Sunday, June 29, 2008

|the kind of person who cooks without recipes|

I have long believed there are two main types of cooks in the world - those who need recipes and those who don't. In between, there are tons of shades of gray - people who use recipes, but aren't afraid to play with them a bit, people who try something and then try to re-create it, people who make things up entirely. (There are also bakers, but that's a whole other world of food preparation, defying cooking categorization).

I have long, long wanted to be the kind of cook who doesn't use recipes. As a kid, I moved slowly into the "tinkering" category. I was always adding stuff in to a recipe or taking it out. My mom didn't love this and would tell me to stop it, but I eventually got pretty good at it. A few years ago, I had my first major light-at-the-end-of-the-cooking-without-recipes tunnel when I successfully re-created chicken marsala without a recipe. I was pretty proud of myself (still am, in case you couldn't hear the puffed-up nature of my typing).

Still on my quest - this week had both a highlight and lowlight. First, I decided to take some of the non-meat-product sausage in a tube (which my wonderful sister-in-law and brother introduced to me!) and create a stuffed cabbage recipe (because we had a bunch of savoy cabbage on hand). I've never seen a recipe for stuffed cabbage, so I did a lot of guessing - used sauteed onions, garlic, cooked rice, an egg, the sausage, herbs, and some tomatoes in sauce for the filling. Then wrapped it in cabbage and cooked it, simmering in more tomato sauce, for a while. My technique was good, the end result was pleasing. Unfortunately, I had forgotten one cardinal rule of fake-meat-crumbles. They expand with time and liquid. So, as I was eating it, the meat bits started to get larger and less meat-like and grosser. It wasn't pleasant.

The leftovers went in the trash. The savoy cabbage is now in a coleslaw. The last of the fake sausage will be used for either breakfast egg muffins or pizza. Sigh.

But...never deterred, I soldiered on to create a bean dip for my lunches this week. Success! My bean dip is yummy yummy, so I'd like to share the recipe with you. Feel free to doctor it up if you're a tinkerer or ignore it altogether if you're too good for recipes. :-)

CANNELLINI-LENTIL DIP
Combine the following in a food processor:
3-4 cloves of garlic
3-4 shallots (onions would work, too)
handfull of parsley
a few mint leaves
2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons of the juice from your can of beans

Chop this stuff up in the processor. Then add:
1 can of cannellini beans (drained)
1 cup of cooked lentils
a bit more of the bean juice

Puree. Add salt and pepper. Drizzle in 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil.

Enjoy on pita, crackers, veggies. Whatever you want. Mmmmm. It's about 2 points for 1/2 cup on Weight Watchers.

Friday, June 27, 2008

|reconnecting with my old friend, Mr. Manwich|

I know this is going to sound pretty lame, but when I became a vegetarian, one of things I knew I would really miss were Manwiches. So lovey and easy to make. Cheap, too. As a kid, I enjoyed them will full-fat ground beef, but - as an adult - had graduated to lean turkey meat. A quick brown of the meat, throw in the can of Manwich, slap it on a bun, top with mustard and pickles and life was good.

It look a while, but my husband and I finally decided the best possible meat substitute for Manwiches (and probably pretty much anything that calls for ground beef) is the lovely lentil. They have almost no flavor of their own, and the texture is just right for ground meat. Plus, they are cheap, easy, and really nutritious. Would it work with the Manwich?

The answer is....YES! They were fantastic! I just boiled about 1 cup of lentils until they were done (about 30 minutes). Drained them and then added them to the Manwich sauce and a few sauteed onions. Still added the mustard and pickles to my bun. So tasty.

And...for a more adult version of the Lentilwich, might I recommend topping some brown rice with any left over Lentilwich filling have lying about. Very tasty.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

|i am such a sucker for greens|

I only recently discovered that you can cook almost any kind of greens. I know, I know - most people probably already know this, but it took me a long time to move from canned spinach to frozen spinach to bagged collard greens to FULL ON greens of all varieties. Today in our CSA, we got a bunch of fresh beets (side note: my husband actually said he wants to eat them, which I was initially excited about because he has never eaten beets before, but when I saw there were only FOUR beets I actually got a little bummed because that means fewer beets for me). Anyway, we got beets and I was going to throw out the tops because I didn't think I would have time to saute them (lazy, I know).

But then...THEN I saw that we had garlic scapes in our basket of goodies. I had read about them recently and was dying to try some. So it was on. I cut up my little scapes. I cut some green onions (also in the basket of wonder) and then sauted up my beet greens. Threw on some salt and pepper and now I have an awesome little side for lunch tomorrow.

Mmmm, mmmmm.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

|the report from los angeles|

For a person that loves food as much as I do, vacations are always awesome. Here are some highlights from my first trip to L.A.

  • I hadn't been to a PeiWei or a Baja Fresh in THREE YEARS...and L.A. has both, so that was awesome.
  • Had my first experience with Sprinkles (far, far superior to Crumbs) and Pinkberry, both of which were amazing. They take cupcakes and frozen yogurt to a whole new level.
  • We went to the "Farmer's Market" just southwest of Beverly Hills (it's in quotes because there were no farmers there) and had some fantastic tacos at Loteria. They basically have a bunch of "stews" that they put into homemade corn tortillas. Mine was made with potatoes, poblanos, and cilantro.
  • We had dinner one night at Father's Office in Santa Monica. There were very few vegetarian options, but I had the fries "a la cart" (they came out in a little grocery cart). They were very thinly sliced with an herb-salt seasoning on them. My husband had an amazing looking burger with gorgonzola, gruyere, and carmelized red onions.
  • Our last day there, we went with my brother to an actual farmers' market downtown by his office. There were so many amazing options! I had some cold soba salad with jicama in it, fresh cherries and grape tomatoes, and a HUGE brownie.
  • Urth Cafe in Beverly Hills is AWESOME! They do this whole organic, earthy gig. I had some really creamy and thick squash soup and a little hummus/tabbouleh platter. And on the recommendation of my brother, we both had the Spanish latte, which was some of the best coffee I've ever had.
  • One of the tastiest roasted vegetable sandwiches I've ever had happened at the cafe in the Getty Center. Tasty. I also really appreciated all the signage they had everywhere about things the cafe is doing for environmental sustainability. For example, by the sandwich station they had a sign asking you to consider NOT adding cheese to your sandwich, but using one of their non-dairy spreads because of the greenhouse emissions from dairy cattle.