Saturday, October 28, 2006

Standard fall fare

Tonight we had pan-fried glazed tofu sauteed with spinach, and spicy roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes, which I made using this recipe, which I've used before and love. Dessert was sliced apples - Fujis, which, the fellow at the apple stand said, came off the tree this morning. I was a bit hesitant to post this photo, as it looks a bit too homogenous - and the shape of the tofu triangles give it a very stereotypical "boring vegetarian food" look. But it was actually quite tasty, and the root vegetables are a lovely color.

Nothing to see here...

It was pretty much same old, same old this week...and winter vegetables just aren't as lovely or varied as summer's crops. So I'll have to start taking photos of our meals instead, though it's tough to wait to eat them! Today I was on a budget, but still managed to get (almost) everything on my list.

This week's pickings:
1 butternut squash
1 bag spinach
1 bunch red chard
1 bunch carrots
3 sweet potatoes
2 zucchini
1 head Rocambole garlic
6 apples (Macoun, Empire, and Fuji)
total spent: $19

Last week, we had an assortment of what I have mentioned before has become the fall/winter standard meal: sauteed greens with tofu or grain sausage and roasted root vegetables. Though I am still making pots of black beans for burritos or with rice, which we also pair with spinach or chard...I'm thinking of making some chili next week, though. It should ease my transition into full-on winter's requisite soups and stews.

However, the celeriac risotto, which I made, as promised, from this Epicurious recipe, was fantastic. It was extremely rich and creamy, though I only used 1 tbsp. of butter, substituting olive oil for the other 2 tbsp. called for in the recipe. When I make it again, I'll use all olive oil. (One caveat: the celeriac doesn't get tender in 10 minutes, as the recipe claims - it takes 20-25, so the recipe is a bit more time-consuming than stated). I've got a leek and a celeriac leftover from last week, so I may just make it again. It's definitely not a low-fat recipe (lots of Parmesan), but it's extremely comforting on dark and rainy days like we've been having recently.

As I mentioned, I had a list today, and wasn't adventurous - but next week, I'm going to try spaghetti squash. Recipes are totally divided as to the best way to prepare it (in order to avoid mushiness), but I found one on Recipezaar that has lots of positive feedback, and seems rational. But for now, I'll stick with butternut - it's easy to roast, and tastes a lot like sweet potatoes.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Celeriac and friends

Nothing really photo-worthy today, other than this gorgeous monstrosity... I am still sick, and I was feeling a bit grumpy, so I made a list (!) and stuck to it.

Today's (small) greenmarket haul:
2 big celeriac (about 3 lbs.)
5 sweet potatoes
1 butternut squash
1 bag spinach
1 bunch green chard
1 bunch red chard
1 extremely expensive organic leek
4 Empire apples
total spent: $25

Plans include: celeriac risotto, finally, which will use the celeriac and leeks; spicy oven-roasted sweet potatoes from a Recipezaar recipe; oven-roasted butternut squash; and I'll have greens and white beans, tofu, or grain sausage alongside. It's going to be a good week, I think.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Frozen spinach: meh

Shocking news: frozen spinach sucks compared to fresh spinach.

Okay, I'm not surprised. But I had the Trader Joe's "organic flash-frozen" kind left over from the e.coli scare, and wanted a green with was okay, but it was just so...blah. I sauteed it like usual, and it didn't take long - and when it cooked up, it certainly looked like regular cooked spinach - but the texture was a bit spongy, and the taste just bland. Meh.

Acorn squash: meh

I think acorn squash, the very mention of which sends my dear mother into raptures, is one of those things that needs piles of seasoning and butter in order to taste good. We had it baked last night, and it was fine, but just not...powerful. Then again, there's also the chance that nothing is quite tasting as much as it ought to me right now, since I'm sick.

Luckily, I realized that today before overseasoning my black beans into oblivion. Though I don't think I had quite enough peppers for this batch - four jalapenos, two roasted Anaheims and two roasted poblanos. I needed something with more punch.

But I do like baked things in fall, and as my veggie options are rapidly becoming limited, I will undoubtedly try acorn squash again. Butternut has been getting nothing but raves, so tomorrow I'll pick up another, and try the latest squash variety I've got my eye on: spaghetti. I'm also planning on getting more celeriac (a surprise hit!) to make the risotto recipe I found on epicurious, though it includes a weird-sounding "pesto" made of the celeriac tops...which I will eschew this time, not least because I have no food processor.

And sweet potatoes. I have about 20 delicious-sounding sweet potato recipes. I see my fall/winter meals shaping up to be basically all the same: starchy squash/root vegetable dish of some sort, dark green leafy, and a protein - tofu, other meat sub, or beans. Perhaps I'll be able to branch out into soups soon enough...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Too many guests, not enough time

We had multiple houseguests this weekend, which meant no room for photos on Saturday morning...and no time to describe the goods. However, here's a recap.

Monday evening, we had roasted winter vegetables, from guidelines I found on Recipezaar: butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and celeriac, all cut into 1"-ish cubes, drizzled with olive oil and tossed w/ salt and pepper. Accompanying were sauteed chard and pan-fried tofu. The vegetables turned out wonderful - and the celeriac was loved all around, so I'll have to get more next time. It was quite satisfying to peel off the hairy rooty outer layer and make a smoothly faceted orb.

Last night we had oven-roasted green beans with crispy, browned garlic slices and parmesan alongside our ravioli with tomato sauce; I'm so glad it's roasting season, so I can make my favorite green beans again! I roasted nearly two pounds, thinking we would have leftovers...but instead, we ate them all. For dessert, baked apples - I used the Mutsus, cored them, cut away a 1/2" strip around the middle to avoid splitting, rubbed the insides with cinnamon, stood them up in aluminum-foil cups in a baking dish, and filled the centers with brown sugar and a little butter.

Otherwise, we've had greenmarket baby lettuce salads for lunch, and greenmarket spinach everywhere possible...tomorrow night, I'll be trying out the Brussels sprouts recipe my friend Kris gave me, along with acorn squash, last week's tricolor fingerling potatoes, and some grain sausage.

More guests this weekend, but I'll try to do photos nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

World's greatest leftovers

Butternut squash risotto is terrific leftover, which is lucky because my recipe ended up making about 8 servings. I had some for lunch today, topped with cooked spinach, and it was perfect. This week has been hectic, but tonight I'm going to prep some lunch veggies and make plans for Thursday dinner...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Risotto & dinner success; deals; grapes

Last night's dinner was a smashing success. Our apartment was too dark for effective picture taking, but the butternut squash risotto alongside garlicky spinach with grain sausage plated quite prettily. The risotto was very good, but next time I'll change a few things - add a little squash, simmer the squash innards with the broth as the recipe instructs for flavor, and use 1/2 to 1/3 the lemon juice I used this time. The slightly too bright flavor imparted by the lemon juice isn't bad, or bitter, as I feard it might be, just a little too much.

And, speaking of spinach, I weighed the $2 bag of "tender young spinach leaves" I bought at the greenmarket, and found that it's about 17 oz - so I used 1/3 of it for last night's repast. But what a deal! Usually, a 6 oz. back of baby spinach leaves is around $2.50 at Trader Joe's, and $4 at most stores. And this spinach was really terrific, and even pre-washed (though I did rinse and spin it again). Not to mention, it's locally grown, so won't have come from one of the Salinas Valley farms that supplied the e.coli-contaminated bagged spinach. (Don't get me wrong; I love the Salinas Valley. But those are some big farms - anyone who's driven the 101 a few hundred times knows it.)

We brought some of the grapes to the movies last night, and this morning I remembered the name of the variety - Canadice - which have an odd woodiness or spiciness to them, but which are quite good nonetheless. Their insides are softer than ordinary table grapes, so they "peel themselves" when you bite down on them. Luckily their peel has a nice tart flavor. I need to investigate the grape season, to see how long we'll have this fresh fruit option. I don't want to think about what's going to happen when there's nothing left...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A chilly autumnal harvest at USG

It was a chilly morning, and I was sleepy and underdressed, hoping it would warm up (no dice). But once I had some coffee (at Max Brenner's Chocolate by the Bald Man choco-emporium), I felt better. And once I walked into USG and noticed all the new fall vegetables, I got excited, for the first time, about the prospect of squash, root vegetables, hearty greens, and - of course - more apples.

Today's cornucopia:
Dried oregano and rosemary
1 butternut squash
1 bunch carrots
1 lb. green beans
1 bag spinach
3 heirloom sweet potatoes
1 lb. mixed fingerling potatoes
1 basket shallots
1 lb. red seedless grapes
8 apples (Mutsu, Honeycrisp, Jonamac, Empire)
Total spent: about $37

I've got a Cook's Illustrated recipe for butternut squash risotto, so I'll try that - perhaps served with grain sausage and spinach. The green beans and apples are for lunches, and I'll roast the carrots. Sweet potatoes will be baked and mashed, while the adorable tiny tri-color fingerlings I'll just roast with olive oil, rosemary, and salt.

The proliferation of oven-ready vegetables is a good indication of my current mindset - I'm ready to hibernate, but since I can't, cozying up with a blanket on the couch while a low-maintenance dinner spends an hour or so in the oven is the next best thing.

Last week's promises proved empty: I didn't get any celeriac, because I was tempted by squash and sweet potatoes and didn't want to go overboard; and applesauce will have to wait another week. I just didn't have it in me to carry all those apples along with my already-heavy haul. Though I'm thinking a combination of Mutsu and Macintosh will make a lovely sauce, when I do get to it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Items: spinning greens; brown rice

Item: I caved and bought a salad spinner. It's come in handy pretty much every day since I've had it, for salads and for greens. As I was spinning my de-stemmed tat soi dry this evening, I realized I haven't mentioned this yet. Even better, I bought it at the luxuriant Sur La Table; it's Oxo and terrific (see photo). There, are you happy? I have a salad spinner, and I'm not ashamed. Okay, I'm a little ashamed. But I'm working through it. [In related tat soi news, I have been scooped by Jack Bishop in A Year In A Vegetarian Kitchen, who recommends tat soi for all the reasons I'm trying it.]

UPDATE: Tat so and tofu stir-fry was perfect. Tat soi is delicious and mild, with a spiciness that complements the Asian flavors of soy sauce, garlic, and honey. I'm going to have to get more this week.

Item: Every cookbook/recipe seems to have its own method for cooking "troublesome" brown rice. I don't get it. Cooking brown rice is easy, so long as you don't cook too much at once, or try to cook it too quickly. Plus, since brown rice isn't just starch, you can stir it without fear of turning it mushy. Here's my brown rice method, which has never let me down, and which doesn't take the "at least 40 minutes" most folks claim it needs - just don't cook more than a cup (which will serve at least four people) at a time - and you'll be fine. I can't remember where I learned to saute the dry rice in oil before adding water, but it makes all the difference in the world as far as flavor and even cooking.
Foolproof brown rice:
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup brown rice
2+ cups water
salt to taste (1/4 tsp or so)
Heat oil at medium-high in straight-sided 10" saute pan (preferred) or heavy 3-quart saucepan. Add rice, stirring, until most grains are browned and rice smells nutty and delicious. Turn down heat to low and add water - be careful! The pan is still really hot, and water will steam. Add salt, stir, and cover pot. Simmer until water is nearly gone; test a few grains for doneness; if still crunchy, add a few tbsp. water and continue cooking until done, about 20-30 minutes total.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I love peppers! And dinners!

Saturday afternoon, I roasted peppers and called my mom. When I told her what I was doing while we were on the phone, she said "weren't you doing that last time we talked?" She was right - I roast peppers pretty much every week now, and I talk to my parents on the phone every week. They're easy things to do at the same time.

This time, I was roasting the three poblanos, two Anaheims, and three "El Diablero" peppers. The Anaheims were hotter than I expected - about the same as the El Diableros - so I ended up only using the poblanos, Anaheims, and one of the El Ds in my big pot of black beans (5 cans; I make extra to freeze), as well as three small, unroasted jalapenos. So I have two leftover roasted peppers for the next giant pot of black beans. This batch was especially great. The combination of all the different peppers made the beans spicy and smoky - just extremely flavorful. Otherwise, just shallots, garlic, cumin, and oregano - the chiles did most of the work.

So for dinner Saturday night, we had black bean tacos with garlicky chard and golden tomatoes. Wonderful! I suspected that the chard's hearty texture would work well with the black beans, and I was right. Usually I add spinach to my black bean tacos, but the chard was even better in this case; its natural bitterness was mostly masked by the flavorful beans. I would have taken photos of our colorful plates...but everything smelled too good to wait.

Sunday night we went to Diner in Williamsburg, where I hadn't been in a long time. Their menu is quite meat- and seafood-heavy, but can always be counted on for some excellent vegetable dishes. We shared a cheese plate, and I had a brilliant tomato salad with black olives and grilled haloumi, a Greek cheese I've wanted to try since reading about it in a cookbook, as well as a side of greens. The tomatoes were terrific on their own, but the salty/meaty olive tapenade and the smoky grilled cheese combined to make the salad spectacular. We were so pleased with ourselves for our healthy restaurant dinner (he had tomato-eggplant soup and a green salad) that we went a bit crazy and got the chocolate bread pudding for dessert. Of that, the less said the better - it was extremely delicious, what with the fresh whipped cream and all.

Thursday I'm planning the tofu and tat soi wraps, or maybe we'll just have a simple stir-fry over rice. I hear spinach is back some places, but I've been meaning to try new dark green leafies regardles...