Eat Simpler

My friends Megan and T.J. gave me a book called Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison a while ago. It’s part cookbook, part gardening book, and part manual to plants. It’s a gem, and you should add it to your bookshelf immediately. You can learn the scientific names for all your favorite vegetables as well as an abundance of fun facts like this: the tomato was thought to be an aphrodisiac when it was introduced to Europeans, earning it the name pomme d’amour (love apple).

Last night, I made Deborah Madison’s cauliflower with saffron, pepper flakes, parsley and pasta. I was looking for a simple, comforting dish that wouldn’t require too much prep. I have found saffron to be difficult to cook with in the past because it is so easily overwhelmed by other flavors. However, not only did this dish allow the delicate saffron to shine through in flavor, it also imbued the meal with a lovely yellow hue.

Madison suggests using shells, but since I’m making a feeble attempt to eat gluten-(almost)-free, I used Trader Joe’s brown rice fusilli.  Here’s my version, slightly modified. I used a bit less than a full head of cauliflower, and I didn’t boil it first as Madison suggests because I wanted to keep my dishes to a minimum. I also didn’t have fresh parsley on hand, so I used to a heaping helping of dried parsley.

Deborah Madison Cauliflower Saffron Pasta

Saffron Cauliflower Pasta

1 cauliflower (about 1 lb), broken into small florets
2 Tbs olive oil, plus more for tossing the pasta
1 onion, finely diced
2 pinches of saffron threads (I was pretty liberal with my saffron)
1 large clove garlic, minced (I used a cube of Dorot)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
sea salt
1 teaspoon dried parsley or 4 Tbs finely chopped fresh parsley
8 ounces of pasta
Grated aged cheese such as parmesan or crumbled feta

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare the pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saffron and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and the parsley. Give everything a good quick stir, then mix in the cauliflower, making sure it gets coated in the seasonings. Add 1/2 cup of water, and season with salt. Cook until the cauliflower is tender.

When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and add it in with the cauliflower mixture. Turn off the heat, add a little more oil, and integrate everything together. Add parmesan and season with additional salt and red pepper flakes as desired.



Spiced Vegetable Stuffed Peppers

This week got off on a good start. Menu planning helps keep my life sane during the week and gives me a chance to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day. I saw another blog post about my favorite enchilada recipe (Veganomicon’s Potato Kale Enchiladas) the other day that really resonated with me. The blogger said her kitchen looked like the Swedish Chef just got through with it before she was even done cooking. Can I get an “Amen?”

When I plan ahead, I like to make lots of batches of rice and freeze them, I plan meals with similar base ingredients, and I prep vegetables well before it’s time to cook. But this magical “when I plan ahead” experience is rare at best. (See my last post for more on this lack of planning.)

Tonight’s meal is one that I’d recommend, but it’s only suitable for a busy weeknight if you take shortcuts. I made the filling for these stuffed peppers with spiced vegetables yesterday when I had time. I also cooked lentils and rice the day before for a more complete meal (read: enough food to feed my hungry husband). BONUS: This meal is not only vegetarian, but it’s also gluten free. (And Bryant, if you’re reading this, you might as well stop now because I broke your cardinal rule to never buy yellow or red peppers. Sorry.)

stuffed peppers

Spiced Vegetable Stuffed Peppers


4 large, evenly shaped bell peppers (yellow or red)

2 large russet potatoes, cut into small cubes

1 small onion

2-in piece of fresh ginger

3-4 garlic cloves

1-2 fresh green chillies (any variety will do, just pick the one that suits your spice level)

4 T canola oil

1 eggplant, peeled and cut into small cubes

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

a pinch of cayenne

salt and black pepper

Directions (Preheat oven to 375 degrees)

1. Cut the tops off the peppers. Then remove and discard the seeds. Cut a thin slice off the base, if necessary, to make them stand upright.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the peppers and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the peppers from the water and drain as soon as they are done pre-cooking.

3. Cook the potatoes in the boiling water for 10-12 minutes. Drain when tender.

4. Put the onion, ginger, garlic cloves, chillies in a blender or food processor. Add a teaspoon of water to blend if the mixture sticks to the walls of the food processor.

5. Heat half the oil in a large, deep, non-stick frying pan and cook the eggplant until it is evenly browned on all sides, stirring occasionally. This takes about 10 minutes if you use medium heat. Remove the eggplant.

6. Add the rest of the oil, and cook the potato as you did with the eggplant. Set the potatoes aside.

7. Add the cumin seeds to the same hot frying pan. Cook briefly until the seeds darken and add the turmeric and coriander. Stir in the onion and garlic puree and cook until the onons begin to brown. This will be pretty quick.

8. Return the potatoes and eggplant to the pan and mix everything together, adding salt and pepper and the pinch of cayenne.

9. Place the peppers on a lightly greased baking sheet and fill them with the vegetable mixture. Cook in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. If the peppers still need more time, you can turn the broiler on at this stage, but monitor them closely.

Serve with lentils and rice and garnish with fresh mint or cilantro.


Satan Sandwich

Before you groan and close your browser, this is NOT a post about the debt ceiling. This is a post about food.

And who doesn’t like food?

I haven’t done a cooking post in quite a while, so it’s high time I get back to it.

This weekend, I made my first ever loaf of sourdough bread. TP bought me a dutch oven as an early birthday gift, and I couldn’t wait to break it in.

I found a recipe that I could follow and that didn’t involve a buzzilion steps on The Farmer’s Wife blog. You can see it for yourself here. Since I had dinner plans, I shut my oven off after 30 minutes of baking, left the dutch oven in the oven and returned home to a loaf of perfect bread.

It tastes as yummy as it looks, and it is great sandwich bread – it toasts beautifully and doesn’t fall apart as you take monster bites out of it. I’m already a messy enough eater as it is; I don’t need my bread to add to my food shrapnel.

Over the weekend I also made seitan (pronounced say-tan) based on a recipe I found on one of my new favorite blogs, (never home) maker. Seitan is a meat substitute made primarily out of vital wheat gluten. I added some red pepper flakes to my seitan and some ground sage in addition to the other suggested herbs.

Which brings me to…. THE SATAN SANDWICH!

Since I can’t help thinking of the word “satan” whenever I hear the word “seitan”, the name of the sandwich speaks for itself. It also has a ton of sharp cheese in it, and the devil has, you know, sharp, pointy horns… or something.

To make this sandwich, I took some butter (lots of butter) and melted it on my panini press. You can use a nonstick skillet as well. Then I put my sourdough bread in the butter (you can use store-bought bread) and added the seitan, some swiss cheese (about one slice), some gruyere, and some white cheddar. I also threw on a few basil leaves, but you can also use pesto if you have it on hand. Then I pressed the sandwich. When the bread was nice and toasted and the cheese melted, I added several slices of good tomato and some baby spring mix. It’s a quick, balanced-ish meal that is sure to satisfy all your tastebuds. You might even call it devilishly good.

Ice, Ice Baby

As I filled my ice trays last night, I thought about the fact that my last blog was more than two weeks ago. I’ve been in Alabama during that time to see family, and my return back to Texas last week was also a return back to my day-to-day routine. Aside from an unplanned trip to the vet this week with Fish Taco (he’s on the mend), everything has been status quo lately. Truth be told, I’ve wanted to write for days but couldn’t think of a topic. Last night I had a moment over the sink, holding my plastic ice trays: “I could blog about ice.”

“That’s stinkin’ ridiculous,” I said back to myself as I stuffed the tray into the freezer, sloshing water onto the floor. In addition to being clumsy, I talk to myself.

But then this evening, I discovered that one of my newfound podcasts, The Sporkful, recently did a show about — tah dah — ICE CUBES! Apparently, they’re kind of a bone of contention among drink snobs. Something about the surface area to volume ratio… You can listen to the entire podcast here (it’s episode 73).

Somewhere along the way from their liquid to solid state, ice cubes have gotten fancy pants. How about some legos in your drink?

It’s hot as Hades in Texas, and that means I’m making iced tea like a mad woman. But ice trays can do more than make ice: the little plastic vessels are multi-functional tools. When I make pesto, I freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays. That way, I have individual servings when I make pasta. You can also freeze leftover broth or sauce this way.

You can also use your trays to freeze coffee, so you avoid diluting your iced coffee with regular ice as it melts. Homemade Simple also recommends using trays to organize your office or craft supplies (admittedly, I’m not sure how well this would work, but feel free to try it for yourself).

Sometimes though, the best use for an ice cube tray is regular old ice, and regular old ice happens to be one of the main ingredients in my new favorite treat. Patrick and I are trying to visit Dairy Queen less frequently, and we’ve found a lovely substitute for ice cream. Almost nightly the last week or so, we’ve been making mango lassis. They’re much healthier and are deliciously refreshing during a hot summer evening. Interestingly, I don’t like mango fruit by itself. But when pulverized with yogurt and ice, I find it delightful.

To make the lassis for two (or three if you do small servings), take one large mango or two small mangos and peel the skin off. Cut the fruit away from the hard stone in the middle. Put the fruit, about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of plain yogurt (Greek yogurt will make a thicker drink but regular yogurt will also work well) and 6 ice cubes in a blender. (This is completely optional, but I also add a few drops of vanilla stevia extract.) Blend the ingredients until the mixture resembles a thick milkshake. Depending on your blender, you may need to add some milk to get things moving. Pour into glasses and enjoy!

Spinach Zucchini Pancakes

Vegetarianism and a low-carb diet don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. It takes a lot of work to not rely on carbohydrates as the staples of your meals when you’re a vegetarian. While my diet is not deficient in protein, I am typically over-relient on carbohydrates. But recently, I decided I needed to eat fewer carbohydrates. Giving them up is out of the question, but I am trying to eat more low-carb vegetables and fewer starches.

I love potato pancakes, but potatoes aren’t exactly carb-free. So when I found a recipe for spinach pancakes, I was pretty excited. They still contain flour and some carbohydrates, but they’re not nearly as carb-heavy as their potato alternative. The recipe below is my modified version, containing spinach, zucchini and feta cheese.

Spinach Zucchini Pancakes

1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and with excess water squeezed out
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
1 small zucchini, grated
a handful of cilantro, chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp canola or olive oil
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt, ground pepper and freshly ground nutmeg

Mix the spinach, zucchini, cilantro and onion in a bowl. Add the eggs, seasoning and flour. Stir in the cheeses and let stand for several minutes.

Coat a nonstick skillet with a light spritz of oil. Pour in scoops of the batter and cook over medium-high heat until light brown on one side. Flip pancakes and cook the other side.

Serve the pancakes with salsa or diced tomatoes.