Last Week I Cooked….No Recipe Experiment

Meals this week were an experiment. Usually I spend time on Sunday planning out meals for the week. I flip through the cookbooks that are speaking to me at the moment, scroll through my extensive Pinterest boards, or search for recipes to make with the vegetables of the season. I almost always have a plan, and also follow recipes to learn new techniques and dishes. At breakfast and the rare times I cook for lunch I rely on my intuition and whatever is around far more, but dinner is usually when I have more time to play around in the kitchen. May though, is easily the busiest month at work and last weekend there was no way I was fitting in an hour of meal planning. So instead was born a new challenge: what could I cook without a recipe? I didn’t even allow myself to look up proportions/portion sizes for cooking polenta. All had to be based on my own cooking senses. And guess what? We ate dinner (and leftovers for lunch) every night this week. My carbonara turned out a bit too eggy, but I can make a mean salad and dressing with my eyes closed. Not following recipes made for far simpler meals, which certainly reduced my stress level. I will always love the thrill of learning something new from someone else’s instruction, but it’s good to remember I can feed my people without outside assistance.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPolenta with Spanish chorizo, kale, and a fried egg. I can’t really take credit for how good this was, because I was working with the best sausage in the world. I cooked up 2 cups of polenta with half milk/half water (very low heat, lots of stirring). I diced the sausage and cooked it through, then added a mountain of kale to the pan and tossed it so it was thoroughly coated in sausage fat. Covered the pan so it would all wilt down, and then fried eggs over easy to put on top. I would eat this for breakfast, lunch, or dinner any day of the week.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersAsparagus carbonara. I cooked up a full pound of bacon cut into lardons but reserved half for tomorrow night’s dinner. While the bacon was cooking I boiled the pasta. I cut a bunch of asparagus into angled pieces the same size as my penne and then cooked them in some bacon fat. Four eggs were whisked (but I should have done 3) with about half a cup of sour cream (because I forgot to buy heavy cream…), some grated parm, and a pinch of salt. When the pasta was done I reserved about 1/4 of a cup of cooking water, then tossed the pasta, bacon, asparagus, egg mixture, and reserved water in the same pan off the heat. Served with lots of cracked black pepper and red pepper flakes.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBig ranch BLT salads. These started with a head of romaine and some cabbage leftover from last week’s lo mein (have you made that lo mein yet? I’m gearing up to make it again). Then on went diced cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, sprouts (unearthed in the crisper drawer, leftover from veg sandwiches a couple weeks ago). I defrosted some chickpeas from the freezer, dried them, then tossed them in some bacon fat, smoked paprika, and salt. They went into a hot cast iron pan and toasted for about 10 minutes. The ranch was made from buttermilk, a bit of sour cream and mayo, lemon juice, salt, pepper, Dijon mustard, and chopped chives. All that plus a bit extra bacon from yesterday made for a stellar salad.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersYogurt chicken skewers, asparagus, potato salad, salad with beets and daikon, and lemon yogurt dressing. I marinated cut up chicken breasts in lemon juice, Greek yogurt, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper (basically what I could remember from Dinner: A Love Story) for a couple hours. The asparagus was super basic and just broiled with oil, salt, and pepper. The potato salad was dressed with mayo, Dijon, champagne vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried dill, plus a couple hard-boiled eggs. The dressing was almost identical to the marinade, but minus the garlic plus some honey. I broiled the beets in slices before chopping them, and soaked the chopped daikon in some ice water and drained before topping the salad. As a little experiment I chopped up some of the beet stems and quick pickled them with 1:1 champagne vinegar:water, salt, and honey.

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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 savory or sweet flavors of the chicken were totally overtaken by the sweet. It did not help that I used a mix of roasted beets, celeriac, and carrots instead of just the carrots, and the beets just took over. They were super sweet and there wasnt enough of the other ingredients to cut it. Maybe my chili flakes have lost their spice. Next time I would crank up the pepper heat, up the lemon, and serve it with some yogurt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polenta with Roasted Veg and Tomato Sauce

Vegetal Matters - Polenta with Roasted Veg and Tomato SaucePolenta is my new pantry hero and pasta/grain alternative. It’s a multitasking ingredient (I use a medium grind cornmeal that I cook as polenta, bake with, and use as a crispy crust), that makes just as good of a breakfast as it does lunch and dinner (which I can’t say for pasta). I think of this recipe as more of a formula. Make polenta, stir in any cheese that needs to be used up in the fridge (or leave out the cheese and milk for a vegan dinner). Roast whatever vegetables you have around. Top with tomato sauce, or just a little bit more cheese. In the morning reheat leftovers and top with an egg (or the egg could be part of dinner, too).

Polenta with Roasted Veg and Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

  • 1 cup dry polenta
  • 2-3 cups water (divided)
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt + some for sprinkling
  • 3 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 lb cabbage (about half a smaller head)
  • ½ lb of broccolini or broccoli (cut into small florets if using broccoli)
  • 2 cups chopped kale (any kind is fine)
  • 2 cups of tomato sauce

Heat the oven to 400F. Cut the cabbage into 1 by 3 inch pieces. Toss the cabbage and broccolini on a baking sheet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Roast for 15 minutes. Toss the kale in a bowl with a teaspoon more of olive oil. After the 15 minutes, toss the cabbage and broccoli, and add the kale to the pan right on top. Roast for 5 more minutes.

Heat the tomato sauce over medium low heat while the veg and polenta are cooking.

Whisk the polenta with 1 cup of water, the milk and ½ tsp salt. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered. Add 1 cup of water and  stir constantly so it does not stick. Cook for 15 minutes, adding more water 1/4 cup at a time if it seems dry or you like polenta on the soupier side. When soft turn off the heat and add the goat cheese. I don’t even bother crumbling it, just stir it in so the goat cheese is covered, but the top back on, and whisk again to incorporate right before serving.

To serve, spoon a quarter of the polenta into each bowl, top with roasted veg and half a cup of tomato sauce (or more if you’re me). Finish with an extra crumble of goat cheese or some grated parmesan.