A tale of two dinners

May 31, 2009

It was the best of summer dinners, it was the worst of summer dinners.

Actually, both dinners were delicious. One was just a poor choice for summer. Again.

Smart for summer:

summer of my Greek salad

I see a summer staple

I plan to make this at least every other week. Or every other day. Whichever.

It’s a pretty traditional Greek Salad, but I got the idea of tossing the pita chips in from Clean Eating. They recommended baking them first, but I was very anti-oven on a 95 degree day, and there were too many pieces to fit in the toaster oven, so I just ripped them up and threw them in.

This still took a pretty decent amount of prep time, what with all of the chopping. If you find chopping soothing, as I do, then it’s the summer salad for you. It’s also very colorful and makes for a nice presentation, so I’d call it a good choice for a summer potluck. I would have tossed a little paprika on it to make it even prettier, but some idiot put the paprika in a sealed plastic box with some incredibly pungent cloves during the Great Mouseproofing of ’08, so the paprika is paprika no more. And, yes, that idiot was me.

I love how many times I just got to type “paprika.” But I didn’t love having to buy a whole new container today at the store

Today was also about 95 degrees, but I was already cooking a giant pot of beans, so I threw caution to the wind and make this incredibly time-intensive and oven-requiring dinner.

Not-so-smart choice for summer:

polenta lasagna with roasted red pepper sauce and spinach

polenta lasagna with roasted red pepper sauce and spinach

I used the same roasted red pepper sauce I used a few weeks ago, Bittman’s Polenta I (basically boil 4 cups of water, slowly whisk in a cup of polenta, stir a lot until it’s your desired consistency, add cheese/butter as needed; and p.s. that guy really does know how to cook everything), ricotta, some Italian cheese blend, and some spinach that was washed, torn, and thrown in a hot pan with olive oil until it was just a little wilted.



There was altogether too much liquid in this meal, which meant that it never firmed up quite the way I wanted it to. I cooked it for almost an hour, and then let it sit for 10 minutes, but it was still on the soupy side. Cheesy polenta soup. Which is good with me, if not exactly what I wanted. Next time I’ll cook the polenta more or use that kind you can buy in the store and slice it up. And by next time, I mean, in the winter, when it will actually feel great to have the kitchen be 9,080 degrees.

polenta lasagna soup

polenta lasagna soup

Still, it was good, even if I had to eat it with a spoon. Kind of like the lasagna I used to get at the Ram’s Head Rathskellar in Chapel Hill, which was basically a bowl of cheese and some meat. It was second only to Hector’s cheeseburger on a pita during freshman year of college, when I apparently ate a lot of meat and cheese.


The end of roasting season

May 28, 2009

I’ve had this weird stomachache since yesterday, potentially aggravated by the piece of cake I had at work, followed by the basket of tater tots and bourbon chocolate pecan pie I had for dinner last night. But whatever.

Anyway, I needed food tonight that wasn’t going to make me feel like puking, so I went for something simple that wouldn’t need any spicing up.


roasted brussels and chickpeas over quinoa

I roasted the brussels and chickpeas at 400 for about 30 minutes. I thought of it as my last hurrah with the big oven for a little while at least. And what a way to go out. It was like eating popcorn for dinner. But with extra nutrients.

I think my stomach may be recovered enough to eat a brownie now?

Grilling in

May 25, 2009

Even if Memorial Day wasn’t the unofficial start of summer, the fact that it was 88 degrees in our apartment at 7:00 this morning would have tipped me off to the change in seasons. Over the past few nights, I’ve learned my lesson about seasonally inappropriate cooking. First, it is not the most awesome idea to make a spinach ricotta quiche when it is 90+ in the kitchen, however delightful it ended up being.

And  then there was this black bean soup and sauteed asparagus with cilantro pesto and lime cream…

delicious, if ill-advised

delicious, if ill-advised

It’s just too hot for soup now. It’s time for me to get real with my menu planning.

Last night’s curried beans and greens were a little better, as they required only some stovetop simmering.

basically everything I like to eat in a single bowl.

basically everything I like to eat in a single bowl.

Tonight, in honor of the holiday, we grilled in. We don’t grill out because 1) we don’t have a grill, 2) we don’t have a yard or really even anything resembling one (as much as I’d love to call the alley next to us a yard, it’s just not realistic) and 3) I’m really more of an indoors person.

What we do have is the will to grill. Also, a grill pan, a stove, and a bulk bag of bamboo skewers. Bring it.

These were pretty basic extra firm tofu, pepper, and mushrooms skewers, marinated for a few hours in a mix of soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, and sriracha. Apparently the reason I’m constantly disappointed by tofu is that I’ve been buying that silken stuff, which is the only kind they usually have at Dillon’s. When they have tofu at all. I got this at the coop and it’s like a new world of tofu. Substantial tofu. Now I know why restaurant tofu always tastes better than mine. Because it is.

on the grill

on the grill

In the grill pan over medium for 2 minutes or so per side.

all done

all done

And what’s a cook-in without slaw? I made a mix of broccoli slaw, shredded carrots, mixed bean sprouts, and a dressing of rice vinegar, honey, ginger, and oil.

and I never even had to leave the house.

and I never even had to leave the house.

Okay, I’m off to sit in the sweat lodge that is my living room.

Spring, without the pollen

May 21, 2009

This week has been kind of intense, so I’ve gotten a little backed up.

On Monday, I went to Lawrence, and got to enjoy one of the many delightful restaurants they have to offer, Zen Zero. Because of some scheduling intricacies, we ended up eating dinner at the early bird time of 4pm. I was all full of catered cookies and brownies and such, so I really wanted something light. Like soup and spring rolls. But, when I asked if they could make the spring rolls vegetarian, the waiter revealed that they couldn’t because they come pre-made. Having worked in the restaurant industry, I realize that lots of food comes pre-made to some extent. However, I prefer to have these realities hidden from me as a customer. So, even though I could have eaten the crab, I refused. On principle.

Or, I changed my mind. I don’t know, it’s been a few days.

Instead, I had some kind of tofu thing with broccoli and peanut sauce that was pretty much the exact opposite of “something light.” It was like they dumped a jar of peanut butter over the dish and maybe threw something spicy in there. So, pretty much, perfect.

But I still wanted some spring rolls, so I made my own.

not pre-made

not pre-made

I found them surprisingly easy. And delicious. I just washed some broccoli slaw, shredded carrots, and some mixed bean sprouts, had Matt slice up an avocado, and went to town. The weirdest part is dipping the spring roll wrapper into water, because it feels a little strange. That might be partially because we don’t have a bowl wide enough to accommodate the diameter of the wrappers, so I had to do a little magic. All’s well that ends well, right? I learned pretty quickly that you shouldn’t wrap from the center, but from one side or the other. It gave me a whole new perspective on burrito-wrapping.


May 17, 2009

I’ve had quite the adventurous few days, at least compared to my usual homebound-except-for-errands weekends. I trace it all back to Friday night, when my urge for cookies became so overwhelming that I actually baked some. This never happens, as I mostly hate baking, or more accurately, I’m afraid of it. But at least I’m woman enough to admit it. It’s the science, really. The ratios and the measuring and all of that stuff that I can manage to completely ignore when I’m cooking, but which are important when you’re trying to bake things so that they don’t taste weird or fall in on themselves or explode and set fire to the kitchen.

I made a variation of some cookies from Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan, which didn’t involve many normal baking ingredients, like sugar, or eggs, or butter. Perfect.

in the oven; no shots of the finished cookies because, well, I ate them all.

in the oven; no shots of the finished cookies because, well, I ate them all.

Even though I don’t really bake, we do tend to have a few baking staples on hand. Flour (for pancakes and roux), baking soda (also for pancakes), and various vegetable-based oils. These had whole wheat flour, baking soda, oats, ground flaxseed, chocolate chips, honey, peanut butter, cinnamon, and some canola oil. Bonus of vegan baking? You can eat the dough with no nagging fear of salmonella.

That’s fairly low key on the adventure front, though I was quite proud of myself that they turned out well. And were also, I bet, better for me than the cupcakes with 87 ingredients in the frosting alone that I almost sent Matt out to buy.

More adventurous was the trip to Lincoln, Nebraska that we took yesterday. After two years of living here, we finally took the plunge and drove the two hours it takes to cross the Nebraska border and make our way towards Lincoln. We were planning to go in a few weeks, but I got back from the gym yesterday and Matt had directions and was ready to drive.

Lincoln was awesome, with lots of restaurants and places to walk and see (why I wanted to go) and a good comic store (why Matt wanted to go). We didn’t have that much time to explore it, and I forgot to bring the list of all the things Livia suggested that we should check out, so we’re planning to go back again later this summer. We ate at Lazlo’s, which had good food, really good fries, and seriously good beer. The special was a black lager, which was amazing, but what really got me was the vanilla porter. It was like someone opened up a vanilla bean and dumped the seeds in an already good beer. To make it The Best Beer. All of the beers are brewed locally by Empyream, and if you’re ever in Lincoln you have to drink some.

My main problem when confronted with really good restaurants is that I can’t stop eating. I eat way beyond my full point and then I spend hours feeling like I’m going to explode. Which happened. I even asked them to bring me an extra basket of fries after I had finished my meal and had two and a half beers. And yet, somehow I found it in me to enjoy some ice cream from Ivanna Cone, which is apparently famous if the line out the door was any indication. I had butter cashew. I almost wept into the cup, it was so good.

Now we’re home again, but I’m jetsetting again tomorrow, this time to Lawrence for the day for work. To get Matt all set up for the week, I made a batch of black-eyed pea and corn patties from Vegetarian Times.

It’s odd to me how often I want something in burger format, considering that I stopped eating beef many years ago. I used to eat turkey burgers before I stopped eating poultry, and I probably eat veggie burgers that someone else has made, lovingly packaged, frozen, and made available to stores for consumers like me at least once a week. And then there are the black bean burgers, and the chickpea cutlets, and the significantly less successful chickpea patties (I still blame Bittman). And I just keep going back.

These were actually successful. They stayed together fairly well and had nice flavor.

up close and personal, with some salsa

up close and personal, with some salsa

We almost had an incident with these. Let’s just say that even if the recipe indicates that it’s totally cool to put three cups of frozen corn in a food processor and just puree away, it is totally not cool. But I’m a better person for knowing.

I served it up alongside some Bobby Flay-inspired jicama slaw and some chips and salsa.

again with the poor plating

again with the poor plating

I realized about ten minutes ago that I was exhausted. I bet you couldn’t tell. I used my rambling to hide the truth.


May 15, 2009

If there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way it’s that risotto is not a weeknight food. At least not for someone who is consistently dead asleep by 10pm. It’s actually perfect for Friday nights for me, because I find the whole process very soothing and I also usually have just enough of that frantic pre-weekend energy to push me through.

Tonight was a good risotto night, as it’s been kind of dark and rainy all day, my back isn’t hurting as much – which is either progress or doctor-approved high doses of Aleve – and, oh yeah, we’re broke and couldn’t go out on a date like normal people.

In case you’re new, you might not know that I do not make traditional risotto because I don’t really like arborio rice. I can’t put my finger on why, but it just never really does it for me. Barley, though, barley is like gold in this house. Gold that sells for 1.31 a pound.

Anyway, it’s made the same way. Let’s take a little journey supplemented by photographs, shall we?

  1. Heat 5 cups of liquid (any combo of broth and water) over medium in a saucepan.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. Add about a cup of chopped onion (embarrassingly, I didn’t have an onion on hand, or even frozen chopped onions, so I had to skip this step).
  4. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and heat until fragrant.
  5. Add a little over a cup (probably about 1 1/4 cup) and cook, stirring, until coated with the olive oil.IMG_2199
  6. Add about 1/2 cup of dry white wine.IMG_2200
  7. When the wine has cooked down, start adding the broth. Add about 1/2 cup at a time and let that absorb before you add more. Repeat until all of the broth is absorbed. This usually takes about 40-45 minutes.IMG_2201
    Okay, true confession: sometimes I just dump all five cups of the broth in with the barley and let it go. I know, I know. They’re going to take away my home chef identification card. To my credit, I did it the right way this time.
  8. I made spinach risotto this time around, so I added 1/2 a bag of frozen cut spinach when I poured in the last of the broth.
  9. When all liquid is absorbed, add salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese to taste.
  10. Stir and heat over low until all cheese is melted. IMG_2202

I had mine with baked tofu and some roasted asparagus and zucchini.

I really need to take Food Blogging 101: Plating

I really need to take Food Blogging 101: Plating and Food Photography

I’m having kind of an insane craving for oatmeal cookies, so I think I may need to go deal with that.

I guess Thursday night is pasta night, too.

May 14, 2009

I mean, even I get tired of beans sometimes.

I actually exercised tonight, even though I really kind of feel like the lower left quadrant of my back is going to explode at any moment. It’s swollen and sore and, I don’t know, maybe it’s because I just watched Aliens, but I really think there might be something growing back there.

I thought exercising might help, and it sort of did, but I felt kind of gross the whole time. Let this be a lesson: three cookies and a brownie, however small, do not a pre-workout snack make.

Afterwards, I really wanted something fast to cook, so I went with pasta. I also wanted to make a sauce that was different from my usual, and I really wanted to use the food processor again because Matt gets super annoyed about cleaning it. I did a chunky, spicy roasted red pepper -based sauce, pretty much this one with a lot of extra crushed red pepper. Ignore the rest of the recipe, because, while I do love a good lasagna roll-up, those involve things I don’t have to offer, like time and effort. So, you can feel free to mentally replace that whole first section with: “Cook boxed linguine according to package directions.” You could technically use something other than linguine, but I’d go with penne or something tough enough to handle a thicker sauce.

pasta is my #1 cheese vehicle

pasta is my #1 cheese vehicle

The sauce was really good and fresh-tasting, if a little bright for me. I think I might add some tomato paste next time, just for kicks. But the whole meal took about 15 minutes from start to finish, including the boiling of the pasta water, and that’s something I can get behind. The sauce itself takes about 15 seconds once you open up the required cans and dump their contents into a food processor. All I did was process until it was just slightly chunky and then pour into a sauce pan to heat.

Done and done.