Tag Archives: vegetarian

Broiler Tofu with Roasted Corn Mixture

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Friends, I have a new way to cook tofu that does not involve frying it (!). Don’t worry, I’m not going too crazy—it’s still tossed in soy sauce and put over high heat with some oil—but this time in the oven.

Plus, after all that meat at Christmas in Montana (roast beef, smoked ham, scallops (brought by me from Maine), meatloaf with pork and emu, elk, venison, lamb…) I needed something a little more my usual style. Although I am intending to buy half a pig or something similar with Christmas money (thanks, grandparents!).

It’s January (happy New Year!), so you are officially allowed to begin using up the contents of your freezer. Which may include corn (straight from the cob to your freezer) and tomatoes. And, maybe your roommates are kind enough to get you a mushroom starter bucket for Christmas, so you have a fresh supply of oyster mushrooms. Handy.

Year-end is habitually a time for reflection, resolution, and anticipation. True also in the food world. We’ve been imagining foods of the future for a while now, that still have yet to come to pass, like a food pill (sure, Soylent, you’re getting there). But maybe instead we’ll go back to our ancient roots and renew some old grains, like millet. At least we made some progress globally in 2015 regarding changing diets, and feeding the world… and we’ve got more changes, like more female farmers, to look forward to.

And some food of our own, too. You can even pretend this is healthy (okay, it probably is healthy, depending on your health stipulations) and contributing to that New Years’ diet, too, if you want. Don’t give up deliciousness or you won’t stick to your goals!

I did this with the broiler but I suspect it would be just as effective in a very hot oven, and possibly more efficient. I recommend cooking the tofu in a separate pan from the veggie mix because the tofu might otherwise absorb the excessive moisture produced by the tomatoes, diluting the soy flavor (and preventing crispiness, a real travesty).

Broiled tofu with roasted tomato, corn, mushrooms
Tofu (about 1/3 lb per person I find sufficient)
Soy sauce, a few tablespoons
Vegetable oil, a few tablespoons (separated)
Corn (frozen is fine, about 1 cup)
2-3 tomatoes, chopped (frozen or canned is also fine, if you can chop them)
Mushrooms (a large handful)
Balsamic, a dash
Coconut oil, a spoonful, if desired
Salt/pepper
Garnish: cilantro and feta

Cut up the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes. Sprinkle with soy sauce and oil in a shallow roasting pan, toss lightly, and put under the broiler. Broil for 10 or so minutes, flipping occasionally, until dark golden and crispy.

Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes and mushrooms and toss with corn, a little more oil, balsamic, coconut oil, and salt. When tofu is done, or if there’s room, put in a shallow pan under the broiler and cook the same as the tofu, 10 or so minutes until golden, flipping occasionally. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Toss the tofu with the veggies (lots of tossing we’re doing here), then crumble feta on top and sprinkle with cilantro.

Seedy Stuffed Squash

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As promised, a vegetarian (vegan if you want) version of stuffed squash. This is an entirely different dish than the kale and sausage version I posted a little while ago—a new option, rather than a substitute. Nutty, textured, and delightfully salty due to a good dash of miso.

The base for the filling is quinoa, nuts, and seeds. Mushrooms for depth, cranberries for punch, miso for umami, and a little cheese if you like for creaminess. Other vegetables would be welcome, like chopped up kale or spinach, but not needed. Extra filling would be excellent topped with an egg for another meal.

In the news: as you may know, climate change convention last week. Agriculture did not play a huge role, but there are a few hopes for carbon sequestering in the soil, and climate change-related disasters will have a huge economic impact on agriculture. In that, as with our own Congress, food systems do not yet receive the attention they are warranted. We may get there.

To keep up on those strange farm-related activities in Germany, did you hear about the herd of cattle adopting a wild boar?

In other news, please enjoy this (#starwars):

And now on to an actual recipe (of sorts. We’ve been over the no-recipe recipe deliberation).

Seedy stuffed winter squash
Quinoa
Delicata squash, or other varieties (delicata cooks quickest)
Mushrooms, any variety
Nuts and seeds: almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
Anything else you feel like (chopped kale, 
Miso, 1/2 tablespoon or so
Butter or oil
A handful of cranberries (optional, adds an exciting tang)
Secret ingredient: seaweed flakes
Melty cheese, to top

Start the quinoa cooking: add twice as much water as quinoa, bring to a boil, then turn down and let it simmer until fluffy.

Roast the squash: wash, cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and cook for 20 or so minutes in a hot (350-400º) oven, until just soft. Remove from oven.

In the meantime, compile everything else: chop up mushrooms and sauté them briefly, pull out whatever nuts and seeds you like and toast them (on a baking sheet in the oven for 5-10 minutes, watching carefully so they don’t burn).

When the quinoa is cooked, take out however much you want to make into filling and put it in a large bowl. Thin the miso with a little water, mix with butter (or oil), and stir into quinoa. Add nuts, seeds, mushrooms, cranberries, and a few seaweed flakes (we have this mix). Taste and add more seasonings, as desired.

With cooked squash cut-side up, fill the cavity with the filling mix, piling it up nice and high. Top with cheese, as desired, and place under the broiler for a few minutes, until cheese is melted and golden.

Makes for good leftovers #desklunch the next day, too (especially paired with a creamy tahini-dressed salad).

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Brussels Sprouts Cranberry Salad

Brussels sprouts salad with cranberries

2015 Winter Salad #1! This is the kind of vegetable-based meal I delight in. Manages to feel healthy and hearty at the same time, and provides a good balance of different flavors and astringencies. One important note: DO NOT overcook your Brussels sprouts. This happens fairly easily; I tend to roast vegetables until quite done and caramelized, but that’s not how these work. You want them crisp but still with a good crunch, so watch them carefully in the oven.

Lots of oven time on these ingredients; save time and dishes by toasting pumpkin seeds and walnuts in large batches ahead of time. You’ll be glad you did for future food forays, or averting hanger after a long work day.

I have alluded to this before, but the time has come (the walrus said [Brussels sprouts are a kind of cabbage, so that’s not totally uncalled for. And Europe had kings at one point])! I am off to Germany on vacation next week. Therefore, do not expect a recipe (or non-recipe as is my tendency) from me in the next fortnight. Do continue to follow me on Instagram, I endeavor to post pictures of fairy tale food and other similar adventures.

Roasting pan of Brussels sprouts salad

If you come, they will build it: lessons in supply and demand from our food giants—consumer demand is changing how large corporations are handling their supply chains, labor practices, and additives. Moral of the story: keep asking for better food.

On another note, how about a suffragette cookbook? Cake against injustice (that’s my kind of subversion…)!

Or, vegetables for justice!

Vegetable-based meal rule number one: start with the vegetable (surprise!). Brussels sprouts are truly excellent roasted, as long as you don’t overdo it (remember last year’s Brussels sprouts with bacon? Nom.)

Rule #2: Add protein: nuts and seeds, in this case (otherwise: a small amount of meat (this can add flavor too); eggs; cheese; tofu; grains like quinoa).

Rule #3 (more of a guideline really, but arguably the most important): flavor! Salt is crucial. Here, cranberries and apple cider vinegar create a sharp contrast, and a little paprika on the pumpkin seeds round it out with a smoky note.

Cranberry Brussels sprouts fall salad
1lb or so Brussels sprouts
A few handfuls of cranberries
Salt and olive oil
A handful of pumpkin seeds (pre-toasted if you can)
A handful of walnuts
A dash of apple cider vinegar

Halve or quarter the Brussels sprouts (depending on size), and roast at at least 400ºF with a little salt and oil until barely tender and crispy, not more than 20 minutes. In the last 10 minutes (or right in the beginning if you want them softer), toss in a few handfuls of cranberries.

If pumpkin seeds are not toasted yet (I usually just do it whenever roasting a pumpkin/squash), spread out on a baking sheet with a little salt, oil, and paprika (smoked or otherwise, depending on preference), and toast in the oven for at least 10 minutes, scraping up and flipping halfway through, until golden and crackly.

Toast walnuts on a baking sheet until fragrant and crunchy, about 5 minutes. This can happen while the Brussels sprouts are in the oven.

When sprouts are ready, toss with a little apple cider vinegar, then mix in the rest of the ingredients, salt to taste, and serve.

Other vinegars, like balsamic, would also substitute if you want something a little richer.

Auf wiedersehen!

Roasted Beet Potato Salad

beet potato salad with toasted pumpkin seeds

Yes, Isabel, I have been enjoying potato salad of late.

There was a time when I hated potato salad, but I kept trying it again, and finally had to remind my dear friend Isabel to tell me not to eat it. Not the case now, I have met a number of potato salads that I rather like (one in particular that is closer to classic than this, but with raw fennel and a light creamy herby dressing. One for another time).

“Let’s cook beets” turned into dinner here through a little cream cheese, a few extra herbs, and some toasted pumpkin seeds. Not bad for an open-the-fridge-and-see-what-we-find meal. Sour cream would also be acceptable.

In other news, fall!

Additionally, I am planning a trip to Germany at the end of November. I imagine I shall be taking a two-week hiatus from Dancing Tree as well, but promise to have plentiful food photos from my travels!

Beet potato salad
5 or 6 medium beets, or fewer large ones
5 or 6 small potatoes
Olive oil
1/2 red onion
1/2 cup cream cheese
Chives and parsley
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted (roast in oven with salt for a few minutes)

Roast the beets first. This may take a while, and can be done in advance. Chop, put in a pan with some oil, and roast at 350-400º for at least 30 minutes. Roast the potatoes the same way, although I recommend a separate pan if you can swing it, since beets have a little more water and it’s nice to let the potatoes get a bit crisp. Once they are soft (stab them with a fork or knife to determine pliability), remove from the oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, chop up the red onion and other herbs. Place the onion in a large bowl and add the semi-warm beets and potatoes; mix. This will take the bite off the onion just enough to add a little kick without being overwhelming. Mix in the cream cheese, allowing it to melt a little in the warmth, and then the rest of the herbs. Taste and salt and pepper as needed. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds, and enjoy with a side of toast (not required but recommended).

Weeknights: Sautéed Cabbage with Additions

cabbage with mustard and seeds

It feels almost like I’m cheating myself when I do recipes like this. I could provide you with so many more if they weren’t so discretionary! But this is about empowering you to create your own exquisite dishes anyhow, not about me.

At the risk of writing something that is too similar to the NYTimes Cooking Newsletter (which is worth subscribing to, by the way), today I offer you a quick sauté. Kind of like a warm salad?

Salads are important summer staples. As long as you keep around an assortment of seeds, nuts, beans, cheeses, vinegars, and other random additions (meats, other veggies, avocados, fruit, grains, hummus!), once the greens start coming in you no longer have to think too hard about what to bring to lunch. Very helpful. I’ve probably mentioned that before.

Well, you can do something similar with non-salad greens, too.

(Make sure to include the fat! Which might taste a little bitter by itself but is important enough to be its own taste, as of recently.)

This isn’t really recipe worthy but for consistency’s sake:

Weeknight cabbage sauté (warm salad)
1/4 small cabbage (per person)
A large scallion
1 Tablespoon olive oil
A large dash sesame oil
A large spoonful whole grain mustard
Pumpkin or sunflower seeds (toasted, preferably)

Chop up a bunch of cabbage and a scallion or two and throw them in a pan with some olive oil and a little sesame oil, if you feel like it. Pull out that fancy mustard we used last week, add it to the cabbage, toss in a few pumpkin seeds or other seeds and voila! Dinner.

The beauty of this is that you can do it with anything. Kale, napa cabbage, chard (although chard is a little more watery), throw in ginger or turmeric if you want, or apple cider vinegar instead of sesame oil, almonds as well as other seeds… you get the gist. 15 minutes, tops (cabbage is super quick to chop).

cabbage with mustard and seeds

We Millennials might be so food-obsessed because it gives us a sense of control. I’ll buy it; I feel better about my way of life when I know the origins of what I eat, and that it is grown without too much suffering (except perhaps from the vegetables, as it turns out). It is also true that we should use food as a lens to view larger issues within our society: sustainability, justice, equality… Food happens to be a good entry point because everyone has to eat, and luckily most of the time tastier food (well, once you’ve acclimated to non-super fatty/sugary foods, which is certainly a larger hump than I’m making it out to be) is more sustainably produced and nutritious. There are parts of the food chain that aren’t so pretty; maybe if we worked to make our lives AND everything that contributes to them Instagram-worthy, we’d live in a better place. I’m clearly putting far too much faith in the the visually appealing here, there are delicious and -beautiful- things that would not make it on Instagram (this cabbage, for example). It’s a start, anyway.

Hummus and its many uses

Hummus and avocado toasts

Summer is here! I am quite pleased. Go jump in the ocean if you haven’t yet.

(Sorry for the avocado toast taking up half that picture. Also delicious though, btw.)

As summer is road trip and picnic season, I thought I’d share with you the classic vegetarian staple, hummus, which is perfect for both activities. Note that the sort you eat has two m’s. The other is great and important to food too, but somewhat less appetizing: humus is dark, organic material that forms in soil when plant and animal matter decays, according to National Geographic. Very important for nurturing the soil, but perhaps less delicious than its name cousin.

I would like to share this video with you all, as it encapsulates a few excellent points written by Nathanael Johnson at Grist over the past couple months. If it doesn’t embed properly here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtFU2_RydcQ

Feeding the world and ending poverty, you know, no biggy.

I’ve discussed this at some length already, because it is often in the news and I am fascinated, but how much do you think technology will help? We discover scientific advances that can help improve the lot of humans everywhere (yes, even controversial developments like GMOs have their uses), although at times science itself can be biased, either from publishing primarily positive results or from industry influence (read: $). I suspect that food will go the way of other tech, with the largest innovations in the knowledge sphere—sensors learning the quality of individual patches of soil, translating that to a nutrient mechanism that can feed and water plants, and an integrated system that indicates when crops are ready and can go straight to consumer’s demanding them. Random cool ideas like underwater farms are possible too. And we might see some new appliances in the kitchen—technology in the kitchen hasn’t really been updated since the microwave, but we are beginning to see computers that create recipes for us, and robotic prep workers. I doubt that the human element will entirely disappear from the kitchen, since we add that creative je-ne-sais-quoi element, but as tech gets smarter you never know.

You do need a bit of tech for making hummus—a food processor—but the human element remains essential at least for determining taste preferences, like how much lemon to add. Fortunately if you add too much of one thing at the beginning you can always supplement with more of the other ingredients, and can prepare as much as hummus you like. It keeps well and while does better refrigerated, can survive a long trip without being kept very cold. Do make sure to put it in a good container though—especially if you put oil on the top, spillage is less than fun to clean up.

Also, don’t feel limited to using chickpeas! Other beans make fabulous dips and can vary the flavor and texture if you get bored with classic hummus. More on that below.

Basic Hummus
2 cups chickpeas, or other bean (I prefer cooking my own but a can works too), with a little of the the juice
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup tahini
Juice from 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
Cumin (or other seasonings)
Salt and pepper
Other seasonings (optional; see below)

Put everything in a blender and whir away. Taste and adjust seasoning, especially lemon. You can make it as smooth as you like—I can never seem to get mine to quite the consistency of store-bought hummus, but I’m not sure I’d like to anyway. Add water as necessary to help it blend.

If serving as a dip, I recommend putting a drizzle of olive oil on top and a little paprika for color.

Now the fun part: extras to blend in! This can be almost anything you want. Some suggestions:
-Lots of smoked paprika
-Sundried tomatoes
-Green garlic or garlic scapes
-Roasted garlic
-Roasted beets
-Roasted anything really (nuts, veggies, fruit??)
-Pesto
-Spinach or kale
-Artichokes
-Extra lemon
-Olives
-Go crazy! Tell me your best ones!

Like anything, play around to find out what you like. Start with your favorite kinds of flavors and go from there. Experiment with different beans too—I had an excellent black bean green garlic dip the other day that I aspire to recreate in the near future—probably will skip the tahini and add extra cumin.

Roasted beet hummus sandwich

The other fun part: how to eat it! The classic use is a dip for fresh veggies (carrots, celery, salad turnips, radishes, what have you) and pita chips. I also love it on toast, drizzled with a little extra olive oil (the fancy stuff if you have it) and some smoked paprika. Throw on a couple roasted beets if you like and take it to work as a sandwich. Also good in a wrap with a bunch of veggies (lettuce, tomato, avocado, sprouts, julienned kohlrabi, carrots, radishes, turnips, don’t forget the salt…).

One of my favorites is eating hummus with salad. Put a big dollop on the side of your plate and dip your fork into the hummus before every bite. Adds protein and delicious creaminess but keeps the indispensable quality that salad performs so well of feeling good after you eat it. Excellent with a good vinegar-y balsamic dressing.

Roasted eggplant salad with hummus
Roasted eggplant green salad with gorgonzola balsamic and hummus

Happy eating!

Black Bean Burgers

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Woohoo! Sunshine!

You could be out grilling in this weather. But, if you don’t feel like it quite yet (it is a little windy out there), this is a sunny meal that feels like summer whenever/wherever/in whatever weather it is consumed. I admit that it does not contain all local ingredients, but there is nothing like an avocado anywhere (even though I feel extra guilty because apparently they take a lot of water to grow, and in California no less. Ugh). If you feel particularly concerned you can skip the avocado.

Fortunately, we are so lucky as to be able to access local salsa (made from hydroponic Maine-grown tomatoes) and salad mix (greenhouses!). If you froze corn from the cob this summer (do it this year if you didn’t, it’s amazing), you’re set on that front, and should be able to get red onions still too (or find them sprouting in the corner). Plus, you can get whole wheat flour locally to make the buns. And local beans too! All in all, not bad.

Unrelatedly, here’s a funny sheep video, sheparded by a drone! What will they think of next?

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Burgers often require breadcrumbs, which are particularly necessary for the structural integrity of black bean burgers. I’ve always made my own breadcrumbs: toast bread (a lot, you want it super dry) and put it in the food processor until crumby. This sometimes takes me a while, I think because it’s not dry enough. The recipe I adapted (from Spoon Fork Bacon) also added oatmeal, which I like for a little extra texture (and fiber).

This also takes a little planning, since you have to cook the beans first (if you’re like me), and the batter (?) needs to chill for a few hours before you cook it. Something to keep in mind.

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Black bean burgers
1/2 onion
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans, drained (or 1 can)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup frozen yellow corn (optional; hopefully from an local ear!)
1 green onion, if you have it 
2 teaspoons cumin
Cayenne
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs (make your own—see above)
1 egg
Salt and pepper
Oil for cooking (3-4 tablespoons)

Burger buns! (I used King Arthur's recipe with a little whole wheat, delicious!)
Condiments! 
Chipotle mayo: mix mayo with chipotle, and let sit for a little while
Cheese (cheddar)
Tomatoes
Avocado
More corn
Sliced onions
Lettuce/salad mix
Salsa! (necessary)
Hot sauce (optional)

Get out your food processor! I had to do this in batches with my mini one. Throw in the onion, jalapeno, and garlic, and pulse a bit. Add 1/2 the beans and everything else (except the oil) and pulse. Taste and adjust, scrape down, and pulse again—it should be a little chunky but come together. Add the rest of the beans and pulse once or twice, just to integrate them. Put in a bowl, cover, and chill for a few hours.

Remove from fridge. Heat oil in a heavy skillet, and turn to medium heat. Form the mixture into patties (size is up to you, and the burger buns). Cook (this is the tricky part) for at least 6 minutes on each side, probably longer (this feels like a super long time, and it is. Length of cooking time is the only way to make it hold together). Flip carefully. Each side should develop a crust and get heated through—adjust the heat as necessary if you feel like they are burning before getting cooked (turn down), or aren’t getting a crust (turn up).

Assemble burgers on buns with all the condiments (put cheese on right away or even in the pan if you want it to melt a little). Have fun.

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Goes well with beer, but what about afterward? How about pear brandy, with the pear grown in the bottle? Sweet, non? 

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Roasted Squash Sauce

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Spinach and ricotta again! As a person living on my own (although that is about to change! Details forthcoming), oft-times the ingredients for one recipe hold over for another. As was the case here—I only used about half the ricotta I bought for the spinach-ricotta dumplings, and I can’t resist buying more spinach anyway, because it is so sweet and delicious and GREEN this time of year. Refreshing. (Side note: ricotta is actually very easy to make yourself. All you need is milk, lemon juice or vinegar, a little heat, time, and a cheesecloth! Read more from The Kitchn.)

As I build up my repertoire here, I’d like to feature more recipes with similar ingredients, or weekly menu suggestions as a colleague suggested once. It’ll be easier when I’m more than a year old (!).

I’ve mentioned before that I often make a big batch of something at the beginning of the week and then eat it for lunch the rest of the week. This works well for time, but one does get tired of a single dish forever. One of my coworkers was complaining of a similar quandary today, and we may start doing Wednesday office lunch trading, which I think is rather a marvelous idea! Basically, trading lunch on Wednesday, when we’re sick of Day 3 of the same thing. We’ll have to restrict membership to the people who actually cook though. I’ll let you know if it comes to fruition.

Not that I would actually want to share this if I brought it to the office with me.

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Food-related shareables (I hope you like these)! Americans seem to be getting better eating habits (yay). But mostly we are trying to solve our cultivation problems with the typical solution, tech (tip: for articles you can’t read completely, sometimes googling the title then clicking on the link helps). I am excited about the possibilities but remain skeptical. What about using drones to plant trees? Actually, that sounds pretty neat. I do love trees, and somehow the mission seems more conscientious.

So, recipe. This was inspired by giant shells in the pasta section of the co-op a short while ago. I’d been thinking about ravioli but I don’t have a pasta machine (yet), which makes ravioli construction much more difficult; giant shells are a worthy substitute. Evidently, I also had ricotta and spinach, which makes a lovely filling (as has been discussed), and continue to have winter squash to use. I’d been dreaming about squash pasta sauce, perused a few recipes (this one is quite similar, and also has links to more seasonal recipes), and determined that really you don’t need much more than puréed squash to make a good sauce. Turns out it’s true; this dish is pretty spectacular—definitely dinner party material (and secretly easily made in fairly large quantities). Make sure to get some garnish materials if you want to make it look fancy—little accents make all the difference.

Spinach and ricotta stuffed shells with roasted squash sauce
Sauce: 
1 small squash (butternut, jester, whatever you have left!)
1 onion
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Pasta water!
Stock, milk, or cream (optional)
Rosemary or sage

Pasta filling (ratios can be adjusted at will):
Jumbo pasta shells (cook more than you want, since some will break
3/4 lb spinach, washed (kale also works)
3-4 cloves garlic (or to taste, I really like garlic)
3/4 cup ricotta
1 egg
1 cup shredded parmesan (or similar cheese)
Salt and pepper

Garnish (worth it even just for you):
Olive oil
Sage leaves
Fresh pepper

Roast the squash first: cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and put in the oven in a pan with some oil or butter under high heat for a long while (50 minutes?) until soft. Chop and roast the onions on the side of the pan.

Boil and salt water and cook the shells until al dente, slightly firm still but soft. Reserve some of the pasta water! This is to make the sauce: Purée the squash meat with onions, pasta water, and a little stock or cream if you like (yogurt would also work, which is what I generally keep around). Add a little rosemary or sage and season as you see fit.

For the filling (can be assembled as pasta is cooking if you like): Sauté the garlic in oil until slightly soft. Add spinach until wilted and most of the moisture is gone. In a bowl, mix ricotta, egg, most of the parmesan (reserve some to put on top), then squeezed (moisture-free) spinach/garlic.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Put squash sauce in the bottom of a pan (about 3/4 inch), then stuff each pasta shell with a little filling and tuck them in the sauce. Top with remaining parmesan, and bake for 30-40 minutes. It may benefit from covering with foil in the first part, so it doesn’t get dried out—then uncover and let the cheese on top become golden.

Garnish: heat oil in a pan, and when hot add sage leaves. Fry, flipping once, until lightly crispy.

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Place shells on plate, add a little extra sauce if necessary, and place fried sage leaves on top. Sprinkle with a little more fresh parmesan and some fresh ground pepper.

I mentioned at the beginning that I will soon be moving (in about a month)! But worry not, I shall remain in midcoast Maine and will continue to get a CSA and be cooking just as much. Maybe more, since I’ll have a roommate to cook for/with! And some more kitchen gadgets. If I start cooking more frequently for two or more people, some things may begin to change on this blog, as it has heretofore been largely an exploration of single-person cooking (although admittedly fairly often with guests to help cook or at least taste). However, I don’t envision it transforming significantly. You may notice some new backgrounds in my pictures though!

Cheers.

Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings

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Spring has sprung, dear readers! There is fresh spinach at the market and smiles abound!

About damn time, that’s what I think. Yesterday it got up to a glorious 50, almost 60 (!) degrees. Fabulous. I took a long walk and everyone seemed so happy, smiling, saying hello—we’re emerging from our winter shells and it feels so good. I love living in a small town where you pass people on the street and wave, knowing that they understand what we’ve all been through.

That all being said it’s supposed to rain and maybe even snow again today. Shoot. What that means is that although yesterday was a great salad day, you may want to use that new spinach for something a little warmer and richer. Fortuitously, I happen to have a recipe in mind for you.

Spinach and ricotta are a lovely combination to fill just about anything. Here, they are combined with a few spices to make little dumplings (the recipe I took this from called them gnocchi, although I’m not entirely convinced that’s accurate, I really think of gnocchi as containing potatoes). Then you broil them, and they get all crispy and beautiful. A little crispy ball with a delightfully creamy inside. Need an appetizer for and Easter meal? Look no further (plus, it’s good for brunch or dinner).

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Do you use all the food that you buy? Food waste has the highlight of a few recent news stories. Modern Farmer discusses companies that are working to use leftover products from certain industries, like grape seeds and skins. And you may have heard about Dan Barber’s popup restaurant in New York, Wasted? Making gleaning trendy (I admit that part of me sighed “oh, New York,” when I read about it. But I approve).

Another thing I wanted to mention is that this is a vegetarian recipe, like most of the ones that I cook and share with you. The reasons I’m a part-time vegetarian are because it’s better for the planet—veggies take less energy to grow—and that finding good, healthy (antibiotic free and all that) meat is rather pricey. But I do love meat and eat it not infrequently; and I think that meat animals are an essential part of a whole farm ecosystem. There are also ways to kill animals that aren’t too stressful, if that’s your qualm. If you are vegetarian, kudos to you and more people in the world should move in that direction—just keep in mind that plants are organisms too, and that just because we know less about them (and, for example, how they talk to each other) doesn’t mean we should feel more righteous about killing them as opposed to mammals. What I’m trying to say is that even if you have a strong ethical directive, you can’t stop thinking about where your food comes from and what it takes to produce it, and that goes for everyone.

Original recipe from Food 52, although I actually found it too rich, so I’m cutting down the butter.

Spinach and ricotta dumplings
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 1/2 pound fresh spinach, washed (you can also use two 10-oz packages of frozen spinach in a pinch) 
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 eggs
6 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or other hard cheese, divided
Salt and pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Start by cooking the spinach. Wash, then sauté until wilted (it will shrink down a bunch). You’ll want to squeeze out whatever water you can, it is often very liquidy. After squeezing dry, chop it up. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan and add the spinach back in until all the liquid has disappeared, then add the ricotta and cook for a few minutes.

Beat the eggs together in a separate bowl, then add the spinach/ricotta, flour, 1/4 cup of grated cheese, and seasonings. Mix together, then refrigerate until a little firmer, 30-60 minutes.

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Boil water in a large (pasta) pot. Remove batter (dough? mixture?) from the fridge and shape into small balls, maybe 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Boil, like you would gnocchi, for 5-8 minutes, until they are all floating and get a little puffy. Lift them out and set them on a rack or clean tea towel to dry.

Turn on the broiler (although you may have to turn the oven up really hot instead, depending on the strength of your boiler). Melt the last 2 tablespoons of butter in a small roasting pan, and place the dumplings in the pan, leaving a little space in between. Top with cheese, then broil (or roast) until the cheese is brown and crispy.

Serve hot. They reheat well in a hot oven (you could put them straight from the fridge into a cold oven, then turn it up high). I recommend some crusty bread on the side.

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Winter Veggie Chowdah

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Still have winter veggies left? Yuh, me too. Fortunately it’s raining out (which means that it’s warm enough not to be snowing!), and therefore a good day for soup. And even though this contains the same old winter vegetables that you are tired of, by infusing the milk before adding it to the soup you achieve a complex floral flavor melange. What I’m telling you is that this soup is not boring, and that it’s worth more than your last turnips.

It’s ladled over toast or croutons and cheese, which makes the cheese get all melty and the bread a little soft (I recommend hearty bread that doesn’t fall apart). Altogether very satisfying.

A shareable: good old (he is getting up there) Wendell Berry has a new piece about changes in farming in the last century or so. If you don’t know Wendell Berry and you are interested in food/farming/agriculture/community/the world, make yourself familiar with his work. Start with The Unsettling of America. His main themes are the importance of place, the value of hard work, and the development of community; he is generally anti-industrialist, primarily due to the detrimental effect industrialism has had on our communities.

Recipe from Deborah Madison’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for everyone.

Winter Vegetable Chowder
Milk:
2 cups whole milk
Parsley
Thyme (fresh or dried)
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 onion
Peppercorns (at least 10)
Juniper berries (I didn't actually have any, but they would be awesome)

Soup:
Butter or oil
Leeks or onion
4 cups winter vegetables: carrots, turnips, celeriac, rutabaga, parsnip, sunchokes
2 bay leaves
Parsley (and other herbs, as you see fit)
Salt
2 tablespoons flour
5 cups water (or stock, but I would say save stock for soups that need more added flavor)
Pepper

Seedy country sourdough bread, toasted (as stated, choose a hearty bread that won't disintegrate too quickly when added to soup. This is a good use for some of those loaves that turned a little more brick-like than you usually like)
Cheese, such as Gruyère, for toast

Steep the milk first: heat it up all the “milk” ingredients in a saucepan or the microwave until boiling, then turn it off, cover, and set aside to infuse.

Chop all the veggies for the soup, in 1/2-3/4 inch chunks. Melt butter or heat oil in a large saucepan/soup pot, and add the vegetables, with the bay leaves, herbs, and salt. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned. Stir in the flour, then add 5 cups water and bring to a boil. Cook, partially covered, until vegetables are tender, another 25 minutes or so.

Pour the milk into the soup (strain if you like, although I didn’t—I find it kind of exciting to get a peppercorn in your soup, but you might not). Taste for salt, and pepper as needed.

To serve: place toast in a bowl, and cover with grated cheese. Ladle soup on top, sprinkle with a little extra parsley, and enjoy.

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