eat tang

Anyone who cooks vegetarian regularly knows, a portion of your kitchen time is spent turning recipes you find for sides into convincing main dishes. I had some fresh broccolini I was keen to use, and a recipe on NYT caught my eye. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but without much effort, it could work. My first goal was to make the rice itself a tad more robust. I also added caramelized onions and ricotta to the finished dish, for more complex flavor and texture.

1 cup brown rice
1 pat of butter
1 minced clove garlic
½ tsp mustard powder
2 cups vegetable stock
3 tsp dijon
1½ tsp tamari
¼ tsp sriracha
2 md. bundles of broccolini, trimmed from the long stems
½ an onion, sliced
⅓ cup fresh ricotta

Heat a pat of butter in a sauce pot over medium high heat. As it melts, add in the brown rice garlic and mustard powder, stirring frequently until the rice toasts slightly. Add the stock to the pot and bring to boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer covered for around 40 minutes.

Turn the oven on to 400˚. While your rice is cooking, heat up a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cover. Stir them as infrequently as you can mange. The point here is to sweat them out, until they are dry again and sticking to the pan, just slightly. When you get there, uncover them add a generous bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. They should turn golden as they quickly caramelize. Remove from the heat and set aside.

As you’re sweating the onions, combine the dijon, sriracha and tamari in a large mixing bowl and whisk into a dressing. When the rice seems like it only has a minute or two left, lift the lid and place the prepared broccolini on top, then cover again to steam it slightly with what’s left from the end of the rice cooking process.

Dump the rice and broccolini into the large bowl with the dressing, tossing quickly to coat it well. Transfer the mixture to a medium casserole dish. Spread it evenly then make small divots in the top. Drop a tablespoon of ricotta or a teaspoon there, into the divots. Cover the top of the dish with the caramelized onions in a single layer then place in the oven until heated through (and maybe the edges of the onions are charring just slightly). Let cool a couple of minutes and serve warm.

If you want, cut the leftovers broccolini stems into quarter inch discs and fry them in a skillet of high-heat oil (like grape seed) for a minute until slightly charred , remove to paper towel, pat dry and toss with salt to make a snack, for later.

like imploded pizzas

I was gathering recipes for stuffed tomatoes, looking for a filling, healthy springtime dish. Ultimately, I found myself disappointed by either a bland flavor profile, a lack of substance, or how (not) easy they were to make for a weeknight cook. So I set out to make my own variation, a sort of amalgam of my various failures.  

What I ended up with may not be terribly authentic, but is delicious and efficient. Sure, you could spend the time to make a garlic-basil risotto to fill your 'mats with—if you've got that kind of time on a Tuesday night. In the end, these rich, filling, robust little flavor bombs seemed to me like imploded personal pizzas.

6 whole medium tomatoes
1/2 cup of rice
½ cup of bread crumbs
1 cup of packed basil
1 tbs blanched slivered almonds
3 whole cloves of garlic + 1 more, minced
¼ cup parmesan cut into ¼-inch cubes
juice of ½ a lime
2 tbs olive oil

I'd start out by making the pesto. You'll have time while the rice is cooking, but the tomatoes need to be dealt with as well, so… you've got to start somewhere. This part is easy. Wash the basil, throw it in your food processor with 3 whole cloves of garlic, almonds, lime juice, salt and olive oil. Blend until it's pesto. After that's a wrap, preheat the oven to 425˚.

The rice is up next: I often start rice by melting a small pat of butter in a saucepan. Once, it's good to go, I'll add a clove of minced garlic and a pinch of salt, simmering until it's fragrant. Then I'll add the rice, stirring it constantly, until there's a light toast on it. Lastly, I'll add twice as much water as I did rice, and a bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot—letting it simmer for 15 minutes or so until done.

While the rice is doing it's thing, core the tomatoes, cutting down through the the top in circle, with a paring knife and scooping out the insides with a spoon. (Note: I don't need to tell you to save those tomato innards for stock, do I).

Let the rice cool a wee bit, then combine it with the pesto, parmesan and about ¾ of the bread crumbs, in a bowl. Once you've folded it all together, fill the cored tomatoes with your mixture. Top each tomato with the rest of the breadcrumbs, patting them down just a bit. Line a small casserole pan with parchment paper, arranging the filled tomatoes in it. Place it all in the oven for twenty minutes or so—until heated through and the skin of the tomatoes are crinkling a bit and breadcrumbs are toasty on top. Let them cool (just a tad) and serve warm—I'd provide some steak knives to quarter them easily.

remedies fr yr maladies

With the CDC saying there's a particularly virulent strain of the flu going around—one not expected and therefore not covered in the vaccine for this season—odds are, at some point this winter, you're going to find yourself bedridden. You might, in that situation find solace, if not relief, in this recipe.

I tried as many variations on garlic soup as I could find. I wanted something, well… garlicky, but I didn't want it to be boring and one-dimensional. It needed to be robust and not thin and broth-y, without distracting unduly from the hero of the dish. What I've developed is a full-forced garlic broth, cooked with pasta and lima beans (for complimentary heft). It's finished by tempering eggs into the broth and serving with a swirl of raw kale pesto, bringing some healthy greens and a pungent raw garlic bite to contrast with the savory cooked garlic. This can all come together surprisingly quick, even under 30 minutes.

6 cloves of garlic, minced
½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tbs dark miso (optional)
1 cup small pasta (elbow, penne or rotini)
1 cup frozen lima beans (or peas)
2 eggs, beaten

5-6 large leaves lacinto / dinosaur kale, stemmed
2 cloves of garlic peeled
1 tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted
1-2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 pinch crushed red pepper
juice of 1 lime

Toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often. In a food processor, compine 2 whole, peeled cloves of garlic with the pine nuts, kale, salt, red pepper and 1 tbs of olive oil. Pulse it until it is well combined, adding more oil as needed. Remove to a mixing bowl and fold in lime juice to taste.

In a measuring cup, whip the miso with a half-cup of vegetable stock until dissolved. Combine with the rest of the stock in a soup pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and add garlic, thyme, bay and salt. Cover and simmer for 15 min. Add the pasta and cook until just al dente (stirring occasionally). Add frozen beans to the soup and simmer 1 more minute.

Turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Working quickly, beat two eggs in a measuring cup, remove broth from the pot 2 tablespoons at a time and whip it into the eggs. Repeat until the mixture is hot, nearly as hot as the soup. You want the eggs to become tempered to the heat without cooking them into solidity. It might take upwards of two cups of broth. Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the egg mixture.

Serve each bowl with a heaping tablespoon of kale pesto, and maybe something tasty, like a toasted baguette, sprinkled with parmesan.

It's worth noting that it only makes sense to make as much soup as you will eat in one sitting. The pasta will get overly soft in the fridge and the egg will separate upon reheating. That said, I do often make extra of the kale pesto and save it for a later, quick and easy meal of pasta with pesto.

how do i choose?

Once, when going out to brunch, a friend proposed getting an order of waffles for the table, as an appetizer. It provided a novel solution to the constant war of breakfast: the choice between sweet and savory. Unfortunately, her solution was more of an fix for the moment than the problem.

A mad desire to 'have it all' informed my variations to a Cooks' Illustrated granola recipe. For starters I needed to reduce the sugar. As much as I like the idea of candy for breakfast, there's only so much sweet I can consume on a given weekday morning. The solution was to swap out their christmasy cinnamon and vanilla for a mild indian curry and some garam masala. With this heat, I could cut down on the sweet.

½ cup olive (or neutral) oil
⅓ cup maple syrup
⅓ brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbs indian curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
2 cups raw cashew pieces
5 cups rolled oats
2 cups dried currants
1 cup toasted coconut chips (if that's your thing)

easy wins
This is, truly, dead easy to make. First, Preheat the oven to 325˚.

In a large bowl, whisk the maple syrup, brown sugar and oil together. Stir in the salt and spices. Then, with a rubber spatula fold in the nuts and oats. I usually lay the nuts down in a layer over the syrup mix, then add the oats, just so the oats don't soak up the liquid while i'm fussing about. Work it until the oats seem evenly covered.

Pour the whole thing out on to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use your spatula to smooth out the top and compact the oats down. This way, when it comes out of the oven, it will resemble a big old granola bar. Bake it for 45 minutes or until golden brown, rotating the pan once, half way through. Let it cool for 30 minutes or so. Break your big granola bar into clusters and toss it with the currants and coconut chips. Store in a tupperware in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. Serve frequently with yogurt, milk or ricotta.

easy mistakes
Let's take a moment to learn from some of my mistakes.

  • Unless you have a convection oven, don't forget to rotate the granola half way through baking, or it'll come out half burnt, half parbaked.
  • Don't try substituting the parchment paper with wax paper. No. Really, don't.
  • As an admitted salt-addict, I tried substituting raw cashews with roasted, salted ones. They burnt.
  • For the similar reasons, don't bake the dried fruit, add it in at the end, unless you really like chewing.

Purified by Fire

Outside of summer, you will often see so-called-heirloom tomatoes in the grocery store. While memories of summer delicacies dance in your head, you'll buy some, only to inevitably be disappointed. Silly rabbit, it's just not time for such things. The impulse is easy to understand; it's like wearing shorts on that first, almost-warm day of the year, you're gonna regret it.

Since I'm by no means immune, I've concocted this cheat: Fire-Roasted Tomato Caprese. Roasting will turn bland early spring imposters into robust, flavorful delights. To match the altered palette of the cooked tomatoes, I pair it with a smoked mozzarella and use crispy, fried sage leaves in place of the traditional basil.

2 large, fresh heirloom tomatoes, cut into ½-plus slices, crosswise
1 small ball smoked mozzarella (approx. 6oz), cut into thin slices
2 cloves garlic, slivered
1 pinch crushed red pepper
olive oil
coarse sea salt
handful of large, whole, fresh sage leaves (washed and dried well)
½ cup (or more) grape seed oil
fresh pepper

Preheat the oven to 375˚. Cut some parchment paper into squares slightly larger than the tomato slices and arrange them on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle each with a little coarse sea salt. Place a tomato slice onto each square, dress it with olive oil, crushed red pepper and slivered garlic. Place the cookie sheet on a high rack in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the sides are crinkled and the tomatoes are bubbling or even very lightly charred around the edges. (Side note, to sliver garlic, hold the bottom of a peeled clove and cut slices in it just short of all the way through. Then, cut once or twice in the opposite direction. Lastly, cut off the slivers loose at the base.)

Heat the grape seed oil over medium high, in a cast iron skillet—one small enough to give the oil a little depth (you want about ¼-inch deep). I use a pan lid that fits snugly over my cast iron skillet to try and contain the splatter. Make sure your sage is dried well, too: the more water the more it will spit violently in the hot oil. Once it's up to temp, add a few sage leaves, one at a time, using tongs to keep your hands away from any splatter. I'll lift the pan lid just enough to drop it in and close it immediately afterwards, dropping the leaves in from different sides of the pan, as I don't want them to get stuck together. They will spatter for 5-15 seconds. When they calm down, flip 'em 'round. If they don't cause much fuss on that side, pull them out with the tongs and set them aside, on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

If the sage is browing, turn the heat down a touch and work a bit quicker. They're fine brown—just a tad less herbaceous  and, frankly, less visually appealing on the plate.

When the tomatoes are done, carefully lift a square and set it on the plate. You should be able to hold the tomato in place and slide the parchment paper out from underneath it smoothly—like a magician with a tablecloth. On to each tomato, add a slice of smoked mozzarella, then dress them with a couple of sage leaves and cracked pepper—maybe drizzle a tiny bit of the oil from the the skillet around the plate. I would probably leave the last hits of salt to each one's taste, as there's already some salt in the mix. 

Given the recurring theme here, it only seemed appropriate to soundtrack this with Fire Music: the ecstatic meeting of point free jazz, black nationalism and gospel spirituals.

i found that essence rare

Where I grew up, we considered the restaurant in the mall, above the Nordstrom's, fine dining. I only ever ordered one thing when we went: French Onion Soup. It came in one of those silly, single-serve, iron crocks—slathered in cheese. These are formative experiences I now find myself chasing down, trying to recapture. As a vegetarian, the task is doubly difficult.

French Onion Soup is a deceptively complex, savory meal. The traditional stock will often include 2 or 3 kinds of meat—to make up for the fact that it only has one ingredient: onions. I've tried various recipes and tricks over the years, but only just stumbled upon a method, this last holiday season, I call: re-stocking. I make a fresh batch of stock, but instead of starting with water, I use my standard, vegetable stock. Basically, the general vegetable stock acts as a base for a a more robust version, with a focused umami quality.

5 cups vegetable stock
1 cup red wine
1 tbs tamari
1 tbs red miso
6 oz. baby portabella mushrooms, quartered
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf

Soup, proper:
2 lg. yellow onions, halved and sliced
1 white onion, halved and sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 small batch green onions, sliced top-to-bottom
¼ tsp celery seed
olive oil

several slices dry, crusty country bread
emanthaler cheese, sliced (or grated)
fresh pepper

Re: Stock
In a large pot, combine all the ingredients for the stock (above) and heat on high until just boiling. Reduce the heat, cover it, and keep it a low simmer for at least an hour. As you start the next steps, eyeball the onions to make sure you have enough stock.

Re: Carmelization
In another good sized pot, over medium heat, cook the various onions (except for the green parts of the the scallions) along with the celery seed—covered, but dry. They will sweat some, then begin to dry out. Try not to check on them too much. After they've dried enough to begin sticking to the bottom of the pan just a touch, remove the lid and hit them with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. They should rapidly begin to carmelize.

Re: Combination
After the onions have turned golden pour your restocked-stock, using a fine mesh strainer to withhold any solids. Add just enough to cover the onions by about an inch (you may have extra based on the size of your onions). Simmer this, uncovered for another half hour at least. You want the onions to become soft as possible and to thoroughly mingle with the stock's flavor. Salt it to taste at the end. With the tamari and miso in the stock, you want to taste the final product before adding more salt. Meanwhile, set your oven on high, broil even.

Re: Complete
If you have oven-safe serving bowls, ladle a serving of soup into each bowl. Place a slice of dried, even stale, crusty bread on the top and then cover it with cheese. Place the bowls in the oven to melt the cheese, browning it slightly. Crack some fresh pepper over each bowl, garnishing it with green onion slices. Serve promptly.

Re: Route
If you don't have oven safe serving bowls, I'd grate the cheese, instead of slicing it. Simply place the bread on top of each serving and sprinkle a healthy dose of grated cheese on top. The cheese will melt more readily and generally be easier for the diners to deal with.

As the right combination of elements has proven so vexing—I'm still not sure quest is entirely complete—I thought a soundtrack about imposters, fakers and vainglorious delusions was only appropriate.

leftover star

It isn't often I try to cook vegan, but a recent guest had my brain in pretzels trying to figure out how to show off my amateur chef skills while conforming to new standards. It came off well enough I actually worked hard to use up the leftovers even after the guest shuffled on home. One night of this leftovers boogaloo, I used a savory soft tofu concoction (originally made for fried squash blossoms) as a filling for light cornmeal crepes. While it was no longer vegan, it was a hit. Now this recipe is being promoted up to heavy rotation. Added bonus? It's dead simple.

1 package soft tofu, drained
½ cup fresh ricotta
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
juice of ½ a lime
1 tsp of salt

1 cup flour
½ cup cornmeal
3 eggs
1½ cups milk (maybe more, depending)
1 tbs. melted butter
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. crushed red pepper
½ salt

1 avocado
1 romano tomato, diced
lime juice

grapeseed oil

Prep it.
Start with the tofu mixture. Drain and press the tofu block to get some of the excess moisture out. Be careful here, soft tofu is not as resilient as the firmer varieties and will split under too much weight—which isn't really a problem for this recipe, but it might make a mess of things on your counter. In a medium bowl, mash the drained tofu with a fork. Fold in the ricotta, garlic, jalapeño, salt and lime. Set aside to let the flavors steep.

Mash up the avocado in a small bowl. Mix it with a dash of salt, a little juice from the other half of the lime and toss it with the diced tomato. Set aside.

Whip it.
Put the flour, cornmeal, eggs, milk, melted butter and spices in a blender and frappé that shit, but good. It should be a thick liquid, not a paste—think egg nog more than pancake batter. Add more milk if needed. Heat a 12-inch pan over medium-high heat and brush it with oil (I keep grapeseed around for higher heat cooking). Pour in enough batter to cover the bottom, tilting the pan quickly to spread it thinly and evenly. Let it cook, undisturbed until the top is starting to look somewhat dry. Carefully flip it with a spatula and let the other side cook for a minute. Move the finished crepe to a plate and repeat, stacking the crepes. Brush the pan with more oil as needed.

Roll it.
Once you've finished making the crepes, put a line of tofu / ricotta filling in each crepe, slightly off center. Roll the crepe up from the short side into a wee burrito and place in the pan to heat slightly. You can probably heat 4 or 5 at a time this way. Dress each with some mashed avocado. I served this with a side of refried beans.

Since this recipe started as a clever use of leftovers, I thought it only appropriate to soundtrack it with some breakbeat techno, since these tracks pillage the past to serve the future.

King of Dips

If I sit down in a mexican restaurant, there has to be a damn convincing argument for 'no' when it comes to getting the guacamole. Even eating solo. I'm pretty sure it was the reason chips tortilla chips were invented. Salsa wants to be guacamole when it grows up. All hail the king of dips.

My culinary experience says it's something is so easy to make well, and still easy to make fucking awesome. Any fool with hands can mash an avocado with salt and cilantro and call it guacamole. That's a damn fine thing. With just a touch more effort, though, your guac will never see the far end of a BBQ. 

So here is the recipe I've been using for some while now. I like the combination of creamy avocado, tangy lime—which are both accentuated by a hidden dollop of greek yogurt. It's all balanced by a very mild heat and some savory saltiness. I've tried to write this in a scalable fashion, based on how many avocados you want to use.

For Every 2 avocados:
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
3 scallions, thinly sliced (both ends)
1 med. tomato, diced
palmful of cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 lime
1 tbs greek yogurt
½ tsp salt, plus more to taste
½ tsp ground cumin

Let's start with a quick discussion about buying avocados. I'm talkin' hass here (small black ones), as they're the most readily available in the states—but what qualifies as a proper avocado is apparently hotly debated among my friends. Anyway, I select entirely by feel. While holding one in the palm of your hand, give it the lightest squeeze (too hard might bruise it). As the least sports person possible, I'll use a balls analogy. If it's golf ball (or even baseball) hard, don't get it unless you want to use it next week. If any part of it is dodgeball or nerf soft, you'll be cutting gnarly black bits out. I try for a well-inflated soccer ball. It doesn't squish but it does, ever so slightly, give.

With our avocados selected, juice the lime into your bowl and whisk that for a quick second with the salt. The citrus and salt work together to preserve your guac's fresh, green appearance. I like to have it in the bowl as I add the avocados—because they brown quickly in the open air.

Halve the avocados and twist to remove the pit from one side. [Note: It was years before someone showed me a trick for pits. Holding the half with the pit still in, give it a good whack with the knife edge. Twist the pit and the avocado in opposite directions. It'll come out cleany.] Cut a cross hatch in the meat of each fruit then use a spoon to scoop it out into the bowl. Mash it up with the lime and salt.

Mix in the yogurt and cumin. Lastly fold in the tomato, pepper, white parts of the scallions and the cilantro . All guacamole must be thoroughly taste-tested. I usually end up adjusting the lime-to-salt ratio, slightly. Once you're satisfied, garnish it with the upper, dark-green parts of the scallions. If you're not serving it right away, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. It should keep up to 24 hours. Actually, it's a solid plan to make it at least two hours in advance. Letting your guac sit a spell lets the flavors mingle more.

I am well aware of my gringo status and know this recipe is neither purist nor authentic. In that sense I've soundtracked it english-speaking pop stars biting on some southern hemisphere styles.

reinventing the wheel

I tend to muse iteratively: if one idea works, maybe a variation on it might work, as well. In this way I've eventually arrived at a standardized salad dressing. It's one I can make in my sleep (essentially a garlic-lemon tahini dressing).

We've been growing kale in our greenhouse. (Did I mention we built a greenhouse?) Lacinto, or black, kale, to be exact. It's going like gangbusters, so it's kale-everything around here. Even as a vegetarian, a dinner of kale salad (for the nth day in a row) can sound underwhelming, so I've taken to whipping up a bit of curried rice to go with it. After a few tries of that, I thought I'd tweak my dressing—swapping out the tahini for greek yogurt, in order to compliment the curry more. 

It worked fabulously. There was something nagging the back of my mind I had to acknowledge, at some point: I'd just reinvented Tangy Ranch Dressing™. I can't tell you how much this idea upsets me—not the least part in how I now can't seem to stop making it. So what follows is a very loose recipe for kale salad, with curry rice and my own re-ranch dressing.

½ cup greek yogurt
1 shallot, minced
½ lime, juiced

1 cup rice
2 cups vegetable stock
1 small yellow onion, halved and sliced
1 tsp curry
½ tsp garam marsala
½ tsp turmeric

1 bunch lacinto (black or italian) kale, washed and torn
¼ cup blanched sliced almonds

olive oil
crushed red pepper

Start by heating the onion, covered, in the pot destined for your rice, over medium low heat. While that's going toast the sliced almonds in a dry, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Keep a close eye on them as they'll go from browned to burnt in a heartbeat. When they're good and toasty, just set 'em aside.

The onion should be softened by now, so stir in a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Once it starts to caramelize, add the rice and stir frequently, toasting the grains lightly. Add the stock and spices. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover for 15 minutes or so (assuming it's white rice).

While the rice is cooking, whip the yogurt with the shallot, lime juice, a tablespoon of olive oil, a half-teaspoon each of salt and pepper (plus more to taste). Just let that sit.

Once the rice is done, it's all just a matter of assembly. Distribute the kale among some bowls and pile some rice on it. Hit it with a healthy portion of the yogurt dressing, then garnish it with some toasted almonds and enjoy.

I usually make a full cup of rice, and you probably won't use that much on a pair of salads. This lets me save some for other dinners, or if you're really adventurous, you can make a kale and curried rice omelet with goat cheese for a weekend breakfast. Most people raise their eyebrows at rice in omelets, but give it a try.

Considering this post was all about (inadvertently) recreating ranch dressing, I thought I would include a soundtrack of nothing but cover tunes.

mash down in beet town

It's not often I try and come up with a dish whole cloth, but every so often I get inspired. Lately, I've been experimenting with a dish based on seeing a plate decoration. It featured beets puréed with ricotta. It was just a schmear off to the side of the plate but I thought it had more potential, if I could pull it off.

Given that this is an ongoing experiment, the ingredients based on a 2-serving basis, that you can simply multiply up or half as needed. My goal was to offset the rich, sweetness of the beets and ricotta with a bit of savory, pairing it with a bitter green and then top it with a sharp, tangy dressing. 

If you give this a whirl, I'd love to know what you thought, or if you have any suggestions for improving it.

2 small-to-medium beets, peeled and cut into eighths
1 clove of garlic, peeled and halved (maybe just half for a single serving)
½ tsp of fresh thyme
pinch of turmeric
½ a cup of fresh milk ricotta
8-10 raw brussels sprouts, stemmed, halved and sliced thinly
2 shallots, chopped
1 lime
½ cup of greek yogurt
4 roasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
salt, pepper, olive oil

Take the peeled and chopped beets and garlic halves, place them in a pot and cover them with about an extra inch or more of water. Add a half tsp of salt, a splash of olive oil and the spices. Turn the heat on high. Once it's boiling, reduce the heat to a rollicking simmer and cover the pot. Beets are hearty roots, and will take a little while to take about 20-30 minutes to cook fully.

While your beets are boiling, chop the shallots and put them in a small bowl. Juice the lime over them and a half tsp of salt. Stir and set it aside. The citrus will take the raw onion edge off the shallots. Chop the brussels sprouts and set them aside for assembly later. Same with the hazelnuts.

whip, mash.
Add the yogurt to the shallots. Grind some fresh pepper over it and whip it all together.

When you can easily pierce the beets with a fork, Drain them in a colander, retaining the garlic as well as the roots. Place them in a small mixing bowl with the ricotta cheese and splash of olive oil. With an hand or immersion blender, purée them until smooth. Obviously, if you have food processor, that will do the trick masterfully, but if I'm only making a serving for two, the clean-up is easier with the immersion blender.

Divvy the beet purée up among serving bowls, Cover that with equal portions of chopped brussels sprouts. Dress that with yogurt mixture—making sure to fork over the shallots with it. Lastly garnish it with chopped hazelnuts, et voila.

If you have more time, you could roast the beets. The charred goodness would deepen the dish, but boiling takes about half the time.

Once I had the title of this post, it was destined to have a reggae soundtrack. My go-to setting for reggae is rocksteady—that brief period between ska and reggae proper, with mid-tempo island beats and an obsession with the aching harmonies of Motown.

I note, with some regret, that this was not my best day for drawing, but after 3 tries, I wasn't going to let my fumbling fingers keep me from blogging.

comfort and compromise

The first time I tried to go vegetarian, my unstated intention was to eat Kraft Mac-n-Cheese every single night. My parents quickly figured this out and put the kibosh on my plan, for health reasons. They're not the boss of me anymore. In college, I would rejoin the vegetarian ranks—where I still am today. Unfortunately, I eventually grew up and acquired taste buds, so the Kraft variety no longer cuts it. 

I don't know many vegetarians who don't take their mac-n-cheese seriously. In my stubborn way, though, I don't want a bunch of other stuff or weird cheeses. This is supposed to be comfort food. Which is like code for 'not very healthy', as my parents rightly cited. So in my middle aged, worried-about-my-gut years, I've compromised on my mac's purity to make it a somewhat more sensible meal. Which is more to say that I've added some of that other stuff to make it nutritionally valuable (rather cut back on the fatty cheese sauce—I'm not insane).

Although I eat dairy, I don't often keep regular milk around. In this recipe, I'd say the real deal is important. The amount of time it takes a soy or almond milk roux to thicken is interminable—your stirring arm might fall off. My partner is also celiac, but a good gluten free pasta works great in this. I now use Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour in the roux with no noticeable difference. 

If you're young and brave, leave out the tofu and the cauliflower, but double up on the noodles, for more classic mac stylings.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1½ tbs. smoked paprika
1 lg. onion, halved and thinly sliced
8 oz. elbow pasta
1 pkg. tofu, cubed
5 tbs. butter
6 tbs. flour
1½ tsp. mustard powder
5 cups milk
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar, grated
8 oz. smoked goude, grated
salt, pepper, olive oil

PHASE 1: overture and prep
In a mixing bowl. Toss the cauliflower with the paprika, a healthy splash of olive oil and some salt. Put that in a 9x12" casserole dish. Set the oven to 400 and roast it all in there, uncovered until the cauliflower is not only cooked, but browning.

While that's happening, heat the onions in a pan over med-low heat, covered. Check on them periodically but not often. You want them to turn translucent and sweat it out, then cook off most of that sweat without drying out too quickly. If you pull the lid off all the time, steam just escapes rather than cooking in. When they've dried out enough to just starting to stick the bottom of the pan, uncover it, reduce the heat slightly, and pour a generous tablespoon of olive oil over them along with a good dash of salt. They should turn golden quickly. When you are satisfied with their caramelization, remove the pan from the heat and set 'em aside.

While you've got your onion sauna going, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Once you've got full bubbles, add the poast and cook uuntil it's al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop it softening too much, after the fact.

If you're using plain tofu. During all of this I would drain and sear it. Smoked or pre-baked tofu, can be used as is.

PHASE 2: symphony of cheese
Combine the flour, 1 tsp of salt and the mustard powder in small bowl. In the now-empty pasta pot, melt the butter over med-low heat. Let it get foamy—but you're not trying to brown it. Add the dry ingredient mixture and whisk constantly for a minute or so, until its yellow color deepens  a bit. Start pouring in the milk, stirring aggressively at first. 

Bring this mixture to a boil then reduce it immediately to a simmer. You have to whisk this constantly or it will quickly develop a gross skein on the top. After 10 minutes or so, it should be the consistency of heavy cream. Turn off the heat and fold in the grated cheeses. Stir this to combine—it will melt rapidly.

PHASE 3: coda and contentment
Add the cooked noodles, roasted cauliflower and tofu to your cheese sauce. Stir to combine. Transfer this to the casserole pan you roasted the cauliflower in, and then top it off with the caramelized onions. Finish with some fresh ground pepper and place it in the oven, uncovered for 10 minutes or so, until the cheese sauce on top starts to brown a little. Remove it, but let it cool for a few minutes before serving.

A lot of the items in each phase above can be done simultaneously, so this all actually comes together a lot quicker than you would expect. Not Kraft quick, but it can be done in an hour, flat, once you've got it down.

Originally this post seemed to beg for  a soundtrack of AM-radio styled sophistipop, but I kind of did that already… Instead, I've included some vintage soul jazz that rides the line between funk and exotica.

glazed tofu blues

As a vegetarian, I long ago settled on glazed tofu steaks as an enjoyable but simple way to up my protein intake without making dinner too unhealthy. A good glaze is not as easy as it sounds, though—especially for the fumbling kitchen improvisor.

The mistake I repeatedly make is heat. If you want to cook something down from a liquid to a thickened glaze, it seems like simple logic to set it on a full blaze to boil off the water. This is more problematic than you would think. The oil separates from the rest of the mixture and ends up—quite literally—deep frying the other ingredients while the water quickly evaporates, leaving you with charred lumps of foodstuff rather than an even glaze. This has happened to me countless times.

But let's start at the beginning…

1 pkg firm tofu
1 tbs peanut butter
1 tbs miso
1 lime, juiced
1 tbs tamari
1 cup vegetable stock
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp corn starch

Drain yr block. 
I've used a microwave to dry out tofu before—it works, but honestly, it doesn't feel any easier than just using gravity. Set the tofu on a cutting board at the edge of the sink. Prop the other edge up with something stable: another cutting board, some legos, whatever you can find—it should no more than an inch high. Place a plate on top of the tofu, upside-down. It should  be large enough to cover the brick on a single surface. Then, place a heavy, dictionary-sized book on top of that; I use Bittman's How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian, appropriately enough. Without the angle towards the sink, you'll get water all over the counter; with too much of an angle, you'll get your book in the sink.

Whip yr sauce.
While that is draining, whip the rest of the ingredients together in a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl. Whisk it real good.

Sear yr bricks.
Heat a large pan over medium high heat. If it is non-stick, you don't need oil at first, if not, make sure to use an oil with a good heat resistance, like avocado. Cut the drained tofu in half, lengthwise and place the two halves in the hot pan and cover it. Let it sear for a few minutes and flip it. Keep this up until both sides have a browned crispy face to them.

Get yr sauce on.
Give the glaze an additional whisk and pour it in. It will splatter and pop but make sure it gets to a good boil then immediately turn the heat down to a simmer and cover it again. It's my understanding that reaching full boil is an important step. Something happens, chemically, to activate an effective thickening agent.

Hang tough.
Check it once or twice to make sure there's some glaze on top of the tofu. After 5-10 minutes, flip the bricks. If the sauce doesn't seem to be thickening fast enough for you, prop the lid so that some steam can escape—but wait, patiently. Once it seems to have thickened to a sauce consistency (if not a full glaze), turn the heat off and uncover the dish. My experience tells me, that it will thicken some as it cools slightly.

As this is a dish that, despite how often I make it, I still cock it up as often as not, I thought I would provide the blues from the title to accompany it. Maybe some day searing simple tofu steaks will not cause me such agita.

sometimes, sauce happens

I remain firmly convinced that true quality is shown in simplicity. For instance, pad si ew is a dead simple thai dish, so it's my litmus test at new restaurants. I know what I expect and can gauge my assessment from there. Alternately, at some italian joint I've never been, I'll order something that's, essentially, tomato sauce and pasta. I want to know how well they do that before I stray further afield.

At home, I cannot and will not be held to my own impossible standards. Yes, I know, your Sicilian Bu-Bah's  sauce, slow-cooked over out 16 days (or some shit), is the high-water mark. Really though, I come home from a 10-hour work day and I have some pasta and canned tomatoes in the cupboard. I want dinner, and I want it before 9pm. So here, is my impressionistic recipe for a quick, homemade tomato sauce from the most basic ingredients.

2 cloves garlic, minced.
1 small shallot, finely chopped. (if you have it)
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs chopped fresh basil, or, 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 tsp tomato paste
28oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
fresh ground black pepper

Garlic and olive oil.
You start here. The garlic is minced, and the olive oil is quality. For one, 28oz can of tomatoes, I'd say… 2 cloves and 2 tablespoons, respectively. If you have a small shallot, that works too. Heat the oil on very low and add the garlic (and shallot) and let warm slowly until it's good and fragrant (but don't let it start to crisp).

Have any fresh basil or thyme?
Both of these things are great, but not requisite. You can use dried. Or, if you lack basil entirely, try a mixture of dried rosemary and marjoram. Add them to the mixture for a minute or so, stirring it a couple of times.

Wine and spice tea.
Add the wine, tomato paste and salt then increase the heat, bringing it to a light boil. Let it steep for a just a few.

The rest.
Add tomatoes and remaining spices. Cover it and let it come to a boil. Once there, reduce the heat to a simmer and prop the lid to let the steam out. You want moisture to escape, allowing the sauce to thicken, but you don't want it bubbling and splattering all over your stove, right? After 10 minutes or so, if you see it starting to look less watery (you know, en route to sauce) start the water for your pasta.

I called this an impressionistic recipe, because (honestly) I do this pretty much by eye. Minus the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and salt, I don't sweat it too much if one thing or another is out of stock. I can make it work. from start to finish, this should take 30 minutes and could serve  up to 4 people.

Will it beat your Italian grandmother's sauce? Fuck no. But, it'll do, pig, it'll do. 

This is my first attempt at conveying a real recipe, instead of just tips. As recipes go, in practice, this is down and dirty and (mostly) improvised. So for this italian(ish) sauce I thought I would include a couple of songs by the thrash-jazz maestros from Italy, ZU.

constant companions

I believe there are certain things you find in a kitchen that are revealing about who cooks there. For example: we keep three kinds of oil in our cupboard and none of them are canola or vegetable. There's smaller bottles of toasted sesame oil (for flavor) and avocado oil (for high heat) and a bottle of good-quality olive oil so big it's hard to find a shelf to house it. Similarly, I've come to realize that I just don't believe in unsalted butter. I see it in recipes but have given up considering running to the store to pick some up, and just reach for the salted butter. 

In this light, I think it's telling that two things in my fridge I never let myself run out of are greek yogurt and miso. I prioritize these above most dairy products and fresh herbs, respectively.

A while back, I was going to make deviled eggs for a halloween party: green eyeball eggs, to be precise. It was a pretty basic concept: essentially deviled eggs with a little lime and avocado mashed into the filling, garnished with a sliced olive in the center. I resented the fact that I would need to buy mayonnaise for the project. To be honest, mayo kinda skeeves me out.

Some dormant memory of a distant conversation inspired me to try and substitute greek yogurt in the mayo's place. If the rate of consumption was any indication, it went over well. People ate that shit like they were starring in Cool Hand Luke. Since then, I've become quite liberal with my application of yogurt. Any portion of a dish that I am preparing that needs a touch of creaminess, and could be made a tad more complex with a hint of tangy tartness lurking in it's flavor profile, I'll add a bit of yogurt to see if it works.

I even whip a tiny spoonful with water to mix it into my eggs for omelettes or scrambles, replacing the usual milk. As a dairy-eating vegetarian, I find I have little to no use for milk. I'll happily use unsweetened almond milk (or other substitute) for most applications, but they often add a slight off-putting sweetness to eggs.

Speaking of omelettes, another habit is to, when whipping up the yogurt / water mixture, add a small forkful of miso to give the eggs an umami kick. Give it a try in an omelette filled with sautéed maitake mushrooms and gruyere, garnished with a healthy dose of fresh pepper. 

Fair warning: if you have any propensity towards salt-addiction, miso is a dangerous substance. At this point, I'll happily spread a thin layer on bread for grilled cheese—or, if I'm honest, steel a spoonful straight here and there; but that's just me. I think of miso as what soy sauce wants to be when it grows up: salty and savory, complex and pungent. A little goes a good long ways, so a jar a single jar will last me a month or so—but it's a secret weapon that can go into marinates and glazes or soups and salad dressings.

So you won't find mayonnaise—or probably even milk—in our fridge, but you will find the best greek yogurt and miso we can afford. I don't know exactly what that says about me as a cook, but it seems telling.

There is a certain kind of song I associate with close friends: good time, laid back, hang out music. The sort of thing we soundtrack our summer barbecues with. For this little note about some tried and true culinary companions, I thought I'd include a couple of those tracks.

entry level

I wanted to wade into writing about my culinary adventures (and mishaps) with the most basic thing I could think of: vegetable stock. As a (mostly) vegetarian, I use stock constantly. Any savory recipe that calls for water (read: soup, rice, etc) gets stock in our house.

A while back, Cooks Illustrated published a vegetable stock comparison test. Usually they rate everything as the BestBest Value, on down to Not Recommended. Their assessment of veggie stock was: Don't Bother—quite literally from top to bottom. Indeed, why bother, when it's so easy and economical to make and store?

So, let's say you're making a dish that calls for some onion, and you're just going to throw away the ends and the outer ring and skin. Don't do that. Put them in a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag. If you're like me, at least once a month you have a tomato you had big plans for that is now looking a tad too soft and mealy: put it in the bag (before it's too late). 

Roasting a butternut squash? Any kind of squash? Squash seed and pulp is like stock manna. Peeling some carrots? Put it in the bag. Stemming kale. Save those stems. Turnips and parsnips are great stock boosters. That head of garlic down to those little tiny cloves at the middle that are barely worth the effort to peel? Cut them in half, lengthwise (peel and all), and put them in the bag. You can save a large amount of what you would normally throw away: cabbage and brussels sprouts trimmings; broccoli stalks and cauliflower cores; asparagus ends; most any green or root vegetable—whole, if you don't think you're going to use it before it goes south.

Leave this bag in your freezer, adding to it until it's full. Personally, I've never worried myself over freezer burn, or such things. I do try and keep an eye on keeping the mix diverse; not too many of any one thing, be they greens or roots. I would avoid spices: as they can have a too distinct flavor—so no thyme or sage. I'll readily use some parsley stems, though. The goal is to have a hearty, robust but neutral flavor to add to anything—a strong base to build upon.

Once the bag is full, and my stock supply is low, I dump it all in a five quart pot, fill it with water, add a good teaspoon of salt and turn the burner on high until it reaches a boil. Watch your pot well if it's very full, as it will boil over easily. Once it's rolling along well, turn it down to low to simmer for at least an hour. I usually let that shit while i watch a movie or something. I hardly even bother myself with stirring it.

When it's done. I transfer it all to 1qt. tupperware containers, filtering them with a fine mesh strainer. I have nifty little conical one that fits into the tupperware we have, but even if you don't have a fine enough strainer, you can supplement it with a couple folds of cheesecloth. I let the vegetable remains drain over the sink in a colander, before bagging and tossing them. The whole business has to cool for a bit before you put it in the fridge or the freezer. It'll keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge or a month (or more) in the freezer.

If it's frozen, you don't even need a microwave to use it in short order. Just run the tupperware, closed, under hot water for a 30 seconds or so and it should pop right out into a pan. Throw that stock block on high and it will be liquid stock again in short order.

Given the foundational nature of this task, I thought I would include a playlist of early minimalist composition-with a focus on works for organ. This is music of simple structures and extended tasks. It should last you through the minimum cook time.