Archive for the ‘cook once, eat all week’ Category

“Foods I didn’t discover until adulthood” are getting to be a theme on this blog, which I’m pretty sure is because there are so darn many of them. As a young child, I only ate three things we could reliably get outside of the house: hamburgers (well-done only, no pink), pepperoni pizza, and spaghetti with red sauce. Add a father with equally, er, selective tastes and you get a childhood with fairly limited cuisine.

potatoes and cauliflower

So that’s how it happened that I didn’t discover Indian food until I went to live in England for a year when I was twenty. (Other discoveries of the same year: sushi, falafel, and portobello mushrooms. Also wine and kir. It was a good time.) And then, for years, I ate amazing Indian food in restaurants, but utterly failed to recreate anything like it at home.

Fortunately for all of us, that era is past. The secret, it turns out, is really great garam masala. I buy it from an Indian grocery, but you can also get it online, and it is the difference between “random bunch of Indian-inspired spices” and “YUM.” This recipe for potatoes and cauliflower (aloo gobi) is a little less saucy than most restaurant preparations, but every bit as tasty.

Indian-style Cauliflower and Potatoes
Adapted from Madhur Jeffrey’s World Vegetarian

Canola oil for the pan
About 1 pound of potatoes
About 1 1/2 pounds of cauliflower
1 onion
About an inch-long piece of fresh ginger
1/4 t. turmeric
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. garam masala
1/2 t. salt plus more to taste
black pepper to taste

First, wash the potatoes. Chop into one-inch chunks. Line a plate with paper towels and set it to the side.

Heat a large skillet with a lid* with a about three tablespoons of oil and the same amount of water over medium heat. When it is hot, add the potatoes and cover. Cook until the potatoes are cooked through, 7-12 minutes.

While this is happening, chop off the stem of the cauliflower, and then chop it into florets, no more than about an inch and a half across. It’s okay to cut large natural florets into smaller pieces with a knife.

Then remove the lid from the potatoes and allow the water to boil off. (You can check to make sure they’re done by poking with a fork or toothpick; it should easily pierce all the way through.)

Fry the potatoes until they are golden brown, stirring only occasionally, 3-5 minutes per side, adding oil as needed to prevent sticking. When the potatoes are done, use a spatula or slotted spoon to remove them to the prepared plate, and line a second plate with paper towels.

Add the cauliflower to the remaining oil (add more if needed!) and cook, stirring only occasionally, until it is soft and caramelized on the edges, 5-8 minutes. While it is cooking, peel and chop the onion.

cooked cauliflower

When the cauliflower is done, use the spatula to turn it out onto the second plate. Check to make sure there are a couple of tablespoons of oil in the bottom of the pan, then add the onion. As it softens, grate the ginger.**

When the onion is soft, add the ginger to the skillet and cook half a minute, until it is fragrant. Add the other spices and stir to coat everything, then add the potatoes and cauliflower back in, along with three tablespoons of water. Stir everything to coat, then turn the heat down, cover, and allow to cook for about five minutes.

This recipe makes about four servings and reheats beautifully. It also doubles well, but the vegetables really get some of their flavor from their contact with the pan during the initial frying (which caramelizes them to that lovely golden brown), so you may need to do that step in batches.

*The lid doesn’t have to belong to the pot, just to cover it or the contents reasonably well.

**I love a microplane grater for this; my favorite is a big flat one like this.


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Alice Waters is pretty my much idol. She was into local food before it was a thing people were into, and now that she’s got that sorted, she’s moving on to saving school lunch.

carrot soup.jpg

So even though this carrot soup recipe looks ridiculously simple, you’re going to want to take her word for it that it’s a good idea.

Alice Waters’ carrot soup
Adapted from Soup’s On! via Serious Eats

2 T. unsalted butter
1 onion
1/2 sprig thyme or about 1/4 t. dried
1 1/4 lbs. carrots (about 6)
1 t. salt
3 c. stock (Alice uses chicken; I used Imagine brand no-chicken)

First, peel the carrots and then slice them thinly. If you’re me, this means using a food processor with a slicing blade or a mandoline, but those with better knife skills should not hesitate to use them. If your carrots are fat, you might want to halve them before slicing.

Then dice the onion.

Put the butter in a pot over medium-low heat. When it melts, add the onion and thyme, and cook slowly until the onion is quite soft, about ten minutes.

onions and thyme

Add the carrots and cook for five more minutes, stirring once in a while.

add carrots

(Dubious stove lighting, you are becoming a bigger and bigger problem for me!)

Add in the stock and turn the heat to high. Bring the whole thing to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender. How long this takes depends on your slicing, but half an hour is a good first time to check.

I ate this straight up; Alice recommends a sprinkle of chives, and there’s a reason she’s Alice Waters.

Serves about four

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The magic line separating me from real cooks, I have long believed, is about improvisation. As I’ve learned to cook, I’ve become more and more comfortable winging it — applying familiar preparations to new combinations of things, taking “season to taste” ever more literally — but I’m not someone with a natural talent for looking at a series of ingredients and thinking “I know, a cake!”

I have a hunch I might not be the only person ever in this situation, so I want to tell any fellow fearful improvisers there about my favorite gateway improv technique: template recipes.

improvised quinoa.jpg

Template recipes are the kind of base recipes that lend themselves well to adaptation. They have a few base ingredients and several places where you could easily swap in something else. Mark Bittman is the king of this method, but here’s my contribution, with all kinds of annotation to help you get started. Tell me about what you make in the comments!

Improvisational Quinoa
Inspired by 101 Cookbooks

1 pint cherry tomatoes
These are, for me, one of the key flavor components of the dish. You could substitute full-sized tomatoes, of course, or sun-dried tomatoes, or maybe even leave them out and use tomato pesto, but you’ll get something pretty different if you just skip them.

2 c. quinoa
When substituting grains, you want to think about two things: size and cooking time. Any other small grain you like could work here: bulgur, buckwheat, barley, couscous, rice. Because you cook the grain as a separate step, you can decide how much you care about cooking time; you could also use leftovers of something you’ve already cooked.

a few splashes of olive oil
When improvising, I recommend sticking with relatively neutral oils for cooking, like olive, canola, or safflower. If you want it, you can add a dash of a more strongly flavored oil later in the cooking process for the taste.

1 onion
Subbing members of the onion family — onions, leeks, purple onions, shallots, scallions — for each other usually works out fine. Scallions, shallots, and leeks are a bit milder in taste, so you’ll want to use more to get the same strength of flavor. Purple onions look silly when cooked, but taste fine.

1 head broccoli
This is really code for “a vegetable with a bit of crunch.” Green beans or asparagus would work well here; you could also use edible-pod peas, shredded carrots, or more than one of the above.

1 bunch chard
You can almost always substitute dark leafy greens for each other: I use kale and chard most often. You can substitute spinach too, which cooks a little more quickly. You’ll want to check on greens by tasting them after they wilt until they reach the desired level of tenderness.

1 lb. extra-firm tofu
You could substitute a mild bean here: edamame, of course, or cannellini.

1/2 c. pesto
The pesto is a key flavor in this dish. If you want to experiment with other options, go for something that’s roughly the same thickness: tahini sauce might work, but marinara probably won’t.

1/3 c. pine nuts
The key factor here is crunch: you could substitute seeds or a nut like chopped almonds without a super-strong flavor.

A note on quantities
In a dish like this, where you mix a bunch of ingredients together, you can almost always flex on quantities. I usually do this mostly to use up the quantities things come in: a whole bunch of chard or bag of spinach, one pack of tofu or cherry tomatoes.

On to the cooking!
First: roast the tomatoes.
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Chop the cherry tomatoes in half. Get out a square baking pan; if it’s not non-stick, you might be wise to line it with aluminum foil, as scrubbing off caramelized tomato sugar is not the most fun activity ever.

ready to roast tomatoes.jpg

Put the tomatoes into the pan, and add a splash of olive oil. Your goal here is to be able to coat the tomatoes lightly in oil, but too much is better than too little. Sprinkle with 2-3 pinches of salt and bake for 45 minutes, stirring once or twice, until they’re shriveled.

roasted tomatoes.jpg

Now, start the quinoa: the first step is to rinse the quinoa in a strainer. This is important because unwashed quinoa tastes like soap, and it’s usually hard to tell if the manufacturer washed it for you.

rinse the quinoa.jpg

Stick the quinoa and four cups of water in a saucepan, and put it on high heat until it boils. Then turn the heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes. It’s done when it is tender to the bite, like rice; you’ll be able to see little curlicues in many of the pieces. It will probably just absorb all the water in this process, but drain it in the strainer if there’s any left in the bottom of the pot. Then fluff up the quinoa with a fork.

cooked quinoa.jpg

While the quinoa and tomatoes are cooking, dice the onion. Put it in a pot over medium low heat with a splash of oil and a big pinch of salt so it starts to caramelize. Stir it once in a while so it cooks evenly.

cubed tofu.jpg

Now chop up the tofu into bite-sized pieces. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat with a splash of oil in it, then throw in the tofu and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s golden on at least a couple of sides of each piece. Turn it out on to a paper-towel-lined plate.

cooked tofu.jpg

(Hey, how’s that quinoa doing? I know you set a timer; I’m just checking.)

Meanwhile, separate the broccoli into bite-sized florets and devein and then finely chop the chard. (Veins won’t get noticeably softer during a short cooking process, so you can take a nibble to see how big a vein you personally find problematic.)

chopped veggies.jpg

(What ever happened to those tomatoes from step 1? Are they done yet?)

When it is, you can turn up the heat under the onion to medium-high. Throw the broccoli in, along with a splash of water; a tablespoon or so should do it. Cover the pan for a bit to let the vegetable steam: I’d give green beans and asparagus a minute, and maybe a minute and a half or two for broccoli. You don’t want it to cook all the way through, just to turn bright green.

Remove the cover and add your chard. Cook for another couple of minutes, stirring frequently, until it is wilted and tender. Throw in the tofu and the cooked quinoa, and cook until heated through.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the pesto — add more if it doesn’t taste pesto-y enough for you! — along with the nuts and tomatoes, plus salt and pepper to taste. You can serve it as is, or with more pesto or parmesan cheese on top.

For me, this makes about eight servings and takes about an hour to get on the table; it also reheats beautifully.

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I love fall vegetables.  A lot.

roasted squash

So when I came across this recipe for a warm salad (warm!) with chickpeas, butternut squash, and tahini dressing, I was pretty much instantly sold. It’s lovely as soon as it’s done, and it’s still lovely zapped in the microwave for lunch a day or two later.

Warm chickpea and butternut squash salad
Adapted from Orangette

For the salad:
1 medium butternut squash (two or three pounds)
2 t. crushed garlic*
½ t. ground allspice
2 T. olive oil
2 cups of chickpeas (or one 15-oz can, drained and rinsed)
1/4 of a red onion

For tahini sauce:
1 t. crushed garlic
3 T. lemon juice
3 T. tahini (be sure to stir before measuring!)
2 T. water
4 T. good olive oil, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Peel the squash, then slice it in half and scoop out the seeds. Chop it into cubes that are about 3/4 of an inch across. It’s a good idea to keep the size as uniform as you can here — otherwise the little chunks dissolve into mush before the big ones are cooked through!

In a big bowl, combine the squash, garlic, allspice, olive oil, and a good pinch or two of salt. Toss with a spoon or your hands until the squash pieces are evenly coated. Turn them out into a rimmed baking sheet or pan, spreading into a single layer. (Mine all fit in a 9×13 baking dish, but it’s fine to use two pans if needed.) Bake for 20ish minutes, stirring once halfway through, until it’s easy to get a toothpick all the way through the squash pieces.

Meanwhile, take the onion and cut it up into really, really tiny pieces, and make the tahini sauce. For the sauce, put the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and water in a bowl, and mix with a whisk or a fork. Then add 2-3 T of olive oil, and taste. If it tastes bitter — sometimes tahini does! — add a bit more oil and another pinch of salt. (This is also really good as a salad dressing, so don’t hesitate to make extra if you have more tahini around.)

To assemble the salad, mix the roasted squash with the chickpeas and onion in a big bowl, and add tahini sauce until it’s all coated lightly. (This won’t be all the sauce

*I use the stuff in a jar from Trader Joe’s all the time — not to be confused with the chopped garlic you can get at the grocery store, which is horrible! — but you can also put fresh garlic through a press.

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