Friday, September 30, 2011

Spinach and Pepperoni Calzones

My husband, who enjoys pizzas and pastas of all kinds, and believes that cheese is a food group, does not like calzones.  Calzones.  Pizza dough filled with ricotta.  And other stuff.  He does not like this.  So, I think I've had a calzone three times in the last more-than-a-decade.  Because you don't order a calzone on your own, and it's sad to watch someone force his way through a piece of calzone... it's not like it's lima beans, or beets.

So when I was planning out meals for the week, I was like, "Oh, and I'm gonna make calzones," and he was like, "Ok.  I guess."  

Seriously, cheese in dough gets an, "Ok, I guess." 

He thinks they're unwieldy.  Too much cheese in one spot, too much crust in the others.   Seriously. 

But we can make them at home, just as cheesy and delicious but more, um, wieldy, right?

I started with regular whole wheat pizza dough.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thoughts on Strata and Doing it Right


I wasn't planning to tell you about Sunday dinner this week.  We just had some friends over for a casual meal, and the plan was to cook pretty simple foods and just have a nice time.  The half-vegan was originally planning on coming, and so the menu was set to include some foods she could eat.  We made up the buffalo seitan, and a kale salad, and I made some of David Lebovitz's blue cheese dressing,** and wanted to make another entree.  And I had all those farmshare eggs.  And I wanted to prep in advance as much as possible. 

Oh yeah, strata.   Sure, it's not for the half-vegan, but she didn't come anyway so we were able to use cheese.  So, like I said, I wanted to prep in advance.  Classic strata is made the night before, but last time I made strata I made it  a few hours in advance and it came out fine.  Classic strata is made with a ton of eggs, but last time I used just three eggs and two whites and it came out fine.  

So, I wasn't going to tell you about Sunday dinner this week, which totally confused MSNDG.  Midway through prep, she asked where the camera was.   She knows what cooking in my house usually looks like.  But I was all, "Oh, I've written about all this before, nothing special here."  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

CSA 2011 - The Goods - Week 17

Week 17, the last of the tomatoes?

This week I got eggs again, but it's not a problem and I'll post why soon.

And butternut squash.

And baby bok choy.

And misc peppers.  These were marked "Hot peppers - medium."  I know the little red cherry peppers aren't hot, or weren't last time I got them.   I don't know what kind the green ones are. Anaheims?  Banana peppers?  What do you think and what should I do with them?

And then what feels like the end of summer.  Lettuce.

And tomatoes.  This is two orders of tomatoes.  I need to make mid-week sauce for a thing, so this was a special order.

So with the lettuce and tomatoes spoken for (salad and sauce), I'd love some guidance on the rest.   It feels too early to roast up a butternut squash (yeah ok, I roasted up two acorn squash last week) and I can make the bok choy simply or do something fun with it, and oh yeah, those peppers, what are they?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Local Pasta from the Big Chain Store

Ok, so I didn't really cook.   Our Whole Foods recently started selling fresh local pasta*.  A couple of weeks back we tried some ravioli, which was awesome but expensive.  I compare everything to the price of meat,** and this was like if we had shared a free range, boneless, skinless chicken breast.  But again, awesome.  So then we went back to try the cheaper unfilled pasta. 

It comes in sheets and they cut it there, so I was like, "Can I get two people's worth of something like a fettucini?" And the teenager working the booth was like, "I don't know it by name, I know it by size."  Uh... so fettucini sized?  I pointed to one of the example pastas and he cut the spinach sheet into these ribbons.

I don't get exposed to much fresh pasta.  I threaten to learn to make pasta, but don't follow through.   It was incredible.  Really tender without being soft, and it cooked quickly.  This spinach pasta tasted way more spinachy than dried, too.  

It cost us just under a buck a serving (we asked for two people's worth - because I have no idea - and got three meals out of it).  So for the cost of a box of decent dried pasta, we got three meals of incredible pasta. So, in terms of spaghetti, way more expensive, but in terms of dinner, cheap as hell.  

I dressed it up a bit with leftover basil cream sauce and some parmesan.  With a salad, it made a great meal.

*I'm not so much saying, "Run out to Whole Foods and buy this," as much as I'm saying, "get your hands on some fresh pasta."

**ok, not everything, just foods.  Can you imagine?  "I want to buy this shirt - let's see, it's the cost of 4 pounds of ground chuck..."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hot Tip: Roasted Vegetable Stock

You know that I'm a freezer-hoarder.  I have a lot of things in there. Including the ends and peels of every veg that passes through this house, for stock.  And I make a lot of vegetable stock.

MSNDG started saving her veg bits for stock, and then, once she had a gallon bag full, she realized she doesn't really use that much veg stock.  So what was all this freezer space taken up for?

First, it's better to keep your freezer full.  A full freezer is a more efficient freezer.

But also, you can use veg stock almost anywhere you'd use water.  And certainly anywhere you'd use chicken stock.  You can use it in place of wine in lots of dishes.   Veg stock makes your pasta, couscous, quinoa, millet, barley, whatever, a bit tastier.  Veg stock can thin a sauce without watering it down.  It's step one of soup. 

And vegetable stock is free.  Those are veg you were going to compost or toss anyhow.

So the interwebs were telling me that it's better to roast your veg first, and I was thinking, that's an extra step I'm just not gonna mess with, until I reached full capacity in the freezer.

I don't know what happened.  I have a good bit of sauce frozen, and two loaves of sandwich bread, and a loaf of banana bread, and some calzones (recipe to come), and maybe a lot of other things, as well as a gallon bag stuffed with veg ends, and all of a sudden I just didn't have room left in the freezer.  But I didn't have the kind of time it takes to make stock.

Time spent making stock isn't busy time, but you have to be home, because, you know, the stove is on. And it takes a while to cool before you can stash it back in the freezer.

So just to make room in my freezer, I roasted up the contents of my stock bag, figuring it would soften and shrink the veg ends, making it easier to store the bag of frozen veg until stock day.

So here are some up close and personal shots of my veg ends.  All of this, on a baking sheet at 400 until everything softened and browned around the edges.  30 minutes or so?

Then back into the bag (once cooled) in the freezer until stock day.   They took up half the space they used before, so I felt I had accomplished something. 

When stock day came, I opened up my bag of browned and nutty roasted veg and tossed it in an equal amount of water with some peppercorns and let it go, simmering, tasting every so often.  When it stops tasting like dirty water, start paying attention.  Mash the veg with your spoon a bit.  Give it maybe another hour.  

Strain, and if you're feeling it, run through cheesecloth too.  I freeze it in jars and in ice cubes. An ice cube is about an ounce, so they're easy for measuring and adding a bit here and there. 

So, should we roast all our stock veg?  I think so.  It has a lot more flavor than my typical stock, richer, nuttier, heartier, etc.  If it's convenient to do so, why not?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dining Out: Mi Lah Vegetarian

Have you been to Mi Lah Vegetarian?  It had been a while since I had been there, and now it's all vegan.  This was perfect, because my vegetarian and dairy-free friend - who I call vegan, because it's easier - was in town and we were looking for some dinner.

We started with the appetizer sampler above- described as: Yucca Root Tart Stuffed with Seitan; Crispy Tofu over Edamame; Endive Salad; and White Mushroom Stuffed with Picked Radish.  The yucca tart was great, but we weren't immediately wowed by the crispy tofu or the stuffed mushroom, and the endive salad had a flavor we couldn't describe as anything other than fishy.  So it was kind of awesome that we started there, because the entrees were such an amazing surprise.

We also got an unphotographed appetizer: Seared African Sweet Potato Patties with Cabbage and Crushed Peanuts Salad.  It was good: creamy and crispy with rich, earthy flavors.

But then the entrees came.

Let's start with the star.  I won dinner.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Acorn Squash and Greens Soup

Sometimes, delicious food is not pretty.  See above.   If you'd like to look at beautiful pictures of orange squash soup, may I direct your attention here, or here, or here.  Google images works wonders.  

But imagine if you could have the rich, creamy, sweet taste of squash soup, with a bit of earthiness and spice.  And if you could dial up the healthy on an already great-for-you dish?  Yeah.  Greens.  

I admit it, greens do nothing for the look of this soup.  But we're not food stylists here, we're home cooks, and we're making food we enjoy and feel good about.  

I made soup, because today, Michelle said to me, "What kind of soup would you make if you were vegetarian?"  And I thought, Damnit, Michelle, I make plenty of vegetarian soups even though I'm not actually one of your kind.   But instead I said, "I'd make tortilla soup without chicken, or I'd make minestrone, or black bean."  And then I told her about this grilled-cheese-oriented tomato soup I saw on Smitten Kitchen.  And we started talking about grilled cheese, and got distracted from the soup idea.  

I got home, knowing I had to face the acorn squash.  It was time.  I had thought I was going to make ravioli out of it, shortcut ravioli with wonton wrappers, but the wonton wrappers' time had passed.  I threw the squash in the oven to roast, knowing I'd have to do that no matter what I was making, and then it hit me.  Soup.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CSA 2011 - The Goods - Week 16

I sort of can't believe we're in week 16 already.  

Apples.  Lots of really pretty apples.  It's a bitch that I don't like pie, so we'd better be on top of our apple a day.

Curly kale. 

Dinosaur kale.  I think salad season is over, so kale salad is here full time.  I don't mind. 

Eggs.  We were missing them last week, but now, knowing there's a half dozen in my fridge and another dozen coming next week, I'm getting panicky.  Maybe there's a quiche in our future. 

Parsley.  Big and fluffy parsley.  

Pears.  Not as pretty as last time (those were gorgeous) but I'm really looking forward to these. 

Taters.  Not much to say about them, except my potatoes from this summer kept going to waste.  I made hash browns a few times, but basically imagined I'd make potato salad and never did.  

So if you have tips on using this fruit (not doused in cinnamon sugar) or these potatoes and parsley, or really, eggs, please let me know. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apple-Pear Sauce

Yay, Autumn!

I don't know about you, but while I'll miss zucchini and tomatoes, I'm alright with summer's passing.  Not being outdoorsy, or in school, or wealthy, I just don't get it when people ask me, "How was your summer?"  No one checks in in March and asks how winter went.  We don't summer in the Hamptons, and I haven't had a summer "off" since before 12th grade.  Summer's just a lot of sweating, and mosquito bites, and air conditioning, and trying to find a way to work around the heat (salted radishes for dinner).  

But then there's autumn!  Autumn with it's crispness and calmness and leaves changing color and chasing each other down the street in the wind.  Autumn.  Skirts with sweaters! And autumn is apples and squash and cabbages and greens.  

We got our first load of autumnal fruit in the CSA two weeks ago.   And somehow, didn't jump into high gear eating apples and pears every day.   Time to make sauce. 

Apple-pear sauce is exactly the same thing as applesauce, only pear-ier.  It's a little bit less crisp and somewhat more earthy.   If you can call pears earthy.  I mean, they're not root vegetables. 

Rarely do I post a recipe where there are required tools.  Typically it's like, "mix this using whatcha got," but a wire mesh strainer is key here.  Or a food mill, but I don't have that.

Gather your fruit. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Challah French Toast

Last week we went to Trader Joe's and we were debating buying some bread.  I haven't made bread for a while* - first it was hot out, and then I just didn't do it.  I thought I was done with storebought bread, but it's frustrating not having bread, so we went and looked at the breads and all of a sudden I was like, "OMG, Challah!"  

I've never owned challah** and never made it.  The last time I had it was at a naming ceremony for my friend's second kid, and he's on his third now.  Challah has historically been something I've encountered at celebrations, at other people's houses.   We grew up in a place of challah and good bagels.  We don't have good bagels here.  

So I don't know why, in that moment, it seemed to make sense to buy this rich, eggy bread that's closer to the texture of a croissant than the whole wheat bread I make, but it sounded awesome.  And it was. 

But that's a big loaf, and we really don't eat that much bread.  So it served all of our carb needs for the week.   Having Indian food?  Don't make naan, bust out the challah.  PBJ?  Challah.  Breakfast at work?  Pack a thick slice of challah.  BLT?  Feels sacrilegious on challah, but sure is delicious.  Need a snack?  Holla Challah. 

And still, after a week there was a good amount left, and this bread wasn't going to go to waste.  But we all know what challah is best at, right?  French toast.   It's legendary.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hot Tip: Freezing Tomatoes

Remember when I had all those tomatoes?   My cousin Michael, and I should be clear, because I have three of those, so my first cousin's husband, Michael, reminded me that I could freeze them to peel, rather than blanching them.  Just toss them in the freezer, whole, and when they defrost the skins come off.  I've done this with a handful of tomatoes, but never with a serious tomato bounty. At the time, I didn't have room in my freezer(s) for 27 pounds of tomatoes. 

You can freeze tomatoes whole, though, when you have the space.  You can't use them on a BLT afterwards (well, you can but you shouldn't) but for cooking, it's fantastic.  So recently, I got a smaller load of plum tomatoes in my CSA and I just washed them and popped them in a gallon zipper bag in the freezer.  

Then when I started feeling guilty about how I don't do much to take care of the 100 year old man* who lives on my street and looks after the block, I

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Same Dinner Different Day: Bok Choy and Tofu Stir Fry

So the other day we had those bok choy and tofu wontons, and I made too much filling.   Today it's same dinner, different day. 

See, it's a thing.  It even has it's own logo.   

I've mentioned before that I'm pretty much not going to heat up yesterday's dinner for tonight's.  I'm going to make something else.  I'm not anti-leftover; I cook more than we can eat most meals so that we have lunches and freezer food.  But freezer food is for later.  Later, I can eat the enchiladasagna in the freezer.   Not the same week that I make it.  

But while I don't want to have leftovers for dinner, I'm perfectly happy to have same dinner different day.  That's different.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CSA 2011 - The Goods - Week 15


Week 15.   Very green.  There are only five photos but I did get six things.  

Curly on top, lacinato on the bottom. 
Two kinds of kale.  I typically buy curly kale, but teh interwebs say that dinosaur or lacinato kale is best for kale salad.  I tried it once and didn't pick up on the difference, but we eat so much kale salad around here, it's good to check.  So this week we'll do a side by side comparison.   I've never tried the lacinato kale in kale chips, but I'll do that another time. 

Beans!  I've eaten more green beans this summer than in any previous.  I don't think I understood how flexible they were before.  I always thought they were a side dish that required dressing, or you could stir fry them.   Last week, I used them in pasta salad and they totally fit in. 

Onions.  I need to stop ordering onions.  I don't use them at the pace I thought I did.  Any ideas for using up onions?  Caramelized on top of what?

Peppers.  Like the onions, I need to stop with this.  Fajitas, stir fries, stuffed, but still, I keep choosing peppers and need something creative to do with them.  Any ideas?

Acorn squash.  Whoa, winter squash?  Already?  At the same time as summer peppers and green beans?  I don't do sweet squash, so this will go with ricotta in something.  Maybe wonton ravioli, because I have stray wonton wrappers. 

This was supposed to be an egg week, but no eggs.  I had expected to be overloaded with eggs, but had planned on a strata, because I got all weird in Trader Joe's and bought challah.  It's delicious, but I'm not going to eat it in time.  Any ideas for using up challah?  French toast, sure, what else?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bok Choy and Tofu Dumplings

I just signed up for Winter Harvest, because I want the stress of CSA veg year-round.  It's a buying club, it's not like I'll end up with veg I didn't choose.  I like that it starts right when this farmshare ends, and goes through most of the boring frozen vegetable season.  Last year, because I had so much extra farmshare veg, I had a freezer full of fresh-frozen veg to get me through winter, and it lasted until about March.  This year, not so much.  So I'll have Winter Harvest, and then I'll probably end up farm-marketing for a few weeks until my next CSA starts.   Looking forward to not having much of a gap.  I'd like to go to the grocery store just once every month or two for olive oil and quinoa and junk food

On my list of things to do with farmshare veg at the end of the week:


Dumplings, wontons, pot stickers, whatever, this isn't an authentic version of any one of them, it's just that I had too much baby bok choy and it was losing it's crispness, and then these carrots weren't all that firm, and it was time to stuff it inside of something.

I had frozen some tofu a while back, because that helps the texture get more "meaty."  If you've been served tofu in a restaurant and asked yourself why your at-home tofu doesn't have the same firmness and substance, it's likely that the restaurant froze it.   Tofu masquerading as chicken tends to be frozen.  So, a while back (months), I threw half a block in the freezer.

When I unwrapped it, it looked like this:

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Carried a Watermelon

I think I can safely promise that'll be my only Dirty Dancing reference on Saturday's Mouse.  Still, whenever I have a watermelon in my hands, or arms, (not that often) I think of that.   It's a damn near perfect expression of that awkwardness of being somewhere you might not belong.  Or at least you don't feel like you belong.  Which is totally unrelated to what I'm writing about, but I like to give the cheesy 80's movies credit where I can.  

I went to Headhouse this weekend, as I do most weekends, to supplement my CSA with additional goodies.  I got the cheese and butter that I love from Hillacres Pride, and some funky mini eggplants and some poblanos and raw milk with which to make ricotta.  That's a leap for me.  Raw milk.  

When I go to the farm market, I have to make sure I have cash, which is not standard for me.  I'm not into cash, I'm into cards, and reward points.  So I get cash and then, when I'm shopping, I need to think about how much cash I have in my pocket.   Can I get two 1/2 pound butter chunks?  Ok, but then I can't get spices.  I could carry more cash, but then I'd spend more cash. 

When I'm at the grocery store, that doesn't come up.  I get to checkout, and - especially if Sous Chef Brian is with me - it's a guessing game.  I have no idea how much stuff I shoved into my cart, or whether buying meat this week* has put us over our generally accepted threshold for weekly food expenditures.  I feel like I'm playing the slots. 

I'm aware of how irresponsible that is, and how privileged I am because I can shop like that.  Fair trade coffee, and the best of cheeses and locally prepared pasta and the occasional fig jam.   I would never shop for clothes the same way, or housewares, or whatever the hell else it is that I buy. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Black Bean Layer Dip

Everybody and their aunt/neighbor/colleague has some sort of a seven layer dip.  Really, how many different ways can you do salsa and canned refried beans?

"My secret is that I put the olives between the beans and the cheese."

"My secret is that I put the cheese between the olives and the beans."

I mean, really. 

And canned refried beans bug me.    I enjoy really good refried beans, the kind we get at the local taqueria, where you imagine someone's Abuela has been using the same recipe for decades, but in a can, that's a bit too cat-foody. 

Maybe it's the lard.  The idea that my canned veg are supplemented with lard doesn't work for me.   So I make layer dip with black beans.  I prefer them anyway, to pintos.  

This is sweeter, fresher, brighter, than what comes to mind when I think of seven layer dip. 

We're in one of those situations with terrible photographs of delicious foods.   We made this during the hurricane and everything felt rushed.  Food did not pose.  See the above, that's the "best" shot of it.  Yeah. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Basil Parmesan Salad Dressing


Yes, the title is salad dressing and the photo is salad. Or pasta.  Pasta salad, really.  Because you never want to look directly at salad dressing.  It's like an eclipse.  Or just ugly food.  But it's delicious.  

It's like basil pesto, in dressing form.  You want that. Your salads want that. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

CSA - The Goods - Week 14

Week 14, the return of good fruit.  


Pears.  Yay.

I love pears.  Particularly in salad. 

Baby Bok Choy. 



Photographed from this angle to capture the under-appreciated stems. 

Ok, by this point, the tablecloth was quite wet. 

Lots of tomatoes. 

Another sauce week. 

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