Cooking For Two

Eggy Zucchini Bake

Posted by on Monday Jul 21st, 2014

Well, look what we have here. An old Pyrex pan. A brownish green square. The most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten (or so says Alex).

A few years ago, I got into the habit of turning leftover rice into this gratin, a recipe saved from an old Splendid Table newsletter. I wouldn’t say this was a frequent habit, but every six months, when there was leftover rice and not much else, I’d whip up a few eggs, shred some cheese, sauté whatever was green that I could find, and scrape the batter into a baking pan. Each time, I’d scoff: “Well, this is a humble one.” And each time, Alex would take his first bite and tell me: “You could make this every night.” He loves that dish.

By the third or fourth instance of our evenings playing out exactly like the above, I realized that the leftover had risen above leftover status. I’d have to figure out how to make the eggy, cheesy vegetable-laden (four whole zucchini go in!) dish intentionally.

Four odd years later, I got around to it, and I owe this welcome update to the the jar of fresh breadcrumbs caught my eye. I more or less collect heels and nubs and stale crusts of bread in the back of the fridge, and one day, fed up with all the separately wrapped and very hard pieces, I made a lifetime’s worth of breadcrumbs in my blender. Now I have a jar of fresh breadcrumbs that’s a lot less painful to behold–and the inspiration for this simple dinner.

With vegetable-rice gratin in mind and breadcrumbs in the jar, I updated that old gratin recipe into this easy, healthful bake. Besides making Alex a really happy guy, there are a lot of uses for this. You can cut small squares and pack them as protein-rich snacks. A bigger piece, cold, would be excellent between two slices of focaccia, like a frittata sandwich. And because this has eggs, bread, vegetables, and cheese, I think you could make the argument that it is viable as breakfast, lunch, or dinner–or all three.

Crazy Spring Veggie Cheesy Toasts

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 23rd, 2014

I miss a lot of things. Epic YouTube videos that everyone saw six years ago. Anchorman references. Jokes. Despite loving food more than videos, for the last several years, I’ve also missed favas, peas, and fiddleheads. Too busy eating ramps, I guess. Those I never miss.

This year is different. I ate all my spring produce at once, on these cheesy toasts. If there was a quota, I’ve filled it.

Around here, a lot of the produce is fleeting. We check the farmers’ market  bins for ramps week in and week out, only for them to appear once or twice, then disappear again. Do we like them more because they’re so transitory? Maybe. I do also like radishes and asparagus, though, both of which appear for longer stretches.

Anyway, I filled my quota by cheating. See, I wound up with this yield after a photoshoot for work. I don’t know if any of these have been sighted at local vendors yet, but at least I got a jump on the vegetables and am getting this chance to show you what I do when I cook with fleeting, tender, spring-like veggies: not much. My go-to prep is a flash in the pan with some sautéed onion (or shallot) and garlic. None of the vegetables need much cooking time, and a sauté allows you to monitor cooking so you don’t go overboard and turned the prized veggies into mush. 

Arroz Con Pollo with Tons of Vegetables

Posted by on Monday Mar 31st, 2014

Given that it’s all kale, all the time now, I hope you won’t chide me for bringing up the lovable green again here. Maybe part of kale’s longevity has to do with the fact that the veggie keeps on surprising: just the other day, I had a kale salad that surpassed every kale salad yet ingested or read about, by me, in New York City, circa 2012-2014.

Or, kale’s staying power has more to do with having become a mainstay in our fridges, rather than a complicated restaurant-only thing. Bunches keep well, meaning you can tear off a leaf here and there when dinners need more green.

Right now, one-pot dinners strike me as the only type of dinners. Two pots needed? No thanks. The thing about one pot dinners, though, is that you have to make an effort to vegetabalize your meal. That’s why there’s half a clamshell of baby spinach in Lentils & Sausage Braised in Red Wine and a whole zucchini plus three types of green pepper in Healthy Chicken Chili with Barley. When you choose one pot, you better fill it with a lot of different elements. Small pot, big promise–or something like that.

For a long time, I’d been wanting to put my own vegetable-rich spin on Arroz Con Pollo, perhaps the ultimate in one-pot meals. Protein: check. Carbs: check. Vegetables: sort of check. And that’s where the kale came back in.

Brisket Burrito Bowls for the Week

Posted by on Thursday Feb 20th, 2014

This season has brought me snow, ice, cold, and a giant food rut. After a few weeks of scrambling to a) figure out what I was craving, then b) find the motivation to feed that craving, I decided this food blogger could do better. I pulled up my favorite pinterest board and grabbed a notepad, and then I did something unusual. I planned out meals for the week.

Before you get any ideas about my organizational prowess, I want to be clear: this was not planning in the sense that full-blown menus were materializing out of thin air, then being shopped for and cooked as scheduled. No, I’d classify this as future-motivation reduction, meaning that if there were food in the fridge, we wouldn’t have to worry about mustering up the desire to cook. Also, we spent $20 on an awesome-quality brisket, $10 on avocados, cilantro, and rice at the supermarket, which divides into $3 per serving, which beats spending $10 on lunch at the deli each day!

The biggest problem for me is figuring out what I can eat for several meals straight without getting bored. There are not a lot of things. So far, I’ve come up with 1) grilled cheese, 2) fried rice or fried quinoa, and 3) Mexican food. So today, I’d like you to meet the brisket burrito bowl, which I officially ate for four lunches and one dinner without wanting to forsake rice, beans, meat, or avocados for the rest of my life.

Though I’ve written notes below focused on how to pack burrito bowls for lunch, they would also make a great casual buffet for friends, set up similar to the peanut noodle party.

I have the worst sense of time. I’m a dawdler. I think five-hour tasks will take five minutes. I’m great at caramelizing onions because I forget all about them, and in my absence their sugars get a chance to develop. In college, our 1 o’clock classes started at 1:07pm, and I blame that schedule for irrevocably messing with my sense of punctuality. If there were still seven minutes of official dawdling time at the beginning of every hour, the world would make more sense to me.

Besides caramelizing onions, my time blindness rarely affects dinner. But back in the autumn days of 2013, when 55°F felt nippy, and we all left our houses to hang out, I let an afternoon get away from me even though I had invited some friends to dinner. Earlier, Alex and I had planned and shopped for most of the menu and sketched out the prep we’d need to do. I had tomatillos and tomatoes from the CSA, and since I was in the middle of an obsession with Pati Jinich’s Pati’s Mexican Table, dinner would be chicken tinga, refried beans, and plenty of guac on tostadas. I’d prepped the tinga sauce, bought a rotisserie chicken, and chopped everything for the guac, which meant I could afford my kitchen truancy. I stretched out the the afternoon in the park, our  frisbee sailing back and forth until the sun set behind the trees and we couldn’t see the disc even when we squinted.

When I got home, we had about an hour on the clock to crisp tortillas and assemble. No big deal. Then another guest confirmed, then another. Then I started worrying about quantity. And then I decided we’d better supplement our main course. I opened up Jinich’s book and scanned her recipe for green rice. It looked good but a tad complicated. Time was passing too quickly. I picked out the essentials–cilantro, jalapeño, lime, rice–shut the book, and improvised.

Al Forno Conchiglie

Posted by on Monday Feb 10th, 2014

I should give you a Valentine’s Day dish, shouldn’t I? If you’re here, maybe you don’t have a reservation, don’t want to deal with prix fixes and crowds and ersatz romance. Staying in is much better. Later this week, I’ll be posting about complicated dishes that you might want to fuss over with your beloved(s), which is what Alex and I did the first year we spent the weird, high-expectation day together as a couple. Since then, we’ve been going out to eat good pizza with friends, but this year that tradition got pushed to the 13th, and so the 14th is, once more, open for something. Ignoring the holiday, maybe? No, we actually do have a plan, but it’s kind of goofy so I’m going to keep it to myself.

But if you need a Friday night recipe, one that you don’t mind making after a workday but that still delivers the spark of a weekend evening, one that’s rich and satisfying, and–I’m sorry to admit that I’ve thought about this–pinkish in hue, then look no further. Al forno conchiglie is a recipe that’s been in the BGSK archives for a long time. It involves just-less-than-al-dente pasta, handfuls of cheese, a bit of tomato sauce, and a lot of cream. Invented at Al Forno in Providence, RI, the casserole travels beautifully to the home kitchen. The finished pan is a source of surprise and awe, every time, because the crispy-edged top that emerges bears so little resemblance to the mess that went in the oven just 10 minutes before.

Whether you dig into this surprise in front of bad TV as on any other Friday night, or beside flickering candles, I think you’ll find this a dish worth loving, a marriage of mac ‘n cheese and baked ziti that’s hard to resist. 

In one of my favorite cookbooks, there’s a chapter entitled “Nice with Rice.” I’ve always loved the idea that we could sort dishes by their chosen starch. Instead of being nice with rice (or in addition to that quality), today’s roughly imagined vegetable curry is in the category “bon with naan.”

That naan comes from Stonefire, maker of traditional naan, roasted in ovens far hotter than ours get at home. While I’ve made paratha, roti, and even samosas, I’ve never tried my hand homemade naan, because I don’t have a tandoori oven. Whereas Stonefire does: their naan, made with an age-old recipe that uses both buttermilk and ghee, gets baked using new technology that mimics the 6,000-year-old method of making naan in a tandoor oven. I keep packages of Stonefire naan in the freezer (there are whole grain, garlic and sweet chili versions in addition to original), then bake them up, brush with butter, and eat them.

And what do I eat them with?

Well. Back in December, I asked what cuisine you might like to see explored more on the blog, and you said Indian. And then in January, I told you my food resolutions, and one was to make Indian (and Thai) curry pastes at home. For today’s bon with naan curry–not exactly a korma, but something like it–I got out my mini food processor, picked up ginger, garlic, cilantro, and serranos, and started making a curry paste.

The method for any curry paste is easy: combine herbs, chilies, nuts, garlic, ginger, aromatics, tomato, onion, oil, or toasted spices in various proportions and grind or pound them into a goop.

The interplay of flavors in the paste contributes a deep seasoning, and sometimes serious spice, to your stews. To make any curry, you simply heat some oil in a pan, toast the paste in it, and add whatever ingredients you’d like, from protein and vegetables to coconut milk, stock, or cream. Both making curry paste and making curry are a lot easier than you’d think, and a lot less risky than opening up a can of paste from an unknown brand and finding your dinner needs about 6 cups of  salt to taste like anything at all.