Friday, September 10, 2010

Tomato Tart and a new recipe for order


So I've been struggling with housewifedom.

Go ahead. Laugh.

I'm not used to struggling with tasks. One of my strengths is that I can pick things up quickly and do them well. (There. I said it. I'm not boasting, I'm just laying it out there.) So the fact that I'm very nearly a complete failure as a house-keeper has been a thorn in my side for many years. It's not that I can't handle the individual tasks of house-keeping: I'm perfectly capable of washing dishes, dusting, mopping and keeping things tidy. It's just that I can't seem to bring it all together into a consistent pattern.

One of my worst infractions is the fact that when I cook a meal, the damage to the kitchen is, as I used to say back in my professional life, non-trivial. To say that my effect on a kitchen is non-trivial is like saying the effect of radiation from the sun on the primordial muck of early life was insignificant. I have yet to witness any large-scale evolutionary changes resulting from my cooking chaos, but then again, I have trouble focusing on the chaos as it's happening, as I'll discuss in a minute.

So my love of cooking has always been coupled with very unpleasant after-effects that are now amplified by having to be in constant watch over a toddler. So there are at least 3 options for dealing with this situation: 1. Don't cook as much, 2. Cook very simple things that don't destroy the house, 3. Do some serious brain inventory and figure out why you're such a freaking slob.

Keep in mind that none of those 3 options are mutually exclusive. I can have a perfectly satisfactory life by sticking to options 1 and 2, but they both make me a little sad. It's not that I don't like take-out. I live in a town that has some of the best restaurants around and they're pretty reasonably priced, but even at reasonable prices, each trip to the Indian buffet isn't going to convince our academic loans to pay themselves off.

I have nothing against simple food. I know it's very fashionable right now, and there are scores of 'foodie' bloggers that are dying to tell you about their dinner of a single handful of $12 spinach splashed with $50 vinegar and a slice of a home-schooled pear, but sometimes I just need to COOK. As I've mentioned before in this blog, my cooking isn't always about the food.

So that leaves #3. Oy. I'm not new to self-reflection, trust me. If graduate school taught me anything, it taught me how to question everything I thought I knew and liked about myself because people can't really be such incredible assholes to me if... Sorry. I digress.

I've tried to figure out my penchant for physical clutter for a long time. The thing that is most poignant about the whole situation is that I HATE clutter in my environment. It paralyzes me. Visual clutter is anathema to my brain being able to do anything constructive, yet I create it with such ease and finesse that you'd think I'd pride myself on how I can sprinkle junk mail and grocery receipts throughout a living room within 5 seconds of entering the house. You'd think my ability to up-end a stack of books by simply looking in its direction would somehow launch me to super-stardom of my own, albeit pathetic, reality show. But no. It has, until now, been a mystery.

So I'd been thinking about #3 for quite some time with no revelations, and in a fit of exasperation with myself, I finally asked my patient, brilliant and often charmingly-clueless spouse "HOW IS IT THAT I DESTROY THE F#$%ING KITCHEN EVERY TIME I COOK??" (Note, I didn't say f#$%ing, I said 'fucking' because I was, at that time, looking at a completely destroyed kitchen.)

As is his way, he thought for a moment before speaking (something that I find completely foreign and strangely attractive), and then came up with something that was truly insightful.

"You seem to be overly focused on the actual cooking."

Pause for effect.

Hmmm. I thought about that for a moment and realized that he was on to something. I'm pretty good about prepping things before the cooking begins, but something happens once the burners turn on. My brain focuses on those pans and the counters become a fuzzy wasteland of detritus.

So with this in mind, I've tried to become more 'mindful' of my focus during cooking. I never before realized how I like to be 'in the moment' of a saute. There's no reason that I can't let my onions sweat by themselves for a moment or two to rinse out a dish and set it in the sink. The pasta sauce will be just fine if I take a second to rinse out the tomato can and put it in the recycling. And for the love of all that's savory and well-seasoned, I can put the cutting boards in the dishwasher while the pressure-cooker comes up to pressure.

This may seem ridiculous to those of you who can do all of these things innately, but just go ahead and try to re-route your brain during one of your favorite and most automatic of tasks. Try it!!

It's not easy, is it.

So this is the dawning of a new day around our house. It's going to be a process with several setbacks and some episodes with tear-filled apologies to the dishwasher and the compost bin, but I think real progress can be made. And as is the way with any kind of therapy and self-analysis, the path will be made easier with some concrete goals:

#1. No post-dinner cleanup should take more than 15 minutes.
#2. The number of meal-prep dishes used up during cooking should take up no more than one side of the double sink.
#3. 'It' cannot wait until after dinner, when 'it' needs to be thrown in the trash, put back in the fridge or in the pantry.

Seemingly simple are the tasks that often take our entire will.

So to kick off my new outlook, I made a very simple and only so-so tomato tart. The recipe is adapted and veganized from the Simply Food magazine. I find Martha Stewart to be a reprehensible troll, but some of her staff can come up with nice things.

Tomato Tart

2 cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half and slightly de-gooed.
1/2 package of vegan 'feta' (this was a mistake and kind of nasty. Don't bother)
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
basil, oregano etc.
salt and pepper

Pre-heat your oven to 400F.
1. Roll out the pastry to iron out the creases left by folding and place it on parchment on a baking sheet.
2. Fold over 1/2 an inch of the pastry on all sides, creating a border.
3. Crumble and evenly spread vegan feta on the pastry, if you must
4. Evenly distribute the tomatoes over the tart.
5. Add basil and oregano with flair
6. Season with salt and pepper
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

This was ok. It looked pretty, but like so many attractive people, there was little behind the looks. It was easy and fast and I didn't completely destroy the kitchen.

Mantra for the day: Get out of your mind and into the kitchen.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Box Brownie Bonanza


I'm not usually a box-mix kind of person, but I was at the supermarket the other day...Hold on. Let me explain. I was at a real supermarket: big, florescent lights, a long shelf with 40 kinds of potato chips, the real deal. I hold a strange place in my heart for a real supermarket. I fear that the supermarket is anathema to many of my neighbors (in the larger sense, not necessarily the nice people who live adjacent to me), but I'm not ashamed of it. I will forever hold a sweet and tender place in my heart for my beloved Wegmans. (sigh)

So I was at the supermarket with the Little Redhead and, as I am wont to do, I was pouring over flours in the baking section. Distracted from the various Bob's Red Mill bags, something caught my eye: something baaaaad: Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix.

Oh yes. Take a moment to go back and read that again. I'll wait.

Much to my sick and joyous delight, this box mix is VEGAN, so into the cart it went. It is my birthday this weekend, after all, and even the recovering chocolate addict needs to fall off the wagon every once in awhile.

I try not to bake sweets very often because that leads to eating them and eating them slows the already VERY SLOW loss of those 25lb love handles left by the gestation of the Little Readhead. But honestly: Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix!!

Anyway, I especially don't make brownies very often because vegan brownies can be intensely disappointing. It's almost like they're willfully disappointing. So I entered this brownie-making endeavor fully aware that they might end up a chalky, cocoa, stomach ache or mushy, sugary glop. Therefore, I was not prepared for tonight's outcome: nice, chewy edges, soft, very chocolatey middle.

Yes, gentle readers, they were good.

They weren't 'grandma' good, but still good. I have memories of my Grandmother's brownies that will be burned into my brain until I take my last breath. She made them the old-fashioned way, carefully melting the chocolate in a double boiler and so on and they had the perfect fudgy consistency. I have never been able to re-create them and probably never will so any comparison against their character is, perhaps, unfair, but without goals, what are we, really?

I attribute the success of this batch, not just to the high-quality chocolate in the mix, but to the use of soy-yogurt as an egg replacement. For years, I've suffered through baking with Ener-G egg replacer. It has its place, but I'm not sure that place is in food. It makes things chalky and tapioca-tasting and often ruins the texture of cakes and muffins. I think I've now officially decided that it is yucky. And yes, that is a technical term.

So here is the ultra-complicated recipe:

Vegan Box Brownies

1 Brownie Mix
1/3 c. vegetable oil (I used grape seed oil)
1/3 c. water
1/4 c. soy yogurt

Method
1. Preheat oven to 325 and lightly grease an 8 or 9in. square pan.
2. Mix the wet ingredients.
3. Add the mix and mix until it's all moistened. Don't beat it smooth.
4. Pour it in the pan and smooth the top.
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes. They should seem under-done. Brownies that are 'firm' when coming out of the oven will likely taste over-cooked when they cool and lose any gooey/chewiness.

Oh chocolate stupor, how you vex and delight me. Please, no calls or important emails for awhile.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Box #4: Complaining and Needing Ideas


I have to say that as skilled as I am as a complainer, I don't complain as much as you'd think. I'm not one of those people who's always on the warpath with customer service representatives. I'd like to be, but I have other things to do. This week was an exception. In my lovely produce box, I found a nice bag of sprouted potatoes and 6 heads of bolted bok choi.

Now, I'm not all that sad about the bok choi. I'm pretty sick of it at this point. However, I don't like paying for spoiled produce. The sprouted potatoes really get to me. This is the 2nd batch of softish, eyed potatoes. You can argue over whether to eat sprouted potatoes, but I won't. I certainly wouldn't buy them in a store, so why am I paying to have them delivered to my house?

So, I complained. I got a note back saying that they'd put some extra stuff in my box to make up for it. If it's extra bok choi, I'm going to lose it.

Until then, I will certainly be able to make due with what's left in the box:

1 head of red butter lettuce
1 acorn squash
1 bunch of celery
1 bunch of carrots
2 heads of broccoli
more frigging bok choi
3 avocados
5 apples
1 grapefruit
3 lemons
3 onions
1 bunch ruby chard
1 bunch dino kale
4 leeks
3 pears

I'm feeling a bit sparse. I've been especially sleep-deprived this last week and the culinary creativity has been noticeably absent. Notice that this is Box#4. Box#3, while lovely, was largely eaten plainly or left to feed the compost because of a stomach bug that ran though the house. So I'm not quite back in the game yet. If any of the 2 people who read this have any inspiring ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Potato Masala


This is Recipe #1 from Box #2.

We love potatoes. I mean REALLY love potatoes. We both grew up in potato-loving families, and hope to pass on our potato-loving nature to our little red-head. So I was happy to get some small, red potatoes in this box. I'd call them 'new' potatoes, but they weren't quite so 'new'. A few eyes and a few rubbery ones didn't please me, but the rest of the produce was great, so I'll allow for a misfire once in awhile.

For this supper, I considered just having plain boiled potatoes, but at the last minute, I wanted something a little more interesting, so I made it a little Indianesque.

Potato Masala

8 small waxy potatoes, boiled until tender, NOT falling apart
1 roma tomato, chopped
pinch asafoetida
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried curry leaves
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tbsp oil
salt, to taste

1. Heat oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat and add the mustard
2. Add mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, turn the heat down to medium and add the cumin seeds.
3. Add the asafoetida and curry leaves and fry for a moment or two.
4. Add the tomatoes and mix well. Fry for a moment.
5. Add the turmeric and chili powder and mix well.
6. Add the cooked potatoes and stir to coat with the masala.
7. Cover and cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes are mushy.
8. Salt to taste.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Noodle Salad


This is recipe #6 from Box #1.

1 pkg rice noodles (mei fun)
1/3 bag of baby spinach, shredded
1 small savoy cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, shredded
1 c soaked wakame seaweed
furukake
cashews

Dressing

3 tbsp soy sauce
sesame oil
rice vinegar

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ethiopian Greens- Gomen

If you haven't spent any time in an Ethiopian restaurant gorging yourself into a bloated hog, you're really missing out. Though I've tried my hand at making injera-the traditional bread eaten at every meal, I've given up. I can't get the batter to be the right consistency, and there are good enough places around my greater neighborhood where I can pay for the pleasure of not getting disappointed.

So anyway, this is recipe #5 from the contents of Box #1, using up the bunch of collard greens. It wasn't quite enough to go around, so I added a package of frozen spinach to fill it out. It's usually spicier, with the addition of green chilies, but I wanted it kind of plain (perhaps too plain) to go along with some spicier mesir wat (lentil stew).

Gomen

1 bunch collard greens
1 box frozen spinach, thawed
3 big cloves of garlic, minced
5-6 scallions or a medium onion, minced
2 c water
vegan margarine or oil
salt

Method
1. boil the greens in some water until they're just tender
2. saute the onion in the margarine or oil until limp
3. add the garlic and saute for a few minutes
4. add greens and saute to thoroughly mix the greens and onion/garlic
5. add the 2 cups of water and salt to taste and simmer on medium heat until the water is absorbed.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Protein Shake

Recipe #4
I feel kind of silly writing a post about a breakfast shake, but it is using up the bananas we got in Box #1.

1 Banana
2 tbsp soy protein
2 tbsp hemp protein
2 tbsp flax
enough soy milk to make it drinkable

Blend it all.
Nothing fancy here, except maybe the hemp protein.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Box #2


I should note that the things not used up in the recipes for the last box were generally used as baby food or just eaten as is. I originally thought I'd keep meticulous track of how everything was used up, but I just don't have the time or brain power for that right now. It should suffice to say that the Box is helping me meal-plan and seems to be a good price for what we get, especially considering that it's delivered to my door and it's all good quality stuff.

For Box #2, I ordered a different selection. This one comes as a mix of fruit and vegetables. I like the high volume of veggies, but I didn't really want to go out and buy fruit on top of it, so I thought we'd mix it up. And, honestly, who among us doesn't need to work on getting those 3-4 servings of fruit. And no, unfortunately, even free-trade, home-schooled chocolate doesn't count as a fruit, though it is derived from the seeds of the fruit of the cocoa tree... No! Never mind.

Box #2

5 kiwis (Put on the BOTTOM of the box! C'mon, guys. Really?)
5 apples
1 cucumber
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 mangoes
4 lemons
2 pears
1 bunch dino kale
1 bunch collards
3 leeks
1 head green-leaf lettuce
1 bunch of carrots
2 heads of broccoli
more frigging bok choi
2 yellow onions
2 red onions
1 small butternut squash
1 bunch of radishes

Fattoush


I know I've written about fattoush, but it really is the cure for the 'I know I should eat a salad, but I really want to eat potato chips for dinner' problem.

1 sheet of lavash or very thin pita
green-leaf lettuce
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 large cucumber cut into slices then quartered
4 large radishes, sliced
2 small carrots, shredded

Quick Onion-Pepper Pizza


This is recipe #2 from Box#2.
Tired, cranky and hungry. That is the behavioral triumvirate that generally leads to bad dinner choices. What I really wanted was crappy Chinese take-out, but instead, realized that making my own pizza would take less time and it was already paid for. It's sad how time and money fuel so many of our decision, eh? Well, that aside, I was smart enough to have picked up some circular Persian bread from the bakery down the street. I'm not sure if it's meant to be used as a pizza base, but their typical bread is a very long rounded-edge rectangle and this round one was the perfect size for pizza, so maybe they're branching out.

1 onion, sliced very thin
1 small bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
2 baseball-sized cauliflower florets,
tomato paste, or pizza sauce
4-5 mushrooms, sliced very thin
1 pizza base/crust, pre-cooked

1. Preheat your oven to 425F
2. Carmelize the onion in a few tablespoons of oil on medium heat. This may take awhile. I aimed for a medium-brown. They could've gone longer, but I was getting impatient.
3. I shredded the cauliflower with a vegetable peeler. This served to make it about the consistency of couscous.
4. I mixed a few table spoons of tomato paste with a few table spoons of water, salt, oregano and basil, to taste. Don't you hate recipes like this? How could I expect anyone to re-create anything with such vague instruction?
5. Spread the sauce over the base, add toppings at will. I put the onions down after the sauce and then the peppers. The cauliflower was sprinkled on top.
6. Bake until the peppers are a little done.

Vague? Yes. Fast? Perhaps. Tasty? Indeed.

Sesame Noodles and Tofu


I'm hoping this is the last of the bok choi for a little while. I like it, sure, but I'm ready to see something else in the box.
I found the basis for this recipe from Robin Robertson, author of vegan such great vegan cookbooks as "Vegan Planet" and "Vegan Slow Cooker".

180 g dry udon noodles or fettuccini (enough for 2 people)
7-8 cups shredded bok choi
2 small carrots, sliced on the diagonal
1 small yellow bell pepper, sliced into matchsticks
4 green onions, minced white and green parts
3 tbsp tahini
3 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp roasted sesame oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp minced ginger
1/2 brick of tofu, cut into thin strips
2 tbsp oil

Method:
1. Cook the udon until al dente. You can cook it just as you would Italian pasta, or use the Japanese method: bring water to a boil, add the noodles and once the water re-boils, add a cup of cold water. Once the water re-boils again, add another cup of cold water. Once the water re-boils, the noodles should be done.
2. When the noodles are done, drain well, toss with 1 tbsp of the sesame oil and set aside.
3. Fry the tofu strips in 1 tbsp of the oil until done to your liking and set aside.
4. In the meanwhile, mix the tahini, soy sauce, and lemon juice until thick and well combined.
5. Heat the remaining oil and stir-fry the vegetables in the following order: garlic, ginger, scallions, carrots, peppers, bok choi.
6. When the vegetables are done to your taste, add the noodles and heat through.
7. Take the pan off the heat and add the sauce, making sure to coat all the noodles.
8. Add the tofu and drizzle with the remaining sesame oil.

Kohlrabi-fry


Recipe#3 from Farm Box #1
I've never had kohlrabi before and was excited to be presented with a big purple one in the Box. I was origionally going to use it to make a kootu, but I didn't have time to get things ground etc. So, I decided on ANOTHER STIR-FRY. Yes, I know, but this one was much tastier.

1 large kohlrabi, peeled, diced into 1/2 x 1/2 x 1 in rectangles
1 medium carrot, diced as above
1/2 brick of tofu, diced as above
5 scallions, sliced diagonally
grape-seed oil
handful of cilantro
sauce
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp chili powder
2 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
1/4 c soy sauce
few pinches of cornstarch
1/2 c crushed roasted cashews
sesame oil

Method
1. Fry tofu in the oil until desired doneness.
2. Add scallions and kohlrabi and cover. Cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add sauce and cook another 5-10 minutes until kohlrabi begins to get tender. Add additional water if sauce gets sparse.
4. Add carrot and stir-fry a few minutes.
5. Add cilantro and cashews and drizzle with a small amount of sesame oil after turning off the heat.

This was a more interesting stir-fry than the last one. The kohlrabi was an interesting combination of broccoli-ness and root-vegetable. All in all, it worked and the red-haired vegan even liked it a 2nd time for lunch.

Ok. I promise, something different next time. Not that I don't like the stir-fry, but it's just not that interesting to write about...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bok Choi Stir-fry


Recipe #2 from our Farm Box #1, for those of you keeping score at home.

I'm not exactly sure why, but for several years, we've kind of forgotten about the stir-fry as a menu staple. It's fast and usually good and can use up the weird stuff in the back of the fridge. No, I'm not talking about the 'weird' as in 'science project' stuff, but like the odds and ends of carrots, cabbage, scallions etc.

This was a very no-nonsense, and somewhat dull stir-fry. Edible, healthy? Yes. Mind-blowingly amazing? Not really.

Bok Choi Stir-Fry

4 small bok choi, shredded
2 celery stalks, sliced diagonally
2 small carrots, sliced diagonally
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger paste
4-5 scallions, sliced
1/3 c. soy sauce
splash of red wine
1/2 brick of firm tofu
grape-seed oil

Methods
1. Mix the soy sauce, wine, ginger and half the garlic for a sauce
2. Fry the tofu in the oil until done to your taste
3. Add the scallions and garlic and stir fry for a few moments
4. Add the vegetables and stir fry until beginning to cook.
5. Add the sauce and stir-fry for a few minutes until the vegetables are done to your taste.

We had this with rice. The red-haired vegan made the rice in the rice cooker. I know, real original.

So simple, fast and fairly tasty.

Fore score-keeping purposes, I roasted he squash and boiled the last 2 potatoes for baby food.