1111 Snack dinner with seasonal veg

I’m starting to think that snack dinner is our equivalent of leftover casserole – you know, a bit of this, a bit of that, finishing off a few things that are in the fridge or that looked appealing during the last minute run to the store. (I’d link you to the episode of Malcolm in the Middle that talks about leftover casserole, but in my memory, it’s a just a throwaway laugh, not worth any further mention. We’ll see if I’m wrong.)

I wasn’t feeling up to making, much less eating, the risotto we’d planned on having for dinner tonight, so Shane ran up to Plum to get a baguette and a few other things to have with a tin of tuna and whatever veg side I could throw together during his shopping trip.  I came up with two: spinach sauteed with butter and garlic (and a bit too much salt, which is something you’ll almost never hear me say) and a wee butternut squash, cubed and roasted with ras el hanout.  And I’m not ashamed to say that we finished all of it – baguette, tuna, veg, and a bottle of wine – over the course of the evening.

1109 TVP Tacos

I’m not sure what possessed me to pick up TVP the other day, other than that it seemed like it might be an inexpensive and healthy way to get a bit more protein into our diets.  Once I dumped the TVP out into a canister at home, however, I realized I had no idea what to do with it.  It’s pretty strange stuff – a soy protein extruded, in the words of Wikipedia, into “a fibrous spongy matrix that is similar in texture to meat”.  Weird.

Anyway, tonight I decided to give it a go.  TVP is notoriously short on flavor, but I suspected that rehydrating it while also rehydrating a dried chipotle pepper might give it a subtle kick – which mostly worked, though the TVP still had a ways to go before being palatable.  Using the same basic recipe as our tempeh tacos, I sauteed the TVP in some vegetable oil with a finely diced onion, a chili or two, cumin, coriander, and a fair amount of salt and pepper.  When the TVP was cooked through and starting to brown, I pulled it out of the skillet, then quickly stir-fried up a couple of cups of mushrooms in the skillet’s residual spices.  We rolled the TVP, mushrooms, and a cubed roasted butternut squash up into vegan burritos.  All in all, not outstanding, but a reasonably good first effort at using TVP.

Tempeh tacos

1011 Braise and Broil

Tonight’s dinner was all improv, all the time.  I bought an ambercup squash at the market the other weekend with the intention of Trying a New Vegetable – and then it sat neglected on the windowsill until tonight, when I needed something to go with the tofu that I’d also bought the other weekend with the intention of Trying Something New with Tofu.  Are you sensing a theme here?

Using a modification of my previous recipe, I marinated a block of extra-firm tofu, then peeled and cubed the squash, which went into the new enameled pot on the stove along with an onion, butter, and apple cider. I had in mind cubes of soft sweetened squash, but ended up with a bright orange mash – which was just fine. The tofu took about 20 minutes under the broiler in the toaster oven, and then we had an excellent dinner full of fall colors.

For the tofu:
16 oz package extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
1/8 cup tamari + more to taste
1/8 cup oyster sauce
1/8 cup fish sauce
1/16 cup vegetable oil

Whisk together liquids and taste – it should be salty and sweet, with a bit of funk from the fish sauce. I bet the marinade would be killer with a bit of grated ginger and garlic, but I had neither handy. Adjust to taste – these are rough measures. Slice the tofu into triangles and place in a large flat container, then top with the liquid. Set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the broiler and spread the marinated tofu on a broiler safe pan in a single layer. Broil about 10 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.

For the squash:
a knob of butter
1 medium yellow onion
1 small winter squash (butternut or ambercup are beautiful, others would likely work as well), cut into cubes
1 cup apple cider
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a medium-sized pot or saucepan with a tightly-fitting lid. Sweat the onion in the butter for a bit, then add the cubes of squash and toss around to coat. Add the cider, cover, and simmer until the squash is soft. At this point you could puree it, add stock, and make a simple soup – or just mash it up with a heavy spoon for a sweet and textured side dish.

0928 A Refined Squash Soup

The winter squash from our garden may never materialize, but winter squash has arrived in the market in spades.  And I couldn’t be happier.  The winter months are long and lean in these parts, but butternut squash never fails to put a smile on my face and a healthy dose of beta carotene in my system.

curry butternut squash soup with fresh bread & baked pumpkin seeds
Photo by valkyrieh116

We fell in love with our friend Bill’s butternut squash soup recipe last year, but I have to say that tonight, through my fevered zombie haze, I kicked it up a notch.  I’ve given up on our immersion blender, and had I realized how easily I could do the same things with my food mill, I would’ve done so a long time ago.  While the onion and apple sweat, I pressed the roasted squash into a thick paste using the mill’s coarse plate.  I stirred the squash paste into the onion and apple, added a couple of cups of broth, and let everything simmer a bit.  Once the soup was heated through, I passed it all through the fine plate, which resulted in an impossibly silky texture enhanced by a bit of half and half (in lieu of the whole milk).  Next time I’ll amp up the seasoning a bit during the roasting and sweating steps – I roasted the squash with a dusting of cinnamon and curry, but both flavors were almost lost in the final product – but otherwise, I have to say that this was a damned fine bowl of soup.

Butternut Squash Soup a la Bill Jusino from my other blog

A Week of Bachelor Eating

I could tell you all of the pathetic meals I dreamed up while Shane was gone.  We hadn’t totally restocked the fridge, and I wasn’t totally in cooking mode yet.  I went to Ferndale for a half day, and then had houseguests for three nights.  My meal planning went something like this:

  1. Open the fridge.  Stare at the contents.
  2. Open the crisper drawers.  Move a few things around.
  3. Open the cabinet.  Stare at the contents.
  4. Return to the fridge.  Complain to the cats that I didn’t want to eat anything in the fridge.

And so it went for nearly a week while Shane ate his fill of schnitzel and weird vegetable terrines, with the occasional good meal sandwiched between a lot of odd conference food.  One night I had yogurt, a pear, and peanut butter toast for dinner.  Another night my Couchsurfers treated me to dinner at the Roadhouse, where I had excellent, if overly mustardy, pulled pork and we split two desserts three ways:

Roadhouse Dessert

After the Roadhouse dinner, I was determined to get my ass back in the kitchen, so I pressed a block of tofu overnight and made this:

Proof that I did cook at least once while Shane was gone

For the tofu:
16 oz package extra-firm tofu
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, one crushed, the other thinly sliced

Press the tofu in the fridge overnight to get rid of excess moisture. Slice into 8-10 slices of roughly equal sizes, then marinate in the remaining ingredients for 30 minutes to one hour, then broil until cooked through and golden, about 10 minutes on each side.

For the sprouts:
1-2 cups fresh brussels sprouts, halved, stem end removed
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp butter

In a medium saute pan, melt the butter, then add the garlic and saute until golden. Add your sprouts and cook over medium heat until a little golden and a little wilted. I find it’s helpful to cover the sprouts to help them sweat a bit. Yum yum.

I also had a great squash idea, involving one acorn squash and some leftover pancetta:

green tomato, acorn squash, other squash all home grown
Photo by burtonwood + holmes

Preheat your oven to 375. Take a small acorn squash. Cut it in half with a sharp knife. It’s probably safest to cut off the top so that you have a flat surface and the squash doesn’t rock around. Place your squash halves on a baking sheet and add a spoonful of brown sugar to each half. Top each half with a thin slice of pancetta, then place in the oven. Forget about it for an hour or so until your house smells amazing. The pancetta will be crispy, and the interior of the squash flavorful from the rendered fat and the brown sugar. You might want a pinch of salt, but that’s about all you’ll need.

Long story short: I’m glad Shane’s home and that we can go back to eating like civilized people.

The Last 10 Days of Food

Gees, where to begin?  I’ve been pretty diligent about posting to date, but a weekend of friendos visiting from DC followed immediately by a mid-week trip with some of my favorite girls resulted in 10 days of nothing – and very little desire to catch up.  So here’s what I got:

Mike and Bill rolled in on the 27th, kicking off four days of beer, movies, more beer, vegetarian food, still more beer, a trip to Detroit for the guys, additional beer, dinner at Jolly Pumpkin, and oh, more beer.  I’m still not sure if I accurately captured the amount of beer that was consumed over this weekend.   This wasn’t like a woooo spring break!! kind of blow out – rather, it was a series of tastings, sharing rare or regional treats from each of their stashes.  I wish I’d taken pictures of the very serious boys taking their serious beer very seriously.  I know Shane took a picture of all of the bottles, so that’ll have to suffice.

While the boys were busy with the beer, I made a couple of tasty dinners – Butternut Squash and Fried Sage Pasta (hearty and filling, though not quite what I expected from the recipe) and tempeh tacos (always a crowd-pleaser) – and the killer spinach strata that we’d had at Shana’s on my birthday.  When the boys were late coming back from Detroit, I ate without them, then regretted it as Shane stepped up to make a really delicious Moroccan Carrot Soup (which we’re going to re-run for dinner this week).


And THEN I hopped on a plane to St Louis, where my friend Erin and I collected some of the best donuts in the country and also some legendary pretzels before hitting the road to Carbondale, where we met up with Angie, Kim, and Laurie for a couple of days of hiking, snacking, napping, drinking, and relaxing with farm animals.

Fritters and Globs

In addition to delicious baked goods and a whole lot of other bad-for-us snacks, we grilled out, toasted s’mores over a campfire, and made breakfast together using two pounds of bacon and the most beautiful farm eggs I’ve seen.  We also checked out a bar and a cute breakfast place in Erin’s neighborhood and had an awesome dinner at Schlafly Bottleworks (including curry crackers that I’m committed to duplicating) on our last night in town.

Farm-fresh free range eggs

Suffice to say that the next few weeks (leading up to um, a special occasion) will should be a bit leaner on the indulgent meals – segueing nicely into the beginning of the growing season and the return of fresh things to the market.  It’s been a delicious and ridiculous ten days – and I’m very much looking forward to getting back into the kitchen and back into more normal eating.

Butternut Squash and Fried Sage Pasta from Self
Tempeh Tacos
Spinach and Cheese Strata from Smitten Kitchen
Moroccan Carrot Soup from Bon Appetit

0322 Butternut Squash Salad Revisited

We intended to have this salad for dinner last night, but instead ate whatever we could find in the fridge – leftover pasta for me, a pizza bagel from West Side Market for Shane.  Tonight, however, a small butternut squash was the star of the meal – another beautiful salad of roasted squash, spinach, and goat cheese.  This is one meal that I think I could eat every week for as long as squash are in season, which won’t be much longer.

Now that I say that, however, I realize that our squash friends have been edging out of season for a while, and that it’s been months since we’ve been to the farmers’ market.  Unless you’re really dedicated (or hate vegetables), it gets harder and harder to maintain seasonal eating as the winter months drag on.  We’ve been diligent about avoiding the strawberries from California and have been working our way through the applesauce and tomatoes canned last fall – but it’s harder to avoid a package of spinach or a hard-skinned squash in the dead of winter when all you want is a colorful change from the white, gray, and muddy color palette.  Now that spring veg is on its way, I’m really looking forward to getting back to the market, and to all of the delicious things the growing season will bring!