Sunday, October 19, 2008

Veggies and some meat

Josh and Ruth came for dinner on Saturday night, which was an opportunity to try the something old, something new idea. Josh is a big meat eater, and loves steak, so I got some flanksteak. He also loves tomatoes, but tomato season is just about done. I did, however, have that box of tomatoes I wrote about the other day, so there was some tomato roasting in the plan. Bittman had written about a faster no knead bread, which was worth a try. And I wanted to get a veggie main dish in there.

First, the bread. I have to say, it was a disappointment. Not that it was BAD, mind you, but just boring and not WOW, the way the original no-knead bread is. The idea is you slop it together, let it rise about four hours, pull it out, turn it over a couple of times, let it rest about 15 minutes, and then plop it into the preheated vessel (I like a ceramic casserole dish that gives a nice round shape). The idea is to try to do in four hours what we were doing in 12-18 hours before. No. Not gonna work. The result was a tight crumb, and a flavor that wasn't very interesting. It was OK the next day as toast, but I really don't think I'm going to try this again. I will say this though. Bittman's recipe uses white flour, and I like whole wheat. My versions of the original no-knead are typically half white/half whole-wheat, and it comes out great. I did the same thing here, and was not happy; perhaps all-white will be better? I may try someday.

The tomatoes were good as the first time, which predates this blog. The recipe was taken from Orangette's blog, and definitely needed a reprise performance while tomatoes were still around. It was as wonderful as the first time....tomatoes, garlic, parsley, olive oil. Hard to beat. And they keep for days in the fridge. They're best eaten at room temperature, but what I discovered this time was that you can pop them in the microwave and warm them up a bit beyond room temperature -- somewhere between tepid and hot, and they are marvelous -- even without goat cheese. Just spooned onto some toasted hearty bread, with lots of the flavor infused olive oil. Ah...the memories!

The main course was the veggies. I had a nice bunch of Kale that Ruth was kind enough to chop for me. And a quarter head of cabbage which I chopped. Some onions. Carrot, julienned. Garlic. That's about it. The onions and garlic browned up nicely in the cast iron skillet, after which I put in the huge pile of leaves which cooked down pretty quickly to a manageable size. I think I added some pimenton. It was a nice sweet dish. The cabbage and the kale had two shades of green, and a sweet flavor.

And then there was the flank steak. Nothing too elaborate there. Josh took charge of seasoning, which was Penzey's Turkish Seasoning -- salt, garlic cumin, Telicherry black pepper, Turkish oregeno, paprika, sumac, cayenne, cilantro. On the grill, cooked perhaps a minute or two too long to medium, not medium rate and sliced on the bias. All served over brown rice.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Harvest Bounty

It was "market day", so I'm here at home with counters full and refrigerators full of produce and other goodies. I may have gone overboard...but I don't think so. It's hard to contain yourself at Wilson Farm. I didn't have much on my list, but was on the lookout. Right at the entry they entice you with nice displays of fresh produce. Sometimes you bite, and sometimes you don't. But if you don't, they have another display of the exact same stuff they hit you up twice. In any case, they had these little cases of tomatoes for 5.99. Must be 20 or more tomatoes in there. All for $5.99. Hmm. I could get a handful of heirlooms for that price, or a whole box of pretty good looking tomatoes. I bet they would work well roasted -- part of the plan for this coming weekend.

The blame. These were just sitting there. What could I do?
Much more to come with these....stay tuned.

But to test the tomatoes, I thought I'd make a little tomato salad:
tomatoes, roughly chopped
flat leaf Italian parsley
olive oil, splash
balsamic vinegar, splash
fleur de sel
ground black pepper

and then I remembered about feta cheese!

All told, it was a very nice dish. Tangy, sweet, salty, sour....all in one.

Sitting in the fridge was last night's cole slaw. There was some canned Italian Tuna in olive oil in the cupboard....that seemed like a nice addition. And some Dulse (wild Atlantic sea vegetable).

Grapes. These were pretty easy dessert.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Theme and variations

Sometimes, it's just a matter of what you have lying around. And how much energy you have. I had little energy for real cooking tonight, but didn't have a whole lot the would have made an acceptable instant dinner. I'd had a big lunch, and didn't want much anyway. But a peanut butter sandwich wasn't going to cut it.

There was this head of green cabbage sitting in the fridge, patiently awaiting the call from the bullpen. And a new utility player I'd just acquired, waiting in the dugout for an opportunity to be tried out. I'd been playing around with the idea of cabbage and tempeh stir fry, but I really didn't want to "cook". But chopping up some cabbage into a cole slaw....I could handle that.

It's just been this summer that I realized that I could play around with cole slaw. I'd been making it the way that Bertel taught me: cabbage and carrots, grated very fine; olive oil and white vinegar; dill -- fresh if you have it; salt and pepper; scallions (but I'd been leaving those out for years due to family preferences); and the secret ingredient -- sugar...just a little. Over the years, Eleanor had been put in charge of getting the proportions for the cole slaw just right.

But lately, I've been doing some experimentation. Parsley instead of dill. Some creamy dressings from the bottles in the fridge instead of the vinaigrette. Some of these variations work with roughly chopped cabbage rather than the finely grated cabbage -- finely grated is critical for the vinaigrette version...somehow it just doesn't taste or feel right unless the cabbage is fine.

So, for tonight, a combination of things I might not have thought about putting together before:

Cabbage, roughly chopped
Carrot, grated
Green zebra tomatoes, chopped
Jalapeno peppers, a few, chopped
Olive Oil
Thai fish sauce.

I'd bought the fish sauce a few weeks ago, but hadn't ever used it. It was a bit salty, but overall, the taste was nice. Together with the last leftover chicken leg from the freezer and a warmed up Lamajeun from Eastern Lamajeun Bakery in Belmont, it was a meal.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Salmon and Spinach in Coconut Milk

The name of this dish does not do it justice. First, some background, then the details.

In West Seattle, on Alki Beach, amidst fish and chips and nondescript pubs, exists the best restaurant in the world -- Phoenicia. Kim and I just wandered in here one day in search of food, and have been back at least four more times since. The proprietor, and chef, is Hussein, who I have nicknamed the Interpreter of Food desires. The first time we were there, we couldn't decide what we wanted, but as as we were studying the menu, a platter of seafood in a fragrant liquid walked by, we looked at each other and said...."we'll have that please". The next time, we again couldn't decide. His daughter, the waitress, said, "wait....I'll have him come out". And out comes Hussein, talks to us for 10 minutes, and then says..."here's what I'm going to make for you" and proceeds to wow us again. Neither of these items were on the menu. If you don't believe me, read the gushing over it on Yelp.

Both dishes were variations on what he calls Jewels of the Ocean, which is seafood in a fragrant coconut milk. I've asked him what's in it, and he's told me, but I'm pretty sure he hasn't told me everything. I know that he uses tamarind and pomegranate a lot. Garlic. Onions. From there, I don't know.

Last time I was in Seattle, Eleanor came along, and I took her on a pilgrimige, and he did not disappoint. She ordered salmon, her favorite food, after some prodding from me that I was pretty sure we could trust that he wouldn't ruin it by drying it out. He did not disappoint.

Well....Eleanor is home from college this weekend, so I thought some salmon would be nice. And I'd started this blog, so I was into some experiementation, and so far, all I've written about has been recipes that I found online. So, the time was right to take my chances on replicating Jewels of the Ocean in my own humble way. I did a little poking around on the web for fish dishes with coconut milk with a lebanese slant, and got a few ideas. Here's what I did to cook for the two of us, with some leftovers for tomorrow.

1 TBS ginger, minced
1 TBS garlic, minced
1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
1 smallish onion, halved, then sliced
1 tsp lemongrass slices
a few flakes of red pepper flakes
a few threads of saffron
a few drops pomegranate molasses
1 tsp tamarind water
5 basil leaves, chopped
a few pinches of salt.

Put all of the above in a pot, and simmer until the onions are soft. Then, add

3/4 lb salmon, cut into chunks
a few handfuls of fresh spinach

Cook until the salmon is tender and the spinach is reduced.

Serve with rice (I used a brown rice mixture) and some nice bread to sop up the remaining sauce. Add a few scant shakes of Japanese shredded salmon and cod roe, for a little additional umami taste. (One of the recipes I looked at called for dried shrimp paste, which I couldn't find, so this seemed like a good idea..and I was right).

This is definitely different from Hussein's master work. I'm pretty sure he doesn't use lemongrass. Virtually certain he doesn't use shredded salmon and cod roe. I wanted to use some tumeric for some color, but somehow, I didn't have any. I was successful at not being too heavy handed with the pomegranate....just a few drops. And not too much on the tamarind....just enough for the sour taste notes. The result was a very flavorful dish, with the mystery of not quite knowing what tasted so good. It may not have been as good as Hussein's but it was plenty good. I know it was good (great) because I didn't want the taste to leave my mouth, and put off a chocolate ice cream dessert for an hour later.

This was easy to make, and worthy of future experimentation. Lessons is not necessary to make everything POW. This was a very subtle dish, with subtle flavors, that worked very well. I would use any kind of firm fleshed seafood, and shrimp would have made a nice addition. Chicken would be good as well.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cauliflower, anchovies and raisins?

Cauliflower? Cauliflower? I've never been a big fan of Cauliflower. White; boring; not much taste. When I ate it as a kid, I would eat it raw, just like all my other vegetables, with a little mayonnaise to increase the interest level. (I ate all my veggies this way, even raw spinach). In adulthood, I perhaps tried steaming it a few times, but that's pretty boring. And I never tried much else.

Then, over at cousin Beverly's for one of her family soirees, and there, in the center of the table, is a cauliflower salad with a mustardy kind of sauce. It was an eye opening experience. I know I had seconds, and probably thirds. I'm pretty sure I asked for the recipe, but don't know where I put it. In any opened up the possibilities for cauliflower, and's only been three or four years since I had that.
But then I read one of those lists about things I should be eating, and this thing called "cruciferous" vegetables keeps popping up, and you can get kinda tired of eating broccoli. Though I do have a newfound appreciation for the magic of cabbage, but more on that another time, since I have a head of it in my fridge, just waiting for some inspiration. And somehow cauliflower came up in discussion with Susan, and she found a recipe that used Cauliflower and garam masala. Which will have to wait for another day.

On my weekend walk to Whole Foods (which I discovered is less than a 15 minute walk away, hurray), they had big heads of cauliflower sitting out front on special for $2.00 a head, and into the basket it went, awaiting appropriate inspiration. Which again, came from some web browsing, and this time, from Bittman.

Bittman is always a good place to start, and I had never tried searching his blog for recipes....I've always just kinda taken them as they come across the threshold, since they're so seasonal anyway. But there was Cauliflower, Raisins and Anchovy Vinaigrette. I have to say, this did not immediately appeal to me. The raisins threw me off...I'm wary of savory recipes with fruit in them, but am coming around to them. It was the anchovies though, that were the attraction, because I had a little jar of them sitting in my cupboard...probably for a year or two, because I had seen ANOTHER Bittman blog post which used anchovies in a simple pasta sauce. Obviously, I haven't made that that the jar is open, I need to do something with the rest of those anchovies. And the roasting. I was pretty sure that if I were going to like cauliflower, that it would be roasted. Roasted veggies rock!

So...seeing as how I had everything I needed, I went and made this. As you can see from the picture, it was a nice big plate of cauliflower, tinted a nice brown by the roasting and the anchovies. Since it was a weeknight, and I came home from work hungry, I polished off the rest of the white bean hummus that Trader Joes puts out....which is a great thing to have in the fridge, because you could always just live on that for a day or two with some crackers or toast. And I got to use up the rest of the cucumber that was threatening to become a messy shadow of its former self if I didn't pay attention to it.

The recipe says it was for 8. I assume that was as a side dish. As a main dish, for myself, I ate about 1/3 of it, maybe a bit less. And supplemented with a leftover chicken leg from the weekend....but that's about it.

The taste was a nice gentle and umami-ish. Not too fact I needed to add a bit of salt. And not overwhelmingly anchovy...just about right. I skimped a bit on the parsley, because my new kitchen parsley plant is still not that big....I wouldn't have minded a little more. I could have easily done without the raisins, but they were a nice visual note, and the little bit of sweetness was a nice complement. I could see sprinkling some walnuts over this for some crunch. Maybe I'll try that with the next leftover batch.

An interesting "note to self". You only add a few tablespoons of the anchovy dressing during the roasting. The rest is added at the end, just before serving. I tasted the cauliflower before adding the major dressing -- bland and boring. Which goes to show that if I try new things with cauliflower, I need to do some bold flavors. I could see doing a lemon-tahini thing. Next time....I hear cauliflower's good for you. And for $2.00 a head feeding me for three meals, that's a pretty economical bunch of meals!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Eating Week Begins on Sunday

If you cook well on Sunday, you can eat well for much of the week. Sunday has a lot of things going for it. It's a day off, for one. There's time to shop. To peruse recipes. Plot. Make a plan.

Sometimes I get ideas during the week, reading food blogs. In particular, Bittman and Orangette. In this case, Orangette made a compelling case for stuffed tomatoes. A very compelling case. And seeing how tomoto season was running out, and I wouldn't get too many chances, this was clearly the mission for Sunday. I had the recipe printed out and ready to go. And the day was to be chilly, meaning that having the oven on for an hour and half in the late afternoon would be welcome.

Grilling season is over. Oven season is in. Bread baking commenced a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn't in the mood for bread baking. But I digress.

This was the second roasted tomato recipe I lifted from Orangette. The first was absolutely spectacular. Who knew such flavor could come from tomatoes? These were plum tomatoes, roasted for 2+ hours, with olive oil and oregano, and a touch of sugar. Yum.

Yesterday's adventure was with large tomatoes, scooped out, sauteed with a little olive oil and onion, some arborio rice (just 1/3 cup), and then stuffed back in and covered with bread crumbs.

This did not start well. First of all...the selection of tomatoes at Wilson Farm was getting pretty meager. But they had their standard large "our own" tomatoes, that looked a few days from being ripe, but what the hey. (Moving to Medford has moved me many miles from Verril Farm, who has the BEST TOMATOES IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD), but it was hard to justify the drive.....I should have justified it. When looking for the link to put here, I see that they're asking people to support them after their devastating fire by buying food from their temporary farm stand.....I could have helped them!)

In any case, cutting the tops off the tomatoes revealed that these were indeed poor substitutes for in-season, Verril Farm, heirloom tomatoes. But, I bought four of the suckers, so I was committed. But I gotta tell you....even mediocre tomatoes in the oven for over an hour, with a little basil and some olive oil can taste pretty terrific.

The huge-o tomotoes with the sliced Yukon Gold potatoes off the the side would have been plenty enough, without any meat. But I thought I'd add a little meat side dish.....chicken legs baked in the same oven, with some Penzy's Northwoods Seasoning (basically, salt, pepper, paprika, thyme, rosemary, garlic and chipotle in a little convenient bottle), plus some pimenton. Bittman blogged about pimenton about a week ago, and I just had to do some cooking with it. (Susan made his pimenton soaked swordfish, which was spectacular!)

I have to say....I haven't done much yet with the idea of meat as side dish. But this was a perfect way to do it. The tomato and rice was filling enough, especially with those potatoes. The little chicken leg on its own was perfect...though it could have used more pimenton. But the idea that I would have a meal with just one little chicken leg would have struck me as absurd just a few months ago.

Since I made four huge tomatoes, but there were only two of us, and I made ten chicken legs, and there were only two of us....I had enough for today's dinner, and then enough to stash some chicken legs in the fridge, and maybe even a few in the freezer. I'd never tried that before...cooked chicken in the freezer, but I don't see why that wouldn't work.

Well...maybe this won't feed me for the week, but if I do have some leftover grain in the fridge, and some cabbage....I can probably make something of that when the inspiration strikes.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Beginning of an Adventure

Eating abounds with choices. Eat healthy. Eat smart. Eat for fun. Be frugal. Splurge.

My life is in transition. Just divorced. Kids off to college. House sold. Living alone for the first time -- ever. Thinking about what to eat shouldn't be a strain, but it is fun.

I've always been a healthy eater. And loved cooking. Mostly chow, not cuisine, but I take pleasure in finding interesting and tasty things to do with the food I have lying around, and sharing that with others. And then I read Pollan's books -- The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food. Which got me thinking about the whole idea of eating a lot more. Not obsessively, mind you, but it just got me thinking.

I'd been through periods where I at mostly vegetables, and little meat. Back in the day. In college and soon after. The days of the Cambridge Food Coop. Tofu. Brown Rice. Whole Grains. Just because it seemed to be the right thing to do.

Over the years, married with a family, I fell back into the meat, vegetable, starch way of organizing a plate. With meat at the center, or at least a big piece.

Now that I'm on my own, I have a few different challenges. One -- it's just me. And Susan, when we share meals. But....when I go shopping, it's just for me. Whatever I want. The choices are entirely mine. Mine mine mine. The shocking thing is how little I need to buy. And if I'm smart, how long the food can last.

Eat food, mostly vegetables, not too much. Pollen's credo resonated. I had the choice I could make for myself. Going into the farm stand, or the farmers market...seeing what's there, and then deciding what to make of it. That was the food life for me.

So the adventure has begun. Coming up with things to eat that do not involve meat at the center. Vegetables at the center. With meat as a condiment, or a side dish. But where would I find guidance on how to do this? There are plenty of vegetarian cookbooks. There are plenty of cookbooks period. But I thought it would be fun to chronicle my adventures of eating in this way.

I get my food inspirations from a variety of places, but increasingly, it's coming from the Internet. There are so many places to find recipes, other bloggers' adventures, newspaper articles. But as I take these guideposts and turn them into my own, perhaps it will be illuminating for someone else on the same journey. At the very least, it will chronicle my own adventures.

My aim is to:

  • Seek out and find fresh, flavorful, and healthy foods to eat
  • Use local products to the maximum extent possible
  • Find food grown and raised using sustainable methods
  • Experiment
  • Not spend fortunes on food
  • Not cook every day, but use the fridge, freezer, microwave and wok to leverage full scale cooking into several days worth of meals.
There's probably more, and I'll fill this in as I go.

A word on inspirations

I'd say Michael Pollan's work pushed me over the edge into the is adventure. I suspect there's a whole community of Pollanites out there discussing this, so I'll try to find out where they are over time. For now, though, I've been on my own. The Internet offers some pathways, though.

When I'm searching for things to cook, I tend to enjoy reading Mark Bittman's blog, because it always seems seasonal, easy to cook, and usually full of things I want to eat. His column, The Minimalist is great too, as is his book, How to Cook Everything -- which is conveniently on Susan's bookshelf when I'm there.

And Orangette is always inspiring. I may have cooked more things out of Molly' blog than anywhere else lately, and if I had the time, I could spend time searching her links to other inspirations. And perhaps I will.

The Chowhound community is always good for asking questions, and for seeing the questions that others have asked already.

And then, you never will know what will come out of a simple google search for an ingredient.

Well....this is as good a start as any. We'll see where this adventure takes me.