Count Broccula's veg-head ramblings

My home experiments with vegetarian cooking. Focused on seasonal produce with some vegan stuff thrown in for good measure. I may include random other food-related stuff as I please.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Experimental curry (butternut squash and black lentil)

Although I would be perfectly happy just eating a baked butternut squash (425 degrees for up to an hour) with salt and pepper, I thought I should try to make something with it.

I used:

1 medium butternut squash
3/4 cup lentils (I used very small black lentils, but any would work, so would split peas)
1 1/2 boullion cubes mixed with 2 cups water or a can of vegetable broth
1 Tbs Patak's Hot Curry Paste

I cut the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, cut off the ends with a sharb knife, then peeled it using a good peeler. Then I cut it into about 1/2 inch cubes. I sprayed a medium pot with cooking spray, then briefly (5 minutes) cooked the squash on medium high. Then I added the lentils, stock, and curry paste and brought it to a rolling boil. Then I brought the heat down to medium and let it simmer for about half an hour.

[It was very tasty. If I were to make it again, I might use regular water instead of stock, because it was a tiny bit salty. I also would probably not bother pre-cooking the squash, because it got cooked plenty in the half-hour simmering process.] You know, I wrote that yesterday (1/31) after only sampling the curry, not eating a whole bowl. Post-bowl, I disagree with myself and say no, I would not change those things.

Serve with rice. (I put the rice cooker on at about the same time as I put the stock in and it was ready when the curry was.)

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Pasta with greens and feta

My CSA newsletter had this recipe in it.

6 Tbs olive oil
4 cups chopped onion
7-8 cups cooking greens, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped
salt to taste
3/4 to 1 pound pasta
1/2 to 3/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled
freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste (optional)
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet. Add onions and cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile put the pasta water up to boil. Add chopped greens to skillet, salt lightly, and stir until greens begin to wilt. Cover and cook 10 to 15 minutes over medium-low heat.

Cook pasta until al dente. Just as it becomes ready, add crumbled feta cheese to the sauce. (Keep heat on low.) When pasta is done, scoop it out with a strainer and hold it over its cooking water to drain, then add it directly to the potful of sauce. Mix thoroughly. Cook the completed dish just slightly over low heat for a few minutes. Add a small amount of parmesan if desired, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Here's what I changed -- I cut the recipe in half (because without going to the grocery store, I didn't have enough onions, chard, or feta to make the recipe). I used whole wheat ziti pasta. I left out the oil and the parmesan. I used a little less onion and a little more chard than called for. I don't have a scale, so I don't know how much feta I used in pounds, but I used about 2/3 cup of crumbled feta. It was very good.

Three notes -- the whole wheat pasta package LIES. It says to cook it for 5 minutes, but it would practically be crunchy at that stage. 10 minutes is more like al dente.

Speaking of cooking times, the chard only took about 6-8 minutes on low heat after it wilted. It was just right. Any longer and it might have gotten overcooked, I think.

Finally, we have this REALLY good feta cheese right now. There's such a variety in feta, and this is a very creamy, slightly sweet Israeli version for Trader Joe's. We can't remember the brand name, sorry. It comes in a block, not crumbled. I recommend it.

Vegan creamy potato soup. y'all!

Okay, I was so excited to see that the veggies in the veggie box lent themselves so conclusively to the idea of potato soup. Potatoes, onion, celery . . . That's about all you need.

So, here goes.

Chop up one onion real good. Saute it in a medium pot over medium-high heat with a little cooking spray (or olive oil, if you're not trying to lose weight, like me). Stir it occasionally.

Chop up three potatoes real good. (I do them in quarters lengthwise, then in 1/8 inch slices). Add them to the onions and saute them, too.

At this point, I know it sounds weird, but the whole sauteing thing really adds a lot of flavor, so keep cooking them until they're both getting a brown caramelized color, and building up a starchy brown layer on the bottom of the pot.

Chop up three stalks of celery real good. Add about a teaspoon of salt and a bay leaf as well. Add them once the onions and potatoes have gotten brown and then fill the pot with water to just cover the potatoes. This will make a very thick soup -- if you like your soup thinner with more broth stuff, add more water, but I like mine more like a chowder.

Okay, now bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes. When the potatoes get smooshed easily with the back of a wooden spoon, you have several options.

1 -- you can just wait until it's cool enough and eat it like that.
2 -- you can take about half of the soup out and puree it in a food processor or blender.
3 -- you can put an immersion blender in the pot and puree about half of it. I use this third technique because it's easy and requires little cleanup, but yields a very creamy soup. Be careful of splashes, though.

Add freshly ground black pepper if you have it -- a lot! Then enjoy!

It was very good, and it made about three servings. Vegan and fat-free. Oh, because of the whole "caramelizing" thing, this will appear brown in color. If you're into bright white potato soup and the brown thing doesn't appeal to you, this isn't the soup recipe for you -- but if you can get past the brown, it's delicious and comforting.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I'm so excited!

Tomorrow's veggie box contains:



Organic Navel Oranges

Salad Mix


Butternut Squash


I'll find something to do with all of it, recipes and such, but I can't WAIT to get my hands on that butternut squash. They're my favorite.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Ah, the weekend

I hardly made any food this weekend. I basically ate some fruit, a salad, then went to Three Sisters with my mom for dinner (had the veggie fajitas -- delicious!) then today it was back to the work grind. I had a muffin for breakfast, a Trader Joe's Veggie Rice Bowl for lunch, then Piggs and I went to Malouf's Taste of Lebanon for dinner. I had a falafel sandwich and he had lamb. Yummy stuff. Okay, that's pretty much it. I'm looking forward to my next veggie box in two days, and I got some oranges from Mom's tree. The cookies are still delicious.
The Countess

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Cabbage T'horin

Not, as you might suspect, Klingon cabbage. Apparently this is a South Indian dish from the province of Kerala, which is heavy on the coconut palms (at least according to Crescent Dragonwagon, author of "Passionate Vegetarian." For this one, the basic idea was -- saute some onions, some mustard seeds, some paprika, throw in a finely chopped small head of cabbage and a tiny bit of water and salt and cook for 6-8 minutes, then throw in 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut. It wasn't bad, but it could have been better, and it was partly my fault. I made a bunch of substitutions. I used mustard powder instead of mustard seeds (it was what I had), I used regular old angel flake coconut (the sweetened kind from the grocery store -- I always have some in the freezer leftover from German's chocolate cake) but that didn't seem to make a huge difference, and I added grated carrots (her introduction to the recipe said that the people in Kerala often do, and it sounded good, and I had some carrots).

So here's the play by play of why those moves were wrong -- I think the mustard seeds would have added a little heat, which the dish needed. Also, by adding the carrots without adjusting the salt up a little, I undersalted the dish. Which, incidentally, was compounded by the fact that a "small" head of cabbage in the rest of the world is probably half the size of what I think of as small here in California.* It ended up tasting fine after I salted my personal serving (and added a dash of hot cock).

The other thing that could have gone better was chopping the cabbage. Dragonwagon suggests having a very sharp knife or a food processor handy, because the cabbage needs to be in pieces 1/4 inch or smaller. Since I am lazy, the food processor option appealed to me. I cored and quartered the cabbage and threw three of the quarters into my Cuisinart. I pushed "pulse," and it chopped a little. I did it again. After about five pulses, I realized that the chopped stuff in the bottom was going to get liquified, while the stuff that hadn't gotten chopped yet wasn't budging. I rearranged the pieces and tried again with the same effect. Finally, I ended up processing the cabbage in batches, one quarter of the head at a time. It worked fine, but had I known that was how it was going to be in the beginning, I probably would have just chopped it with a knife, since (being lazy and all), I hate washing all 67 pieces of the food processor. Especially if it doesn't end up saving me much time or effort.

I bought a bunch of fresh fruit, and we've been eating it all. I mentioned that I like to eat stuff grown seasonally and locally, but man, I can't resist tropical fruits like mangoes and pineapple, even bananas! The only disappointment so far has been the navel oranges, which aren't nearly as sweet as the ones that were in the CSA box; they're kind of pithy and bitter.

* It took me a long time to figure out this "California produce vs. the rest of the country produce" thing, but Weight Watchers started turning the gears for me. See, it'll say something like "One large banana, about 3/4 cup." Hah! Have you SEEN bananas around here? That's a SMALL banana around these parts. Same with other fruits; a cookbook will often say "a large apple, about the size of a baseball." Softball, you mean. I've gotten apples from local farmers markets damn near as big as my head. (Okay, that's hyperbole, but still . . .) I don't think people in, say, the midwest, could even translate their recipes into California-ese. I had an apple cake recipe once that called for something like "8 cups of grated apples, or about 16 apples." Yeah, right! I had so many leftover apples I couldn't fit them all in the fruit bowl. Anyway, I know I only have about two readers, and they're both living in CA with me, but if someone in, say, North Dakota should happen across this, it might be an interesting piece of information, no?

The cookies

Turned out great. I made a double batch, and I substituted one cup of whole wheat flour for one cup of white, making 1/4 of the total flour whole wheat. One thing I hadn't intended to do was substitute any of the fat, but I only had 1 1/2 cups of butter, so for the remaining 1/2 cup I needed, I used an egg and oil replacer that's basically prune puree. They turned out great. I might post the recipe later (the original one, you can make the substitutions if you want).

Friday, January 21, 2005

An evening out and a new cookbook

Well, I didn't feel like cooking tonight, so we went to Celestin's, a Carribean place. Piggs and I split the sweet potato fries as an appetizer and for dinner he had the coconut crusted salmon and I had vegetarian gumbo. It was very good. This was the first time I'd had it (I usually have the creole vegetables, and sometimes the corn cakes) and I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, there was no okra. Second, it was spicy -- not overpoweringly so, but a little bit of bite. Enough to make my nose run a little, anyway. It was full of peas, potatoes, corn, yellow squash, red bell pepper, onion, and sliced jalapeno. The broth was tomatoey, but with a lot of spice, too. It was served over white rice. I will definitely order it again.

In other news, my new cookbook arrived from Amazon today, the Art of Persian Cooking . I looked at several, but I liked this one because of a few different things. First of all, it has a recipe for cherry rice (polou), which is one of my favorite Persian dishes and hard to find locally in restaurants, and second, because the extensive sections in the beginning that cover both the history of Persian cooking and entertaining in the Persian home. Also, unlike some other Persian cookbooks I've seen, this one has a number of dessert dishes. I may not ever make them, but I like to look through them.
The history section is particularly interesting, because it includes information about traditional meals served at holidays and other special occasions. Someday I'd like to introduce our kid(s) to their culture, and as a standard-issue white person, I don't have a lot to offer on my side. So traditions like the haft seen table to celebrate the Persian new year (Norooz) are appealing, because they're traditional (and cool, in their way) without also being overtly religious (I don't think we want to bring the kid(s) up Muslim, so that's a good thing).
Unfortunately, I was not able to find a vegetarian Persian cookbook (don't look so skeptical, I used to work the cooking section in a bookstore, and you can find almost anything in a vegetarian version), but that's never really stopped me before. I have no problem just leaving meat out, or substituting fake meat if it seems necessary. I'm quite looking forward to a fake chicken version of fesenjon, which has a pomegranite-walnut sauce. I also make a mean tah dig (which this book strangely calls the "crispy crunchy"), the buttery crust on the bottom of a pot of Iranian rice, so as soon as I figure out how to make veggie gormeh sabzee (a stew with greens like celery leaves, spinach, parsley, and dill) and khoresh gheymeh (a stew with yellow split peas) we'll be good to go!
A quick note -- the spellings of Persian foods vary from book to book, to restaurant, to web site . . . for example "gormeh" might also be "qu'orma," and tah dig is also tadig, tah deek . . . If it sounds like the same thing, it probably is.

So, in sum, no cooking experiments of my own tonight, other than that in a couple minutes I'm going to get up and make my uncle Allan's oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I'm going to sneak in whole wheat flour to replace about a third of the white flour. I'll let you know how it goes. Take care,
The Countess

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Joi Choi-a-palooza

Well, I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of the joi choi (like bok choy), and I had a ton of it left. I looked through several cookbooks until something sounded good, and Jack Bishop was my man again today. I found something in his "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen" that caught my eye. I didn't use the recipe, exactly, but I liked the basic ideas and flavors and ran with those. First, I put some water on to boil, and when it was boiling I threw in some buckwheat soba noodles (one bundle). Then I got out that big head of choi and went to town. I hacked off the bottom two inches. I separated the leaves from the stems. I heated a big sautee pan with a tiny bit (maybe a teaspoon) of sesame oil, a teaspoon or so of garlic, a little more than that of ginger (I use jarred ginger and garlic because I use so darned much of both). Then I sliced the stems up and threw them in the pan. I sauteed them over medium high heat for just about five minutes while I chopped the leaves (I actually sliced them into long strips), then I threw those in, too. Meanwhile, back at the pasta . . .
I drained the pasta after five minutes of boiling, then heated another non-stick frying pan with cooking spray and dumped the noodles in. I poked them around with a spoon just until they were spread pretty evenly over the bottom of the pan. Then I let them cook over medium-high heat for another five minutes or so, then flipped them over as best I could with a big spatula. They had gotten a little brown on the bottom and formed sort of a pancake.
The joi choi leaves didn't take long -- when they looked soft and turned bright green, I tasted a piece, but it was still not as tender as I liked, so I let them go for another minute or two, probably five minutes total.
To serve and eat this mess, I cut the pancakce in half, slid it onto a plate, topped it with half the joi choi, then dripped a tiny bit of light soy sauce and some hot cock* and ate. It was surprisingly good.

Some notes -- hot cock is what I (and most of my pals) call sriracha hot sauce. Listen, it's super hot and it's got a big rooster on it. What do you expect? Anyway, if you don't like spicy foods, stay away from this stuff. Or if you prefer just a little spice, try chili-garlic sauce instead, it's milder but still flavorful.

Joi choi/bok choy -- This is one of the reasons I like experimenting with the CSA vegetable box. I am not a huge fan of bok choy normally in restaurants, not because it tastes bad, but because they just give you SO MUCH of it, and it's not all that flavorful. Sometimes it seems there's a whole head of bok choy floating limply in a half gallon of soup, and it just gets tiring. But as a home cook, I can prepare it how I prefer, and tonight's dinner was a good example of that.

Also, I made more celery root chips. I used less salt this time, and table salt instead of sea salt, which kind of overpowered them. I also sprinkled pepper on them. They took longer than the recipe for baked potato chips I had suggested (10 minutes on the first side, 5-7 on the second), but I was also using air-bake style pans (with a layer of air between two sheets of metal), which always take longer, but cook really evenly. It was actually kind of a hard decision, though, because yesterday's celery root salad was quite good, too, and I kind of was craving it on the way home. Still, the chips evoked a good response from my sweetie, and I'm enjoying them, so all's well that ends well.

CSA box #1

(In the interest of full disclosure, this was first posted on my main blog, Count Mockula's Naughty Bits

Well, I joined Full Belly Farm, a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, where you pay in advance, then once a week, pick up a box of veggies. Since I love experimenting culinarily, I thought this would be fun (I did it once before a few years ago, but I was in school and working and hardly ever had time to cook). Anyway, today's box included carrots, oranges, onions, cauliflower, salad mix, cabbage, celery root and joi choi. I had to look up celery root and joi choi to figure out what to do with them. Joi choi is basically like bok choi and celery root is a starchy, somewhat bland root vegetable. So here's what I did:

Cauliflower curry -- I diced up and onion and sauteed it in olive oil. Then I added the head of cauliflower, busted up into florets. I also added two sliced carrots. I put in about a teaspoon each of minced garlic and minced ginger. When the cauliflower was browned and getting soft, I added a tablespoon of Thai Tom Yum paste (sorry, didn't have any Thai curry). Then I added about 1/3 cup yogurt mixed with 1/3 cup water, mixed it all up good, lowered the heat to medium and put the lid on. After another ten minutes or so I had a curry that Piggs pronounced "good."

Joi choi -- I just chopped it up, leaves and stems, and stir-fried it in a little olive oil, seasoned with some red chili flakes and soy sauce.

Celery root -- I decided to experiment with the smaller of the two. I peeled the thing and sliced one half very thinly (with a mandoline, I'm not really very good with knives). Then I heated the oven to 425, threw the slices on a cookie sheet sprayed with Pam, salted and peppered them, and put them in for ten minutes, then took them out, flipped them over, and did another 7 minutes or so. They were good, but next time I'll be more careful with the salt -- I sort of over-salted them with sea salt, thinking that it would mostly fall off, but it didn't.
I grated the other half, and on the advice of a web site, put some lemon juice and salt on it, then let it sit for about ten minutes. Then I rinsed it off, drained it well, and put a vinaigrette on it. I made the dressing with a little sesame oil, cider vinegar, and wasabi mustard. I liked it. It was kind of like an asian slaw.

I served all this with rice. I would probably have used brown if I was just cooking for me, but Piggs loves his white rice. Overall, I would say this was a very successful experiment so far, and I still have the cabbage, several carrots, another celery root, another onion, and some oranges. A soup may be in my future . . . and probably more celery root chips.

Thanks to Jack Bishop, whose cookbooks I consulted for ideas and inspirations.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Dude, check me out!

Hey, I just started this cooking blog because the planets all sort of came into alignment. My local paper had an article on food blogs today, and I got my first CSA veggie box (community supported agriculture) and did some experimenting. I had thought about putting my cooking experiments online before, and today just seemed like the day.

FYI, I've been a vegetarian for fifteen years (oh, shit, I just turned 29, so more like 16 now) so all the recipes will be vegetarian. I will try to focus on locally grown seasonal veggies (no tomato salads in December), but I also like to experiment, so you never know what'll come up. I also don't eat a whole lot of dairy, so many of the recipes will be vegan-friendly. I don't object to them, I just am trying to lose weight and a little lactose-intolerant anyway. I make kick-ass vegan cookies, so keep your eye out for those recipes. Dude, this should be fun!