Tag Archives: vegetarian

Hot Not Tabbouleh

Let’s file this one under hearty, midweek, easy, and good.¬†I made an initial version of it earlier in the week, and I was like, “Hmmm, this is pretty good for being pretty simple,” and then I made it again yesterday so that I could give it to a friend and also refine it/write about it.

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While the first goal will be a goal-postponed – given the snow, my friend and I decided to connect on another day – the second goal is in the process now of being a goal-realized. ūüôā

As many a cook knows, many times or perhaps most or even all of the time, what you make often turns our a little different every time. This is especially true when you keep the ingredients (mostly) the same and don’t worry (too much) about the exact amounts. In this case, I knew the ingredients that I’d used the first time but not the precise amounts. I also decided to make a small spice swapperoo at the end. The result? The second version was indeed different from the first, and better.

The dish’s slightly different appearance the second time I made it also moved it a little further from how it reminded me of tabbouleh (the dish’s brown rice and spinach looked a little darker this time, I think because I used a little more tomato paste), but no matter for the name. I like the original name I gave it; it’s more interesting than calling it, say, vegetable-bean-spinach-baked-tofu rice; and in the end, it’s still a hot version of something somewhat reminiscent of tabbouleh, yet something else.

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First version

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Second version

Hot Not Tabbouleh

The igredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped into small pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 red pepper, chopped into small pieces
  • 16 oz (1 can) light red kidney beans
  • 1 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 16 oz spinach
  • 2.5 cups cooked brown rice (1 cup uncooked)
  • 3 oz tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • Lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 16 oz extra firm tofu
  • 2.5 Tbsp soy sauce

[Wow, 17 ingredients! That might be the longest list in this space so far. It’s possible you have all or most of them already, though. The only things I didn’t have until that first day were the spinach and the corn, which I happened to buy (frozen) on a whim while wandering Wegmans.]

The steps

  1. Make the rice. (I used a rice cooker.)
  2. Bake the tofu.¬†(Press out extra water, cut into small slabs (I made them about 1/2″ x 1″), mix with the soy sauce in a bowl, and bake on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, flipping them once half-way through.)
  3. Then do the rest. Start by sauteing the onions and garlic in a large pan over medium heat. Sauté until mostly soft.
  4. Add the red peppers and sauté until mostly soft
  5. Add the beans, corn, and spinach
  6. Add the rice, tomato paste, wine, and water. If there is any soy sauce left in the bowl, add that too.
  7. Mix everything together and cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom.
  8. Add the salt, pepper, chili powder, and lemon juice
  9. Cut the baked tofu pieces in half lengthwise, and add them to the pan
  10. Mix everything together and cook for another 10 minutes
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Most of the ingredients

Partial progress (just after the sauté)

Just after sauteing the onion, garlic, and red pepper

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The tofu, baked

Tofu, halved

The tofu, halved

And all ready to go

And the final dish, ready to go

If you’ve never had Hot Not Tabbouleh before (and if you made it through that last dependent clause), let me tell you, it’s got some substance to it. There’s a touch of sweetness from the corn kernels in most bites, a hint of smokiness from the chili powder, and a spinach smoothness that makes you wonder if there isn’t some melted cheese somewhere in there too.

As I was making it the first time, my general thinking was that I wanted to try new combinations of ingredients (using what I had on hand) and ultimately make something new. This included using a spice that I had only used once in a while – Chile Con Limon.

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While I liked how the first version of the dish tasted, with the second version I decided to try another type of Chile Con Limon:

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My main reason was I wanted to use more whole ingredients, like real lemon juice in place of what I saw on the El Monte Spices Chile Con Limon label (citric acid, dehydrated lemon, lemon juice, lemon peel, and natural flavors).¬†Of course, as I’m writing this now, it occurred to me that I should also take a look at the ingredient list on the McCormick Chili Powder label. Well, it looks like my Hot Not Tabbouleh, version two, has a small amount of silicon dioxide. Maybe, like the beans, tofu, and spinach also in it, it’ll help make certain things, if you know what I mean, more free flowing? Like it’ll loosen things up and help give a different air?

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Oh, stop, I’m just bean funny.

With my selection of a real lemon, maybe I was also channeling¬†the recipe’s second cousin, actual tabbouleh, for which lemon juice is a standard ingredient.

Whatever the case may be, the second coming of Hot Not Tabbouleh turned out pretty good. I’ll probably make it again at some point in the future – or to be more precise, I’ll make a similar¬†but slightly different version again – and that as before, it’ll be good again, and possibly better.

Have a party, invite milk and vinegar, and simmer

It was about six years ago, a warm Saturday morning in late-spring, and I was out riding with a small group that I’d had the fortune to start riding with around that time. We were doing something like 45 to 60 miles, and we were our way back from the deli, on take-your-pick of Back Brook / Van Lieus / Larsen / Welisewitz Rd.

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As we were slowing down for a stop sign, someone noticed something on my legs. This would have been relatively unremarkable had it been a chainring tattoo, which those who ride know occasionally comes with the riding, and which those who know the people I was riding with know could very well be accompanied by good-natured ribbing. The conversation that followed went something like this:

Me: ¬†“Yeah, I did a group run last night, and there was a little mud.”

Other rider: ¬†“Nice! And then you didn’t take a shower and slept in your bed all dirty like that.”

Me: ¬†“Well, I was tired and I was getting up early to ride today, so I figured I’d just do it later. It’s okay, it’s all dry.”

Other rider: ¬†“You’re single right? ¬†That’s how it’s going stay.”

Another rider (ftw): ¬†“I have solution for you. Have a party. Invite soap and water, and have them meet.”

Recalling this last¬†line, along with the mental image of its deadpan delivery, never fails to bring a smile to my face.¬†So yes, thank you, Brian, for the suggestion that day.¬†I’ll add for the record that back then, I did usually take showers after exercising like that. And that since back then, the ‘usually’ has¬†gone on to¬†become ‘more than usually.’

All of which, of course, brings me to the following:  If soap and water can make for a good party, what can milk and vinegar do?

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They can meet, simmer in a pot for 30-60 minutes, and make cottage cheese. I know!  Two ingredients! How about for a that party.

It’s a simple recipe and one that I got from the Ethiopian cooking class I took in December and January (three sessions, lots of good leftovers each time, and about 10 new recipes to try; so far I’ve tried three of them).¬†The recipe actually has a third ingredient, rue, which is a not-so-common culinary herb that can be¬†added as an option at the end. As I was lacking in rue, I skipped it this time, and the cottage cheese turned out fine.

Another option, which wasn’t in the recipe but which I got from searching online, is to add salt. I added a sprinkling of salt this time, and I liked how it brought out¬†the flavor in a subtle way. Salt’s good at doing that, right?? In the end, whether you add salt¬†or not may depend on your ultimate¬†plans for the cottage cheese. As part of the full meals we prepared during the class, the cottage cheese side dish served as a cooling and unsalty counterbalance to the main dishes that had a decent amount of heat and salt to them. So that’s just¬†something to think about. Here’s the recipe.

Cottage cheese

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • Rue (optional), a few sprigs
  • Salt (optional)
  1. Add the milk and vinegar to a large pot and let stand for 5 minutes
  2. Simmer for 30-60 minutes over low heat, to allow the curds to form (simmer until you have soft curds (less time) rather than rubbery curds (more time))
  3. Strain most of the liquid out using a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth (you can strain more of less liquid, depending on your preference)
  4. Add rue (optional)
  5. Add salt (optional)
  6. Store in a refrigerator and serve cold (or serve warm if you want it right away!)
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Two ingredients in a pot

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Two ingredients in a pot 30 minutes later

Prepping one of my star colanders with cheesecloth

Getting ready

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Cottage cheese on cheesecloth

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Cloth in action

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Fresh cottage cheese

In class, we did the full recipe (1 gallon of milk and 1 cup of vinegar) but when I made it at home, I cut the recipe in half so I could try making it more often (three tries so far!). Making a half-recipe worked out fine, no problem. I also used different types of milk each time. When using a¬†lesser percent, non-organic milk, the cottage cheese that resulted had a little more tanginess to it, while the version that I made using whole, organic milk (what I did this time) had a little less tanginess. One side note: I also used different brands of milk each time, so let my initial observations here be not the final word in milk-for-cottage-cheese selection. Try it out and see what works for you, and I’ll keep trying, too, and maybe more scientifically. See what amount of simmer-minutes also works best for you. The recipe from¬†class didn’t specify a time.

And that’s cottage cheese! The appearance and texture are similar to the kind from the store, and the taste is cottage cheesy¬†good, not to mention also unique if you’ve made your own before. There are also ways to make it that involve a few more ingredients and alternative coagulating agents (or so the internet and a public library tell me), but this one’s good for now. ūüôā

This time, I used some of the cottage cheese right away in a salad: baby spinach, cottage cheese, raisins, chopped walnuts, and a balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper dressing.

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Mmmmmmmmm, looks good tastes good.

The reason is in the risotto

There are times to plan, and there are times to just take a step and go. This past Tuesday in the kitchen, it was one of the latter.

I hadn’t thought about what to make for dinner, and as I walked past the pumpkins and into the kitchen, I saw it. There, still sitting on the shelf and still in the box, was the¬†new, Oxo Good Grips shredder that my bother and sister-in-law had given me for the holidays and that I hadn’t opened yet… despite having had numerous cheese shredding opportunities in the past month… because I was waiting for the perfect occasion and dish that would not only involve shredding, but would also taste great and make for a great story. I know, such a burden to place on a kitchen implement!

As I stood in there in front of the¬†box, with the kernel of these thoughts in mind, I made the following decision in a matter of seconds, almost without thinking: “I’m going to make risotto tonight and use the shredder, and however it turns out, I’ll write about, and it’ll be fine. It’s time.”

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Oxo box on Oxo spinner

There is simple-risotto, and there is more-complex-risotto, and I decided to try a version more towards the simpler end of the cheesy arborio rice spectrum. Which is to say, I decided to add carrots and red peppers to the mix. Doing so would add some color to complement the peas, a more traditional risotto ingredient (along with the rice, broth, wine, and Parmesan cheese), and it would be something new for me. Here’s the recipe, as I wrote it up afterwards.

Risotto with Carrots, Red Peppers, and Peas

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped into small pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 carrots, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 red pepper, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 32 ounces (4 cups) vegetable broth, heated
  • 16 ounces (2 cups) water, heated
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded finely
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat
  2. Add the onions and garlic, and sauté until soft
  3. Add the carrots and red peppers, and sauté until mostly soft
  4. Add the rice and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
  5. Add the wine and ¬†simmer until it’s absorbed, stirring occasionally
  6. Add 1 cup of vegetable broth and simmer until it’s absorbed, stirring occasionally
  7. Continue adding the broth and then the water, 1 cup at a time, until the rice is done (you’ll know the rice is done when it’s cooked but still has a slight crunch or chewiness to it).
  8. Add the Parmesan cheese
  9. And then add the salt and pepper

One of the great things about making a decision and just going with it is that it’s a lot more freeing than the alternative. There’s no agonizing over what the ‘right,’ best, or dare I say, perfect, thing to do is. And as it often turns out, that initial instinct or feeling often is a good guide. This is not to say I’m the greatest at doing this, and along the way I will have my share of second-guessing (darn you second-guessing!), but I know it’s there for me to access and to try using when I can.

In the kitchen that night, I wasn’t second-guessing my decision to use the shredder. And even though I was trying something a little new, I’d made risotto before, and I had faith that things would turn out alright.

And with that mindset, I began.

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The first step was to sauté the onions and garlic:

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Then I continued down the traditonal, basic risotto path by adding the rice, the wine, and the first cup of broth. It was only after the first cup of broth had been absorbed that I added the carrots and red peppers:

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How about the early color, right??? Looks good! Color, yes! Correct order, however, no. There was a part of me that wanted to believe that it would work – that I could add the carrots and red peppers at this point and have them cook and soften during the the successive simmer steps, and that’s why I had decided to try it – but almost as soon as I added them to the rice, and definitely while I was stirring them in, I knew I had made a mistake (or rather, we might say, a *learning experience*). I should have sauteed them first. But now they would still be crunchy when the rice was done, and with risotto, it’s more the¬†arborio rice that’s supposed to be the slightly crunchy star.

With nothing to do but smile and chuckle (and if I’m being honest, there may have been some eye-roll too), I then went about picking out, piece by piece, all of the little carrot and red pepper pieces I had just stirred all the way in. As I did this, I also continued cooking the rice, adding 1 cup of broth/water at a time. The piece by piece effort also reminded me of a good ninth grade summer memory of doing a 3,000 piece puzzle of Versailles, most of which involved a picture of the garden. It was steady family work, one piece at a time, and though sometimes it was hard to feel the progress along the way, the progress came, and the puzzle moved forward.

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Yes, I picked this much out by hand, one piece at a time.

After sauteing the carrots and red peppers I’d removed – I’ll estimate I got two-thirds of them out – and returning¬†them to the pan, the risotto was almost done. I bestowed the other third of them with ‘soft enough’ status, as they actually did cook a bit, and then I got the shredder out to do the Parmesan cheese. (You can do a vegan version too of course, without the cheese. If you do this, maybe use broth instead of the water, and adjust the salt and pepper accordingly to your liking.)

And then it was all done! And time for some portraits.

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The risotto

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The shredder, with an interesting risotto color mimicry

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A close up

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Well, hello

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Don’t back the cheese up or you’ll blow a tire

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Sorry, can’t talk right now, I’m eating dinner

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And on the plate

In the end, the vegetable combination worked out pretty well – the risotto had good taste and good color. And it was the taking of a step, jumping in, and going with the experience that had worked to get me started and got me through. What’s that saying again? Yes.¬†The proof is in the pudding. And the reason is in the risotto.

Rutabaga Rice and Beans

Rutabaga rice and beans.

I could also call it onion, garlic, rutabaga, tomato, salt, chili powder, cumin, and hot pepper flakes rice and beans, but that doesn’t have quite the same alliterative and exotic ring to it.

TFD dot com tells me exotic (adj.) means:

  1. From another part of the world; foreign
  2. Intriguingly unusual or different; excitingly strange
  3. Of or involving striptease

Sounds like a good a good fit!

Rutabaga is believed to have originally come from lands afar (Scandinavia and Russia), the idea of adding it to rice and beans is novel (intriguing! and excitingly strange!), and unless you like your rice¬†and beans extra crunchy, you’ll need to strip the rutabaga first along the way (that is, you’ll need to peel off its outer skin; if the Swedish turnip’s feeling bashful, feel free to give it a gentle tease).

There are a lot of ways to make rice and beans. This is one. With the tomato and spices, it has somewhat of a Spanish Rice feel to it. The hot pepper flakes then add a touch of temperature, and the rutabaga and rest combine to give it a satisfying heartiness. This recipe also helps answer the question, “What should I do with all the¬†rutabaga left over from Thanksgiving?” ‘Helps’ is the right word because, well, in my case I still have some left from the original big one.

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Now only a few pounds left after making this recipe. Props again to the Yuengling for the size comparison.

Rutabaga Rice and Beans

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried black beans (about 2 1/2 cups cooked)
  • 1 cup brown rice (about 2 1/2 cups cooked)
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 5 garlic coves, diced
  • 2 cups diced rutabaga
  • 3 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes

Steps

(Pre-step: Soak the dried beans overnight in a pot of water. Then, right before cooking them, drain the soaking water, rinse the beans, and refill the pot with fresh water.)

  1. Cook the beans until they’re generally soft (about an hour in¬†simmering or lightly-boiling water, covered)
  2. Meanwhile, sauté the the onions, garlic, and rutabaga in olive oil until soft (medium heat)
  3. At the same time, also cook the rice (20-30 minutes using a rice cooker)
  4. Once the beans are done, drain the water
  5. Then add the beans and rest of the ingredients to the sauteed onion/garlic/rutabaga mixture. Altogether, add: the tomatoes and crushed tomatoes, the cooked rice and the drained cooked beans, and the spices and hot pepper flakes.
  6. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until it starts to stick to the bottom (10-15 minutes). Scrape up and mix back in the parts that stick.

With this dish, I like the slight crunch that comes from dried beans that have been cooked. If you want, you could also use canned beans as another option.

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A cup of dried beans

Since the beans were cooking for an hour, I let the onions, garlic, and rutabaga saut√© for the same amount of time. You could let these go for more or less time, but here’s how I did it this time.

  • I sauteed the onions and garlic for 20 minutes
  • Then I added the rutabaga and covered the pan for another 20 minutes
  • And then I did 20 minutes more uncovered

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Then I put the tomatos, rice, and beans in.

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And then I added the spices and mixed everything together and was done!

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I told some friends at the potluck I made this for that it had rutabaga in it. For everyone else, surprise! 

I also made lentil soup with butternut squash for the potluck (when it’s at your place, it’s good to have a big pot of something; and, progress on the pumpkin front!)

But rutabaga rice and beans. What more can I say but, from another world, different, and good hot or cold. I just finished the leftovers and want some more.

Pumpkin Puree, and the Steps Along the Way

 

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Peek-a-boo!

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Yes, it’s true.

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I have a hallway full of squash.

Look closely, and you’ll see:

  • 1 Light blue pumpkin
  • 1 Jack-o’-lantern pumpkin
  • 3 Acorn squash
  • 3 Butternut squash
  • 3 Munchkins
  • 3 Spaghetti squash
  • 3 Cheese pumpkins
  • 1 Light green pumpkin

Altogether, it was a $23.50 haul way back in mid-October. Yes, October! Can you believe that? It’s been three¬†months, and each one of these pumpkins and squashies are still looking good, no soft spots or anything. In fact, the only thing that’s changed (for some of them) is the color.

The light blue pumpkin? From a cool blue to glow-in-the-dark orange.

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The acorns? From a dark green to brilliant orange.

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And the¬†spaghettis and the light green pumpkin? Yes, them too! The spaghettis¬†(now with orange stripes on their yellow skin) and the light green pumpkin¬†(with slowly-spreading splotches of orange) also got in the game. The other guys, meanwhile, the¬†jack-o’-lantern, munchkins, butternuts, and cheese pumpkins¬†(orange, orange, beige, and beige), decided¬†they were fine the way they were.

Normally when I have a higher-than-typical¬†quantity of local produce, like when I have lots of¬†pick-your-own plum¬†tomatoes from the farm, I’ll arrange them¬†on the¬†table in nice rows so they’re pleasing to look at as well as right there when I need them. I don’t recall exactly how the pumpkins found their¬†hallway home, but I remember that once they were there, the picture¬†looked right. Every day, walking to kitchen, walking to the bathroom, and walking from the kitchen and from the bathroom, there they¬†were, reminding me of how I knew it would be a good idea to empty my wallet that one¬†day at the self-serve¬†farm stand and bring home more squash (if I’m being technically honest) than I needed. I would have started cooking with them sooner if had they started going bad, but in the absence of rot and the presence of beauty, there was nothing to do but to let them sit where they were and feel myself smile as I passed.

This is also a way of saying that the first step to making fresh pumpkin puree is to buy a good-looking pumpkin and think about cooking¬†it one day. For me, the first one up from the October batch¬†would¬†be one of the cheese pumpkins. It was starting to get a few dark spots on its skin, and though they weren’t soft yet, I decided¬†it was time.

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Overall, the process is fairly simple: cut the pumpkin into pieces, remove the seeds, bake the pumpkin, let it cool, peel the skin, and process the flesh.

From my own experience and reading what others do, it seems the details that go with¬†these steps depend largely¬†on your preferences. Some people cut the¬†pumpkin in half or into quarters, while others cut the pumpkin¬†into eighths (or more).¬†Generally, the smaller the pieces are, the faster they will cook. Most people remove the seeds and strings before baking, but not everyone does. The¬†baking temperatures seem to range from 350-400 degrees, the baking times from 30-90 minutes, and the pumpkin-in-baking-dish arrangements from face-down to face-up (and for some people, also with 1/4¬†cup water in the dish along with¬†the dish covered by foil). A sufficient cooling time seems to be 10 minutes (or whenever it’s cool enough to touch). And the options for processing¬†the baked pumpkin into pumpkin puree range from cranking a¬†good ol’ Foley Mill to plugging in a food processor and letting electricity do the work. I’ve also seen a few suggestions for using¬†a potato masher.

For me and my pumpkin, here’s what I did.

First I cut the pumpkin in half.

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Then, after pausing to enjoy the fresh pumpkin smell that comes with the initial cut (it almost smells like a cantaloupe, but distinctively pumpkin), I scooped out the seeds and strings.

Then I cut the halves in half, cut the resulting pieces in half again, and ended up with eight pieces.

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The next step was to bake the pumpkin pieces. The face-down arrangement is the easiest, so that’s¬†what I went with. To do a¬†comparison, I put two of the pieces in a separate dish with the 1/4 cup of water and covered it with foil. Then I put them all in the oven for 1 hour at 375 degrees.

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1 hour at 375 degrees turned out to be just right for this pumpkin. When I poked the pieces at that point with a knife and the knife went through easily, I knew they were done. The two baking dish arrangements also worked out well, with similar results.

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Two of the face-down pieces after baking

After letting the pumpkin pieces cool for 10 minutes, I peeled the skins.

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And then I got out the Foley Mill.

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This is one of my favorite steps of the process, as there’s a certain mechanical pleasure that comes with¬†turning the mill. The ability to transform¬†pumpkin flesh into pumpkin puree, using only your own power, is also one of those fun forms of culinary magic. If you’re ever at a rummage sale and see one, it could very well be one of the best $1-2 investments you make all¬†day.

Once you have the mill, the only other thing you need is a pot to put underneath it, to collect the puree.

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On this day, the one cheese pumpkin produced close to a full pot of puree.

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I’ll estimate the it’s¬†about 4/5 full, and given the size of the pot (2 1/2 quarts), that means I made¬†64 oz of fresh pumpkin puree, or the equivalent of more than four¬†15-oz cans!

Now all that’s left to do is make some pumpkin pie! And pumpkin soup, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and pumpkin recipe yet to found or suggested. If you know of a good one, let me know! There is a good chance I’ll have enough pumpkin to make it ūüôā

Rutabaga Surprise

When I saw it, while doing my final Thanksgiving shopping yesterday afternoon at the farmers’ market, the first question in my head wasn’t whether or not I should buy it, but rather, “How could I not buy it?!?”

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It wasn’t the spelling.

It wasn’t that I needed a rutabaga – the items on my list were cider, apples for applesauce, yams, and Brussels sprouts.

It was the ridiculousness.

The picture above doesn’t convey the magnitude, so I took a few more when I got home.

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Before I bought it, I asked the farmer, “So what’s the story behind this rutabaga?” He said, “Yeah, they got really big this year.” He added¬†that he’d sold an even bigger one that morning, but then he checked and said, “Actually this is the biggest one so far, 12 plus pounds. I’m digging more this weekend.” He said it all with a smile and cheerful energy that came across not only as rutabaga-pride, but as his natural baseline.

When I asked what people usually do with a 12-pound rutabaga, he gave the following recipe suggestion, which mirrors a lot of what I found later on the internet: cook it like you cook potatoes, mash it like you mash potatoes, and then add it to your mashed potatoes. Rutabagas are sweeter than pototaoes, he said, and will add a another element.

Meanwhile, a second farmer came over and said, “Yeah, we had a chef buy one the other day, and he said he cooks it and then pur√©es it with a whole stick of butter.” He expressed disbelief at the idea of using a whole stick but thought it could work nonetheless.

When I got home, I decided to move the applesauce-making back until to today (simmering as we speak!) and make a rutabaga-something last night. So I¬†sliced a couple chunks off the 12-pounder and went about making a small batch of mashed rutabaga. The final recipe was a product of farmer advice, internet ideas, my lack of a few things like milk and potatoes, and experimentation. You might say it was…a mash up.

Thanksgiving Mashed Rutabaga

  • 1 regular-sized rutabaga (let’s say 3-4 lbs)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 3 ¬Ĺ Tbsp butter
  • 3 ¬Ĺ Tbsp agave nectar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar
  1. Peel the rutabaga, chop into 1-2″ pieces, and boil until soft, about 30 minutes
  2. Drain the water, and add the evaporated milk and butter to the now-cooked rutabaga
  3. Mash everything with a masher (or blend with a food processor)
  4. Add the final ingredients – the agave, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar

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Looks good with the Brussels sprouts, right? Someone also once told me that everything looks good on a blue plate or in a blue bowl.

The taste is good, too. It’s kind of like whipped potatoes, but with a sweet earthy note. The trick that got me to the end point was adding the agave nectar. It needed a little more of the sweet, so I tested the following options on separate small amounts of the mixture: sugar (too grainy), honey (the sweetness didn’t blend in well), maple¬†syrup (also didn’t blend in too well), and agave (infused itself nicely with rest).

And with that, it’s just about time for me to head over to my parents’ for Thanksgiving and see my family.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

And if you have a great rutabaga recipe, feel free to let me know or share a link. I do have about 8 pounds left.

Eggplant Parmesan Sloppy Joes

If I ever had a restaurant, this would go on the menu.

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It’s quick, easy, uses whole ingredients, and is delicious.

I made it for the first time about a month ago, shortly after making the regular Eggplant Parmesan. I had gotten another eggplant and some tomatoes from the farm share, and to try something new, I decided to make tomato sauce with diced eggplant. At some point along the way, I remembered I also still had fresh bread crumbs and Parmesan and mozzarella. So I added them, too. The result: awesome Sloppy Joes. 

Eggplant Parmesan Sloppy Joes

The ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 eggplant, diced
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 handfuls arugula
  • 1 ¬ĺ cup bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup fresh Parmesan, grated
  • 3/4 cup fresh mozzarella, grated
  • 1 ‚ÖĚ tsp salt

The steps:

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat
  2. Add the onions and garlic, and sauté until soft, about 15 minutes
  3. Add the eggplant and tomatoes, and simmer over medium heat until the eggplant is mostly soft, about 30 minutes
  4. Add the arugula
  5. Add the bread crumbs
  6. Add the Parmesan and mozzarella
  7. And then add the salt

Here’s how everything looked at the beginning, when I made it this week.

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The first step was dicing the vegetables.

The onion (I used three small ones in place of one large one this time)

The onions (I used three small onions this time)

Garlic

Garlic

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Eggplant (remember to peel first)

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And the tomatoes

To save time, I actually did the dicing in two parts. I diced the onions and garlic first, and then while they were sauteing in the olive oil, I diced the eggplant and tomatoes.

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The onions and garlic, looking good after 15 minutes

Once the onions and garlic were ready, I added the eggplant and tomatoes.

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I’ve found that when cooking¬†eggplant, the key for me is to¬†cook it long enough so that it no longer has its initial toughness,¬†but not so long that it becomes completely soft. A 30-minute simmer¬†worked well in this case.

With the eggplant cooked, I then added the rest of the ingredients: the arugula, bread crumbs, and Parmesan and mozzarella.

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The arugula

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Bread crumbs

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And the Parmesan and mozzarella

And then I added the salt and was done!

If you don’t have arugula, you could¬†also try spinach or chard, or leave it out. I like the extra color and taste that the arugula leaves add to the Sloppy Joe mixture, and they¬†go well, too, as an extra topping in the bun.¬†This time I added arugula and a few tomato slices to the bun. An extra piece of mozzarella or Parmesan is another great addition.

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And if you have small crackers and plum tomatoes, you can also make little Sloppy Joe bites!

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Whether as¬†an appetizer or the main course, I’ll definitely be making this¬†again. It’s like Eggplant Parmesan, but inverted, and in the same category of awesome.

Popcorn cabbage

It’s a topping.
It’s a side dish.
It’s an entree, if you really like cabbage and corn and red pepper.

It’s popcorn cabbage!

That’s the name I’ve given it at least, based on the happy way it reminds me of salty, buttery popcorn, while also bringing a sweet note and a smooth texture. Sounds good, right?

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Popcorn cabbage, all done

The recipe’s orgins¬†are based in CSA serendipity.¬†Having gotten a head of cabbage in my¬†weekly share a few months ago, I had the thought, Why don’t I try something new?

For me and cabbage, this meant not letting the cabbage¬†sit in the fridge for several weeks and then using it as a minor soup ingredient or as a lettuce replacement for tacos and¬†taco salad.¬†I happened to also have an ear of corn at the time, and with my first thought being, ‘I want to try something that cooks the crunch out of the cabbage,’ I started by sauteing the cabbage in olive oil. Then the rest ¬†followed from there, with the addition of a chopped red pepper and fresh corn.

Popcorn cabbage

The ingredients:

  • 3/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 head of cabbage, chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 ear of corn, kernels cut off to use
  • 1 tsp salt

The steps:

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat
  2. Add the cabbage and sauté until almost soft
  3. Add the red pepper
  4. Add the water and continue to cook till the cabbage is soft and the pepper is mostly soft (you can cover the frying pan for a few minutes to quicken this step, if you want)
  5. Add the corn, and cook the mixture for about three minutes
  6. And then add the salt

It’s easy to¬†make, so if if you’re looking to try¬†something new, give it a try. Here’s how the ingredient roll-call and the steps looked when I made it this week.

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Yes, it wasn’t the biggest head of cabbage I’d gotten this year, but it was the pointiest.

An upstanding red pepper

An upstanding red pepper

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One of six I ears I got at the farmers’ market

As for the steps, the initial preparation was quick. I chopped the cabbage and red pepper into small pieces, and I cut the kernels off the corn. My technique for the corn is to break the ear in half, stand each half upright on a cutting board (one half at a time), and then slice the kernels off with a knife.

From conehead to flattop

From conehead to flattop

Half a pepper, diced

Half a red pepper, diced

And the corn

And the fresh corn

With that done, all that is left is to add the ingredients one at a time and cook. Since this was my first time cooking conehead cabbage, I also had a cabbage realization: the top part of a conehead cabbage cooks faster than any part of a regular cabbage (which makes sense since the leaves on a conehead are thinner).

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I’ve tried a few variations since the first time I made it, such as also sauteing an onion at the beginning (not bad, but it takes away from the corn and cabbage; the simpler the better for this one) and making it without the chopped red pepper (also not bad, but then it’s missing the color, the art, and an added taste-subtlety of similar size).

Plus, if the recipe uses half a red pepper, you can cut the other half for a snack!

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After I was done, I did some online searching and found that there are indeed some recipes out there similar to mine. For some reason though, they’re all called¬†Sauteed Cabbage. To the internet and the world, I thus add the following entry: Popcorn Cabbage.¬†Sometimes all you need are three ingredients.

Eggplant Parmesan

And then, there was Eggplant Parmesan.

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It’s actually pretty easy to make, especially when you have all the ingredients all¬†ready and set to go:

  • Tomato sauce
  • Fried eggplant
  • Fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded

Here are the basic steps:

Step 1

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If you’re like me and made fresh bread crumbs for the eggplant, the first step is, Clean out the oven.

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I mentioned earlier that I had already made Eggplant Parmesan about three times this year. I’ll mention now that two of those times, I started preheating the oven for the eggplant before I remembered to clean up the bread pieces. The smell of something burning, in these cases, provided a good reminder of this step.

Step 2

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The next step is getring the baking dishes ready. This means adding a small layer of tomato sauce to each dish. If you’re making individual Eggplant Parmesan pieces, this is particularly important so the areas around the pieces don’t burn.

Step 3

Now add all the ingredients, one after another, to form the Eggplant Parmesan pieces Рthe eggplant, tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese, and then the mozzarella cheese. The process for the layered version is basically the same Рjust repeat the same ingredient-steps to create however many layers you want. In terms of the cheese to be added, I shredded the Parmesan fine and the mozzarella regular-size.

Pictured below are the steps for the individual pieces:

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To the right in the pictures above is a second dish where I did the layered version. Three layers were a good fit for this standard 9″ x 13″ x 2″ glass baking dish and for the amount of eggplant I had prepared.

When making the layers, I packed the eggplant pieces a little more tightly so there weren’t many gaps. Then following in turn, I added enough tomato sauce to make the¬†sauce uniform on top of that.

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Here: the tomato sauce on top of the eggplant while making the first layer

Then the cheeses are added, spread evenly on top of the sauce, and the layer’s done. Each of the three layers was the same: eggplant, tomato sauce, and then the Parmesan and mozzarella.

Step 4

With the Eggplant Parmesan pieces and/or layers now ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake until the sauce starts to bubble and the cheese all melts together (and begins to crisp just slightly). This took me 25 minutes baking at 350 (and then 5 minutes more at 400 to get the desired crisp). Maybe better would have been 20 minutes at 375 – something to try next time.

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The individual pieces

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And the layered version

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Overall, I’d call it a satisfying culinary and creative week. My original plan was to do everything in a row – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – but with writing and other things, the cooking got more spread out:

Of course, you can also do everything on one day. It’s really only the two middle steps, the eggplant and the sauce, that take some time. There are also ways to make the sauce more quickly, like simmering it for less time (or using canned tomatoes instead of fresh).

If you try making it, let me know how it turns out.¬†I bet it’ll be good. For me, eating some warm, freshly-made Eggplant Parmesan is a melts-in-your-mouth experience that often makes me think, and sometimes say out loud, Wow, this is good.

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Eggplant Parmesan, Part 3b

So how much sauce can you make from this many tomatoes?

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Let’s find out! And take a look at some pictures.

Part 3: Tomato sauce

So the recipe, as you may know, actually appears in the previous post. I enjoyed writing it, and it pretty much covers the important things. I think part of the art is making it your own Рfiguring out what you like and also improvising Рand for me and tomato sauce, I often just take whatever I have on hand and go from there. The recipe is the process.

Among the many things I like about cooking, one is that that no matter what you do, it usually turns out alright in the end. And if something doesn’t work out, that’s okay too.¬†Only have dried oregano instead fresh, or no oregano at all? It’s still going to be¬†good. Or decide to let it simmer for an extra hour, on purpose or by accident? Still going to taste¬†good. Or want to try a mix of yellow and red tomatoes? It’s going to look and taste good.

This time around, I had a mix of round slicing tomatoes, red plum ones, and a few small tomatoes too. Here are the steps and how everything came together:

Step 1

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The first step is cutting the stems out of the large tomatoes. This makes it easier to peel and save the skins later on (after step 2). Because the stems on the plum tomatoes and smaller tomatoes are so small, they’re fine to stay in.

Step 2

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The next step is boiling a pot of water and putting the tomatoes in. The purpose here is to crack and loosen the skins and to partially cook and soften the tomatoes.

Some recipes say to leave¬†the tomatoes in for just a minute or two, to only work the skins (in which case more of the tomato-cooking/simmering will happen later), but I’ve been leaving them in longer, sometimes 15-30 minutes, meaning I’ll do some of the initial cooking during this initial step. This also makes it easier to break the tomatoes into smaller pieces later.

I take the tomatoes out¬†of the boiling water when they’re half or more soft, but can still hold their shape. If the tomatoes are at different stages of ripeness and if some are large and some are small, they’ll be ready to be taken out at different times.

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How about those cracked skins?

This is how the tomatoes looked after their hot water bath. When I measured the volume of this bowl later using water, I found that the bowl holds 160 oz. That’s ten pounds! That’s also the equivalent, in terms of 28-oz cans of crushed tomatoes, of more than 5 1/2 such cans.

Step 3

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The next step is prepping the onions and garlic for the sauce. This means dicing and saut√©ing them in olive oil until they’re soft.

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The onions

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The garlic

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The sauté

I used two large onions and three cloves of garlic this time. For the oil, I started with 1/2 cup, which might sound like a lot, but there was also a lot of tomatoes, and the olive oil helps to make for a richer sauce. If I were making a smaller batch of sauce, I might start with one onion and one garlic clove.

Step 4

After the onions and garlic are ready, transfer them to a large pot and add the tomatoes (after first having removed the tomatoes’ skins). Some recipes also say to remove the tomatoes’ seeds, but the seeds don’t bother me so I’ve never done that.

With the tomatoes now in the pot, at this point you can also break the them into smaller pieces using a wooden spoon, potato masher, or other kitchen implement that is up to the task. The tomato sauce can then be left to simmer while finishing the rest of the recipe.

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Above is how the tomatoes looked (L) after removing the skins (R). I also poured out (and saved for another day) the extra tomato liquid so that the future sauce would be thicker. In this case, the extra liquid amounted to a full 32 oz.

Step 5

To make the sauce thicker, I also dice the tomato skins into a paste and then add this paste to the pot. I love this step.

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I usually dice the skins by hand, but this time I used the food processor to save a little time. I measured the volume of the resulting paste above, and it was 13 oz.

Step 6

The second to last step is adding salt and pepper. I usually do 2 parts salt to 1 part pepper, but the ratio and exact amounts are up to you. Add a little, see how it tastes, add then add some more if you think it needs more.

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I made¬†a note while I was cooking that I added 1 tbsp salt and 1/2 tbsp pepper, but I think it actually might have been 1.5 tbsp salt and 3/4 tbsp pepper. Either way, it tasted good in the end. I also have a tendency to use less salt than others, so that’s another reason to try things out and see what you like.

Step 7

The last step is adding oregano and basil (or any herbs that you like). This time I used fresh oregano from my CSA share and fresh basil from my garden.

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The oregano, diced

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The basil, chopped

I usually add the oregano during the middle of the sauce simmering/cooking time. The basil, though, I add just a few minutes before the sauce is done. I think this helps the basil retain its presence in how the tomato sauce tastes.

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Looks good, tastes good

A close-up on the looks good

And a close-up view of the looks good

In the end, the approximately 60 tomatoes that I started with helped produce 144 oz of sauce.

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The tomato sauce

Time-wise, I let the sauce simmer on low heat for about two hours. Cooking the sauce for one hour or even less time also would have worked, but I wanted to make it a little thicker, plus it gave me more time to write 3a. In the end, here was the ingredient list that made it all happen:

  • 60 tomatoes (various sizes)
  • 2 onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp pepper
  • Leaves from 15 sprigs of oregano
  • 1 handful of basil leaves

Next up is a look at putting everything together Рeggplant, tomato sauce, and cheese: the Eggplant Parmesan.