Thursday, July 31, 2008

Veggie-Rich Red Sauce

One of my favorite things to both make and eat is homemade pasta sauce. I don't really adhere to a particular recipe because each time I tend to open the fridge and use whatever I have on hand as ingredients. Lately I have been sneaking extra vegetables into the sauces I make because my toddler is utterly dead-set against consuming any green vegetables, so I have to disguise or hide them from her. The best way I have found to do this is to use the food processor! Here's my toddler-fooling pasta sauce:

1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 pkg portobella mushrooms, chopped
1 sm/med zucchini or summer squash, chopped
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 sm onion, chopped
1 cup baby carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
olive oil
1 scant tsp oregano
salt & pepper
1 bay leaf

Saute onion, garlic, and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano until onion is soft and slightly golden and mushrooms have cooked down to about 1/2 their regular size. Dump into food processor. Add 1/2 can crushed tomatoes and puree until smooth. Transfer from food processor to large saucepan.

In same saute pan, add a bit more oil and saute zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and bell pepper with a tiny bit of salt and pepper until broccoli is tender. Carrots should be getting soft, but definitely not mushy. Dump into food processor. Add remaining 1/2 can crushed tomatoes and puree until smooth. You may need to add a drizzle of olive oil to get a better consistency. Transfer from food processor and combine with onion/tomato mixture. Add bay leaf.

Heat tomato sauce to bubbling, stirring to prevent it from burning or sticking to the pot. Add tomato paste and mix thoroughly. Let simmer for at least 15 minutes so all flavors can blend. If you prefer a thinner sauce, add water. If you like it thicker, let it simmer down on the stove.

Serve over the pasta of your choice, and smile to yourself as your family eats their veggies without even knowing it!!!

Note: sometimes I will leave some of the sauteed veggies out of the food processor for the adults who like them. In the pic above, there are visible pieces of red bell pepper and mushrooms.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Grouse of the Day: Bloodletting

Dammit, I HATE cutting myself!

Where can I take a class on knife skills?

Would a vegan still eat the food if they cut their finger and bled on the food?

Non-Traditional Moroccan Dinner

I am basing my recipe on several Moroccan dishes that I've read on, the back of the Fantastic Foods cous-cous box, and my own American Family Cookbook. This is a major deviation from all those sources, but it utilizes foods that are commonly found in my pantry/fridge, and which I think are also commonly found in most people's kitchens too (at least in summer!). I hope you like it!

cous-cous, cooked with veggie stock (or chicken stock) instead of water, enough for 4 people
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 large shallot, diced
1 head broccoli, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 cup chopped baby carrots
1 can chick peas, drained
1/4 cup sultanas or golden raisins
olive oil
1/4 c. white wine
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Make cous-cous according to package directions, substituting stock for water (to add flavor). In a separate pan, saute shallot in olive oil about 5 minutes. Add carrot, broccoli, and zucchini. Saute till broccoli turns bright green but not soft (about 4 mins) and add white wine as necessary to keep pan moist. Add spices slowly, mixing continuously with a wooden spoon.

Slowly add cous-cous to this pan in batches, about 1/2 cup at a time. Add more stock to keep everything moist, and adjust seasonings as needed. You may need more cinnamon and cumin, depending on how intense you like it. Toss all ingredients well, and mound on plate. Garnish with parsley, mint, or chopped chive.

You can also grill chicken breast, seasoned with cinnamon and cumin, and add diced to this dish, or serve whole on the side.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Grouse of the Day: Green Beans

I know that green beans are really good for you and all that, but they just don't taste particularly good. Plus, trimming the ends is tedious. I don't want to eat them. I want cupcakes.

Mama's Got a Brand-New Bag

Starting in September I will be teaching a poetry workshop. I'm very excited about this!!! I have been writing poems since high school, and have gotten published in a few prestigious journals, and am nearly finished with my book manuscript. I've taught a bunch of composition classes, but this is the first time I get to lead a class in an exploration of what I love. Here's the blurb:

Poetry Writing Workshop: Releasing the Voice Within

Each one of us has our own unique voice, and many of us don’t have the opportunity to express ourselves with the written word. In this workshop, students will examine and discuss poems written by contemporary poets, referring to poems in a variety of styles as jumping-off points for their own experimentation. Each class meeting will include a lecture on writing craft, literary devices, form, and interpretation, yet the focus of the class is the students’ own writing. While exploring the art of making poems, students will engage in exercises both in and out of class that are designed to provoke thought and stimulate the creation of original poems. This class is a safe space for creative play, experimentation with form and voice, and giving and receiving feedback in a small community of empathetic and honest fellow poets.

Classes begin Wednesday, September 10th at 7:30pm and run for 10 weeks. Students need bring only a notebook and pen. Location: First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, 124 Henry Street.

Please contact me if you are interested in this class, and also please send this info to friends of yours who write! Thanks...

What Kind of Cook are YOU?

A while back, a friend and I were discussing what kind of cooks we are. She and I both felt that we are stew/soup cooks, meaning that those are the kinds of dishes we gravitate to and feel most comfortable cooking. I like being able to throw a bunch of ingredients into one big pot and have the result be something hearty and filling. My favorite dishes to make are gumbo, chili, chicken soup, and quiche. My husband is definitely a saucier (French pronounciation, please!) who loves to make delicate, time-consuming and labor-intensive sauces to be ladled over something relatively simple like steamed lobster or grilled steak. Another friend excels at fancy salads of all kinds, my stepmom is a saute queen, and some people I know have the "baking gene."

What kind of cook are you? Have you ever thought about this? Let me know; I'm interested to see what most people like to cook!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mmmmm, soup!

This recipe may be better suited for a fall or winter's evening, but I happened to make it tonight and it was so good I just had to share it. I had a bunch of things sitting around that I wanted to use up, and just kind of threw them all together to see how it would turn out. It's an absolutely delicious, soothing, rich soup. I love it.

1 13-oz pkg defrosted winter squash
1/2 onion, diced
2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
thyme (about 3 strands if using fresh)
1 pkg white mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp butter
olive oil
salt & pepper
3 tbsp heavy cream (plus a bit more)
about 1 cup chicken stock

First, saute the onion and garlic in butter, and a little oil to raise the smoke point. Salt to soften the onion faster. When onion is very soft and slightly golden, remove from heat and set aside. In the same pan, saute the mushrooms with a tiny bit more olive oil and the thyme. Salt and pepper liberally.

When the mushrooms have cooked down and are quite soft, transfer to food processor, add the onion mixture, the squash, about 1/2 cup chicken stock, and about 3 tbsp cream. Puree for about a minute, then add more stock and cream to get a thick, creamy soup. It should not take more than another 1/2 cup of stock, and perhaps another 2 tbsp cream.

When pureed to your liking, pour soup into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately turn down the heat and simmer about 5 minutes.

I would serve this with roast chicken and an endive/fennel/blue cheese salad.

Grouse of the Day: Wine Snobbery

There is a very nice wine and spirits shop around the corner from my apartment I frequent mainly because of its proximity, but also because their wine selection and prices are pretty good for a medium sized neighborhood shop. However, the owner of the store is never especially friendly, doesn't remember me even though I shop there regularly, and when I mention that I heard about a cheap wine that gets good ratings (for example, a $7 Barefoot chardonnay that got an 85 in Wine Spectator) he not only expresses minimal interest, but also makes me feel that I must have an amateur palate if I am tasting $7 bottles of wine.

What a snob! Perhaps if I were regularly dropping over $40 per bottle he would remember me, but that's not fair. Most of the people in Park Slope are interested in wine, and I'd venture to guess that a bargain white would warrant at least a taste-test bottle for them as well. I have decided to boycott this shop. There is another shop a bit farther down 7th Avenue called Shawn Liquors (even its name is auspicious!) that is smaller, but everyone who works there, including the blue-haired chick at the register, is very friendly and helpful. They will get my business from now on, dammit.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Frozen Fruit Rules

I know you're probably all getting your panties in a knot already at the thought of frozen fruit at the height of summer. BUT. When you have a toddler whose palate preferences change as frequently as the wind, it's so much more convenient to have fruit you can store for more than two or three days than have to worry it will sit in the fridge and rot if it isn't eaten immediately.

We made pancakes this morning with frozen blueberries, and they were great. My husband made a quick compote of blueberries and strawberries simply by heating and slightly mashing them, and adding the barest sprinkling of sugar. The other day, I took a small handful of frozen strawberries and put them in a Ziploc bag in the baby's lunch sac. By the time she wanted them, they were thawed and soft. She gobbled them down without a second thought. Perfect!

Plus, if you feel like a super-quick dessert, you can thaw one 12 or 16 ounce package of berries in the microwave (or in the fridge overnight), throw them in an oven-proof pan and top with a basic crumble mixture:

1/3 cup softened butter
1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup crushed nuts (pecans, macadamias, walnuts, almonds, etc)

Mix all these ingredients with a fork, and sprinkle evenly over the berries. Bake in a 350 oven for about 25-30 minutes. Easy-peasy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

NEW ITEM: Grouse of the Day

Those of you who know me well are intimately acquainted with my preferred method of blowing off steam: the fine art of bitching and moaning. I have decided to officially catalog my bitching so that everyone can see what irks me (helpful, eh?). Today's grouse is this:

I really really hate not having a dishwasher. Sometimes I just want to throw the plates out the kitchen window just so I won't have to wash them. The next apartment we move into MUST have a dishwasher, or else I'm going on strike.

So there!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Poor Little Vegetarian Girl

So there was this blog entry on the New York Times the other day written by a college student who is taking her junior year abroad in Paris. Lucky duck! I wish I'd done that. She explains that she has been a lacto-ovo vegetarian from the age of 8 for ethical reasons. She goes on to say that while in Paris, she has learned that due to the strong adherence to tradition in France, French livestock are slaughtered humanely, do not spend their short lives trapped in miserable feedlots, and aren't treated abominably as they are on giant American industrial farms. So she decided to try eating some flesh.

What shocked me was not that she started eating meat, it was not her ultimate return to vegetarianism, and it was not even the fact that someone's meat vacation was considered newsworthy. It was the vitriol spewing from people leaving comments on her blog! My god, people, don't you have anything better to do than castigate some woman who is simply reconsidering a decision she had made 12 years ago? Don't you ever change your minds?

At one point in her post, the author says, “meat-eating facilitates a sense of connection with other people that tempeh just doesn’t. Taking the life of an animal for food is a morbid, ironic affirmation that we are alive.” This makes sense to me, and I do like to eat meat. I have never gotten excited or nostalgic about a slab of tempeh the way I (and plenty of my friends) will wax rhapsodic over delicate lobster tail dripping with melted butter, a hamburger oozing melty cheddar, or a tender, rare steak. And it's simply the truth that as omnivores, in order to live we must kill. That is by definition a morbid irony. Life = death. Get it?

However, one loser said in response to this that he "cannot express how deeply I disagree with both these statements, and how profoundly offensive I find them." This you find offensive? Wow. I guess you live in a large community of people who have tempeh traditions (where DO you live?), and are incapable of seeing irony. Maybe you should get out more. Or get therapy.

Nonetheless, I found her blog post to be entertaining and, shall we say, food for thought.

Purists Will Hate It

There is nothing easier to make, more nutritious and filling, or comforting and tastier than hummus. I dislike the taste of tahini, however, so I substitute mild nuts such as walnuts or pecans. The result is a creamier-tasting, slightly sweet hummus that doesn't overwhelm the palate. Here is my way of making it:

about 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
1 can chick peas, drained
about 1/3 cup really good olive oil, more if you want a smoother spread
4-6 cloves garlic, plus a drizzle of olive oil over them
+/- 1 tbsp cumin powder
+/- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2-4 teaspoons LIME juice (not lemon), depending on how tart you like it
salt & pepper to taste

First, peel and roughly chop the garlic. Place in a ramekin or other small, oven-safe vessel, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. You can also put them in the toaster oven on broil, covered, for about 25 minutes.

While garlic is roasting, grind nuts in food processor with a bit of the olive oil to form a grainy paste. Add cumin, cayenne, and lime juice. Add chick peas. When garlic is done roasting, throw that in too. Process while slowly pouring in the olive oil until you have the consistency you like. Add salt and pepper as you see fit. Serve with pita, toasted bagel chips, or make into a sandwich with cucumber, tomato, feta, and grilled chicken. Delish!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I am obsessed with green amethyst. I desperately want a large (I mean LARGE) green amethyst solitaire ring with side accent stones set in yellow gold for my birthday. A square or rectangle cut stone with some interesting swirly gold, something maybe vintagey looking. Or maybe a severe, architectural design with modern angles and arty etching in surprising places.

Ring size 7 will do nicely. Hint, hint.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dinner for Picky Kids

I was babysitting a couple of kids yesterday while their mom had a late doctor's appointment, and I needed to make them dinner. These kids are picky (although their mom SWEARS they will eat anything, every time I try to feed them, they don't like it!), so I was a bit anxious about what to make them. In the end, we made roll-your-own burritos. SO EASY. Here's what I did:

1 package of tortillas (the large ones)
2 packages of shredded jack or Mexican Mix cheeses
2 cans of refried beans
1-1/2 cups cooked white rice
1 jar salsa
1 package of chicken breast, thinly sliced
spray oil
sour cream or plain yogurt
shredded lettuce
chopped tomatoes
chopped avocado

First, cook the rice according to package directions. While it's simmering, cook chicken breast in a hot grill pan with the spray oil. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil (you don't want it to be "slimy"!). Cut chicken into small (1/2 inch square) pieces, and place in a serving bowl. Dump refried beans into serving bowl and microwave till hot. Stir through.

Place 1 tortilla on a plate. Sprinkle with shredded cheese. Microwave on high for 45 seconds, or long enough for cheese to melt.

Set table in an assembly line: plates with cheesy tortillas, rice, beans, chicken, chopped veggies, sour cream/yogurt, salsa. Have kids place fillings in center of tortilla (not all over) so the tortilla can be rolled up and the melted cheese "seals" it shut.

If you want to make it more flavorful for an adult palate, season the chicken with chili powder, cayenne, and cumin before grilling, and cook the rice in a chicken or veggie stock. Mash the avocado with diced tomato and onion, season with lime juice and coarse sea salt to make it into guacamole.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anchovy Crostini

OK, so we had half a container of that tofu-based, creamy spinach spread left over from dinner the other night. I had been wondering how to use it (it doesn't taste good enough to me to spread on a bagel), when I came up with this:

lightly toasted slices of baguette - served warm
smear generously with the tofu florentine - cold
top with one or two alici fillets - cold

Alici is Italian for anchovy, and I was surprised when I looked this up on Wikipedia because I had thought that they were sardines. The ones I bought at Blue Apron on Union St. in Park Slope are already boned, and cured in a light, lemony olive oil. Slightly tart, slightly salty, they counter well the bland creaminess of the tofu. Just delicious.

I recommend a Sterling Vineyards chardonnay to drink with it. Yum!

Um, oops...

We had our neighbors over for dinner last night, and I was excited. I am primarily friends with the woman, whom I'll call Jane. She is currently a stay-at-home mom who is taking a break from a career in architecture, and is very smart, laid-back, and funny. She isn't obsessed, as many moms are, with the minutia of her son's life: she doesn't regale me with anecdotes about his feeding or bowel movements, doesn't want to compare diaper rash cream or trade pregnancy and nursing stories. It's a relief! We chat at length when we run into each other in the laundry room, gab on the phone fairly frequently, and have made many plans to go out for strolls together, plans which are always cancelled due to our kids' erratic nap schedules. I have only barely met her husband "Dave," but he seems pleasant and nice. Their son is a cute 7 month old who is cheerful and bouncy, a good playmate for my 15 month old curious and social daughter. I wanted to get to know them as a family, so last week I invited them all over for dinner.

I made the easiest thing I could think of, because it was a mid-week meal -- marinated flank steak with rice and a cold chopped salad. It takes about 20 minutes total to prep, 10 minutes to cook, and is a perennial crowd pleaser. Jane and Dave brought wine and dessert. Everyone sat down and talked comfortably together while the babies played on the floor, and my husband more or less held up our side of the conversation while I buzzed back and forth between the living room and kitchen, bringing out the cheese and bread, opening the wine, etc. It's the sacrifice a host must make, missing out on much of the conversation in favor of making sure the plates get to the table, I suppose. At any rate, I entirely missed the part where Dave explained what he did for a living, but I figured my husband would catch me up on everything when the night was over.

When we sat down to dinner, the conversation turned to our children's eating habits and food preferences, and how they relate to parental eating. We joked about their son becoming a vegan, and how horrible that would be, since both Jane and Dave are enthusiastic (though quite slim!) omnivores who eagerly took second helpings of my steak. I then upped the ante by saying, "which would be worse, your son becoming a vegan or a Republican?" Jane hesitated, and said, "well, I really love meat, so..." I continued on to say something else vague about how awful I think Republicans are, along the lines of vegans only restricting themselves while Republicans stick their noses into everyone else's lives and ruin it for everyone. There was some hemming hawing, mostly about how delicious meat is, and then my husband turned the conversation more fully onto food, expounding on various meats and fish he loves and would not want to give up.

Later, after a lovely, creamy pannacotta and offers to help us clean up, they took their son home to bed, and my husband and I sat down to digest and procrastinate. He gently poked me in the ribs and said, "Nice one about Republicans." I was mystified and gave him a confused look. He explained: "Dave went to a famously conservative college, and works for a major financial firm managing really rich people's money. Do you think he might be a Republican?"

Oh shit...

I really hope that I didn't offend them. I don't think that all Republicans are evil, just the ones who run for political office. In fact, in my experience, most people I know who claim to be Republicans are embarrassed by their party's leaders, and since New York is so liberal, I tend to assume that most people feel similarly to me about the Republican party.

But I guess that's why they say Never assume. It makes an ass our of you and me. I guess I'll find out if they hate me if Jane starts ignoring my calls!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Veganism, Mangoes, and a Truce

I recently offered to cook a meal for a dear friend of mine who recently lost her mind and gave up ALL animal products. She has been vegetarian for years, and I have many other friends who are also vegetarians -- indeed, for a few self-righteous years in college I myself was a strict vegetarian. Now, however, she is vegan, and that posed a serious challenge to me as a cook. I understand the ethical and moral issues behind the decision to give up meat, fish and poultry. I see the hypocracy inherent in many people's "don't kill the cute animals, but gimme a steak" version of animal rights. I agree with the reasoning behind avoiding the consumption of creatures that have been depleted to near-extinction, and/or whose acquisition harms the planet. I am horrified by the beef industry's inhumane and unsanitary killing practices, and am pained at the idea of debeaked chickens. I am waiting breathlessly for someone to invent in vitro fur so I can finally wear a gorgeous coat without being responsible for the death of many furry beasts. I get it; I get it!

However, anyone who knows me is aware of my burning antipathy for vegans (no bacon I can understand, but no eggs? no butter? no CHEESE? what a pain in the ass! how inconvenient for everyone else! what disappointing baked goods!) and can understand the trepidation with which I approached my culinary hurdle. Initially I thought, "shit, I've got to make tofu and veggies over pasta or rice; how boring." I turned to The Artful Vegan, the cookbook from the famed Millennium restaurant in San Francisco, and discarded it based on the intricacy of the recipes and the amount of time each would take. I leafed through several Indian and Thai cookbooks and drew the same conclusion: buying all the necessary ingredients that I don't have on hand would put me in the poorhouse. I made a mental run-through of all the recipes I know by heart, pondering what proteins I could omit or substitute with tofu or beans, and rejected all possibilities as dull or yucky. Finally I checked in with an old friend: Molly Katzen. Her Moosewood Cookbook is one that I've had since college (and those bygone veggie days), and it has always served me well. The recipes are simple, rich, and delicious. She includes handy notes about prep and cooking times, and also cute little drawings of what the food should approximately look like.

She offered a colorful little salad composed of cucumber, mango, and red bell pepper seasoned with lemon and lime juices, a little brown sugar (unnecessary, in my opinion), and garnished with plenty of chopped cilantro. It was divine! A perfect cold summer salad. But there was still no protein for this meal. I figured I would make my old standby: lightly sauteed chopped veggies and tofu with a sauce of almond butter, coconut milk and soy sauce over soba noodles. It's tasty, easy, time-consuming (all the chopping), and I'm kind of tired of it. But it works.

Then my husband made me leave the house. It was a good idea, but I needed my coffee. He took me to Ozzie's, a coffee shop on our corner that serves iced hazelnut coffee and they don't charge extra for soy milk (see? I don't always drink cowmilk!). He walked me to the park to watch our pugs frolic with other leashless doggies. Finally, we all headed over to the greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza here in Park Slope in hopes of finding inspiration. The bok choy was wormy, the baked goods looked a bit soggy in the muggy weather, and the berries were totally overpriced (we bought some blueberries anyway). However, we did chance upon squash blossoms, which I have had only rarely, and view as a somewhat flavorless but visually appealing oddity. My husband, however, grew up in the Bay area with a father whose idol was Julia Child; he snapped up a large box of the blooms with alacrity and proclaimed, "here's our main course." I looked at him dubiously, but as I am used to indulging him, I said nothing.

He then dropped me and the baby off at home for naps (thank god for air conditioning) and headed back out to the local bodegas. He returned with some lovely, bell shaped pink flowers for me, and a creamy tofu-based spinach-herb spread that tasted a bit like those sour cream-based dips you use for crudite platters, but was thick like cream cheese. I was surprised -- most tofu based faux cheese products taste rather plastic-y or have a weird slimy texture, but this was pretty good. He said that he was planning to stuff the blossoms with the spread, batter them, and then fry them, based on a chevre stuffing and egg batter recipe that his dad had made years ago. I wouldn't have been fooled in a blind tasting, but I figured that as an ingredient in a bigger dish rather than the main flavor, it would be quite nice. After a brief cool-down in front of the a/c, we threw a bottle of chardonnay into the fridge and got to work.

My hubby made a light batter of rice flour, wheat flour, and club soda with which he coated the tofu spread-stuffed squash blossoms, and deep fried them in veggie oil. We laid several fritters on top of homemade bruschetta: lightly toasted sourdough bread rubbed with raw garlic, and heaped with diced tomato, onion, garlic, and basil tossed in a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Served with the bright orange, red, and green salad and a deep glass of chilled chard, we feasted until we were stuffed. My vegan friend was impressed, I was relieved, and all three of us were thrilled by the gooey-inside, crispy-outside squash blossoms. If only all vegan fare were this exciting, fresh, and tasty, I might even consider ditching cheese myself....