Cookbook Adventures: Week 2

On Monday I set out to do as OmbudsBen suggested in his comments on my Stuck in a Rut post last week.  In case you forgot, here is his suggestion:

Pick out a cookbook with an index, open the index without looking, and point to find the nearest recipe.

With M and I being mostly vegetarian, I decided it would be best to use a vegetarian cookbook, and I went for the behemoth of vegetarian cookbooks:  Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food.

Cookbook chosen, I opened to the index without looking and pointed to find the nearest recipe.  My finger landed on:

Cooking.  See also Equipment and tools; Ingredients

“Well,” I thought, “that’s no good.”

Next try brought me:

Enchiladas, cheese

I obviously needed a different approach.  I did what any good support-your-local-farm person would do.  I checked to see what Hilgert’s had to offer.  Since they are now on Facebook, this was easily accomplished.  The results:

Strawberries are done now, but the red raspberries and English peas are now prime picking. If it rains, call about field conditions before you come.

Peas!  I like peas but only if they are fresh peas.  And these are as fresh as you can get.  I looked up peas in the index of Bittman’s book and decided on Braised Tofu and Peas in Curried Coconut Milk.  All I needed were the peas and that was easily remedied with the short trip to Hilgert’s.  (If we had berms/shoulders on our road, or those old-fashioned things called sidewalks, I would walk there.  I think it’s only about a mile or two down the road.  There are some curves that are dangerous for walkers because the drivers come zooming around them and there’s no place for a walker to go since you have to walk almost on the edge of the road itself and the road narrows there.)

To start this adventure off, I needed to press the tofu.  I meant to try the freezing method that Bittman recommends, but forgot so the next best thing is pressing it.  The purpose of preparing the tofu is to vary the texture, to make it drier and firmer (in the case of pressing) so it is easier to handle and cook.  Pressing involves cutting the tofu in half (at its equator), placing it on paper towels, covering it with more paper towels, and then putting something heavy on top to squeeze (or press) the water out.  I put the cutting board on top but it didn’t seem heavy enough.  As I looked around for a heavy object, I spotted Bittman’s book on the counter.  Perfect.

I let that sit for a couple of hours, then started the rice.  We eat white rice occasionally but brown rice is the standard around here.  So much so that, as you can see, I buy it in bulk.  Brown rice takes a while to cook (if it hasn’t been soaked first).  I usually start it cooking before I begin the rest of the food prep and cooking.  That gives it time to sit a little after the required cooking time, something that finishes it off nicely in my rice-cooking experience.  It’s almost always perfectly cooked.

With the rice cooking, I set out to make the sauce or “gravy” for the dish.  It consisted of onions, tomatoes, and a lot of spices.  It’s an Indian-style curry.  The recipe calls for curry powder and garam masala.  I made my own mixture of spices for the curry powder and used the garam masala I had in the spice cabinet.  I wanted a hot and spicy dish so I also added chili flakes.  I would like to have used whole, dried chiles but had none on hand.  (Note to self:  Remember to add those to the grocery list.)  At some point I also added a spoonful of garlic-chili paste as I wanted more heat and the flavor went well with the rest of the spices and sauce.

Once the sauce was puréed and the spices were fried in a little oil, I added the sauce to the spices, cooked it as directed and then tossed in the fresh peas.  The recipe calls for adding the tofu to the sauce at the same time.  Since I was using fresh peas, I wanted to let them cook for a little while before adding the tofu as that only needs a few minutes to heat up.  Once the tofu and peas were cooked, I added the coconut milk (I used a light variety), heated it up to almost boiling as directed, and then garnished with the cilantro.

I served it over the brown rice.  It was spicy and delicious without taking anything away from the fresh peas which retained their fresh flavor and a little crunch.  They were not crunchy-crunchy as in undercooked but crunchy as in just cooked.  I do not like mushy peas.

The photo above does not do it justice.  Not enough light, obviously.  The peas were a pretty shade of bright green in a sea of reddish-orange sauce (the color coming from a combination of the turmeric in the spice mixture and the tomatoes).  I’d like to try this again with a few more vegetables added.  Perhaps some potatoes and carrots.  Or cauliflower.

Vegetables and storms

(070:  Summer vegetables.  Photo © 2009 by Robin)

M and I went to the dentist yesterday for our semiannual cleaning and check-up.  All is well with the choppers (since there is an inquiring mind out there that wanted to know).

A trip to the dentist also means a trip to our favorite Akron Italian market:  DeVitis.  We loaded up a few bags with all sorts of goodies including my favorite olive salad, artichoke salad, and cheeses.  Cheese is one of my big weaknesses when it comes to healthy eating, but I’ve found that a little bit of a tasty and strong cheese can go a long way without messing up the diet at all.

As I mentioned yesterday, I had a big bag of basil to deal with.  I bought the basil at the local farmers market on Saturday and stuffed it into the fridge until I had time to do something with it.  I got a good deal on the basil.  When I asked the man selling it how much it cost, he said he didn’t know because they hadn’t figured that out yet but how does $3.00 sound?  I said it sounded just fine and bought it.  To be honest, I have no idea how much a bag of basil that size should cost.  I suspect it might be more than $3.00.

I made two (one-cup) batches of pesto yesterday, using the basic pesto recipe from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.  Very simple stuff:  basil, pine nuts, garlic, freshly grated parmesan cheese, and olive oil.  Whirl it around in the food processor and voila!  You have pesto.  I toasted the pine nuts for the first batch.  I like them toasted and wondered if it would add much change to the flavor of the pesto.  I’ll let you know tomorrow.  We’re having pasta with pesto for dinner tonight.

What looked like a great deal of basil was reduced to a small amount in no time.  I also used some of the basil in the zucchini-tomato gratin I made for dinner.  Today’s photo collage is a small collection of the pictures I took while assembling the gratin.  The recipe for the gratin was from the recent Vegetarian Times magazine.  It was labor intensive.  There’s a lot of salting and draping of vegetables to reduce the moisture in them.  The zucchini, after the moisture reduction, then has to be fried in olive oil until golden before layering it with the tomatoes, basil, olives, and cheese.

Was it worth the effort?  I think so.  It was delicious.  Will I make it again anytime soon?  Not likely.  It falls into that “fussy foods” category (wherein the means involves a lot of fuss to get to the end or the completed project), and I prefer fresh, fast, and simple most of the time.  It is nice to have something a little beyond that once in a while, and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal.

We had some storms roll through yesterday.  I’ve been wanting to start a Tuesday video meme of my own.  Two Minutes at Breezy Acres, or something along those lines.   Two minutes may be a little too long so I could end up reducing it to One Minute at Breezy Acres.  In the meantime, here is yesterday’s two minutes of a summer storm as seen from the top of the new spiral stairs (where I was able to keep myself and, most importantly, my camera dry).

Boulangerie Beans and Potatoes

(Photo © 2009 by Robin.)

For Christmas I received a copy of Mark Bittman’s  How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food.  It was high up on my wish list and I was thrilled to find it under the tree.  (Thank you, C & B!)

Yesterday a friend, who also has a copy of the book, excitedly suggested I turn to page 620 and make the Boulangerie Beans and Potatoes.  Because I happened to have everything I needed to make it (including fresh thyme), I decided to cook up some beans and see what all the excitement was about.

The recipe is very simple and very basic:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 cups cooked white beans, drained but still moist
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 medium russet or other high-starch (baking) potatoes or all-purpose potatoes, peeled
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or water
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Stir a tablespoon of the thyme into the beans, taste, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Spread the beans in a baking dish and set aside.

Halve the potatoes lengthwise and thinly slice into half circles.  Lay the potatoes in overlapping rows to cover the beans.  Pour the stock over the top, dot with pieces of butter, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the remaining thyme.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue baking until the top is browned and glazed, another 45 minutes or so.  Serve immediately or let rest for up to an hour and serve at room temperature.

I used great northern beans (because I had them in the pantry).  In the book Bittman points out that you can use canned beans, but he doesn’t recommend it.  I started with dried beans, and used the quick soak and cook method.  The beans were ready in about three hours.  You can also use red or pink beans.

Obviously you will need to do a little planning ahead for this dish.  It’s well worth the time and effort.  The beans make it a hearty dish that works well as a main course.  Just serve with a salad and you have a full meal.

This is the first recipe I’ve used from the book.  I’m looking forward to many more happy meals from this “ultimate one-stop vegetarian cookbook.”