How to Shortcut a Recipe

September 23rd, 2013 · 21 Comments · Vegetarian

When I was first learning how to cook — which is another way of saying “When I was first plowing my way through The Silver Palate Cookbook in 1994″ — I remember coming across a recipe for an Avocado Dip that called for a cup of homemade mayonnaise. Homemade mayonnaise? Did such a thing even exist? Apparently it did — the ingredient list bumped me to page 339 where I could whirl a few eggs with oil and come up with something that promised to be both “luscious and versatile.” Maybe for other people. For me, a beginner, it just promised to be intimidating. I skipped the homemade mayonnaise. And, get this, I also skipped the Avocado dip. Obviously I couldn’t make the dip if I was only using regular old Hellmann’s. Recipes were recipes and you didn’t f#@k with them.

Fast forward twenty years (are you freaking kidding me by the way? 20 years!) to last Friday. I found myself in the possession of two beautiful eggplants, which, being married to Andy, was a surprising place to find myself. For him (OK for me, too, I’ll admit it) an eggplant falls into the category of Thing That I Would Probably Not Choose to Cook, but Would Eat if it’s in Front of Me. Well, on Friday, they were in front of me — right there in the CSA box nestled in with the corn, tomatoes, sage, carrots, and beets.

So what to do first? I did what any self-respecting CSA member would do — I pulled Plenty from my cookbook shelves, possibly the most inspirational vegetarian cookbook that exists in the world. The cover featured eggplants drizzled with a buttermilk dressing and bejeweled with pomegranates. I knew my kids wouldn’t go for that, but maybe Ottolenghi had some other ideas for me? Something where maybe I didn’t have to tell my kids that they were actually eating eggplant? I flipped to “The Mighty Eggplant” section…there was the cover recipe, then Soba Noodles with Mango and Eggplant, then Lentils with Broiled Eggplant, then Eggplant Tricolore, then…oh my God, jackpot:

Croquettes!

Other than turning something into pizza, there is no more foolproof strategy for marketing a potentially offensive food to kid than turning it into a golden-fried, handheld, dip-able, glorified mozzarella stick. (At least none that I can think of.) I scanned the recipe…hmmm, russet potatoes, don’t have those. Feta, darn, just ran out yesterday. Tarragon aioli? Homemade? (1994 flashback!) That was not going to happen.  Neither was the chilling in the fridge for “at least 20 minutes.”

In other words, the recipe was perfect!

I had some Yukon golds, which are generally not as fluffy as russets — I knew that — and I had Parm, which wouldn’t quite be feta, and, just by dumb luck, Blue Hill Farm had sent me a sampler of their brand new savory yogurts* (tomato, squash, carrot, and beet), one of which (tomato) I figured would be an excellent stand-in for the aioli. Other adjustments I made along the way: Instead of shaping the mixture into sticks, I shaped them into patties — a decision that was validated when Abby spied them frying in the pan and cheered “Are we having latkes tonight???” (Um, yeah, totally.) I was not in the possession of sunflower oil for the deep frying — pretty sure I never have been in my entire life — and so I used 3 tablespoons of olive oil for regular old pan-frying.

And the result? They were kind of genius. Not Ottolenghi genius, but On-the-Fly genius. Vegetarian, nothing wasted, kids ate it up, and, when served with roasted carrots tossed with sage and carrot yogurt and a classic tomato-corn salad the whole thing was the perfect Friday night dinner. I think my 1994 self would have been impressed.

Clockwise from top left: The eggplant fritters with tomato-yogurt dip; tomato-corn salad with cilantro and tomato yogurt; a photo of the Eggplant Croquettes in Plenty the way they were supposed to look before I decimated the poor recipe; savory yogurts (squash, carrot, beet, tomato) new from Blue Hill Farm.

*Editorial disclaimer: Samples get sent to me all the time, but that does not mean I always write about them. I only ever write about products that have a real use in my kitchen.

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I Could Eat Like This Every Night

July 29th, 2013 · 7 Comments · Uncategorized, Vegetarian

When you live with someone like Andy, it can be hard to know when he likes something and when he really likes something at the table. This is because his policy is to express how good dinner is if someone else has made it for him — I mean really express it — even if it’s maybe just mediocre. He’ll drop his fork. He’ll “Oh-My-God” a few times. He’ll mmmm through the entire first minute of eating. If it sounds disingenuous to indiscriminately dispense this kind of flattery, he might indulge that accusation for a second before saying that he’d rather err on the side of being overly gracious. As he’s fond of pointing out: “There’s nothing weirder than cooking for someone who doesn’t mention the food they’re eating while they’re eating it.”  I love this about him.

Unless, of course I’m the one cooking for him, in which case it drives me batsh*t crazy.

Though it’s weird to even put this in writing, you might say that cooking dinner has sorta kinda become my livelihood. And in that way, it does me no good to be serenaded with “Wows” when I’ve just cooked something that may or may not be book- or blog-worthy. When I need an honest-to-god, incisive breakdown of whether a recipe works or not, the guy is utterly useless. (The kids on the other hand? You might say they are gifted in the Critiquing Department.)

I have noticed, however, that there is a subtle hierarchy to Andy’s compliments. It’s always a good sign when he asks “What’s in here?” after the first bite. It’s even better when the word “keeper” is thrown around at some point during the meal. But I think the compliment that registers highest on the truth-o-meter for me is what he said last Thursday night, after eating nothing but a tiny portion of leftover macaroni and cheese along with three or four salads made right from the CSA box.

“Wow,” he said. “I could eat like this every night.

There’s a theme to the dinners that earn this compliment. The meals are almost always healthy.  They generally involve fish, really fresh, in-season vegetables, and very little intervention on the part of the cook. The compliment is apparently so rare, that I can recite every single meal I’ve made him in 15 years that has earned the honor:

1. Asian Cabbage Salad with Shrimp or Chicken. The classic.

2. Grilled Black Sea Bass with Market Vegetables Pretty much the formula for Sunday Dinner from April through November, when our farmer’s market is open.

3. Sweet-and-Sour “Mongolian” Tofu We are newly obsessed with tofu. More to come on that front soon.

4. Fried Flounder with pretty much anything on the side. Must be the freshest flounder we can find.

5. Spaghetti with Clams (page 56 of Dinner: A Love Story) He is actually the one that always makes this.

6. Detox Soup With or without shrimp

7. Last Week’s Salad Bar Dinner

We had leftover Mac & Cheese, but you could also just serve salads and vegetables with good warm baguette toasts. Slice one baguette in half lengthwise, ten brush with olive oil (or spread with a little butter) and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil and heat in 350°F oven for 15 minutes. While it warms, make:

  • Any of these Summer Salads (from 2013 round-up), which includes the cilantro-napa cabbage salad you see above
  • or these Summer Salads (from 2012)
  • or these Summer Salads (from 2011), which includes the tomato-corn salad you see above
  • or chopped tomatoes with basil and bocconcini
  • lightly cooked carrots with honey, thyme, and butter
  • or shredded zucchini sauteed in garlic and olive oil, aka Zucchini Butter via Food52 (not that Andy would ever touch that.)

 

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Five Summer Salads

June 25th, 2013 · 16 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

I think once a week since the Atkins craze seized us in the 90s, I’ve told myself that I’m going to try to limit the carbs — and at dinner have two vegetable sides instead of one vegetable and one bready-ricey-potatoey thing. Problem is, I like those bready-ricey-potatoey things a lot. And so do the kids. So I barely make it through one meal before I’ve fallen off the strach wagon. But if ever there was a time of year that I had a shot of making this happen, it’s summer, when our farmer’s market opens for the season and the fridge is overflowing with fresh vegetables. We’ve been rockin’ the summer salads for the past few weeks and thought I’d share a few of my favorites.

1. Market Greens with Beets, Sugar Snaps, Candied Walnuts, and Toasted Quinoa (Above) Wrap beets in foil and cook at 400°F for 40 minutes until a knife slips easily through them. Let cool, then peel and chop. Toss into market greens with chopped sugar snap peas, candied walnuts, scallions, and toasted quinoa. (See bottom of post for instructions.) Toss with your favorite vinaigrette, but nothing too overwhelming. (I’d stay away from one that’s balsamic-based.)

2. Sugar Snaps with Cilantro, Pickled Cabbage. Trim peas and chop into bite size pieces. Add handful of cilantro, finely diced red onion, few tablespoons pickled cabbage (here’s a quick pickle recipe if you want; just replace carrots with red cabbage). Drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Chilled Napa Cabbage with Cilantro and Shallots I know you’re going to think this is overstating things, but I dreamed of this salad all night long after making it last week. I had a head of Napa cabbage and wasn’t in the mood for a mayo-heavy slaw, so I did what any self-respecting farmer’s market-frequenter would do: I referred to Alice Waters’ bible, Vegetables. (You’ll be hearing more from me about this book very soon.) Waters suggested macerating (i.e. soaking) shallots in white wine vinegar for 15 minutes then tossing with shredded cabbage, cilantro, and really good olive oil, salt, and pepper. I’m telling you — it sounds boring, but when the cabbage is fresh, you won’t believe how perfectly the whole thing cuts the char of a grilled steak.

4. Market Greens with Homemade Ranch Dressing The thing is, when the greens are this good, you don’t need to do a lot. A simple homemade ranch dressing does the job just fine. See recipe at the bottom of this post.

5. Mustardy Potato Salad See what I mean! I can’t ever resist the potato-starchy component. We’ve been making some version of this classic for years now — originally a Mark Bittman recipe. Basically, you peel then boil red or Yukon gold potatoes (about as many as you see above) for 15 minutes — until a knife slips through potatoes with no resistance whatsoever. You don’t want to undercook potatoes, but they also need a little structure. While potatoes are cooking, to a large bowl add a heaping tablespoon whole grain mustard, a heaping tablespoon Dijon, then whisk in about 1/3 cup of olive oil and a splash of a mild vinegar (champagne or white wine or red wine). If you have time to fry a few red onion slices or shallots in bacon fat (from one slice bacon) go for it, otherwise just add a handful of them chopped to the dressing. (Crumble cooked bacon in there, too.) Toss in potatoes while still warm and add fresh herbs, like fresh oregano which we had in our CSA box.

I stole both the toasted-quinoa technique and the buttermilk-ranch recipe from my friend Shaina at Stone Barns, who you might have gathered, is a genius.

Toasted Quinoa:

Add a handful of uncooked quinoa to a pan set over medium-high heat and toast until aromatic and nutty smelling, about 3 mintues. Shake pan so the quinoa rotates and doesn’t burn.

Homemade Ranch dressing:

2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon garlic salt
salt & pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped shallot or red onion
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup buttermilk

Add lemon juice, mustard, garlic salt, salt, pepper, onions and herbs to a jar. Cover and shake until ingredients come together. Add olive oil and buttermilk and shake again. Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

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When in Doubt: Dumplings

June 13th, 2013 · 30 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

I have a confession to make. My heart sank a little when I saw escarole in my CSA box for the second week in a row. I know I’m supposed to be so game for the challenge, so excited to explore what kind of gold I can spin from these Vegetables I’d Never Pick Out Myself. But last week, week #1 — and I’m sorry to be all blasphemous about this — I wasn’t so crazy about that escarole. I should’ve probably wilted it into soup with white beans, but it was hot in New York, and I didn’t want soup. I craved fresh, bright, light salads. I chopped up the escarole and dressed it with my new favorite vinaigrette. But it turns out escarole is bitter. Too bitter for me — or any of the nose-wrinklers at my table — to enjoy raw. This, you’d think I’d know by now. I don’t. No amount of pomegranate seeds tossed in with the leaves, no amount of sugar added to the vinaigrette seemed to help the situation. But I ate the whole stinkin’ head. (Kids: Another story.) I was not going to throw it away.

This week, when confronted with escarole for a second week in a row, I knew I had to do something. I knew I had to cook it. And if I wanted my kids to eat it, I knew I’d have to do something drastic that maybe even involved covert operations. With Deb’s pot stickers still fresh in my memory, I decided on dumplings.

Now be warned: Dumplings are not the kind of dinner you’re gonna be glad you have in your back-pocket to whip together at a moment’s notice. Oh no, they most certainly are not. I, in fact, made this batch you see above in the middle of the day, when the kids were still in school, as a reward for finishing up a project that took a lot out of me. (Nothing like pressing ‘pulse’ on the Cuisinart to build oneself back up again.) I had five kitchen stations going simultaneously: the cutting board, a skillet for cooking the vegetables, the food processor, the wrapping area, and a second skillet for frying the dumplings. This meal is not what one might call a No Brainer.

But it is kind of genius. Because that huge mop of escarole that was mocking me from the CSA box? Transformed into a crispy, greens-and-tofu-packed vegetarian entree. And even better, when the kids finally got home they couldn’t help but say as soon as they walked in the door “What smells so good?” (I know, frying wontons is kind of totally cheating) and then gravitated to the kitchen, playdates in tow, where the dumplings were laid out on a platter, and began shoveling them down their collective hatches. “Mom! These are good! What’s in here? Is that cheese?” asked Abby.

“Um, no. I mean, yes it’s cheese. Totally cheese,” I told her, remembering that tofu was on her black list as recently as one month ago.

“And spinach?” asked her friend.

“Yup. Spinach and Cheese.”

And pretty soon, all gone. Every last leaf.

Fried Vegetable Dumplings
Instead of wincing at this long ingredient list think about it this way: Dumplings are what you might call a back-pocket, end-of-the-week meal. As long as you have your basic aromatics (garlic, ginger, onions) and some pantry staples (soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, veg oil) then you can pretty much fold up any about-to-rot vegetable inside the wonton wrappers (which keep in the freezer forever, by the way). Also: I highly recommend making them as a weekend project with the kids.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for frying
Dash of sesame oil
1 small shallot or 4 scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
shake red pepper flakes
1 bunch fresh greens that you don’t want to eat raw, but don’t want to throw away (such as escarole, radish greens, turnip greens, or even fresh spinach), roughly torn
2/3 block extra firm tofu (pressed and drained on paper towels for about 15 minutes, and sliced into rectangles)
handful chives, roughly chopped
handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon seasoned rice wine vinegar
Squeeze of lime
1 12-ounce pack of wonton wrappers

Add the oils to a large frying pan over medium heat and cook the scallions, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, and Chinese Five Spice for about 2 minutes. Add greens and cook another minute until slightly wilted.

Transfer the filling to the bowl of a large food processor. Add remaining ingredients (except wrappers) and pulse until everything is roughly chopped, but not a big pile of mush.

Set up your dumpling-assembling station: A small bowl of water, the filling, and your wontons.

Dip your fingers in the water and dot or “paint” around the edges of a wonton. (This is an excellent task for the kids.)

Spoon a small amount of the filling into the center of each wonton. (Ignore the one on the upper right, it was my first one and it was waaay too much.)

Fold one corner over the opposite corner to make a triangle shape. Pinch all sides together; smush their centers slightly (so they’ll lay flat in the frying pan) and set aside.

Once all the dumplings are assembled, add a tablespoon vegetable oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Fry in batches adding more oil as needed, until dumplings are crispy and golden, about 2 minutes on each side.

Serve the dumplings with soy sauce. To make it an official dinner, round out with a fresh sugar snap peas salad.

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What Do You See?

June 3rd, 2013 · 31 Comments · Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Sometimes I fantasize about grocery shopping with my food heroes. I don’t mean Jamie Oliver and Marcella Hazan — though certainly I wouldn’t turn them down. I mean healthy, wholesome-minded moms like Alana and Jeanne. I have never even met these women, but based on their books and blogs, I feel certain that they’d make me see Trader Joe’s in a totally new and fresh way. (And that I wouldn’t end up with three separate white-bread products in my cart.) If I wore my Alana or Jeanne goggles before I went to the farmer’s market, I feel like I might actually come home with something outside my comfort zone, and as a result feel healthy and virtuous and heroic 24/7…just like them. (Right Alana & Jeanne?)

Well, in a way, I’ve done the next best thing: I’ve signed up for a CSA vegetable share with Stone Barns Center. Which is sort of like saying that I’ve signed up the girls for a soccer camp run by Alex Morgan. Stone Barns is an 80-acre farm in Pocantico Hills, NY that supplies Dan Barber’s restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Their mission, beyond growing ridiculously delicious vegetables, is to educate the public about sustainability, and to get people cooking their own food. The people know what they are doing, and I’ll be blogging for them to help spread the word.

Based on the emails I get from you guys (Summary: Why don’t you join a CSA? Why haven’t you joined a CSA? Have you thought about joining a CSA? What the heck is wrong with you that a food lover like you hasn’t joined a CSA yet?) it sounds like a lot of you know what this means. For those of you who don’t, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and in return for a modest investment in a farm, you receive a box of fresh, in-season produce from that farm for a set amount of weeks. The price varies depending on length of the program and the amount of produce in each delivery, but it can go anywhere from $20 a week and up to $50. (The one I signed up for is about $40, which is a little more than I drop at my farmer’s market every Saturday.) I don’t think I need to go into too much detail on why the whole thing is a win-win: It’s a great way to eat local on autopilot, to support farmers, and be part of something a little bigger than the four walls of my kitchen.

But the best part about it so far? Well, by definition, it means that someone else is picking out what my vegetable adventure for the week would be. Not Alana or Jeanne, but someone who, presumably, wouldn’t come home with mostly kale and beets all spring in spite of saying to herself before every trip to the farmer’s market, Let’s see if we can come home with something other than kale and beets today. Every week will be like I’m shopping with someone new — like I’m wearing someone else’s market goggles.

I guess you could say that I am forcing myself to accept the advice that I’ve been doling out to my kids ever since they could process English: Eat more vegetables. Try something new. How do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it? And I’m hoping you guys are up for the adventure, too. The photo above shows the vegetables that arrived in my first batch on Thursday afternoon and what my initial visions for each one was. But that’s seeing the box through my goggles. What about you? When you put on your market goggles, what do you see?

Clockwise from top left: Seared Tofu with Sauteed Cabbage and Sriracha (recipe below; Sriracha not shown); Grilled Chicken Salad for Everyone; Something I really really like the sound of: Kohlrabi-Carrot Fritters; and shredded Portugese Kale and diced kohlrabi get ready to be turned into slaw. (Recipe follows)

RECIPE 1: Kale Slaw with Pomegranates*
Portugese kale, which was the kind I got in the box, was much more tender than the Lacinato/Tuscan I’m used to. So it needed a little texture to balance out the floppiness. Enter Kohlrabi! Crunchy and fresh, it was the perfect hit of texture.

Dressing:

3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
salt to taste
1 teaspoon fish sauce (available at Asian specialty stores and better supermarkets)
lime juice from half a lime
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (crucial)
1 drop of hot sauce (or 1 tsp minced jalapeno or serrano chile)
1/3 cup neutral oil like grapeseed or vegetable oil

The rest: 

1/2 head of kohlrabi, peeled and diced into small pieces
handful of pomegranate seeds
kale, shredded as shown above (bottom left corner)

Whisk dressing ingredients together and toss with the remaining ingredients.

RECIPE 2: Quick-seared Tofu on Wilted Cabbage with Sriracha
I had this for lunch, so serving size here is one. Obviously, it can be doubled or quadrupled to work for your family. You know, since my recipes are so precise.

Add peanut or vegetable oil to a skillet set over medium-high heat. Dredge one  playing-card size slice of extra firm tofu (about 3/4 inch thick, pressed on paper towels under a heavy pan for about 20 minutes) in a little flour that has been sprinkled with Chinese Five Spice (optional) salt, and pepper. Add tofu to the pan and fry without poking until golden and crispy, about 3 minutes. Flip and repeat. Remove from pan. Turn heat down to medium add 2 tablespoons chopped onion, shake of red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp fresh minced ginger (optional) and diced cabbage (“Minuet Napa Cabbage,” as it was called). Add a small drizzle of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. A squeeze of lime. Taste and see how you like it. (You don’t want to overwhelm these already flavorful greens with strong flavors.) Cook until just barely wilted, about 1 minute. Serve with prepared tofu, a sprinkling of sesame seeds (optional), some snipped garlic chives (or regular chives) and a drizzle of Sriracha.

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