My favorite vegetarian sheet pan dinners

March 21, 2022 at 10:10 pm (Alma's faves, Beans, Cruciferous rich, Monthly menu plan, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Root vegetables, Seitan) ()

When I’m feeling beat at the end of the day I often turn to a sheet pan dinner. It just feels easier than making a “recipe”. Just throw a bunch of ingredients onto a baking sheet, drizzle with oil and spices, and bake until crispy. The main challenges/drawbacks are:

  • We usually don’t have that many leftovers. One baking sheet of food usually just makes enough for one meal for the three of us. Probably I should double the ingredients and just put half in the fridge so that I can bake a second pan for lunch the next day. Or bake two pans at once?
  • Sometimes different ingredients cook at different times, so I have to regularly check the oven and take out / rotate anything that is getting overdone. I try to prevent this by cutting the quicker cooking items into large chunks or putting the slower cooking items on the edge of the pan, but I usually can’t quite make everything cook at the same time. Still, it’s a relatively mindless activity, so even though it’s technically “work” it doesn’t feel hard.
  • It can be hard to find a combination that feels satisfying, and like a full meal. Most sheet pan suppers I see online incorporate meat or fish. Figuring out satisfying vegetarian combinations seems harder.

I don’t actually have that many variations I make. I most often make cauliflower, chickpeas, and seitan. I’ll give a rough recipe for it below. I’d really like to find more combinations we like. There are lots of recipes for vegetarian sheet pan dinners online. Perhaps I will try to make one each week for the next couple of weeks and see if I can find any combos I particularly like. Read the rest of this entry »

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Quick weeknight thai curry

March 2, 2022 at 10:37 pm (B_(2.5 stars, like), Cruciferous rich, Deborah Madison, East and SE Asia, Monthly menu plan, Seitan, Tofu, Vegetable dishes)

For a while now I’ve been wanting to add a thai curry to our monthly menu rotation. But Alma won’t yet eat thai curry, and my existing recipe is a little bit complicated when I’m in a rush. When I saw this “Bare-bones tofu curry” in Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, I decided it was worth a try. Read the rest of this entry »

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Do “ancestral grains” like quinoa really have more protein than modern grains?

February 20, 2022 at 11:00 pm (Food Science, Uncategorized)

I keep seeing claims online that say things like “All of these ancestral grains are packed full of fiber, nutrients, and delicious distinctive taste. They’re also higher in protein than modern grains.” Really? I keep hearing this claim about quinoa and amaranth being higher in protein than modern grains, but I’m skeptical. I guess it depends on what you consider a “modern grain.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Seitan porcini “beef” stew

January 8, 2022 at 10:36 pm (C (1 star, edible), Isa C. Moskowitz, Root vegetables, Winter recipes)

My sister said I had to try this delicious recipe from Post Punk Kitchen. I followed the recipe pretty closely. The only change I made was using storebought vegetarian sausages instead of homemade. And I didn’t have any dried rosemary so I used fresh. But I didn’t really care for the stew. There was nothing wrong with it per se. It wasn’t offensive. But I just didn’t find it tasty. Maybe the sausages I used were part of the problem. I like them a lot plain, but they just didn’t work in this dish at all. I think it would have been better with seitan.

I ate the stew on day 1, day 2, and day 3 and it tasted the same to me on all three days. The potatoes are cut quite large and don’t really absorb much flavor. Derek didn’t like the recipe at all. He would only take a couple bites.

Overall, I found this recipe to be a waste of a lot of expensive dried porcinis. I wouldn’t make it again. If I want some kind of savory “meaty” stew like this I much prefer the mushroom stroganoff by the same cookbook author. Sorry Hanaleah!

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Superhero muffins

January 5, 2022 at 8:03 pm (breakfast, Monthly menu plan, Muffins and quick breads, Website / blog)

I still don’t have a non-dessert muffin recipe I love. I really want something I can freeze and pull out for a quick breakfast on busy mornings. Someone in one of my online parenting groups recommended some “superhero muffins” from a cookbook for runners, and I thought they looked worth a try. I’ve now tried the originals superhero muffin recipe, the chocolate banana superhero muffins, and the vegan red velvet (beet chocolate) muffins. I liked all of them and would make all of them again. There are over 20 more variations to try. Maybe I should buy the cookbook!

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Baked marinated tempeh

October 25, 2021 at 9:13 pm (F (0 stars, dislike), Other, Tempeh) ()

This is another recipe from the cookbook Whole Food Cooking Every Day. I’m not a big tempeh fan, but Derek and Alma like it. They usually just buy pre-seasoned tempeh (the coriander cumin one) and eat it pan-fried for breakfast, so I thought it would be nice to add another tempeh recipe to our repertoire.

I decided to start with the base marinated tempeh recipe. It has you steam the tempeh for 5 minutes, then bake the tempeh in a marinade of apple juice, orange juice, coconut oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic.

The recipe says to cover the baking dish with parchment paper and then foil, which I totally missed, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Even though I forgot to cover it, the final tempeh was extremely soft and limp. I couldn’t eat it, and Alma didn’t like it either. Derek thought it was reasonably tasty, although it would be better crispy. He polished off the whole dish over several days.

When I’ve made baked tempeh before it’s always gotten more crispy. Maybe I should have cooked it longer until all the liquid evaporated? Or maybe it’s just too much liquid? (2 cups of juice + 1/4 cup soy sauce and vinegar). I should compare it to my other baked tempeh recipes.

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Oatmeal cottage cheese banana blueberry pancakes

October 24, 2021 at 10:53 pm (Alma's faves, B plus (3 stars, like a lot), breakfast, Derek's faves, Monthly menu plan, Other)

I often make the banana oat nut pancake recipe from Cookie and Kate, and I have another oatmeal walnut pancake recipe from the McCann’s oatmeal box. But today I was in the mood for something different. My friend Qi recommended this high-protein pancake recipe, which she got from her son’s preschool teacher. I like cottage cheese a lot, but Derek and Alma usually don’t. I thought maybe it’s a texture thing and if I grind it up they won’t mind it. I changed the recipe a bit, swapping the original 3/4 cup of whole what flour for 1 cup of rolled oats ground to a flour, and adding blueberries to one half of the batter and chopped walnuts to the other half. (Qi says she often adds chocolate chips, but I’m not sure I’d like that with the sourness of the cottage cheese.)

Both Derek and Alma liked these pancakes. In fact, Derek not only loved the “sour taste” but he preferred them with blueberries over walnuts! What has happened to my non-fruit lover?

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of rolled oats (I might even need a bit more? If the batter is too thin I add a bit of whole wheat flour, but maybe I should just up this amount.)
  • 3 medium eggs (150g? out of shell)
  • 400g cottage cheese? (originally 1 cup, which I think is a bit less than 400g)
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 to 2 Tbs. maple syrup or honey
  • the oat flour above (originally 3/4 cup whole wheat flour)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. fine salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup of blueberries, fresh or frozen or 1 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans, or a mix
  • butter for the pan

Instructions:

  1. Grind rolled oats to a flour consistency.
  2. In a blender, blend together all the ingredients except for the blueberries in butter. Start with the liquid ingredients (eggs, banana, cottage cheese, and sweetener) then add the oat flour and spices/baking powder, and finish off with the vanilla.
  3. Once the batter is well blended gently stir in the blueberries and/or nuts (You may prefer to do this in a bowl rather than the blender.)
  4. Preheat a griddle or skillet to medium heat. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, pour batter onto the heated, buttered skillet. Cook until bubbles form, then flip. Cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.

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Granola from Whole Food Cooking Every Day

October 14, 2021 at 10:35 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), breakfast, Grains, Other) ()

No one has been a big fan of the last few batches of granola I’ve made, so I wanted to try something new, and I decided to try the base granola recipe from my new cookbook, Whole Food Cooking Every Day. The author, Amy Chaplin, says it makes 15 cups, so I decided to just halve the recipe in case we didn’t like it. I successfully halved everything except the salt. Oy. The granola was inedible. I ended up making another half recipe with no salt and mixing them together, but the final product still tasted quite salty. She calls for fine sea salt and I used table salt. Maybe the sea salt is coarser, and next time I should cut back on the salt? With the saltiness caveat aside, I think I quite like this recipe. Read the rest of this entry »

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Chia bircher bowl

October 3, 2021 at 10:21 pm (breakfast, B_(2.5 stars, like), Grains, Other) ()

When I looked through my new cookbook Whole Food Cooking Every Day, one of the first sections that interested me was the one for chia bircher bowls. I’m always looking for new, quick, filling, nutritious breakfast ideas. Derek isn’t a fan of chia pudding, and no one liked the two “overnight oats” recipes I’ve tried, but maybe this combo would be more of a hit? It took me a while to find the hemp seeds, but finally I got some and was ready to try the recipe.

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Simple vegan winter squash soup

September 30, 2021 at 10:04 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot)) ()

This is another base recipe from Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day. Compared to the Cook’s Illustrated butternut squash soup recipe I used to make, it’s much simpler, and much less rich.

All you do is saute some onion in a large pot, add some garlic and salt, then the squash (unpeeled if you’re using red kuri as I was, and cut into large cubes) and water. You simmer the squash until it crushes easily against the side of the pot (around 12 to 15 minutes). You let it cool slightly then puree in batches in an upright blender. Done. The soup had a lovely smooth texture, bright color, and a simple, clean taste. It reminds me a lot of the squash soup I got years ago at Hangawi in New York City. The flavor was just a tad boring, but I guess that’s what I get for making the base version. It was better when we added chili flakes to it. Roasted pepitas or a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil would have also been nice. Next time I should make one of the variations, like squash soup with ginger, turmeric and miso or rosemary squash soup with toasted-hazelnut milk. You can find the base recipe and the hazelnut variation here.

This recipe made a ton of soup. (The recipe says it makes 2.5 quarts.) The three of us ate it for dinner, then Derek and I each had a bowl for lunch, and I still had quite a bit to freeze. It says it freezes well, so I’m looking forward to pulling it out one night when I’m in a rush and need a hot vegetable-based appetizer or side dish.

Alma seemed to enjoy it. At least she ate it without complaint and had a small bowl for seconds.

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No-bake sesame chocolate squares

September 30, 2021 at 9:48 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Brownies and bars, Granola & energy bars, Website / blog)

In one of my parenting groups someone was raving about these no-bake chocolate sesame squares from the book Sugarproof. I love sesame in desserts, and I love chocolate, so I had to try them.

The recipe is pretty simple, you just dump 8 oz of pitted dates in a food processor along with 3/4 cup sesame seeds, 1/3 cup tahini, 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/3 cup cocoa powder, 2 Tbs. water, and a pinch of salt. You pulse it all until the mixture starts to pull away from the sides of the food processor and collect towards the center. My mixture didn’t pull away, even after quite a while. I had to add quite a bit more water to get it to congeal into a solid mass. But other than that the bars came out well. They remind me a lot of Lara bars, just sesame flavored. I’ve tried to make “halvah balls” before without so much success. These had a better texture, if less halvah-esque.

I gave one bar to Alma in her school snack and she told me it was very good. I’m going to freeze the rest and bring them out occasionally when we are in the mood for something sweet and chocolatey.

Also, one more note. A full 8oz of dates is a lot! I guess if you don’t use refined sweeteners you need a lot of dates to make it taste sweet like a dessert.

Update Jan 18, 2022: We finally finished the whole batch of frozen bars. Although Alma said they were very good on her first try, she never liked them after that. Oh well. I still really like them, especially when they have been sitting out for a while. Cold from the freezer they aren’t as gooey and chocolatey. I will definitely make these again for myself!

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Detailed review of the LunchBots Medium Trio snack container

September 22, 2021 at 10:59 pm (Equipment reviews)

Years ago I bought a big “Laptop lunch box” with four separate compartments that Chickpea used last year in Kindergarten, but it’s a pain to clean and I think four compartments are too many for a mid-morning snack. It’s also big— 9x9x2.5 inches! I wanted something smaller and simpler to pack. I also wanted something stainless steel not plastic. I read various reviews of small stainless lunch boxes. Of the reviews compendiums I read, I found the lunchbox reviews from kidseatincolor the most helpful.

85F00F0D-9F0F-4E8B-91BB-68FF9A74053AI ended up choosing a LunchBots Medium Trio snack container, which is stainless steel and dishwasher safe. It’s relatively expensive, but I’ve read good reviews and heard they last forever. And compared to the Planetbox Rover, which many people rave about, it’s positively cheap! I thought about buying the lunchbox medium duo (with two compartments) instead, but I figured the trio’s three compartments are good for my “one fruit, one veggie, one filling thing” approach. Below I give more details on the size and organization, leakage and useful accessories, and durability and ease of cleanup.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Packed lunchbox ideas for school snack, school breakfast, or school lunch

September 22, 2021 at 9:59 am (Monthly menu plan)

Now that Alma has started school, she has to bring in a morning snack. They call it “breakfast”, but she actually eats breakfast at home, so I think of it more as a snack. She eats breakfast at home sometime between 7 and 7:30am, snack is generally around 10-10:15am, and lunch she eats at after-school care around 1:15pm I think. Since she only has about 15 minutes to eat snack, I can’t pack anything too ambitious. [Update: She’s since told me that on days they don’t have theatre or gym class, they are usually allowed to eat more of their snack when they come in from recess, at 11am.]

I think pretty typical in Germany is that parents send bread with salami or cheese or something like that, along with a raw fruit or veggie. But Alma is not so excited about getting bread everyday, plus she often has bread with lunch and sometimes for breakfast, so I’d prefer that she gets more variety. So what do I pack? I’ve been trying to stick with the general pattern of a fruit, a vegetable, and something filling (with protein or fat or both), and occasionally something extra yummy (which may be the filling thing, or may be in addition). To get some new ideas I downloaded the free “veggie exposure shopping list and menu planner” from Kidseatincolor, but I didn’t find it all that helpful or comprehensive. So I decided to make my own list that I can look at when I needs some ideas. Below I’ve listed my ideas so far, along with Alma’s assessment. But if other people have more ideas for me, please post a comment!

I’m also taking pictures of many of the snacks (and some breakfasts) that I pack, with before and after photos (when I remember!). You can see them on instagram, here.

For a while Alma was finishing her snack in the car on the way to after school care (when I picked her up at 12:30pm). But lately she has stopped doing that. I assume that she is now more confident in the after school lunch, and is waiting for that instead. Sometimes she finishes her snack if she’s hungry before dinner though.

I’m going to post a separate post shortly about the lunchbox and accessories I’ve been using. Read the rest of this entry »

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Delicate, delicious, gluten-free, low-sugar muffins

September 19, 2021 at 10:45 pm (breakfast, B_(2.5 stars, like), Muffins and quick breads, Other) ()

This is the second recipe I’ve tried from “Whole Food Cooking Every Day: Transform the way you eat with 250 vegetarian recipes free of gluten, dairy, and refined sugar” by Amy Chaplin. I’m always looking for muffin recipes that don’t just feel like (a) more wheat in our lives, and (b) dessert in disguise. Chaplin has three base muffin recipes in her book—a vegan gluten-free recipe, a gluten-free recipe with eggs, and a grain-free recipe. Then she has a bunch of flavor variations that you can combine with any of the base recipes. I made the gluten-free recipe with eggs as my base, and tried two different flavor combinations: spiced seeded winter squash muffins and zucchini, lemon, and walnut muffins. Read the rest of this entry »

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Salad dressings from Whole Food Cooking Every Day

September 11, 2021 at 10:03 pm (B_(2.5 stars, like), Other, Sauce/dressing) ()

My Kindle recommended the book “Whole Food Cooking Every Day: Transform the way you eat with 250 vegetarian recipes free of gluten, dairy, and refined sugar” by Amy Chaplin. It was free to borrow on Kindle Unlimited so I decided to check it out. I am intrigued by the cookbook’s schtick: each section has a number of “base recipes” that are meant to be staples, plus several variations for each one so that you feel like you’re getting variety even if you’re basically making the same recipes over and over. I would like to try some of her breakfast porridge recipes, and her muffins and granola. (I really need more breakfast ideas), but for most of those recipes I need to get some additional ingredients. So instead I decided to try one of her salad dressings, for which I already had everything on hand. Plus I’ve been wanting to find a new salad dressing that everyone likes. I decided to start with the first dressing in her book, which is for a raw zucchini dressing. I made the base recipe then removed half and made one of the variations by adding mint and dill and shiso leaves. I didn’t love it at that point and added some fresh basil, and at that point I thought it tasted good.

Ingredients for zucchini dressing (base recipe):

  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 1 (3-inch) piece scallion, white and light green parts only, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil or cold-pressed flaxseed oil
  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt, plus more to taste

Instructions:

Combine the zucchini, scallion, lime juice, oil, and salt in an upright blender and blend until smooth, starting on a lower speed and gradually increasing it as the dressing comes together. Use a rubber spatula (with the blender off) to help move the ingredients around as necessary, or use the tamper stick if using a high-powered blender. Adjust the seasoning to taste—some variations with lots of extra herbs will need more salt. Scrape down the sides and blend again. Use immediately, or store in a glass jar in the fridge for up to 3 days. Shake well before using. The dressing will thicken once chilled; thin it out with a little water if needed.

My notes:

I had the herbed zucchini dressing on my salad and it was fine but I didn’t love it. I think maybe it was just too much lime? Later I tried the dressing on tofu and I thought it was delicious, and then after that on falafel. Also a winner. I think it’s so acidic it goes better on salty savory protein-rich foods, rather than salad. Derek liked the original version better than the herb version. But he also didn’t like it on his salad. Alma wouldn’t try it on the salad, but ate it happily on pan-fried tofu slices and on zucchini. Zucchini dressing on zucchini. Funny. I am curious to try it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls. The zucchini dressing in the book comes with a number of variations, including this golden citrus zucchini dressing, which sounds interesting.

The author says the dressings can’t be frozen. I wonder why. Mom, do you know? Is it the raw zucchini?

Update October 2021:

I made a batch of the creamy carrot dressing and then I separated out half of it and ginger, miso, and cayenne to make the spicy carrot miso variation. I liked both of them! We ate the spicy variation with spring rolls, which was nice, although not as good as our usual peanut sauce, and then later we used it as a dipping sauce for some storebought falafel, which was great. I think even Alma tried it, but I’m not sure. I quite liked the spicy variation on a salad with apples and grapes. I was surprised, because I hadn’t liked the zucchini dressing much on salad, but the carrot dressing for me was great. Derek was less excited, but he said it was because he doesn’t like fruit in salad.

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Fava, spinach, potato burgers

June 21, 2021 at 10:17 pm (Beans, Beans and greens, B_(2.5 stars, like), Dark leafy greens, Ottolenghi)

We wanted to try a new burger recipe and chose this recipe for fava bean burgers out of the cookbook Plenty by Ottolenghi. It was a lot of work! It has a lot of steps and gets a lot of dishes dirty:

  1. Dry-fry some spices then grind them. (Skillet 1, spice grinder)
  2. Wilt the spinach, let it cool, squeeze out the water and chop it. (Skillet 1, sieve 1)
  3. Blanch the fava beans in boiling water then peel off all the skins. (Pot 1, sieve 1)
  4. Boil the potatoes. (Pot 1, sieve 1)
  5. Chop garlic, a green chile, and cilantro.
  6. Mash up the fava beans, potatoes, ground seeds, green chile, garlic, turmeric and oil, then add in the wilted spinach, chopped cilantro, breadcrumbs, and a egg. (bowl 1, maybe can be done in pot 1?)
  7. Chill the mixture for at least 30 minutes.
  8. Make patties and fry them in a skillet for 5 minutes on each side. (Skillet 2, or clean skillet 1)

So you can see that this recipe uses at a minimum a skillet, a pot, a sieve, a spice grinder, and a bowl, and probably a bit more than that. Oh man, if I had read the whole thing through carefully I don’t think I would have made this recipe! I thought I was skip peeling the fava beans, but I had some frozen ones from our local Turkish store and they just wouldn’t mash with the skins on, and they were bitter, so I ended up peeling most of them. Derek and I thought the burgers tasted reasonably good, but Alma wouldn’t touch them, even with ketchup.

In the end, I don’t think the recipe is worth all the trouble or oil. (The recipe calls for 3 Tbs. olive oil for the batter and another 1/2 cup sunflower oil to fry the burgers in.)

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Orange almond cream of wheat

May 13, 2021 at 12:34 pm (Alma's faves, B plus (3 stars, like a lot), breakfast, Monthly menu plan)

I bought semolina to make a semolina gratin a while back, and was trying to figure out what to do with the leftover semolina. Alma was advocating for oatmeal but I decided to use some of the leftover semolina to make cream of wheat for breakfast, or as it’s known in Germany, Grießbrei. The semolina package from Alnatura had a recipe for Orange-Grießflammerie on the side of the package. I’m not sure what Flammerie means. I thought maybe you are supposed to caramelize the top, but I don’t see anything about that in the instructions. I didn’t have an orange to zest so I used some homemade bitter orange marmalade that a friend gave us. It added a wonderful orange flavor that complemented the almonds nicely. And the ground almonds added some interesting texture to the dish. Everyone liked this recipe. Alma mixed in some of her hot cocoa to turn hers into orange almond chocolate cream of wheat.

The recipe as published has you make a sauce with fresh orange, orange juice, and Schmand (sour cream?), but I didn’t have any of those ingredients so I served the dish plain.

Ingredients:

  • 500 ml whole milk (I used 500g)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey (I didn’t measure, just used the very end that was left in a jar. I poured the hot milk in then shook.)
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 1 pinch salt
  • zest from half an orange (I didn’t have any, so I used a big spoonful of bitter orange marmlade)
  • 100g semolina
  • 1 package vanilla sugar (I added a dash of vanilla extract)
  • 150ml orange juice (I left this out and added a bit more milk instead)
  • fruit of an orange, cut into slices
  • 200g Schmand (I think this is sour cream, but I didn’t have any so I left it out)

Instructions:

  1. Add the milk, honey, ground almonds, salt, and orange zest (or marmelade) to a 2-quart pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. Whisk in the semolina and turn the heat to very low. Keep stirring until the semolina turns into a mass. Turn off the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool a bit. Add more milk to thin to your desired consistency.
  3. If you want something a bit fancier, make a sauce out of the orange juice, Schmand and orange pieces and serve the cream of wheat with a dollop of sauce on top.

The recipe says it serves 4 but we ate the entire pot for breakfast along with some fruit salad and cottage cheese (which only I ate). The plain Grießbrei recipe on the other side of the package also says it serves 4 but calls for 200g semolina and 1 liter of milk.

  • 1 liter whole milk
  • 40g butter
  • 4 teaspoons raw sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 200g semolina

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Tofu and veg in turmeric lemon grass broth

April 20, 2021 at 9:04 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Deborah Madison, East and SE Asia, Silken tofu, soup, Tofu)

This is a quick thai-inspired recipe from the cookbook Vegetarian Supper from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen. It’s basically tofu and quick-cooking vegetables simmered in just a small amount of vibrant yellow, flavorful liquid. The first time I made it I added a few tablespoons of coconut milk, and both Derek and I really enjoyed it. It’s like a really quick thai curry without much broth at all. For my veggies I used asparagus and snow peas (from the freezer). But I used more than a handful. Maybe a few cups? I bought somen noodles for this recipe, but then forgot to cook them ahead of time, and was too hungry to wait, so we just ate the dish without rice or noodles.

I didn’t measure all that carefully. I bought 3 lemongrass stalks and used all 3, and more than one slice of ginger, and kaffir lime leaves instead of lime zest. Rather than just throw out the veggies after straining them I decided to try simmering them again, and the second batch of broth also turned out very flavorful. So I think I’d probably use more of the broth veggies and quite a bit more water—maybe 4 cups? Or at least make a second batch of broth after the first one.

Alma tasted one bite and said she didn’t like it. It was a little spicy, but even if I had left the jalapeno out I doubt she would have eaten it. I wonder how I can get her used to the flavors of a thai curry?

The recipe:

First make the broth. In a small sauce bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until reduced to about 3/4 cup:

  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh or frozen lemon grass
  • 2 slices fresh ginger
  • grated zest of 1 lime (I couldn’t find organic limes so used a few kaffir lime leaves)
  • 2 cilantro sprigs
  • 1.5 cups water
  • big pinch of salt

Strain the broth and add

  • 1 Tbs. soy sauce or fish sauce
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar or maple syrup

While the broth is simmering, make the tofu and veggies.

  • 2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 1 carton soft tofu, drained and cubed
  • 1 tsp. toasted peanut oil (I didn’t have any so used toasted sesame oil)
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 2 scallions, including 2 inches of the greens, diagonally sliced
  • 1/2 jalapeno chile, finely diced
  • a handful of quick cooking vegetables, like sugar snap peas, edamame, asparagus tips, baby bok choy, or even diced cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • a dash of coconut milk (optional)
  • 1 cup cooked sticky rice or 1 oz. dry somen noodles, cooked (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. cilantro leaves (for garnish)
  • lime wedges (for the table)

Heat a medium skillet, add the oil, and when it’s hot add the garlic onion, scallions and chile. Stir-fry over high heat for 30 seconds, then add the veg, turmeric and tofu. Pour in the strained broth, then simmer until the veg is brigh green and tender-crisp and the tofu is hot, usually a few minutes. Taste for salt. Add the rice or noodles to the dish, if using, then garnish with 2 Tbs. cilantro leaves and serve with lime wedges.

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Swiss chard and herb fritters

April 2, 2021 at 8:25 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Dark leafy greens, Monthly menu plan, Ottolenghi, Turkish)

This is another recipe from the cookbook Jerusalem by Ottolenghi. The fritters are basically pureed swiss chard and herbs mixed with eggs and a little flour and feta cheese. You make them into little pancakes and pan-fry them. They are a great way to use up a random selection of leafy greens and herbs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad

April 1, 2021 at 8:14 pm (Cruciferous rich, Ottolenghi, Salads, unrated, Winter recipes)

Derek chose this recipe from Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem. It has you roast the cauliflower, then mix it with roasted chopped hazelnuts, parsley, pomegranate seeds, allspice, sherry vinegar, maple syrup, and celery. Derek left out the pomegranate seeds and I couldn’t find any decent cauliflower, so we used romanesco instead. But the instructions say to roast the cauliflower for 25 to 55 minutes, and I forgot to mention to Derek that romanesco cooks more quickly than cauliflower. So when he checked it after 25 minutes it was overdone. He made the salad anyway, and said it was pretty good. Alma, predictably, didn’t like it, and I found it quite strange. The sweet dressing with maple syrup and allspice just didn’t work for me. We’ve made a classic Italian dish with cauliflower and raisins and olives before, and I haven’t liked that combo that much either. The one thing that both Derek and I liked in this recipe was the crisp celery. It was the best part.

Maybe we should try the recipe again, using cauliflower and not overcooking it, and adding the pomegranate seeds. But I’m still worried about all that allspice. A generous 1/4 tsp. is quite a lot of allspice.

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Red lentil and chana dal

March 4, 2021 at 10:05 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Beans, From a friend, Indian)

My sister told me recently that she tried one of the chana dal recipes on this blog and she wasn’t too impressed. She said it was okay, but it just wasn’t right somehow. So when a friend of mine (Satnam Singh) posted his own red lentil and chana dahl recipe on Facebook, we decided to give it a try. Satnam said the recipe is based on one this his mom (Dalip Kaur) makes, but he modified it a bit based on the Tadka dal recipe in the Bombay Brasserie cookbook. We made it (albeit with much less chili powder than called for) and enjoyed it. Alma, predictably, wouldn’t touch it.

Satnam gave me permission to share it on my blog. Below I’ve modified his recipe to use typical American spelling and terms. 

Lentils 

  • 300g masoor dal (peeled and split red lentils)
  • 150g chana dal (split gram)
  • 3 tsp. turmeric 
  • 2 tsp. chili powder (Indian, not Mexican!)
  • 2 ½ tsp. fine salt
  • 8.5 cups water
  • fresh cilantro to garnish
  • Frozen curry leaves (optional)

Tempering 

  • 4 Tbsp. oil
  • 4 large onions (about 1.2 kg), chopped 
  • 2 tsp. whole cumin seeds 
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped
  • 1 cm ginger, chopped
  • 4 green chilis, seeded and chopped (optional, we used 2 jalapenos without seeds)
  • 4 tsp. Kashmiri chili powder (we couldn’t find any Kashmiri chili powder, plus the dal was spicy enough for us, so we just omitted this!)
  • 4 tomatoes, coarsely chopped or a 400g can of chopped tomatoes (total weight should be 400g, not drained weight)

 Instructions: 

  1. Mix masoor dal, chana dal, turmeric, chili powder, salt, and water in a large (4 to 5 quart) pot. Bring to a boil. This takes about 10 minutes on a large burner.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low (3 of 9 on my stove) with lid slightly ajar. Simmer vigorously until the liquid is absorbed and the chana dal is breaking down. Stir occasionally to avoid the dal sticking to the bottom of the pot. This takes approximately 50 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, chop your garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and onion.
  4. Heat the oil in a frying pan. When hot add the cumin seeds and fry until they crackle.  Add garlic and continue frying, stirring occasionally until the aroma of cooked garlic is evident. 
  5. Add the onion and continue frying on medium until the onion soft, very lightly browned around the edges, and starting to become sweet (but not caramelized).
  6. Stir in the green chillies, ginger and chilli powder and continue frying for 1.5 minutes. 
  7. Stir in the tomatoes. 
  8. Pour tempering over lentils and stir. 
  9. Mix in the cilantro leaves. Garnish with a few dried red chilies if you’re trying to impress your date.

Note: Satnam says he doesn’t bother to rinse the dal—he just checks it for stones. He also doesn’t bother to skim the foam off the top when it comes to a boil. He said you can omit the tomatoes if you want—his Mom doesn’t use them. The tomatoes are inspired by the Tadka Dal recipe from the Bombay Brasserie cookbook (a cookbook written by the the chef at a fancy Indian restaurant in London). He said they add raw chopped fresh tomatoes at the end, but lightly blended canned tomatoes are a fine substitute. Satnam advises that if you want to freeze the dal, not to add the tempering. Instead, make and add the tempering for each batch of lentils when they are needed.

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Double chocolate peanut butter cookies

December 25, 2020 at 11:25 pm (Cookies, Derek's faves, Website / blog)

Over our winter break this year we decided to bake cookies. We decided that each of us would get to pick out which kind of cookies we wanted to make. Derek chose almond crescent cookies, and Alma chose double chocolate peanut butter cookies. We’ve made a vegan version in the past, but Derek wasn’t so excited about them, so he picked this Food 52 recipe to try instead.

The recipe is pretty easy, as it has you melt the butter and the peanut butter together in a pan, making it easy to incorporate the peanut butter into the batter. Other than that step it’s basically a one-bowl recipe.

It calls for black cocoa powder, but I couldn’t find it so I just used our regular dutched cocoa powder. The amount of sugar seemed quite high, presumably to compensate for the bitterness of the black cocoa powder. I cut it down a bit by not filling the 1/2 cup measuring cup with sugar all the way, but I didn’t measure that carefully. Maybe I used 80% of the sugar? When I went to add the chocolate chips, 8 ounces seemed like a huge amount. I still import my chocolate chips from the U.S., and I didn’t want to use up so many, so I cut it down slightly to 6 ounces.

The recipe says to use a 1.5 ounce scoop, and I used my large scoop, which is labeled 2.5 Tbs. I think. The technique is slightly odd. After you bake the cookies you are supposed to drop the pan onto the counter a few times to flatten them. But I guess it worked because the cookies came out well. Alma flattened her batch before putting them in the oven and they were dryer and not as good.

In general, I didn’t love the texture of these cookies. They had a slight stick-to-your-teeth quality. And they were definitely too sweet for me. Next time I’d try cutting the sugar further, maybe 2/3 of the original amount, and leaving the chocolate chips at 3/4 of the original amount.

Derek said they were absolutely great (probably because they are quite salty), and Alma said they were good not great.

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Latkes with half-baked potatoes

December 17, 2020 at 11:03 pm (breakfast, B_minus (2 stars, okay), Fall recipes, Jewish, Root vegetables, Starches, Website / blog)

Derek wanted to make latkes for Hanukkah this year, and he found a New York Times recipe that called for pre-baking the potatoes (well, partially) then grating them. The recipe looked really simple. The only ingredients were the potatoes, salt and pepper, and the oil for frying.

But we found the recipe a bit challenging because it called for 4 large Idaho or Russet potatoes, and although we can get similar starchy potatoes they are not nearly as large. We weren’t sure how many pounds that should be, or how to adjust the cooking time. The recipe says to cook “until they are hot throughout but still raw in the middle.” That wasn’t so easy to ascertain, but we did our best.

Other than that, the recipe seemed to work okay, but we found the latkes bland. We want to add onions and maybe egg next time. Perhaps we will try this more traditional recipe.

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Vegetarian Posole in the Instant Pot

December 14, 2020 at 8:10 pm (Beans, Grains, Instant Pot, Jill Nussinow, Mexican & S. American, One pot wonders, Uncategorized)

My Mom sent us a pound of hominy in a Chanukah package, and I decided to try to make posole from it. The package said you should simmer the hominy for 1 to 2 hours, which seemed like a long time, so I decided to make the posole in my Instant Pot. I looked in my “Vegan Under Pressure” cookbook but they don’t list any cooking times for dried hominy. But I looked in the index and found posole. Success! But when I actually turned to the recipe I discovered it with calling for pre-cooked, canned hominy. I guessed that the hominy would cook in about the same amount of time as dried beans, so I soaked both overnight, and then roughly followed the recipe. Except I wasn’t sure exactly how much hominy to use for the 1 can of hominy the recipe calls for. I had soaked the whole pound of dried hominy so I decided just to use the whole thing. I also had soaked 500g of cranberry beans. So that’s where I started. I sauteed some aromatics, then cooked both the soaked beans and hominy together in the instant pot for I think about 12 minutes (but that’s a guess, I didn’t write it down and now I’ve forgotten), followed by a natural release. But at that point the hominy was clearly undercooked. I cooked the beans and hominy for a bit longer under pressure, at which point the beans were definitely soft enough but the hominy was still a bit underdone. Whoops. Maybe I should have put the soaked hominy in with unsoaked cranberry beans instead, and cooked them together for 35 minutes under pressure + NR? In any case, despite the hominy being a tad firm, the posole was yummy. Derek and I both really enjoyed it, but Alma said it was too spicy for her and she really didn’t like the texture of the hominy.

I don’t remember exactly what I did, but here’s my best guess:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound cranberry beans, soaked overnight
  • 1 pound dried hominy, soaked overnight
  • 4 large cloves garlic, mined
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbs. chili powder + 1 Tbs. ancho powder
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1.5 tsp. salt (total guess)
  • whole tomatoes (maybe 1.5 cups?)
  • tomato puree (maybe 1 cup?)
  • frozen corn (maybe 1 cup?)

I sauteed the onion over medium heat, then added the garlic, ground cumin, chili powders, and smoked paprika and sauteed another minute. I added the soaked hominy and soaked, drained beans, and added I think 5 cups of vegetable broth and salt. After the beans and hominy were cooked (see note above) I added some whole tomatoes from a jar, about a cup of tomato puree, and maybe 1 cup of frozen corn. I locked the lid back on and let it sit for 3 minutes. I seasoned with lime juice and cilantro to taste.

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Chanukah Cabbage and Kohlrabi Salad

December 13, 2020 at 8:28 pm (C (1 star, edible), Cruciferous rich, Derek's faves, Ottolenghi, Salads)

I got a kohlrabi and a cabbage in my CSA box last week, and I was looking for something to make with them. I found this recipe in the cookbook Plenty. (It’s actually directly opposite the recipe for the Thai green curry that’s the last recipe I blogged.) Ottolenghi says it’s his favorite use of kohlrabi. It calls for alfalfa sprouts, which I can’t get here, so I soaked some seeds and sprouted them myself. When they were finally ready I made this salad out of my kohlrabi, cabbage, and sprouts, along with a large bunch of dill and a whole cup of dried sour cherries from my local Turkish store. The dressing is made out of a lot of lemon juice and olive oil, 1 garlic clove, the zest of 1 lemon, and lots of salt.

I made this salad on the first night of Hanukkah, and when Alma asked what I was making, I told her it was “Chanukah Salad.” We were on a Skype call with my family and everyone thought the idea of a Chanukah salad was very funny. But it does have a lot of olive oil, and you are supposed to eat a lot of oil on Chanukah, so I think it fits.

Alma didn’t like the salad at all. She took one bite and said “bäh“. I also wasn’t very excited by the combination. I felt like not only wasn’t it better than the sum of its parts–it was worse than the sum of its parts. But my big problem with the salad was that the dressing was so acidic it hurt my tongue badly. (I have geographic tongue syndrome, and certain acidic foods are highly problematic. Normally a little lemon juice doesn’t bother me, but I guess this was just too lemony.) Derek, however, loved the salad. He said it tasted like something he’d get in a 3-star Michelin restaurant in some nordic country.

If you choose to make this, I’d only add the sprouts to the portion you plan on eating in one sitting. After sitting overnight in the dressing they got rather limp and unappealing looking.

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Thai green curry from Ottolenghi’s Plenty

December 12, 2020 at 2:38 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Cruciferous rich, East and SE Asia, Ottolenghi)

This recipe was based on the recipe for “Purple sprouting broccoli with rice noodles” from Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty. It’s basically a green thai curry served over broccolini and rice noodles. We made the sauce and served it with brown rice and whatever vegetables we had around. (We couldn’t find broccolini, so used tofu, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini….) I thought the recipe for the spice paste worked well. I’d make it again. I am curious, however, to compare it to our old recipe for green curry paste from Nancie McDermott’s Thai Vegetarian cookbook. Derek said he thought the paste turned out smoother than that one, probably because I blended it up with coconut milk to get the spice grinder to blend.

Ingredients:

Spice paste:

  • 3/4-inch piece of galangal or fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1.5 medium fresh green chilies, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1.5 lemongrass stalks, outer layer and tough ends removed, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/2 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 Tbs. coriander seeds, finely ground
  • 12/ tsp. cumin seeds, finely ground
  • grated zest and juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro (with stalks and roots)
  • 2 Tbs.
  • vegetable oil (I used maybe 1 to 2 Tbs. of coconut milk instead, just enough to get the mixture to blend)

Rest of sauce:

  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil (I used maybe 1 tsp.?)
  • salt
  • 1 tsp. palm sugar
  • 7 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 3/4 cups coconut milk

Instructions:

  1. Place all the ingredients for the paste in the small bowl of a food processor. (I used a spice grinder.) Blend to a paste. You might need to stop once or twice to scrape the mixture back down from the sides of the bowl or add a little extra lime juice or oil. (Instead of oil I used coconut milk.)
  2. Saute the onion in 1 Tbs. of oil in a medium saucepan for 2 to 3 minutes, or until translucent. (I used less oil than this since the sauce is rich enough from the coconut oil.) Add the spice paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 1 tsp. salt, the palm sugar (I used a natural brown sugar), lime leaves, and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and gently simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. To serve: He says to drizzle 3 to 4 Tbs. of the sauce over warm rice noodles tossed with toasted sesame oil and lime juice and the broccolini, and finish with fresh basil or cilantro and a squirt of lime juice.

We had to add quite a bit more lime than the sauce calls for. But otherwise we thought the recipe was good, and actually pretty easy, especially if we can freeze the paste. Next time I will make a double batch maybe, eat 1/3, and freeze the rest in two portions.

Alma (age 5.75) wouldn’t even try the curry sauce. She had her rice and veggies and tofu plain.

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Smoky cauliflower frittata

December 11, 2020 at 9:04 pm (breakfast, B_minus (2 stars, okay), Cruciferous rich, Necessarily nonvegan, Ottolenghi)

This is yet another Ottolenghi recipe from Plenty. We make a broccoli feta frittata pretty often, and everyone likes it, so I figured it made sense to try this cauliflower frittata.

I found the recipe instructions a bit odd. It has you first simmer the cauliflower for 4 to 5 minutes, then fry it in a frying pan for 5 minutes, or until brown. I was worried that the cauliflower would be way too soft at that point. Plus, is it really necessary to use another whole pot to simmer the cauliflower? Can’t you just add a little water to the frying pan and steam it in the pan? Despite my reservations, I followed the recipe.

It calls for 1 small cauliflower, and I think my florets weighed 1 pound after removing the leaves and tough stem. The egg mixture includes 6 eggs, 4 Tbs. creme fraiche, 2 Tbs. dijon mustard, 2 tsp. paprika, and 3 Tbs. chopped chives. In addition, the recipe calls for 2 oz. of mature cheddar (grated) and 5 oz. smoked scamorza, grated (including the skin for extra flavor). So it’s a pretty cheesy recipe. You put 3/4 of the cheese in with the eggs and scatter the remaining 1/4 on top.

The final frittata was quite cheesy and smoky tasting. I liked it but found it quite intense. I think I would have preferred to have just a small piece with a big salad, rather than the frittata comprising our entire brunch. Alma didn’t like it at all. Derek liked it quite a bit, more than me. I’d probably give this 2.5 out of 4 stars, and Derek would give it maybe 3 out of 4?

If I make this dish again I will just cook the cauliflower in one pan (not simmer it first) and I will serve it with a salad or some plain green bitter vegetable.

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Koshari rice with butternut squash and sunflower seed dukkah

December 7, 2020 at 11:20 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Beans, Fall recipes, Grains, Pasta, Winter recipes) ()

This is another recipe we selected from Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson (page 231). The header says that Koshari rice is an Egyptian method of cooking rice along with lentils and small pasta, but this recipe doesn’t call for any lentils and uses wheat vermicelli instead of a small pasta. The butternut squash is simply coated in ground cumin and ground coriander and roasted in the oven until tender. The Sunflower seek dukkah is a mix of sunflower seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and sesame seeds.

I really liked this dish! It was homey tasting but different than our normal food. The combination of the rice and toasted vermicelli with the slightly browned onions, cinnamon and bay leaves was delicious. I served mine with lentils on the side, and next time I think I would just try adding lentils to the dish. The butternut squash was a nice accompaniment, but not essential. The dukkah was good, but made a ton. I think I would probably halve or even quarter the amount of dukkah, unless you want it around to put on other dishes.

Derek also liked the dish, but slightly less than me. Alma (at age 5.75) wouldn’t eat any of it. The rice and vermicelli part is really quite plain tasting, so I thought she would eat it, but she didn’t like the texture. The butternut squash turned out too soft for her. (She’s quite picky about butternut squash—it’s got to be perfectly cooked or she doesn’t like it.) And the dukkah she wouldn’t even try. Sigh.

I think I will look around to some other koshari rice recipes, and try a few more variations.

Update April 5, 2021:

The original recipe I described above has three parts: the roasted butternut squash, the koshari rice, and the sunflower seed dukkah. Today I decided to try to find a koshari recipe that includes lentils. But when I went looking I couldn’t find anything that obviously looked right. I ended up choosing this online recipe, but it has you cook the onions and lentils separately from the rice/noodles, then mix everything together at the end. That seems like a pain. So instead I made a combination of the online recipe and the koshari rice portion from the cookbook.

The online recipe has you cook 2 large onions separately in 2 Tbs. olive oil, then use 3 Tbs. butter (40g) for the vermicelli and rice. Home Cookery Year has you saute 1 large onion first and then add the rice and vermicelli to the onion, without adding any additional fat. The amounts of rice are about the same but Home Cookery Year calls for way more vermicelli (185g / 6.5 oz vs. 50g / 1.75 oz) and double the broth (800ml vs. 400ml). Both call for cinnamon but the cookbook calls for 1 cinnamon stick and the online recipe 1.5 tsp. cinnamon. The online recipe adds 1/2 tsp. nutmeg whereas the cookbook calls for 2 bay leaves. Here’s my attempt to combine the two recipes.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced [I used one very large onion, about 11 oz diced, maybe 2.5 cups diced]
  • 4 oz. wheat vermicelli, broken into 5cm (2 in) pieces
  • 1 cup basmati rice (about 185g  / 6.5 oz) 
  • 2 bay leaves, scrunched a little
  • 1 tsp. salt [I reduced this since my broth was salted]
  • 600 ml hot stock or water [I used a mix of the lentil cooking liquid and a homemade veggie broth]
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick or 1.5 tsp. cinnamon [I used 1.5 tsp.]

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the rice well in cold water and leave to drain.
  2. Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a heavy casserole pan over moderate heat. Add the onions and fry for 10 to 12 minutes, until soft, translucent, and just beginning to turn brown.
  3. Add the pasta and toast in the pan for about 3 minutes, until the pasta turns golden brown. Add the rice, bay leaves and cinnamon and stir to coat the rice evenly with oil and continue cooking for another minute or two to bring out the flavor of the spices.
  4. Add the teaspoon of salt and all of the hot stock or water, reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting, cover with a lid and simmer for about 12 minutes. At this point all the liquid should have been absorbed.
  5. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, place a folded kitchen towel over the top of the pot and return the lid. Leave the rice to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. (The towel absorbs the steam coming off the rice so it can finish cooking without extra moisture dripping back on to the grains- this makes it nice and fluffy)

Notes:

This combined recipe worked fine. The rice and vermicelli was cooked well, but somehow I didn’t like it as much as last time. Not sure why. We still had leftover dukkah from last time, so that was the same. And I served it with lentils again. Maybe next time I will omit the nutmeg and use the cinnamon stick? Or add more onions? Maybe I was just missing the roasted butternut squash? This recipe made quite a bit, and it’s quite heavy on the noodles. I think next time I will use less noodles, maybe just 2 or 3 ounces instead of 4? Butternut squash season is over, so I served it with roasted cauliflower and israeli salad. I loved the israeli salad with it. The bright, fresh, lemony flavor really helped balance out the meal.

The cookbook says to serve it with yogurt seasoned with salt and garlic, and chopped parsley. I think that would also have gone well. The online recipe has you make a tomato sauce. Apparently this is quite typical as a bunch of online recipes add this component. But it just seemed like one more step, and I didn’t have the energy. Maybe next time.

Again Alma wouldn’t touch the dish. Nor would she eat the plain lentils. She just had roasted cauliflower and Israeli salad for dinner.

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Sweet and sour wild rice and sauerkraut soup

December 3, 2020 at 10:55 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Grains, Rebecca Wood, soup, Spring recipes, Winter recipes)

I cooked up a big pot of my last bag of Minnesota wild rice, and neither Derek nor Alma was that into it. I love it, but was looking for something that they might like too. I looked in Rebecca Wood’s cookbook The Splendid Grain and found a recipe for this strange Hungarian-inspired sweet and sour soup. It almost tastes Chinese to me, but it has wild rice and sauerkraut in it. I loved it, but neither Derek nor Alma was a big fan.

You saute leek and garlic in a pan, then add a stalk of celery and then the cooked wild rice. You add vegetable stock, a cup of sauerkraut, 2 Tbs. light Sucanat or light brown sugar, and soy sauce to taste. After it’s simmered a bit you beat an egg with a little water, then slowly stir the egg mixture into the hot soup. Finally, you garnish it with dill.

Bizarre, right? The dill didn’t do much for me, but I loved the sweet and sour broth (egg + sugar + soy sauce combination). And the sauerkraut and wild rice added some nice varied texture. I’d definitely make this soup again next time I have extra wild rice around.

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Red lentil and roasted carrot soup with za’atar

November 8, 2020 at 4:02 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Fall recipes, Middle East / N. Africa, Other, soup, Spring recipes, Winter recipes) ()

This is another recipe from the cookbook Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson. I chose it because I had a lot of carrots to use up, and because I have very few recipes that call for zaatar. The recipe is pretty simple. You toss carrots and onions with ground cumin and coriander and olive oil, then roast them in the oven in a covered roasting tin until tender. Meanwhile you cook the red lentils. When the veggies are cooked you puree them with the cooked red lentils. The final soup is drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar.

The recipe calls for 500g carrots, which sounded like a lot, but actually was only like 3 of my very large carrots. I decided to make 1.5 times the recipe, but when I went to start the lentil I discovered I actually only had 300g of red lentils, enough for slightly more than 1 recipe (which calls for 250g). So I used mung dal for the last 100g or so of red lentils. I don’t know how that changed the flavor. I quite liked the recipe. The soup by itself I found rather plain and uninspiring, but when drizzled with olive oil and za’atar it really popped. I loved the herbal note the za’atar added.

Alma begged me not to make this dish, and refused to even try it at first. So I put hers through a sieve. (My stick blender didn’t get the soup all that smooth, and the little textured bits bothered her.) Then she said she *loved* it, even though she wouldn’t let me add any olive oil or za’atar to hers. She had two small bowls of sieved soup, but then when I served leftovers for lunch a few days later she refused to have any.

Derek said he thought the base soup was fine…. pleasant. Not thrilling but solid. He said it tasted like something he’d get at Cafe Schrill. He wasn’t so excited about the za’atar on top. He didn’t disliked it, but he didn’t think it added all that much. Weird. He rated it a B.

I think this is a nice mostly-pantry-ingredients recipe. Carrots aren’t strictly pantry ingredients, but I usually have them around, and all of the remaining ingredients truly are from the pantry. This soup would make a nice starter before some very tasty but hard-to-make-a-lot of recipe, or before or tasty but lighter main dish.

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Sesame fried tofu, bok choy, and quick pickled carrots

November 1, 2020 at 11:05 pm (B_minus (2 stars, okay), Cruciferous rich, East and SE Asia, Tofu) ()

A friend gifted Derek a copy of the cookbook Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson (thanks Satnam!) and I went through it on Friday and chose a couple of recipes to try. The first one we tried (for lunch today) was a recipe for sesame fried tofu, bok choy, and quick pickled carrots.

Overall, the results were mixed.  Derek felt it mostly tasted pretty good (though a bit like something you would get at an upmarket “healthy Asian” fast food place, “healthy Asian” is a joke — it involved 6 Tbsp oil for what is supposed to be a “light lunch”).  I felt it was too acidic and unbalanced and somehow made me feel icky afterward (a bit like the Ottolenghi recipe with soba, mango, and eggplant that everyone raves about).  Alma barely touched it (but we kind of expected that).  We both agreed that the fried tofu didn’t have much flavor on its own had a distinct note of raw cornstarch.  It mostly just tasted crunchy.  Our usual method of sauteing tofu in the pan would have been preferable.  This could indicate we did something wrong, but since the frying instructions were not detailed, it’s hard to know what.

We had some issues with the recipe:  1. It seemed to call for a huge amount of cornstarch and sesame seeds.  We were not surprised when the tofu ended up tasting like cornstarch and somewhat raw sesame seeds.  2. It said to drain the carrots after adding some salt, but no water came out even after letting it sit for quite a while.  And even after adding the lime juice the carrots didn’t really taste pickled to me. They just tasted like grated carrots with lime juice on them. 3. The recipe called for “2 bok choys, halved” but we had enormous bok choys from our CSA farm (about as big as Derek’s head!), so it was hard to know exactly how much to use or how to cook them.  4. We didn’t know what light soy sauce was (so we our regular soy sauce and cut the amount in half and it was still plenty salty), and we didn’t know what “runny honey” was, so we just used regular honey.  5. The recipe called for 3 Tbsp oil for frying the tofu, but this mostly got absorbed by the first batch, so we had to add additional oil for the second batch.  Also, we didn’t have sunflower oil, so used olive oil. Could this have affected the absorption?  Seems unlikely.

Overall, Derek thought the combination of flavors was good and would make it again except with our normal sauteed tofu preparation.  I thought the flavor profile was broadly similar to the “tofu steaks” and bok choy dish from Peter Berley, but I much prefer that recipe.

If we were going to try to make the sesame crusted tofu again I think I would toss it with just a little big of cornstarch (not 100g!) and sesame seeds and bake it on a pan in the oven.

The recipe says to serve it with avocado (optional), but we didn’t have any. I doubt the addition would have changed my overall opinion.

Derek: 3/5
Rose: 2/5

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One bowl, flourless peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

October 1, 2020 at 6:28 pm (B_minus (2 stars, okay), Cookies, Website / blog)

Alma’s preschool was closed today, and she asked if we could make peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. We had made some a few months ago, but I forgot to write down what recipe we used. I think it was this one from the Ambitious Kitchen blog, but I’m not sure. But we tried it today and this time I’m going to blog it before I forget whether we liked it!

Ingredients
  • 240g / 1 cup natural creamy peanut butter (just peanuts + salt)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1/2 Tbs. molasses (original recipe called for 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 extra-large eggs (German large eggs, about 50g each without the shell, original recipe called for 2 large eggs)
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (original recipe called for 2/3 cup)
  • Flakey sea salt for sprinkling on top
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes and remove when edges barely begin to turn a golden brown. The cookies may look a little underdone, but they will continue to cook once you remove them from the oven.
  3. Cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Sprinkle each cookie with flakey sea salt.

My notes:

The original recipe has you use two bowls, but I just made it in one.

A few of the cookies in the corners ended up too brown, despite me rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time. And I think I cooked the cookies a tad too long. I cooked them for 9 minutes I think, opening the oven halfway to rotate them. The original recipe said 9 to 12 minutes, but my cookies were a bit smaller, and I think 8 minutes would have been sufficient, especially since I forgot and left the fan on in the oven.

The original recipe calls for more sugar and chocolate chips, but the author commented that she has used 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup chocolate chips and they turned out great. So I decided to try that.

The cookies are good, but definitely not as sweet or rich-tasting as typical American peanut butter cookies. Alma seemed happy. I don’t love the texture the rolled oats add. Maybe next time I will grind up the oats? And I wish the cookies were slightly moister, but maybe that’s just because I cooked them too long. Derek said that the cookies weren’t rich enough for his taste. He thought they needed butter. But I think he didn’t add any salt to his, and he prefers his cookies salty. Next time I think I will add the salt to the cookies before they go in the oven.

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Black-eyed pea cakes with salsa

September 26, 2020 at 11:49 am (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Beans) ()

Alma and I like black-eyed peas, but Derek is not a huge fan. I made a huge batch a while back and still have several jars of the peas in the freezer. Derek was unenthusiastic about me serving them plain, so I decided to try this recipe for black-eyed pea cakes with salsa mayonnaise from the cookbook Sara Moulton cooks at home. Note that the recipe has you chill the mixture for 2 hours. Plan ahead!

The recipe has you coat the patties in cornmeal, but I haven’t tried that step yet, because I was out of cornmeal. I also didn’t put any mayonnaise in my salsa, because I didn’t have any and it seemed unnecessary. The salsa is really more of a pico de gallo. It’s good but it needs way more cilantro than Sara calls for.

I’ve made this recipe twice now, and it’s solid if not stellar. Alma ate the black-eyed pea burgers happily the first time (with no salsa but a lot of ketchup) and less happily the second time (with no salsa).

Ingredients:

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 cups cooked black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed if canned
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Tobasco sauce or other hot sauce to taste
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup oil for frying

Instructions:

  1. Mince your garlic, and chop the onion, bell pepper, and jalapenos.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapenos and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
  3. Place half of the peas in a large bowl and crush them thoroughly with a fork. Stir in the other half of the peas, along with the onion mixture, cilantro, and cumin. Taste the mixture, season with salt and pepper and Tabasco sauce, then stir in the egg yolks. Starting with 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs, add just enough to form a mixture that will hold its shape. Cover and chill the mixture for 2 hours.
  4. Working with 1/4 cup of the pea mixture at a time, make 8 to 10 1/2-inch-thick patties. Coat the patties in the cornmeal and shake off the excess. Heat half the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Fry the patties in 2 batches, adding the remaining oil for the second batch. Do not flip until a brown crust has formed on the first side, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove the patties from the pan when uniform in color. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a 200ºF oven until ready to serve. Repeat until all the patties are cooked. Serve hot topped with the mayonnaise.
Salsa recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro (I use much more. Maybe 1/3 cup?)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (I omitted this)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Toss the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and drain in a colander for 15 minutes. (I skipped this draining step. I like the tomato juice!) Combine the tomatoes with the onion, jalapeño, lime juice, cilantro, and cumin in a large bowl. Mix in the mayonnaise (if using) and season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until ready to serve. (The salsa mayonnaise can be made up to a day in advance.) You should have about 2 cups.

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Beet and potato gratin with rosemary and walnuts

September 20, 2020 at 11:29 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Derek's faves, French, Root vegetables, Winter recipes, Yearly menu plan)

I first made this beet and potato gratin recipe back in 2010. I have since forgotten where the recipe originated. I’ve modified the recipe quite a bit in the intervening years. (The original recipe is at the end of this post if you want to see it.) Here is my current recipe. It has more cheese and less butter and cream than the original, and I’ve added walnuts and rosemary and omitted the breadcrumbs. The recipe is not really hard, but it is somewhat labor-intensive. I usually make it once a year, twice at most.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds beets, unpeeled
  • 1.5 pounds potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1 Tbs. butter (or however much you need to grease your pan)
  • 1 cup / 4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (or use another cheese like aged gouda)
  • 1/2 cup / 2 oz. grated gruyere cheese (or use another cheese like comte or tete de moine)
  • 1 tsp. salt (I’m totally guessing on the amount. I just sprinkle a little salt on each layer.)
  • 1 tsp. pepper (ditto)
  • 3 to 4 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
  • 200g / 0.85 cups heavy cream
  • lots of walnuts, pretty finely chopped (I think I use about 3/4 cup chopped walnuts maybe?)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Steam the beets and potato until tender when pierced with a knife. Note that even though the gratin cooks for another 30 minutes in the oven, you need the veggies to be tender before they go in the oven. They don’t really soften up otherwise. You can steam the veggies on the stovetop, but beets take a while, so I usually steam my veggies in my Instant Pot. I put the beets in first and cook them until they are about 3/4 done. (The exact time depends on their diameter–tables are online.) Then I add the potatoes and finish cooking both. Ideally you should do this well in advance so the veggies have time to cool and you aren’t trying to peel or slice boiling hot beets!
  3. When the beets and potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the beets. Depending on your potatoes you might want to peel them after they are cooked, but I usually don’t bother.  Cut both the beets and potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices, still keeping them separated.
  4. Choose a gratin dish large enough to hold four layers of the sliced vegetables. (I use a 9×13 inch pyrex pan.) Grease the dish.
  5. Build a gratin with 4 layers: beets, potatoes, beets, potatoes. After each vegetable layer sprinkle one quarter of the parmesan, gruyere cheese, salt, and pepper on top of the vegetable layer. After each layer sprinkle on 1/3 of the walnuts and rosemary. (I don’t put walnuts and rosemary on the top layer of potatoes because I’m afraid they will burn, but maybe it would work if you put them under the cheese?)
  6. When all four layers are assembled, pour the cream evenly over the top.
  7. Place in the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese on top is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and serve hot or warm, scooping out portions with a spoon.

Update Oct 11, 2021:

Alma has never liked this dish, but today she said it was “delectable” and ate thirds. I thought it came out really great as well. Derek said it was tasty but needed more cheese.

Notes from Sept 20, 2020:

I shattered my 9×9 inch pan a few months ago, so we used a 9×13 inch pyrex dish. It was bigger than necessary, but worked fine. I think next time maybe I’ll increase the amounts of veggies to make more gratin in the same pan. I forgot to measure my beets this time but I know I used almost 2 pounds of potatoes. I think maybe I used 5 medium/small beets (about 2.5 inches in diameter), so maybe only about 2 pounds?

I cooked the beets in the instant pot for 10 minutes under high pressure, left them for a bit, then did a quick pressure release and added the (medium-large) potatoes and cooked them for another 10 minutes under high pressure with a natural release. The beets came out perfectly–easy to peel but not mushy. But 10 minutes was too much time for the potatoes. They were way too soft. The skins were falling off and they were hard to slice. I couldn’t use the mandoline at all. They would have been great for mashed potatoes, but next time maybe I’ll try 15 minutes for the beets + QR and then only another 5 minutes extra once I add the potatoes.

This time we forgot to add walnuts but I definitely want to try adding them next time!

Definitely make sure your potatoes are on the top layer. They get nice and crispy, which doesn’t happen to the beets. And maybe reserve a bit more than 1/4 of the cheese for the topping?

I’ve made some version of this recipe a few times in the last couple of years, and Alma has never liked it. She will take a few bites of the cheesy top, but then rejects it. (She’s never liked non-crispy potatoes.) Tonight (at 5.5 years) she had a bit more than she has in the past, but we had challah on the table, so she mostly focused on that and wasn’t interested in the gratin.

My original notes from Nov 6, 2010:

Derek and I went to a local German restaurant a while back and I got a beet and potato gratin that had walnuts in it.  I really loved the beet and walnut combo, so I decided to try adding walnuts to this French recipe.  The recipe says to steam the beets and potatoes separately, then peel and slice them.  That was a huge pain.  I also don’t like peeling potatoes, as the skin is the best part.  The steaming instructions confused me because they say to steam until tender but then you bake the gratin for another 30 minutes or so.  I was worried that the veggies would get overcooked, so I didn’t let them get totally tender.  That was a mistake, as the beets in the final dish were just a tad undercooked.  Once the veggies are steamed you slice them and then make a layer of beets, a layer of potatoes, and a final layer of beets.  Between the layers you sprinkle salt and pepper, rosemary, small amounts of parmesan and gruyere cheese, and dotted butter.  You then pour a mixture of cream and milk over the whole thing, and top it with bread crumbs and 1 Tbs. dotted butter.  But 1 Tbs. of butter is not enough to cover a 9×13 pan, and the bread crumbs ended up just like dry, sandy breadcrumbs.  Derek said he liked the topping though, despite its dry, sandy quality. He liked the dish a lot, actually.  He kept saying how flavorful it was, and tried to eat all the leftovers for breakfast.  My guests seemed to like it too, and even asked for the recipe.

I used less butter and added walnuts.  I used a light cream not heavy cream, and lowfat milk.  If I made this again I would double the rosemary and try it without pre-cooking the vegetables.  Steaming the beets and potatoes separately is a pain.  I might also try adding more cheese and skipping the cream altogether–just using milk.

And here’s the original recipe:

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds beets, unpeeled
  • 1.5 pounds potatoes, unpeeled
  • 4 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup fine dried, bread crumbs, preferably homemade

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Steam the beets until tender when pierced with a knife, 20 to 30 minutes.  Set aside.  Steam the potatoes separately in teh same way;  they should also be tender in 20 to 30 minutes.  (You can also boil instead of steaming.)  When the beets and potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them into 1/4-inch-thick slices, still keeping them separated.
  3. Select a gratin dish just large enough to hold three layers of the sliced vegetables.
    1. Layer 1:  Grease it with 1 Tbs. of the butter.  Arrange half of the beets in the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle with one third each of the parmesan and gruyere cheese, salt, pepper, and rosemary.  Dot with 1 Tbs. of the butter.
    2. Layer 2:  Arrange all of the potatoes in a layer atop the beets.  Sprinkle with half of the remaining cheeses, salt, pepper, and rosemary.  Dot with 1 Tbs. of the butter.
    3. Layer 3:  Layer the remaining beet slices on top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese, salt, pepper and rosemary.
    4. Final topping:  In a vessel with a spout, combine the cream and milk and pour the mixture evenly over the top.  Strew the bread crumbs over the surface and dot with the remaining 1 Tbs. butter.
  4. Place in the oven and bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and serve hot or warm, scooping out portions with a spoon.

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Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango

September 13, 2020 at 10:10 pm (Derek's faves, Pasta, Website / blog)

This Ottolenghi recipe from Plenty has been lighting up the internet for years now. Serious Eats loves it. 101cookbooks has blogged it. Epicurious has posted it. Several friends have personally raved to me about it. So back in 2018 I tried it.

I didn’t love it. The eggplant was greasy. The whole recipe seemed overwhelmingly sweet and not salty/acidic/spicy enough. I didn’t think the eggplant and mango really did much for each other. Don’t get me wrong, it was fine. It didn’t taste bad. But it was a lot of work for a recipe that was only meh. I told this to one of the friend’s who had recommended it and she thought maybe I had screwed something up. She came over a few weeks later and we made it together. It tasted about the same. Still meh. Derek again loved it, but it just wasn’t for me.

Then this weekend another friend invited us over for dinner and served it as our first course. It was definitely better than when I had made it. The eggplant was cooked much better—more uniformly cooked through and much less greasy. And the whole dish just looked more professional and refined. But my overall impression was the same—too sweet, not enough salt or punch. Derek said he thought there was plenty of acid in the dressing, but I couldn’t detect it. He normally adds salt to the food I cooked, but he thought the dish was plenty salty. For me the sugar overwhelmed all the other flavors. I really wanted more of a dressing like the one that goes in a Thai green papaya salad, where by the end smoke is coming out of your ears. Derek said this isn’t supposed to be that kind of a dish, and I know that’s not what was intended. But if I were going to make a noodle dish with eggplant and mango and chilies and cilantro and basil, that’s what I would want.

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