Catching up: salad

August 30, 2009

I don’t know about you, but I thought these last three weeks just breezed by!

Maybe I didn’t realize it as much last year at this time, since I spent half of the month on vacation, but for anyone who teaches or works in higher education, August is basically a lost month.

But that’s no excuse. This is a cooking blog.

And I have been cooking. Some decent food, some frustrating food (I’m looking at you, brown rice risotto OR two hours of my life that I spent standing over a hot stove on a hot day saying “Matt, come here, I think it might be absorbing some liquid! I think it’s working now… Wait, never mind, it still tastes like sticks.”), and then some disappointing food (zucchini polenta tart that should have been good but just didn’t get along with my oven and wow did it really not look like the picture on her site).

But when life gets stressful and you’re starting to run out of confidence in your ability to cook normal meals, it’s time for some salad.

We’ve had lots of them over the past few weeks, but allow me to highlight a few:

Heidi Swanson's Lemon Cucumber Tofu Salad

Heidi Swanson's Lemon Cucumber Tofu Salad

We had this over plain old green leaf lettuce, but it would basically be good over anything because it is, perhaps, the greatest salad of all time. And, as a testament to it’s goodness, Matt asked if we could have it again later that same week. That’s just not the kind of success I usually associate with cucumbers and tofu.

I used the rest of the avocado from that one to try to recreate my favorite black bean salad from Toto’s Tacoz. You may notice that the beans look a little worse for the wear. That’s what seems to happen when I freeze them and heat them up later. They still taste good.

not quite as good as Toto's

not quite as good as Toto's, although my oven-roasted chips are better.

It’s basically homemade nachos, but, you know, better for you. Because of the lettuce? We tried it again last week with pinto beans and actually had some cheese on hand, which helped contribute to the nacho-ness of it all. This also expands nicely to feed a crowd. All you need are chips (I just slice up tortillas with a pizza cutter, spray some oil over them, toast them in a 425 degree oven for 5 minutes per side, and enjoy. You could also buy a bag, but this is much cheaper and also tastes better), lots of lettuce, a few cups of black beans, some avocado, and, if you’re in the mood, a cilantro-lime dressing would go quite nicely. So does salsa. We took an earlier prototype to a Dia de los Muertos party a few years ago that sticks out in my mind as one of the most surreal experiences in my recent memory. There was all of this food and we met a few really fascinating people I haven’t seen since. And someone told me my jacket “look[ed] smart” as we were leaving. And then we saw a coyote on the way home.

This next salad turned out much better than I thought it might when I was throwing stuff together in a pan.

hot and cold salad

hot and cold salad

This was staggeringly easy. All I did was chop and soak a few dried tomatoes in some boiling water for about 20 minutes, get Matt to wash and rip a head of lettuce into smaller pieces, heat a few cloves of minced garlic in a hot pan with olive oil, rinse off some thawed frozen cannellini beans, add those to the pan when the garlic is fragrant, then liberally add red pepper flakes, oregano, salt, pepper, and a few tablespoons of lemon juice. I added the tomatoes and another splash or two of lemon juice and bam. The perfect salad topping, already dressed and ready. I added some feta for some extra saltiness. This would also be really good in a grain salad, especially with barley or something else that’s hearty and chewy as a base.

And here ends my homage to salads and their utility (and deliciousness) during times of stress. Up next: pasta!


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.

Spring cleaning

March 21, 2009

Since it’s officially spring now, and since I’m still trying to clean up my act a bit, food-wise,* I really wanted something green and light for dinner that would still be satisfying. This salad fit the bill nicely:

tuna, asparagus, and new potato salad

tuna, asparagus, and new potato salad

This was adapted liberally from a recipe in the April issue of  Bon Appetit. I kept the spirit of the tuna/asparagus/potato part, but I didn’t have radishes or eggs, or the ingredients for the chive vinaigrette, and I hate capers. So I just made a simple red wine vinaigrette and tossed that with some steamed asparagus, red potatoes that I chopped and boiled until tender, and some chunk white tuna. Delicious. This issue of BA was one of my better airport purchases. It’s got gratuitous pictures of a really awesome kitchen and a recipe for matzo balls that I want to try.

*It’s not really working. In the absence of cupcakes I’m eating anything and everything that looks like it was made with sugar.

Bulgurrito bol

February 26, 2009

You knew it was coming.

I don’t eat at Chipotle anymore because I once got violently ill after eating there and I can never go back. Not a huge loss for me, as I rarely ate there, but I did enjoy a burrio bol every now and again.

I accidentally worked later than I meant to, so it was a perfect night for something fast. Matt requested bulgurritos and dinner was decided. But on the way home, I was thinking about the cake I had as an afternoon snack and realized it might be a good night to lighten things up and get a few extra servings of veggies in, so I decided to deconstruct my bulgurrito and have the filling over some spring mix that was on its last legs. Good call, really, because I could justify eating more cheese this way.

allow me to introduce... the bulgurrito bol

allow me to introduce... the bulgurrito bol

You can’t really see the filling, but it was super simple: I sauteed about 2 cups of broccoli florets until they brightened up a little bit, then added 2 cups of cooked bulgur, a little less than a cup of frozen corn, a can of “chili beans” (pinto beans plus stuff) with the liquid drained, and cooked over medium until heated through. Then I served it over some spring mix and dumped some cheese on top. Done in fifteen minutes.

And now I’m just trying to motivate myself to get up off the couch to pack my lunch for tomorrow but I’m just so tired and disappointed with the results of Top Chef, which I just watched. So I really don’t see that happening.

Blogging is hard

January 6, 2009

Between settling back in at work (and being incredibly productive due to my new 2009 productivity system, I might add) and going to basketball games and mourning Arielle’s permanent hiatus, I kind of forgot I had a blog. Oops. Can’t be a good sign.

Since I’ve been forgetting to take pictures anyway, I’ve decided that I won’t post boring stuff like the mushroom and potato fritatta we had for the 89th time last night, or the pizza we had on Sunday, or the 3 dozen bowls of chili we’re likely to have between now and April.

So, in that vein, here are two new dishes I made to break in my Christmas cookbooks.

Here’s Skillet Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli from Donna Klein’s PDQ (Pretty Darn Quick) Vegetarian Cookbook:


This was not as darn quick as I would have liked, but that’s really my fault for not reading the recipe, which requires an oven-proof skillet much, much larger than the one I own. So I had to bake it in a baking dish, which was glass and couldn’t go under the broiler, and so on. It was good in the end, though. I mean, cheese, pasta, broccoli. What can go wrong, really?

And tonight we enjoyed a Toasted Barley Salad from Klein’s Vegan Italiano:


Again with the cheese. I think I’ll be able to handle meatless living for a month, but never could I give up cheese. My only complaint about this was that the recipe made it sound like toasting the barley was going to give it a unique flavor, but I didn’t notice much of a difference in the end. Maybe I always toast my barley, though.

All in all, I think I’m going to like this Donna Klein character.

Okay, now I’m off to get some sleep so that I can wake up early to book plane tickets. I heard Wednesday mornings are the best times, so I’m all over that.

So, I’m pretty full

September 24, 2008

It took all of my willpower to make this meal. We had a bunch of errands to run after work today, and somehow we were suddenly standing in line at Taco Bell and I was thisclose to getting something that looked vaguely like a salad and had “border bowl” in its name, plus some cheesy potatoes, and some of those stale, yet mysteriously delightful crispy cinnamon things. But, as Matt was ordering his five bean burritos (I am not kidding; but he only ate three), I thought about all the effort I put into planning meals last weekend, and the zucchini in the fridge that has maybe a few hours of life left, and the fact that I’m having dinner out tomorrow night, and I decided to be strong.

Luckily, it was really, really good. I made it once last year, when I finally decided that eating the same three meals over and over again wasn’t terribly interesting, and it might be nice to branch out a bit. This time, it was even better than I remembered. Really, a casserole with pasta, zucchini, turkey sausage, feta, AND mozzarella can’t be bad.

To use up a few other things that were also on their way out, I whipped up salad with white beans, tomatoes, spinach, and red wine vinaigrette.

After this I had some dark chocolate because I bought a new kind to try and I wanted to hurry up and get through this Lindt 72% I’ve been nursing. I eat dark chocolate pretty much every day after dinner. I also had some peanut butter. I eat peanut butter pretty much every day after breathing.

My point is that I’m kind of proteined-out and I feel a little like I might explode, which I hope means that I will actually wake up at a decent hour and go to the gym instead of waking up at 3am with my stomach growling. Dare to dream, you know?


September 14, 2008

What a day. I recently introduced Matt to the The Spoon Theory, which is a really interesting and, to me, pretty apt metaphor for day to day life with a lame chronic illness. We’ve been using it a lot around the house. Basically, I have a limited number of “spoons” every day. So, this morning, I used up all of my spoons doing four loads of laundry and then running a few other errands, got home at noon and immediately had to get back in bed. I’m going to blame it on the change of season we’re experiencing, but my fatigue has been out of control for the past few days, and nothing seems to help it. I was in and out of bed for most of the day, but miraculously managed to go to a class at the gym, which helped temporarily.

I wanted a really carby dinner so that I could help convince my body that sleeping all the way through the night was an awesome idea. Mondays are hard enough without waking up six times the night before. So, we had spaghetti with eggplant and zucchini marinara. The most exciting part: I finally got eggplant to taste like food instead of, I don’t know, shoes. I did some research and had Matt do the prepwork while I was at the gym. He diced the eggplant and salted it for 15 minutes, then rinsed. It cut the bitterness way down. And brought the deliciousness level way up.

Donna taught me how to make marinara back in the spring, and I should’ve written down her method because it was really good. Now, I kind of improvise based on what I remember. Tonight, I cooked the zucchini and eggplant pieces until soft over medium-high heat. Then I added tomato paste (~1 tbsp, I think) and stirred that around for a minute or two. Then came a can of crushed tomatoes. When that heated through, I added a few tablespoons of dry white wine, cooked until it evaporated, added some rosemary and called it done.

I also had a salad with mixed greens, a Cherokee Purple tomato, about 1/4 of a big cucumber (thanks, Livia!), some feta, and a quick lemon vinaigrette.

I took the pictures on the stove, sorry they look extra weird.

Oh, this nut butter discovery of mine is going to be a problem. Today I found some raw cashews in the refrigerator, immediately made cashew butter, and it seems to have mysteriously disappeared. And I feel extra full. SUSPICIOUS.