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Vegetarian Cooking

Shelter from the storm

PlatedSupper

I felt like cooking tonight. I’ve felt like cooking more lately, but haven’t had a lot of time. Still on a heavy schedule of work and travel, with little energy or time left at the end of the day. It’s not smart, because I enjoy cooking and get frustrated and guilt-ridden when I don’t do it. I haven’t been completely idle, but didn’t feel like going to the trouble of photographing old standards and improvisations when I made time for them among the takeout. Tonight, though, I thought I should make time for a post as well as for a home-cooked dinner.

JustOutofOven

You may have heard that a major storm blew through the New York metropolitan area on Monday night. New Jersey took the brunt of former-hurricane Sandy, but New York suffered quite a hit as well. Here at our house, we were fine; we suffered no structural damage, never lost electricity or cable, and simply had to sit through a windy night at home. The next morning, while others not far away were sorting through burned remains of houses or walking scores of blocks to find a place with electricity to charge phones and check in with loved ones, I was logged on to work from my home office and Scott was walking through the neighborhood taking pictures of downed trees.

Collards

We were lucky, and we were a bit stunned. It felt a bit like we’d just had a major explosion blow past us — we were safe but we couldn’t shake the idea that more shrapnel was going to fly through, and we couldn’t stop looking at the footage of those who had suffered enormous losses. We were taking phone calls from a friend who lived just inside the Manhattan “dead zone” without power or heat, helpless to go fetch her because public transportation was suspended while the tunnels were pumped dry of the floodwater that had filled them. We were watching our East Coast friends update Facebook — “Still no electricity, going to stay with a friend in Brooklyn.” “Waited 2 hours in line for gas.” “Still no email at the office, call me at home.” — while at the same time our friends in other parts of the country posted updates on Halloween parties, going to see movies, the mundane things of life. It was surreal to try to keep on working at my normal job, from home — something I’ve done hundreds of times, only now I was doing it because I wasn’t willing to wait 2 hours for a bus into the city, not because I had a vet appointment at midday.

BrowningGarlic

A couple of nights this week we got takeout or went out to eat, partly to support the neighborhood economy, partly because by the time I was done with my work I was ravenous and too impatient to run out for groceries and then cook. But tonight I wanted to make something comforting, something that felt more like normal life. Today was the closest to normal that we’ve had all weel. My Manhattan friend got her electricity back last night (or this morning if you’re picky, 1 a.m.). Our subway line was back in service as if nothing had ever gone wrong. It seemed time to reclaim the normal and everyday. So I made macaroni and cheese and collard greens.

MacAndGooeyCheese

The mac and cheese is a Martha Stewart recipe I’ve made many times before (though I’m a little irritated at Martha’s company right now for sacking the Everyday Food crew, including a friend — but it’s still the best recipe I have). I didn’t have enough whole milk so thinned it out with water. Voila, skim milk, but I didn’t cook the white sauce quite as long as I should have to let it thicken, so the resulting baked dish was a bit liquidy but will set up more as it cools, and will reheat beautifully. And with plenty of cheese, it still tasted fantastic.

CookedCollards2

The collard greens are a simple braise, with garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and were a nice complement to the rich and gooey mac and cheese.

PlatedSupper2

If you’d like to help out the Sandy recovery efforts, here are some links. There’s a lot that still needs to be done before residents of the area will be back to normal, especially those in the hard-hit areas of the Rockaways, Staten Island, Lower Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island.

Improvised pasta with Greenmarket vegetable saute

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August, the month of summer vacations and relaxation. We here at Chez 107 will have some vacation time soon, but for now I’m still in the throes of long work hours and business travel and failing to keep up with the housework. Summer has not particularly brought leisure, though it has brought humidity. And this evening it brought a crazy thunderstorm, which has tempered the heat only a little.

EggplantAndGarlic

With my heavy travel and work schedule I’ve been neglecting the kitchen, even as I’ve added some toys to it. We replaced our skillets, which were chewed-up nonstick — not an especially safe arrangement, but now we have Calphalon. Also nonstick; I must have misread the product description, but we can be more gingerly with them than we were with the old ones, since we didn’t buy them with grocery receipts. We bought a a SodaStream, which we adore. Last week I hauled home a new kitchen garbage can, a robust (and kind of expensive) one with a foot pedal, which so far is performing wonderfully. But cooking? I have been a bit lazy. I did a little baking in June and July, and have made a few pasta dishes. Still, we’ve had more than our fair share of delivery.

EggplantGarlicPeppers

This weekend I did better. I cooked dinner both last night and tonight. Given how hot it’s been I feel like I deserve a freakin’ medal for standing in front of the stove, even if only long enough to saute vegetables and cook pasta.

AddedTomatoesCloseup

Tonight’s dish was improvised, using vegetables I’d gotten at the Greenmarket without a very definite plan for how to use them. I sliced and salted some baby eggplant, then rinsed away the salt and blotted them dry. I threw them into a skillet (one of the new ones) with some olive oil and let them cook a bit, then gradually added garlic; green peppers; a few pinches of oregano, paprika and thyme; about two tablespoons’ worth of basil chiffonade; some chopped tomatoes; about 3/4 cup of red wine; and some baby spinach.

AddedTomatoes2

I kept cooking and stirring around until the eggplant was breaking down nicely and everything seemed to be blending together well.

AddedBasil

In the meantime I cooked a pound of dried rotini, then drained it and tossed the pasta together with the vegetables in the pot, adding a little bit of the pasta water to help the consistency.

CookingDown

I dished it up and grated on some Romano. The mixture was delicious. The flavor of the vegetables blended wonderfully, and the wine gave a nice tone without overwhelming the other ingredients.

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Best of all? Leftovers. This is going to be really good cold.

BowlsWithRomano

Mujadarah, Slap Chop, and a question for you

PlatingCloseUp

Still not back in the groove of trying new recipes yet, but I am cooking. Tonight was mujadarah, with collard greens on the side.

AddingRedLentils

I used red lentils this time, which makes for a slightly creamier and smoother dish. Green lentils keep their shape and texture more distinctly; red lentils melt in a bit.

AddingToRice

I’ve started using whole allspice, cloves and cumin seeds as well as a cinnamon stick. I got curious about how well it would work, and I have all these allspice berries. It can be a bit tricky to dig out the whole spices before serving, but the cloves are the only ones reliably hard to find, and they’re not going to hurt your teeth if you bite down on one.

OnionsInOven

I’ve also taken to using a lot less olive oil for the onions than the original recipe calls for. They still roast quite well. I start out with this amount of onion:

SlicedOnions

And end up with this much at the end.

RoastedOnions

For a green vegetable accompaniment I made collard greens. I start by sauteeing chopped garlic in olive oil, then adding a bit of kosher salt and red pepper flakes. Then I toss in the chopped collard leaves and toss to coat with the oil and mix in the flavorings; after a few minutes of that I add a little bit of water, put on the lid, turn down the heat, and let it steam for about 15 minutes, more or less.

CollardsToSteam

I thought this might be a good opportunity to try out the Slap Chop, which I received at the office holiday white elephant gift party. (I was only a little bitter about losing out on the bottle of Brooklyn bourbon.) I was pretty skeptical about the merits of this device. I’m kind of in Alton Brown‘s camp here: if it isn’t a multitasker, I’m not sure there’s room for it in my kitchen. And he has a WAY bigger kitchen than I do.

SlapChop

The Slap Chop promises to be “your all purpose chopper for all your chopping needs.” This is only true if all the items you need to chop can fit beneath the blades — about a two-inch clearance. So if you have something larger to chop, like an onion, you have to cut it down to size, which means for a lot of food you’re already going to have to get out a regular knife.

SlapChop

I decided to try it on some garlic, four cloves of which fit easily within the chopper lid. (You don’t need to use the lid; you could place it right on the cutting board, so you could chop things that are broader than the base of the device but not taller.) I pushed the plunger several times and ended up with well-chopped garlic, not perfectly uniform — but no worse than I usually get it with a knife.

GarlicAfterSlapChop

I think the garlic chopping went more quickly than if I’d used a knife. Of course, then I had to disassemble it to wash. It’s not especially difficult to wash, and I wouldn’t say it’s any less safe to handle than a sharp chef’s knife, but it does take up a lot more space. And a chef’s knife can also be used for chopping larger items, slicing, peeling (well, you do have to be careful with that, other knives are better but it can be done), smashing a clove of garlic, and doing more precise cuts. The Slap Chop can’t do any of that. So if you really like to have lots of gadgets around, you may like this one, but if your space or funds are limited I’d recommend investing in a good kitchen knife and the time it takes to learn to use it skillfully.

SlapChopInDrainer

Anyway, this is a nice hearty meal for a cold night, and it’s totally vegan. Which means you can either enjoy it as part of a vegan lifestyle, or feel virtuous enough to eat half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dessert later. Not that I am talking about anybody in particular.

PlatedMujadarah2

So now I have a question for you. Just because I think the Slap Chop is a little silly, that doesn’t mean all kitchen gadgets and tools are silly. In a few months I’ll receive my “Jeopardy!” winnings, and should have a little bit left over from taxes and paying debts to have a little fun. What are your favorite kitchen tools and gadgets? If you had an extra few dollars in your budget — maybe even $100 or $200 — what’s the next kitchen item you’d buy, and why? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

Vegemite and acquired taste

No interesting cooking to report lately; at least, I’ve been cooking a little but nothing new, nothing I haven’t blogged about before. But on Friday I got to try Vegemite. One of my co-workers is from Australia and brought in a big tub for Australia Day, along with some bagels and cream cheese. So I tried it, and I kind of liked it.

“Kind of” is the operative term here. Vegemite is clearly an acquired taste, but I think I could acquire it. I spread a thin layer on a bagel; a little goes a long way. Vegemite is a thick, dense spread made from brewer’s yeast and vegetable ingredients. It has a very complex flavor: sour and tart, with a kind of underlying pungency. On the sesame bagel, the flavor was sharp and strong. With a bit of cream cheese, the flavor was less challenging; the cream cheese added a different layer of tartness but also lessened the impact of the sourness, and the creamy texture made the Vegemite taste easier to handle as well. Nichole says that in Australia it’s most common to spread Vegemite on toasted wholemeal bread with butter, and I think the rich flavor and fatty texture of the butter would make the whole thing easier to process as well.

Acquired taste is a funny thing. For most people, some foods are simply not enjoyable at first experience — coffee, for example. But for whatever reason — cultural pressures, a desire to feel grown-up and sophisticated, sheer morbid curiosity — we try the flavor again and become used to it, perhaps mixing in other foods to make the overall flavor more acceptable. Milk and sugar in coffee, soda water in whiskey, lemon juice in oysters. And eventually we acquire the taste.

That said, a lot of our co-workers were not ready to acquire a taste for Vegemite. Which isn’t surprising; the American palate is far readier for sweet food than for bitter and sour ones, and Vegemite isn’t in our mainstream so there’s no cultural incentive to adapt to it the way one would to coffee. But if you have come to enjoy strong dark-roast coffee, or aged whiskey, or kimchi, you can probably bring Vegemite into your repertoire too if you give it a chance.

Homemade soup and olive-caper rolls: improvisation

CookedSoup2

Just a short post tonight. Winter seems to finally be taking effect in New York — not like in the Midwest, no snow, only a few truly cold days, but still, cold enough for soup to sound like a good idea.

Soup is also good for when you have a lean grocery budget, when you have a few leftovers you want to use up, and when you feel like you’ve been eating a few too many cookies and a few too many french fries lately.

SoupToSimmer

I think I’ve talked about my improvised vegetable soup here before: start with sauteeing onions and garlic in some olive oil, then keep tossing in vegetables so they are not so much browning in oil as steaming in their own moisture; then add broth and spices, bring to a boil, and let simmer until the biggest, sturdiest vegetables are appropriately tender.

RollsBaked

I thought the soup would go well with olive rolls — baking is also a good excuse to heat the oven on a cold day — but I found I didn’t have enough kalamata olives to make a paste, or enough time to go out and get more. So I dug through the fridge and found a jar of capers, and thought an olive-caper paste would do well enough. I threw in some parmesan that needed to be used up, with enough oil and olive brine and balsamic vinegar to make the mixture most enough to puree in the food processor.

OliveCaperPasteOnDough

I rolled out my standard improvised bread dough — a slightly softer variation of pizza dough — and spread the paste on, then rolled it up in a spiral like cinnamon rolls. Well, sort of. I let the rolls have a short second rise while I preheated the oven and got the soup to the point of simmering, then let them bake for about 25 minutes.

RollsToBake

It made for a nice comforting dinner, with a savory vegetable-rich soup that felt substantial without being heavy. The rolls were a good complement; the filling had a little sharper flavor than the kalamata paste, but the cheese and the capers added a different kind of salty overtone to the olives. Plus I had enough soup left over to put a few servings in the freezer to be ready for a busier cold night.

Chickpeas and Cheap Cookery

golden “chicken” patties

DinnerPlate2

My plan is to set up a twice-a-week blogging schedule: A post early in the week about something I cook over the weekend, and a post later in the week about either a cooking experience or a food-related subject, such as things in the news or weird products I come across. (Rejoice: There is a SlapChop review in our future.) I meant to kick off that schedule last week with the chickpea patties, but am in catch-up mode. Better late than never.

ChickpeaPuree

I made the chickpea patties because, quite frankly, I was broke and needed something I could do cheaply with few new ingredients to buy. I’m in catch-up mode financially as well; we had to squeeze in an unexpected trip to Los Angeles in November and it was what is euphemistically known as “off-budget,” and then I had to do my holiday baking, which involved stocking up on butter and nuts and some other non-cheap ingredients. So I looked at my dwindling store of canned beans and thought, veggie burger, there’s got to be an easy one I haven’t made yet.

ChickpeaPatties

I was surprised to discover that there aren’t that many veggie burger recipes in my vegetarian cookbooks. Or maybe I was just having trouble finding them; not all indexes are created equal, and a cookbook may class a bean burger under “beans” but not “burgers” or “sandwiches.” I tried as many terms as seemed reasonable and ended up with three choices: a bean burger I’ve made many times, a lentil burger that lacked a certain appeal, and a chickpea patty that I think I made once about 10 years ago. The Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook recipe called for few ingredients: canned chickpeas, some of the reserved liquid, oats, garlic, salt, pepper, and oil with which to cook it.

TurningPatties

It’s a simple recipe. You drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid, puree the chickpeas in a food processor with just enough of the liquid to make a smooth paste, mix it up with some oats and minced garlic, season to taste, and cook in a lightly oiled pan for about 8-10 minutes per side.The patties were a little fragile, shedding chunks when I turned them, but held together well enough for a slightly sloppy dinner. It’s possible I needed to make the chickpea paste a little wetter, or add a bit less of the oats. But they tasted good, with a nutty chickpea flavor and aroma. I served them on basic hamburger buns with a bit of mustard, and if I’d had mayonnaise on hand it would probably have been a nice complement.

FriesToBake3

I had some russet potatoes on hand too, so I made oven fries to go with the chickpea patties. I scrubbed the potatoes and sliced them into fairly thick fries (skin still on, of course), tossed them with olive oil and some salt and pepper, and baked them in a 450-degree oven for a bit less than half an hour, turning them a couple of times for even browning. They were yummy, with a strong potato taste and no oily overtones. There were crispy edges and rich, smooth interiors. Nice.

DinnerPlate

I rounded out the dinner with some corn and a few of my homemade pickles, which were as close to a green vegetable as we were going to find in the house until payday. (I know. Shut up.) These were the hot-pepper pickles, which continue to pack a serious punch.

Thanksgiving, Tradition, and Inertia

SeitanLoavesCloseup

Thanksgiving must be the most tradition-bound American holiday. The focus of the celebration is narrow: a harvest feast, and usually a very circumscribed menu. The template is rigid: gather with your family, cook a turkey and some starchy sides, and watch some football before the Christmas season drops upon us like an anvil in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Our vegetarian gathering is an act of rebellion in this context, almost a dangerous outlier. There’s no meat on the table, and quite a number of dishes with no egg or dairy either. Those who gather are friends, not family, and we don’t travel from any further than an adjacent borough. (Though visitors from out of town would be welcome if they were to come.) We watch no football, cut out no paper Pilgrim hats, and top no sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and not just because marshmallows aren’t actually vegetarian. If turkey and stuffing are classic Americana, we are subversive.

VegsToRoast
But in other ways we have a very tradition-bound celebration. We’ve been holding it since 2005 with only one interruption, so it’s been a tradition since 2006. We have our favorite dishes: seitan pot roast, macaroni and cheese (for those who wonder, it’s apparently a Southern thing), cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes. We always watch episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or its descendants Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax. Even the root beer and the chocolate pudding cake are traditional mainstays now.

We love our traditional dishes, but it’s different for the food writers: starting in early November the anguished cries start breaking out in newspapers and magazines. Thanksgiving, the food writers say, is hard; there are no new things to say about roasting the oversized bird (for the love of God, don’t bake it with stuffing inside), preparing the usual array of sides, using up the leftovers. Kate Julian on Slate points out that the menu is full of annual classics for a reason: “Any lineup that is full of things we only eat only once year seems suspect. If we really liked turkey and candied yams so much, would we not pull them out again on some other day?” She pleads for us to consider new and non-traditional dishes, in a tone that sounds resigned to falling on deaf ears.

I’m more optimistic that there’s hope for heterodoxy here. Maybe it’s just because I’ve co-hosted a bird-free feast for some years now without being visited by the Department of Homeland Security. Or maybe it’s because, since I’m not participating in a family feast that’s fraught with inherited emotional baggage, I feel freer to make the holiday all about the things that make me and my guests happy, and sometimes to let myself put it in that order. In some cases that means the cherished standbys; in some cases that means new variations like olive rolls, an adaptation of the Martha Stewart recipe I made for Christmas a few years ago, which hadn’t had a chance before now to join the November table. In years past it’s been roasted brussels sprouts, kale with cranberries, pumpkin-ice-cream pie. There’s room for the new and the old on my table. (Despite what the photo below suggests.)

ThanksgivingTable
I’ve been thinking a lot about what the 107 Cookbooks project means to me as I figure out how to get back on a cooking and publishing schedule. The reason I have more than 100 cookbooks — more than 107, if I’m going to be honest about it — is that I am constantly open to new ideas and ready to get excited about different tastes and ingredients. The reason that up until a few years ago I hadn’t done anything at all with the lion’s share of those books is that on a day-to-day basis, it’s very easy for me to opt for the familiar, the traditional, the easy. The safety of tradition can provide comfort, a stable place to brace yourself and take a breath before striding confidently back into the world. Carried too far, it can become laziness and ossification, until you find yourself trying to remember the last time you had something for dinner that didn’t come with french fries.

I learned a lot from the first couple of years of this blog: how to make paneer, how to make Thai curry paste, why I don’t usually make Jell-O. I want to get back into the habit of trying new things even as I accept that the good stuff will make its way into a growing traditional repertoire. I’m not throwing up my hands in defeat. So you’re going to see me here more often.
OliveRolls

Veganomicon and the Web: Vegan Supper

kale chips, mujadarah

We’re thinking of going vegan, or at the very least becoming more serious about doing the “vegan before 6” plan that Mark Bittman describes in Food Matters. But I don’t want us to be lazy about it — what the Vegan Freak Radio folks rightly deride as “potato chip vegans.” A big part of what I want to do is make smarter choices about food in general, and to make a greater effort to put vegetables at the heart of our diet.

So I’ve been looking at vegan cookbooks, not just to get new recipes but to learn what some of the principles are for things like baking. Or at least that was the plan; I haven’t got very far in the cookbook canvass and so I haven’t really gotten a full understanding of what you do in place of eggs. I got sidetracked in Veganomicon by a blast from my past: lentils and rice with caramelized onions, which I knew as Mujadarah when I was in grad school in Cleveland and spending too much money at Aladdin’s on Cedar. I usually pride myself on trying new dishes when I eat out, on not getting into a rut and always eating the same thing, but I could never resist the crispy toasted onions and the hearty lentils and rice.

MujadarahPlated2

So I had to make it for myself. It’s not at all difficult but it does require a bit of time from start to finish. I began by weighing onions, as the recipe called for 2 pounds. I sliced these into thin rings and put them into a baking pan, and then tossed them with olive oil (the recipe calls for 3/4 of a cup and I followed it but I think that was too much; I’ll use half a cup next time). I set them roasting in a 400-degree oven. They were supposed to take 25-30 minutes to get crispy and caramelized, but I had to turn up the heat partway through and add a good half hour to the cooking time before I was satisfied. I think our oven runs a little cool, and it’s a more pronounced difference at the higher end of the temperature range.

RoastedOnions4

Still, there was plenty of time for the onions to catch up. My next step was to put 4 cups of water on to boil, then rinse a cup of rice and add it to the boiling water along with a stick of cinnamon, some allspice and some ground cloves. (Just how much of those two is not clear; the recipe didn’t list ground cloves in the ingredient list but named it in the instructions, and mentioned allspice twice, so I improvised a bit.) I brought the mixture back to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer 15 minutes, then added a cup of rinsed lentils (I used brown lentils but you could use red, which I will try another time) and some ground cumin, covered the pot and brought it back to boil, and let it cook another 45 minutes. I took it off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes, then discarded the cinnamon stick and stirred in the caramelized onions. Well, I saved a couple of spoonfuls to lay atop the served-out bowls.

KaleChips6

To go with it, I served kale chips. These are child’s play to make, but took a bit of digging to find; the one thing I can report is that none of the vegan cookbooks I currently have from the library includes a recipe for them. I ended up searching the Gluten Free Girl site and using this recipe. You rinse the kale leaves; I cut out the thick center ribs, which with my bunch made for a lot of small chips, but you could probably trim those ribs down without removing them and end up with larger chips. Anyway, once you’ve dried them well, you toss them with olive oil, spread them on a baking sheet, and bake them at 350 for about 12-14 minutes or until they’re crisp but not browned. (Well, some of mine got a little brown; Shauna warns against that because the browned bits are bitter but I rather like the taste as part of the overall balance.) Then you dust them with a mixture of salt, paprika and garlic powder, and then challenge yourself to have any left by dinnertime. The recipe doesn’t indicate how long they keep; I don’t think it’s an issue. You probably won’t have any left by the end of the day.

KaleChips4

Anyway, we served up the Mujadarah with kale chips, which were a fine complement; the spicy salt balanced the heartiness of the lentil and rice dish. One bite and I was transported back to grad school and Cleveland Heights. It’s not a picturesque dish, but it’s delicious: hearty and spicy and comforting. It’s terrific cold, too.

Cooking Light March 2011: Hearty Pasta for a Dreary Night

baked pasta with spinach, lemon, and cheese

PastaPlated2One of my goals with the blog as I finish up the cookbooks in my collection is to start catching up with the cooking magazines that I’ve been neglecting for nearly two years now. (Yikes, really? Really.) On Sunday I was getting ready to go out for brunch and run a few other errands, and realized that I wanted to try a new recipe for dinner but hadn’t picked anything out. I didn’t want WeighingPastato load a heavy cookbook into my bag, so I grabbed the most recent issue of Cooking Light and headed out the door.

Later, after a terrific brunch of eggs Benedict and mimosas, I began leafing through the magazine. One of the things I like about Cooking Light is that the recipes don’t usually rely too much on things like low-fat WeighingParmesancheese to keep the fat and calories down. This is good for me because I don’t think you can find low-fat cheese in my neighborhood. I despair of trying to explain the concept to our deli man. He would just laugh at me and tell me to eat more feta and olives. And you know what? He’d be right.

But anyway, the recipes in the AddingSpinachToPastamagazine use a number of tricks to keep foods light: baking instead of frying, using 1% milk instead of whole milk, using a smaller amount of a more flavorful cheese. For this recipe for baked pasta with spinach, lemon and cheese, one of the tricks is building flavor by browning onions as the base of the pasta sauce. It sounded like it would be hearty but not heavy, DrainingSpinachPasta2and I thought that might be nice for a gray, rainy evening.

I started by prepping my ingredients. Well, I didn’t have to prep the spinach: I bought a package of 5 ounces of baby spinach, exactly the amount called for, so I didn’t have to measure that. I did have to measure the pasta, though, since the recipe calls for 10 ounces and CookingOnions3I only had 16-ounce packages. But I have a scale, so I didn’t have to guess. I also used the scale for the parmesan (4 ounces from an 8-ounce wedge — and if I had just eyeballed it I would have gotten it wrong) and for the flour. I chopped onions, 4 cups’ worth, poured out the right amounts of milk and white wine for the sauce, and zested a lemon just enough to get 1/4 teaspoon of LemonZest2zest. While I prepped, rain lashed against the windows. I was particularly glad we weren’t going out, or expecting a delivery person to come out in the downpour.

Then I started cooking. I boiled the pasta for about 8 minutes until it was almost al dente, then pulled the pan off the heat, stirred in the baby spinach and let MakingSauce2it sit for 2 minutes, until the spinach wilted. Then I drained the pasta and spinach. In the meantime, I heated a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and began to cook the onions, keeping them going until they were nice and brown. Then I added some flour and garlic powder (the recipe actually called for garlic, but I didn’t have any, which may be unprecedented in my household), MakingSauce3then added milk and a bit of white wine and let the sauce cook and thicken. I stirred in some of the parmesan, some salt and pepper, and the lemon zest. Then I poured the pasta and spinach into a baking pan, poured on the sauce, and mixed it all up.

Now it was time to top the dish: I sprinkled on a layer of panko (Japanese bread crumbs), topped SaucePastaSpinachthat with the rest of the parmesan, and then added another layer of panko. I think the trick here was to let the cheese add a minimal amount of fat to make the crumb topping just the right texture, without butter. I baked the pasta at 350 for 50 minutes, which gave me time to wash dishes, play along with a recorded game of “Jeopardy,” and catch up on my AddingParmesan2Scrabble games on Facebook. (I have 8 going. What?)

The crumb topping gave a nice, crispy texture to contrast with the creaminess of the sauce and noodles. I have to admit, I’ve never bothered with a crumb topping for baked macaroni and cheese, but I see the light now. It’s part of that play of contrast and texture that helps elevate a ServedOutFromPan3dish from good to great. This dish was terrific; the tang of the parmesan and lemon balanced nicely with the smoothness of the milk and the savory richness of the long-cooked onions. The spinach made it feel virtuous and added a nice resistant texture as well.

Verdict: Success. I’d make this one again.

New Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant: Autumnal Flavors

creamy squash soup, Middle Eastern carrot salad

SoupInBowlNew Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant appears to be one of the last comprehensive vegetarian cookbooks left on my list. I thought of putting it off, saving it for later so I wouldn’t have too long a run of Recipes of the Damned books. But I had picked up acorn squash at the Greenmarket and needed to find something to do with it. None of the other cookbooks yielded CarrotSalad3satisfactory options, but Moosewood came through. I may shed a tear later this fall as I wrangle Jell-O and canned pineapple, but it was all smiles at the dinner table last night.

We have a houseguest, staying for a time while professional cleaners take care of smoke damage from a fire near her building. We’ve been indulging in AcornSquasha fair amount of Thai delivery, I admit, but we’ve also done some collaborative cooking, and last night we decided to put together a light and flavorful dinner. She contributed poached tilapia, rice pilaf and steamed summer squash, and I provided creamy squash soup and Middle Eastern carrot salad.

AcornSquashSeedsI started the soup by cutting an acorn squash in half and scooping out the seeds. I rubbed some olive oil on a baking sheet and put the squash halves in the oven for an hour. While it baked, I put together the carrot salad, which I’ll describe below. When the squash was done I set it to cool, and did my prep for the soup base: I chopped up a couple of onions, a carrot, a couple of small SquashRoastedpotatoes, and two Granny Smith apples. I heated some olive oil and sauteed the onions until they were soft and translucent, then added the carrot, potatoes and apples along with 3 1/2 cups of water. I brought this to a boil and let it simmer about 20 minutes, until the chunks were softened. Then I added the squash, scooped out of its skin, plus 1 1/2 cups of apple juice (one could also use milk or SoupBasecream, but our guest can’t eat dairy).

Now it was time to do the magic. The directions say to combine all the ingredients and puree the soup in batches using a food processor or blender. I think our food processor is still out of commission, and there are a whole lot of things I’d rather do than transfer hot liquid back and SoupBaseCookingforth from pan to blender jar. But I have an immersion blender attachment for my hand mixer, so I was able to puree the soup without dirtying any new vessels. Well, mostly; I had a very brief practical reminder that when you are using an immersion blender, it is crucial not to lift up the stick while it’s running. Unless you like mopping puree off random surfaces. I lost very little soup to ScoopingOutRoastedSquashthat, happily, and in less than five minutes I had a nice pot of smooth, pleasingly colored puree. I returned the pan to the heat, stirred in a bit of cinnamon and some salt and pepper, and let it keep warm while we got the rest of the dinner together.

While the squash cooked I did all the salad prep. I had picked up some enormous, delicious carrots SoupPureedat the Greenmarket as well, and I spent a fair bit of time shredding them to produce four cups of carrot bits. To these I added lemon juice, olive oil, ground cumin (it was supposed to be coriander but I was out and cumin is close enough in my estimation), chopped fresh mint, chopped fresh parsley, and salt. I stirred it all together, tasted, and considered: Did I want to add the ShreddedCarrotsoptional touch of sweetener? The mixture was fairly aggressive as it stood, with the carrots’ blend of bitterness and sweetness, the fresh burst of mint, the sharp tang of lemon juice. I decided to go for it, and stirred in a teaspoon of maple syrup, then tasted again. The difference was surprising; the sweet tones pulled together the more extreme of the savory flavors, and the distinct ParsleyAndMinttaste of maple played beautifully off the carrots. I stirred once more and put the salad in the fridge to chill.

When the meal was all ready, I brought out the salad and spooned soup into small bowls. The flavor of the salad balanced nicely against the smooth, rich fish and the earthy rice pilaf, but the textural contrast was also a IngredsForCarrotSaladbig part of its appeal. And the soup was surprising: sweeter than I had expected, it had a velvety texture that was light and not cloying but very satisfying.

Verdict: Success. I should make up some more batches of the soup to freeze for winter. I have squash left.