Attempts at a Slow Carb Life

A few meals from the last two months:

Shrimp and zucchini "noodles"

Shrimp and zucchini “noodles” – an only somewhat successful first attempt at replacing pasta with pasta-like substances. Fortunately, we like both zucchini and shrimp. Unfortunately, this was a pretty lame dinner. Next time I’ll try NomNomPaleo’s version.

Adventures in Low(er) Carb Eating

Orin asked, “Is this breakfast food?”. I said, “Today it is.” Mustard tofu with sauteed kale, mushrooms, and onions. I had this breakfast pocket on the brain.

Dinner, SELMA-style

Post vacation dinner, SELMA-style: fried eggs over pulled pork, shredded cheese, and a coarse salsa made from garden excess. I discovered exactly how many successive pulled pork meals I can stomach. The answer? Five.

Day 3: On to Devil’s Lake!

Given our failure to make drinkable coffee, our first stop after packing up camp was Kavarna Coffeehouse in Green Bay – yet another example of the sort of place I wish existed in Ann Arbor.

Photo by paul goyette

Good coffee, a delicious-looking menu, and ample seating on two levels for those wanting to put in a couple of hours of work, catch up with a friend, or catch the occasional local band. We just needed a quick caffeine and internet fix, and Kavarna did just the trick.

From there, we made a quick stop by Lambeau Field, literally jumping out to snap a picture, then jumping back in the car. I’d show you the pictures, but they’re basically what you’d expect given the circumstances. Neither of us have any particular love for the Packers anyway.

Vince Lombardi Statue

Photo by jimmywayne

Let’s not talk about our side-trip to Oshkosh. A consistent theme of our days in Wisconsin was driving on ripped up, formerly paved roads, and Oshkosh had many of them. It also has a totally nondescript, exceptionally boring Brooklyn/gangster-themed restaurant, and a coffee shop with almost adequate sandwiches. We couldn’t get out of town fast enough.

Fortunately, our next stop was our destination: Devil’s Lake State Park. I’d been to Devil’s Lake a handful of times in high school and college, and had very idyllic memories of hiking, the lake, and failed attempts at rock climbing. I was concerned that it wouldn’t live up to my memories, but we loved it right away – that is, once we stopped to imagine ice age glaciers.

Shane Imagines Ice Age Glaciers

Oh, and once we popped open a few Wisconsin beers:

Campsite Beer

Unfortunately the beers didn’t help with the tasks ahead of us. In addition to all the other things we forgot, we didn’t have a mallet with which to drive in the stakes for our tent – or any sort of fire-starting device beyond our trusty, running low on fuel aim-n-flame. No matter: a helpful campground neighbor took pity and loaned us his axe; he also came back with the axe and some very dry wood to help us get a fire started. In the meantime, I made dinner: mushrooms, onions, and ham in a cream sauce – yes, a cream sauce in a cast iron skillet – served with a salad and English muffins. I would’ve made pasta but, well, you’ve seen what I was working with.

First Camping Dinner

We happily sat by the fire until it burned down – and even more happily turned in early.

Day 3: Novice Campers

I realized when we were preparing for this trip that this would be the first time we’d just gone camping. We’ve done group campouts. We’ve done festival camping. What we haven’t done is the two of us in a tent with no friends along for the ride, no structured activities, no plans.

Let’s be clear: we’re not talking back woods camping here. We had our back woods adventure with the note on the dashboard and the mosquitos and the panicking. We’re talking about car camping, the sort where you roll your car up and pitch your tent ten feet away. A greener, more rustic parking lot.

Car Camping First night of camping

Our first night of camping was spent at the perfectly serviceable Holtwood Campground in Oconto, Michigan. The campground is dominated by RVs that suck more power than our apartment – but there’s a nice space away from the RVs for tents only, and the entire campground is along a lovely river. The campsite manager recommended Crivello’s for dinner, where our steak dinner set us back a whole $12 for a 10 oz ribeye, soup, salad, breadstick, and choice of potatoes (we went with “pinecones”). While we were on the other side of the river, we picked up a few groceries for breakfast – and some essential missing kitchen infrastructure.

Campsite Kitchen

See, we’re novices at this whole camping thing. Shane has done his product research for backwoods camping, so I assumed that he’d have the gear entirely under control. I think he assumed that I would vet his packing and make sure I had everything I needed to cook on the campstove. Neither of these things really happened, and so we embarked on our campground cooking adventure with the following handicaps:

  1. We brought coffee and our French press, but we didn’t adjust the grind on the coffee so that it would work in said French press. The Jetboil did an amazing job with the water, but that doesn’t mean the coffee we made with it was worth drinking. This was remedied by a stop for coffee in Green Bay, then by the purchase of instant coffee. Yes, you read that correctly.
  2. We had no knife. Of any kind. I’m not sure how we were expected to defend ourselves against bears or, you know, slice anything. I’m also not sure how neither of us checked on this. Regardless, we picked up a cheap serrated paring knife, and that did an adequate job on everything from onions to watermelon.
  3. We had about 5 paper plates, and no other surface on which to cut or from which to eat. We picked up durable plastic plates at Target for $1. Problem mostly solved.

With our kitchen stocked and dreams of bacon and eggs dancing in our heads, we cuddled up in the tent as our neighbors shot off fireworks. It rained in the night, but we stayed comfortable and dry, and woke to an absolutely perfect morning. While Shane worked on coffee, I put together breakfast:

Killer Breakfast Sandwich

Sauteed mushrooms and onions, bacon, fried eggs, and pan-toasted English muffins. Shane added salsa to make a killer sandwich, which he swears was one of his favorite meals of the trip.

Breakfast Sandwich Breakfast Chomp

A great start to a great day. We availed ourselves of the pay showers – 25c for 4 minutes, up to 15 quarters accepted – broke down the campsite, and hit the road towards Devil’s Lake by way of Green Bay.

New York Meals: Eataly

The first in a series of posts about the exceptional food I ate in 2.5 days in New York.

We’re Mario Batali fans around here, so Eataly was at the top of my To Do list upon arriving in New York Friday night.  Opened in 2010 in partnership with Lidia Bastianich and others, Eataly is an insanely huge market where everything wonderful and delicious to do with Italian cuisine can be found, purchased, and devoured.

Eataly,NYC.
Photo by Carl MiKoy

And I mean insane. IN-sane. Eataly has been open since August, and while there are no longer lines around the block, we still encountered an overwhelming crush of people as we made our way back to Birreria. Piotr, Jess, and I had been walking around all morning, so we were famished. Fortunately, there were no shortage of food options. Unfortunately, we had to first choose one, and then stand in line to purchase it. Fortunately, we had reason to stick around – we were waiting for a table at Birreria.

Eataly Birreria

While the seating process was mysterious – something involving a promised text message and the instructions to check back in 45 minutes? – it all made sense once we were upstairs. The maître d’ acts kind of like a bouncer, keeping the crowds at bay, resulting in a lovely and genial environment upstairs. We were at a simultaneously shady and sunny table in the corner – no real view to speak of, but who cares when delicious food is in front of you?

Maitake con Pecorino Sardo - Eataly Birreria

Maitake con Pecorino Sardo: roasted Maitakes, creamy soft Pecorino, savory and crisp asparagus and peas. Enough for each of us to have a few perfect bites, every last morsel soaked up with crusty bread.

Portobello con Acciughe - Eataly Birreria

Portobello con Acciughe: perfectly grilled portobellos, funky anchovies, sweet roasted tomatoes, and stracciatella. Maybe not worth the $17, but totally pleasing on a hot summer’s afternoon.

IMG_6626

Around the table: chicken thighs pounded thin and served with olive-almond pesto, fennel-braised quail, rich pork sausage with kraut, and an intensely delicious pork shoulder. I can vouch for each of these dishes because everything was shared, every passed fork returned laden with a perfect bite of something else. If I could do it again, I’d take one of everything, and wash it all down with a Baladin Isaac.  Perfect.


If you go:
Eataly
200 5th Ave (between 23rd and 24th)
Manhattan, NY 10010
(212) 229-2560

Be prepared to wait and spend a lot and be delighted.

Mitigated Spanish Success

I knocked out two more recipes from my Spanish cookbook last week, both of which were mitigated successes. I say ‘mitigated’ because while we enjoyed both dishes, both had significant problems.

First, Lentils and Mushrooms.

Lentejas con champiñones/ Lentils with button mushrooms
Photo by Javier García

There are few things more hunger-inducing than the smell of sauteeing onions, garlic, and mushrooms – which is exactly how this recipe starts. Add in the lentils and a few other things, then cover and simmer until the lentils are soft and the liquid is almost gone – EXCEPT that that never happened. Instead of stirring Pernod and a handful of fresh parsley into the pot, we added a small amount of each to bowls of slightly drained stew, the remainder of which was left on the stove in hopes that it would reduce. It didn’t. We enjoyed the dish, but I question the necessity of covering the pot, especially since the lentils were pre-soaked and well on their way to being soft.

Second, Marmitako, a Basque stew that features tuna, tomatoes, and potatoes. I love these process photos, all shared by Flickr user BocaDorada and licensed under Creative Commons1:

Así se empieza con el marmitako

Los ingredientes del marmitako

Parte del proceso de la preparación del marmitako

Cena

We’ve been getting the occasional tuna steak from Trader Joe’s – they come frozen in packages of two, which is just the right amount for a hearty dinner. While the tuna is typically cooked in the stew, the recipe I used recommended searing it in a separate pan, then adding it to the pot, where it is then topped with potatoes and simmered for half an hour or so. In theory, this means that everything is nicely reduced and the tuna is moist and tender. However, as with the previous recipe, there was just too much damned liquid, even with the lid removed for the last ten minutes. I did scale the recipe back and used fewer potatoes than required, but I doubt that the small amount of omitted potatoes would have soaked up the extra two cups of liquid that I spooned out before serving. A fine dinner, and good leftovers, but not something we’ll make again.

Alternative Recipes:
This take on Spanish Mushrooms and Lentils from Herbivoracious looks excellent, though it lacks the anise that was so appealing for me in the recipe we tried. This version of Marmitako from Global Gourmet appears to avoid the too much liquid problem by not covering the pot and also baking it in the oven, rather than simmering on the stovetop.

1 It is worth noting that any photos shared on this site that are not ours were either shared with the explicit permission of the photographer or are licensed under Creative Commons.

25 Recipes #2: Goulash

I’ve been cooking up a storm since we got home from Cleveland last Wednesday – I just haven’t been blogging about it. I made hummus and fresh pita bread for our friends’ New Year’s party – the latter was perfect, unlike earlier pita efforts. We were both somewhat worse for wear on Saturday, and the Barefoot Contessa’s fresh pea soup was just the thing for our troubled stomachs. On Sunday, I made the first recipe from my new Essential New York Times Cookbook: mushroom caps stuffed with sausage and duxelles – simple but incredibly flavorful, and destined to be on our table many times in the future. I also took on the second recipe from my 25 Recipes list: goulash.

Goulash!

I’m not sure how goulash got on our list exactly. I approached it with a bit of trepidation, as Shane grew up in a city whose cuisine is as influenced by Eastern Europeans as my hometown’s is by the Swedes.

I was concerned because there seems to be a great deal of disagreement about what constitutes authentic Hungarian Gulyás. Many recipes call for tomatoes, while others swear that goulash never contains tomatoes. Some recipes call for potatoes to thicken the stew. Others suggest serving the stew over dumplings or egg noodles. The goulash I remember from my childhood always involved ground beef and elbow macaroni, and is apparently known as American Chop Suey in some parts of the country..

Browning the beef

Fortunately for me, Shane doesn’t have any particular memory of a specific goulash, so I was safe to proceed. The one thing all goulash recipes seem to agree on is the paprika, which gives goulash its characteristic color and savory smoky flavor. The paprika differentiates goulash from more pedestrian (but no less delicious) beef stew. In this goulash, the paprika is cooked in bacon fat already used to brown your beef and saute onions and garlic.

Sauteeing onions and garlic

Add everything to the pot – the browned beef and bacon, plus stock, diced red peppers, tomato paste (oh, the heresy!), seasonings, and water (or beer) enough to get the right consistency. Let it all simmer for an hour or so – enough time for me to shred and then prepare some pasta – and you’ve got a warm and hearty dinner. I was going to add ‘flavorful’ to that list of adjectives, but I was honestly underwhelmed by this recipe. It was good but not remarkable, which is probably the case with most comfort foods.

Kitchen Assistant

Either way, Mina was happy to supervise, Shane was happy to eat it up, and I’ll be happy to make it again. Maybe we’ll try a more authentic recipe next time.

Recipe:
Goulash from Smitten Kitchen – 1/4 recipe with egg noodles and some bread was enough for three portions

1210 Mushrooms and Taleggio

Mushrooms and taleggio

A simple and delicious dinner after a day of excess.  We both had holiday lunch parties at work, and despite our best intentions, we both snacked on a few too many baked goods.  I’m not sure what Shane did for dinner – he’s off to Ohio for a weekend with some bros – but I wasn’t hungry until late, and then only wanted something simple and warming.

Both Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater have recipes for baked or broiled mushrooms with taleggio, leading me to believe that this sort of thing shows up on the British table on occasion.  I’ve had a hunk of taleggio in the fridge for a lot longer than I’d like to admit.  It’s the sort of soft and funky cheese that I love, but Shane can only take in extremely small amounts, if at all.  This makes it perfect for nights like tonight.

A dinner like this is so simple that it hardly requires a recipe.  Take a couple of large mushrooms, remove the stems, put them cap-side up in an oven-safe tray, and lay a thick slice of taleggio on each.  You could also thinly slice a couple of cloves of garlic, a shallot, or green onions (as I did) and put those in the cap before you add the cheese.  Jamie Oliver suggests baking the mushrooms in a fresh tomato sauce, but tonight I was happy to do them solo.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, until the mushrooms start to collapse in on themselves and release all their juices under the blanket of taleggio.  Eat with a crusty roll, and save the leftovers for breakfast.  I’m thinking they’ll be good in an omelet.

Recipes:
Baked taleggio mushrooms from Nigel Slater by way of The Guardian
Mushrooms and taleggio in fresh tomato sauce from Jamie’s Dinners

1108 Peanut Tofu and Veg

This dinner was delicious, you guys.  Even better, it required minimal prep and minimal hand-on cooking time – and the former could be reduced by using store-bought peanut sauce.  Simple, plenty of protein, and full of veggie goodness.  I could use a few more adjectives to tell you how much we liked it, but instead I will tell you that even though this recipe was supposed to serve four, we ate the whole damned thing, compulsively plucking mushrooms and cubed tofu out of the serving bowl long after we intended to stop.

Tofu and Mushrooms with Peanut Sauce
Adapted from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook

1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, grated
Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 pound block extra-firm tofu
2 cups quartered mushrooms (or more if you’ve got ’em)
1 bell pepper, cut into 1″ chunks

Combine the first set of ingredients, then refrigerate for at least an hour or up to five days. Add the tofu and marinate at least half an hour or up to overnight. When you’re ready for dinner, preheat your grill or broiler. Thread the tofu, mushrooms, and peppers on skewers, brushing everything with the peanut sauce. If you’re using the broiler, you can alternately just put everything on a foil-lined baking sheet. Grill or broil, turning once until the mushrooms are cooked through and the tofu is lightly charred, about 10-15 minutes total.

1105 Stroganoff in Theory Only

I COOKED tonight, can you believe it?  I don’t know if it was necessarily successful, but I did make dinner and then I ate it, and I have leftovers that I might eat for breakfast tomorrow.  It just wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  I was aiming for the flavors of a stroganoff – except with mushrooms and tofu instead of beef.  And I didn’t have sour cream.  Or heavy cream.  Or yogurt of any variety.  As you might imagine, what I ended up preparing bore absolutely no resemblance to stroganoff.

I drained and pressed a block of tofu in the fridge all day, so when I got home, I sliced half of it and topped it with a marinade of balsamic vinegar, sherry, garlic, and a little bit of olive oil.  Half an hour later, those slices of tofu went under the broiler for about 8 minutes on each side – just enough to get crispy – while I sauteed a cup or so of sliced mushrooms in butter and the remaining marinade.  In an attempt to make the sauce thicker and creamier, I added cottage cheese (I know, what was I thinking?!), which got all melty but didn’t make anything that resembled a sauce.  The end result was, well, interesting, but I ate it right up.

What I should have made:
Mushroom stroganoff from Food Network

0914 “It’s Like a Really Fancy Breakfast”

The idea of mushroom crostini had been kicking around my head since we had dinner at Lupa Trattoria.  This is why restaurant meals – cheap or expensive – are worth it to me on occasion: I go home with good ideas that I can’t get out of my head until I’ve put them on a plate. The crostini didn’t quite happen tonight, but the idea led to a really good meal nonetheless.

First, crimini mushrooms, halved and baked in a parchment paper packet with herbs, large sweet cloves of garlic, and a splash of vermouth. I intended to chop these up for the crostini, but they smelled too good to wait. Instead, we ate them over crusty bread with poached eggs, a small salad, and the half bottle of wine we never got around to drinking in SF. Shane commented that it was “like a really fancy breakfast”, and I concur.

Recipe:
Funghi al Cartoccio al Forno from Jamie’s Italy