  One member of our house doesn’t love spicy or creamy dressings, so I made the dressing with the lime juice, cilantro, etc, and then added some olive oil to thin it out. I removed half, then added the yogurt and chipotle to make an awesome, creamy, and spicy dressing. This is one of my favorite salads, and an excellent option for easy summer dinners.

20160720_200943Toast with farmer’s cheese and zucchini (adapted from Vegetable Literacy) alongside kale, beet, blueberry, feta, and pine nut salad (adapted from The First Mess). This toast is one of those silly things that has been on my “to make” list since I got this cookbook…which was years ago. Sometimes I put off making absurdly simple dishes, because I always think I will have time to fit it in later. While I shouldn’t have waited so long, it was the perfect thing to make on a very hot night when I barely wanted to cook. I started off making the squash as directed (quick sear then steamed in the pan), but  since I was trying to cook more it became apparent that this would take way too long. I flipped on the broiler, tossed the squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put it under for 5 minutes.

I used the exact salad dressing from The First Mess, plus her blueberry feta combo (though I used regular feta, since I had some on hand), and added in some blanched beets. Next time I would add a little more cider vinegar to the dressing to balance all the sweet things, but it was a delightfully summery salad.

Tofu bowls with shredded carrots and cucumbers, plus sauteed broccoli and collards and tahini dressing over brown rice. The old standby! I used the soy marinated tofu recipe from Thug Kitchenand the rest of the contents came from the farmer’s market and garden (including the broccoli!!).

20160721_200636Chorizo and potato tacos with zucchini from Michoacán (from Mexico the Cookbook). Tacos, again! It’s just too easy to throw some veg and protein on a tortilla and call it dinner. I simplified the taco recipe to just consist of sauteed onion, chorizo, and the potatoes. I mixed the zucchini with summer squash, and sauteed them in batches. Once they were all cooked I put everything back in the pan and added the cilantro, onion, garlic mixture. Then I topped everything with cheese (omiting the sour cream) and let it melt.

20160721_082747Breakfasts this week included basic toast with avocado or greens and feta, plus my favorite summer fruit use: Greek yogurt with maple syrup, raspberries, and granola.

 

Last week I cooked….

Summer! Is! Here! An oh boy, does it make cooking fun. This week included some evening extracurricular activities and a short vacation so I didn’t cook as much, but what I did fully captured the season.

20160711_195236Pizza with sausage, grilled summer squash, peppers, and onions. My mom gave me leftovers from a grilled meal over the weekend of many vegetables on the grill with sausage. I re-purposed then into pizza with a classic tomato sauce and mozzarella, and was mighty pleased with the result.

20160712_193744Pasta and fried zucchini salad. The first time I made this salad was a couple years ago when Will and I had just started dating. I lived in an apartment with a super stuffy, long galley kitchen. He was helping make dinner, and I asked if he had ever fried anything. The answer was no, which did not stop me from handing over a giant bowlful of paper-thin squash to fry (he’s a quick learner). This time I fried the squash myself, and while I don’t mind a time consuming cooking project, I’m not sure it is entirely worthwhile. This dish is great, with a quick basil sauce, zing from the vinegar and capers, and hunks of mozzarella in an extremely summery pasta dish (plus I used fresh peas instead of edamame, because I could!). But next time, I will attempt roasting the squash slices and report back.

20160714_180712Beet, avocado, and pea salad (from Plenty More). The essence of this salad is sweet beets, creamy avocado, and a biting sherry vinegar dressing. From there I adapted it a bit, leaving out the peas, pea shoots, and cilantro, and adding thinly sliced cucumber and a bit of quinoa, and keeping the red onion, mint, and Tabasco. Beets are not my favorite vegetable, but I loved them thinly sliced and paired with some sour and spice.

Last Week I Cooked….

20160704_194936Steamed and roasted chicken wings with garden salad. After a weekend of BBQs, we spent the actual 4th entirely at home (and it was glorious). I had contemplated a grocery store trip, but laziness prevailed and instead I made dinner with ingredients found in the freezer and garden (which is what I should be doing now anyways). I started by steaming the chicken wings (a la Alton), and then roasted them in cast iron with rosemary added halfway through (inspired by incredible wood-fired chicken wings I had at Jack’s Abby). They were made into a real meal with a salad of cabbage, collards, and kale with a lemon vinaigrette.

20160705_191249Pizza with garlic scapes, squash blossoms, and basil. I used my usual crust, brushed the base with olive oil, then put the veg (I roasted the chopped scapes for about 5 minutes in the oven to parcook them, and sliced the blossoms). On went shredded mozzarella, then into the oven at 500F for about 10 minutes, and after sprinkled with chopped basil and crushed red pepper flakes.

20160706_195228Big salads with radishes, cucumbers, quinoa, beans, and lemon tahini dressing. On an incredibly hot summer day head to your local farmer’s market. Grab some lettuce, and a selection of whatever else looks good (radishes are still great, cukes are starting to come in). Once at home, read in the shade for a while because it is still too hot to do anything. Then when you can muster it, throw half a cup of some kind of grain on the stove, prep your veg, add some legumes if you have any, and make a dressing with the dregs in the tahini jar. Summer dinner: done.

20160707_194815Cold noodles with miso, lime, and ginger. This is an ideal hot weather dinner. I didn’t like the miso dressing as much as the peanut sauce I used on cold noodles a few weeks ago, but it was certainly quick. I used radishes, cucumbers, a handful of snap peas and some small turnips.

20160709_102904Shakshuka. I followed a tip from Ottolenghi this time around and started by dry toasting some cumin seeds in the pan before adding oil, sauteing onions, etc. It made for pervasive, toasty cumin flavor (which I’m a big fan of).

Coconut lime popsicles. These are life changing. Before this week, I hadn’t hit on an everyday popsicle recipe. I mean, I’ve made some really good ones, but they were too indulgent for regular cooling. But these. Oh man. Three (3!!!) ingredients, about that many minutes to pull together, great texture once frozen, delightful flavor. Easy enough to pull together before dinner when you know scorchers are in the forecast.

Summer berry crisp. Sometimes I think about making pies…and then I think, why would I do that when I can make a crisp? Much better fruit to grain ratio, and so much faster. I loved the addition of port, which made for a dark and jammy fruit layer. I used blueberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries.

Last Week I Cooked….

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersChicken parm meatballs with garlic bread and salad. These won’t ever replace meatballs or chicken parm, but as a fast meal they earn their own place. I’m not going to go so far to say this is my “perfect” garlic bread. It didn’t quite have the punch of garlic I wanted, but I think that could have been because I didn’t cook the garlic in the butter long enough so I’ll give it another try. The salad was essentially everything leftover from the previous weeks veg sandwiches, chopped up with a lemon vinaigrette.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersQuinoa cauliflower patties with za’atar roasted carrots (from Bowl + Spoon) and kale and cabbage salad. I’ve made these patties many times before. I love eating them, but never look forward to cooking them because it takes so long to fry the patties and they do not stay together well. Somehow it took me until now to realize I could just bake the whole lot. They weren’t as pretty as the pan-fried version, but the taste was all there. I roasted them for about 20 minutes at 400F (which is how long and hot the carrots needed to be in). It was the first time I made these carrots (also one of Sara’s recipes) and loved the feta and tahini topping. The salad was just tossed in lemon juice and olive oil.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersSalad with hard-boiled eggs, tuna, and Dijon vinaigrette. The base of this salad is all of the green things that were in the fridge: kale, cabbage, and pea shoots. I added in a bit of red onion, tossed it in a vinaigrette with lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard, grated garlic, and a tiny bit of honey. Egg and tuna made this into dinner, and it was a great one.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersBurgers with bleu cheese, grilled onions and tomato, and grilled sweet potato fries. Classic and delightful. The burgers were seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I grilled the tomato halves then sliced them for the burgers. The sweet potatoes I punctured and then cooked in the microwave before slicing and seasoning them to grill.

Breakfasts this week included many iterations of tacos and burritos. Basically last weekend’s taco dinner leftovers, but with less of the traditional fillings and plus eggs. 

Last Week I Cooked….

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters Make your own veg sandwich. I get home later on Mondays so the winter meal plan was to make a soup while I cooked dinner on Sunday to eat leftover (which worked out perfectly). But, we are starting to transition out of soup season. This week I tried a new approach and prepped every vegetable in the fridge that could go in a sandwich, including radicchio, cucumbers, sprouts, carrots, avocado, and red onion. There were a variety of spreads (hummus, herby goat cheese, whipped feta) and bread (pita, wheat, rolls). Everyone got to make something they liked and there was no actual cooking involved. I can see this being a regular summer meal.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBarley risotto with beans and greens. This tragically used the last of the stock in the freezer, but came together under an hour, packed in a lot of vegetables (I added in carrots and celery with the onions, and used kale for the greens), and ended up being the perfect meal for a rainy spring day when you want something warming but not more soup.

DSC01853Roast chicken with lemon, roasted potatoes with dill, and roasted asparagus. I used the basic roast chicken recipe from The Homemade Kitchen (rub chicken with oil, squeeze lemon over, roast at 425). The real revelation was in the pan gravy which I made with cream at Alana’s suggestion since I was out of stock (see: the previous night’s dinner) and it was incredible. So rich and luxurious. I finished the roasted potatoes with dill (inspired by this recipe, but I didn’t use the rest of the fun bits) and just made basic roasted asparagus. I was feeling ambitious and made an aioli to go with the asparagus, but it tasted off. I used 2 garlic cloves but one was big, and it tasted way too strongly of garlic. I added more lemon to tone down the garlic, but I think the olive oil just was too flavorful or maybe going off because it still didn’t taste right. Next time!

Beef tacos with tortillas, salsa de arbol, rice, refried beans, guacamole, lime crema, and quick pickled cabbage (taco filling and rice recipes from Mexico: The Cookbook, refried beans from How to Cook Everything: The Basics, and quick pickled cabbage from The Homemade Kitchen). This is the second time in two weeks I’ve made tacos for a dinner party and it should happen even more often. These were a bit more elaborate since I made the tortillas (with help rolling), but the rest of the components were fairly simple. The salsa takes a bit more work, but it was my favorite thing on the table (and will be making its way on to my eggs this week!).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersThe breakfast burritos were a little less traditional this week, but still easy as anything. I used scrambled eggs, red beans (which I cooked to use in the barley risotto), cooked broccoli, and avocado. (And easy breakfasts don’t have to be pretty breakfasts.)

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersMy cooking felt off this week. The meals I made were fine, but not all things I was especially proud of.  But in the end the house got fed with healthy foods, and there is always next week to plan something different.

Classic split green pea soup with smoked ham (from Flour, Too). This was the surprise favorite of the week. Yes, it’s not the prettiest but the long slow simmer with a ham hock made for a nice rich soup. I especially loved the finishing lemon juice and mustards, they nicely brightened what could have been a drab soup.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersLentil meatballs with Indian fenugreek sauce. This dish was…interesting. I don’t know if I ever tried fenugreek before this, and it was definitely the first time I cooked with it. It made for a very strongly flavored sour sauce that I ended up adding more coconut milk to in an attempt to mellow it. The lentil meatballs were fine and mildy flavored (they did stick together nicely). I serve it over quinoa to make it a heftier meal. The recipe said it served 4-6, and I was worried it wouldn’t be enough for lunch and dinner so I made an extra half recipe which was totally unnecessary. It made a baking sheet and a half of balls. So many balls. I’m not particularly excited to make this again, and will probably seek out recipes less dominated by fenugreek.

Pasta with garlic, kale, and mushrooms. I sauteed the mushrooms in batches so they would crisp nicely. When they were done I took them out of the pan and very briefly sauteed some garlic and shallot before adding in the kale. When the kale wilted down I added the mushrooms back to the pan along with a can of white beans (rinsed) and some red pepper flakes. When the pound of pasta was done cooking I drained it (forgetting to reserve some of the water), and tossed the vegetables in. I drizzled some more olive oil and Parmesan cheese on at the end.

Salads with lentil meatballs (pictured at top). I didn’t want to eat the lentil meatballs again in the weird sauce, so Will came up with the idea for these salads. I used a mix of lettuce and shredded cabbage for the base, added some cucumber and red onion, roasted some cherry tomatoes that had been sad and shriveling in the fridge, and spooned on some leftover quinoa. I made a dressing with yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley. If I had any feta, that would have gone on too. While the balls aren’t as good as falafel, I enjoyed them much more this time around.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBreakfast tacos. We had dinner at my mom’s and she made grilled chicken, onion, and poblano fajitas with cilantro marinade. I made some flour tortillas (because Alex Stupak told me to) and guacamole and it was all delightful. These are the leftovers, re-imagined with some black beans and scrambled eggs.

Yogurt waffles. I replaced all of the white flour with wheat here, because I do that with my yogurt pancakes and figured it wasn’t all the different. The flours didn’t translate exactly though, and I found the waffles a little tougher. They still made for a wholesome breakfast and were a great waffle option for a house that was out of milk.

 

Food Resolutions 2016

Food Resolutions 2016 - Vegetal MattersNow is the time resolvers are furiously compiling lists, joining gyms, starting the Whole30, or partaking in a dreaded juice cleanse. Drastic lifestyle change isn’t what I’m after at the turn of the year, but more a reflection on the last twelve months and plans for development. While it is a little ridiculous to think we should only start improving ourselves once January rolls around, the communal embrace of change and betterment is certainly inspiring.

Last year I wrote about my food resolutions and would like to uphold the tradition.  I did embrace simpler cooking (though that could still stand to be on the list) and read recipes more thoroughly (some of the time). I actually read Gulp. and More Home Cooking, a different book by Wendell Berry (which almost counts) and the other two are sitting on my bookshelf patiently waiting for me.

This year I want to be better at cooking with others. Cooking is my hobby (ok, obsession), and I love all aspects of the process. I also like to be in control of all aspects of the process. But socializing is important, and I think it could do me some good to let others help out more in the kitchen.

I will stop being afraid of fermenting. I’ve had a languishing sour dough starter my sister generously gifted to me in the fridge for about a year and barely used it (shame on me!). She’s also started making kimchi which is spicy, sour, and crunchy in just the right combination. I’ve taken The Art of Fermentation out of the library, and completely overwhelmed by all it contains, returned it barely read. I’ve been reading Phickle and other blogs that dabble in fermenting. It’s time to stop watching and reading and start doing.

I will waste less in the kitchen. Always planning recipes means I sometimes buy an ingredient for one recipe and then don’t always remember to use it up. So I’ve started leaving a night of the week with dinner unplanned to use up any scraps in the fridge. Plus this allows for a bit more improvisation. Tonight, for instance, as I type lentil soup is bubbling away. It is in the single digits out and my plan for dinner was not appropriate for the weather, so items from the pantry and fridge all came together for a needed, warming soup.

Besides the books that rolled over from my list above, these are queued up for 2016:

The End of Food by Paul Roberts.

The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher. This is actually five separate books, and so far I’ve read Serve It Forth.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan. I read this when it first came out, but it needs a reread for some discussion here.

Other food related books I should add to my list? Food resolutions from your kitchens?

Kitchen gear everyone needs

I love kitchen gear, but only to an extent. I don’t like having many items that only serve one purpose. My goal is to have a well curated collection of things that I use constantly. These are a few items missing from the rest of the internet’s kitchen gift suggestions that I use daily. I did link to specific examples, but I’m not married to any brand for these (except the pot, because that’s a sale item). There are lots of options, so look around.

gear

Canning Funnel – Don’t can? You still need this funnel. Funnels in general are awesome. I do use this one for canning, but I reached for it so much I moved it out of the box of canning stuff and into an everyday drawer. I use it constantly for transferring things that are not straight liquid into containers (beverages! soup! granola! flour!). Definitely get metal, best for hot uses.

Mesh Produce Bags – I keep a bunch of these in my grocery bag and use them for buying produce and bulk items so I don’t have to get a plastic bag for every kind of fruit or vegetable I buy (which can be many….).

Kitchen Scale – These babies are life changing. I use them for measuring dry goods for baking (just zero after every ingredient! so exact! fewer dishes!), truly knowing I have 6 oz of mushrooms when that is what the recipe calls for, and just being more exact in general because weight is always more reliable than volume. And maybe every once in a while I weigh mail to see how many stamps I need.

pot

Cast Iron Dutch Oven – In my ideal world, I would have a beautiful set of vintage Le Creuset pots in a snappy color. Unfortunately every other cook has this same dream. New ones are prohibitively expensive for most, and used ones are still pricey. I was trolling West Elm because I had a gift card and found this gem on sale. No, it doesn’t have the vintage warmth of a Creuset, but it is a beast of a pot and $49.99 for 5.5 quarts is amazing (just for the black). In my other ideal world (slightly less ideal than the Le Creuset world) I would have gotten white or red, but paying an extra $30 for a color is a level of crazy I thankfully am not. My one complaint about this pot is it is so heavy I can’t lift it with one arm, but that means I just need to do more push ups.

Look! Using two of my favorite things together! (Putting away some mushroom soup)

in use

PS – Do you hate gift guides? Even this one? These could be more your taste: Gift Guide: Foodies and Gift Guide: Witches and Wizards

Cookbooks for you and other people

The internet is currently a cacophony of  gift suggestions, and I can’t help but add my own shouts to the mix. I will never tire of receiving cookbooks (though my bookshelves very well could). My collection of cookbooks outweighs me and each have their own special spot on the bookshelf, but I keep turning to a select few repeatedly. These are five of my favorites and I feel so strongly about adding to other people’s collections that I gift them myself.

Flour CoverFlour by Joanne Chang. I’ve written about how great this cookbook is before, and my fuzzy feelings have only grown since then. Chang’s recipes can be complicated, but the instructions are the most thorough that I’ve read in any cookbook. If you follow along, the recipes are foolproof and serious show stoppers. (and for those who already have Flour, there is Flour, too, which includes salads, soups, sandwiches, and dinners along with the amazing desserts)

Flour open

Basics CoverHow to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman Sometimes, I don’t like looking up recipes on the internet. I just want to be able to open up a book from a trusted source and find exactly what I want (I’m needy, I know). For this exact purpose I have How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Basics. I’m recommending Basics here because it is an excellent beginner book with photos and thorough tutorials, and a far less overwhelming amount of recipes. How to Cook Everything (also in Vegetarian and Fast versions), has recipes that are just as easy, no photos (but some illustrations), and a zillion variations. It is designed for someone who is a little more comfortable in the kitchen.

Basics Open

Jerusalem CoverJerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. I am in love with this cookbook. If you aren’t comfortable with sensual, vegetal food porn skip this one. The recipes are creative and have gotten me to try many new ingredients and techniques, but never seem outlandish or scary. Ottolenghi’s other accomplishments include Ottolenghi, Plenty, and Plenty More, but none of them have captured me as much as Jerusalem. Please try the roasted butternut, the wheat berries with chard and pomegranate molasses, and every eggplant recipe.

Jerusalem Open

Homemade CoverThe Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila. If you have any interest in trying to make processed food from scratch, this is your book. Alana has a lovely blog, and the book has great stories and charming titles (‘Pancakes and Waffles or the division of labor’). The recipe I adapted to make granola comes from here, I’ve made the ricotta many times over, and the best homemade granola bars.

Homemade Open

Sprouted CoverThe Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods by Sara Forte. Sara’s blog is another great one, and her book is a wonderful collection of healthful, creative recipes. Her chipotle and apple turkey burgers are my favorite ever, and come to think of it the mushroom and brown rice veggie burgers are also my favorite ever. Beyond burgers, the creamy millet with roasted portobellos and tangled carrot salad with tahini dressing are dishes that will always be in my rotation.

Sprouted Open