Vitamin Greens

It seems I’m not the only one who had never heard of vitamin greens until I found them at the farmer’s market this weekend. So I thought I would report back with some information on the greens by themselves and not in a stir-fry. Last night I simply sauteed the remainder of the greens in some olive oil with garlic and salt. The verdict? They’re great! After eating one serving, Mark said to me, “I’m going to go upstairs and get some more of those green things.” Readers, I have NEVER heard those words before. More greens for Mark?! Amazing! Like I said in my previous post, they cook up like chard. Texture-wise they are like spinach. The taste is very pleasant. I don’t know if it’s the name, but I feel extraordinarily healthy eating them. I’m excited to buy them again.

Not sure why I think this really needs a recipe, but here you go. You can just cook the stalks right up with the leafy parts.

Sauteed Vitamin Greens

1/2 bunch vitamin greens, chopped
2 tsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
salt to taste

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the garlic and salt and cook for a couple of seconds, then add the vitamin greens. Cook until they are wilted, about 5 minutes.

I scored fresh cranberry beans, also pictured, at the same stand at the market. I used this recipe. The grain is a brown rice/quinoa mix. For lunch today I had the leftover grains, some leftover refried beans, a tiny bit of the vitamin greens I had leftover, and some homemade salsa, and that was a really nice lunch.

I’m still getting to know my new camera.

But so far my favorite feature is it allows me to shoot B&W.

I feel a bit weird saying that considering all the other amazing features it has, but when I used a film camera (digital cameras being non-existent, of course) in high school and college, I used B&W film more than half the time and I’ve really missed it. Sure, I could very easily have applied a filter to any picture I shot with my old camera to make it look monochrome, but first of all, I don’t like spending much time processing my photos, and second of all, it’s just different. I LOVE that I can see a B&W picture on the LED screen after taking it, and I even love I can’t ever change it to color.

Here’s the camera I learned on, or one of them. My father and my grandfather had identical cameras in the ’70s, and I inherited my grandfather’s when he died and my father’s when he replaced his with a newer one. So I often did this thing where I hid the other camera in my pictures. It’s not particularly well hidden in this shot.

Neither one of them had a working light meter so I had to guess at every exposure. There was also no auto-focus. I’m hard core! That camera is awesome!

I found a completely ridiculous picture of myself, “hidden” camera and all, that I shall share with you because it’ll be my birthday when most of you read this and everyone should be made fun of on their birthday, right? Also, it’s relevant to this blog because I’M COOKING! Which believe me, wasn’t a common occurrence when I was in high school. It was probably Spaghetti-O’s. Need help deciding where to start making fun of it? Well, there’s the hair, obviously. That’s almost too obvious. And what am I LOOKING at? You may think I’m sharing a laugh with a friend, but the fact of the matter is this is a self-portrait. There was probably no one in the room with me but my tripod. And how unnatural do I look stirring that pot? Obviously my love of cooking has not yet taken root, although I did show inklings of it when I became a vegetarian, which I would have been when this picture was taken. I really didn’t get more sophisticated than Spaghetti-O’s too often, though. You can also make fun of the wallpaper, but I wasn’t responsible for that; that was all my parents. Anyway, I’m sorry it’s so small, but it’s my birthday gift to you:

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Stir Fry with Tofu and Vitamin Greens

I love finding new vegetables. Yesterday’s trip to the farmer’s market yielded something called vitamin greens. The sign said they were a “mild member of the mustard family”. I wasn’t sure what to do with them but figured I couldn’t go wrong with an easy stir-fry. And I obviously didn’t go wrong because Mark claims to hate all cooked greens, but he had two servings and ate up all the greens in each of them. I still have half a bunch, so if anyone has any suggestions for other things to do with vitamin greens, let me know! And obviously you can substitute just about any other green in this recipe.

Stir-Fry with Tofu and Vitamin Greens

3 Tbsp dried fermented black beans
1/4 cup shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine) (can sub sherry)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 carrot, sliced
chili garlic sauce, to taste
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1 lb tofu, chopped
1/2 bunch vitamin greens (or other greens)
3/4 cup vegetable broth
2 Tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp cold water
1-2 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal

Whisk together the vegetable broth, oyster sauce, and soy sauce in small bowl; set aside. Whisk together the cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl or cup; set aside. Put the fermented black beans in a small cup or bowl and add the shaoxing wine to soften them; set aside.

Chop the tofu.

Prepare all the vegetables by peeling (if necessary) and chopping.

These are the vitamin greens in all their glory:

Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add some oil. When it’s hot, add the onions and garlic and stir-fry for a minute or two.

Add the carrots and chili garlic sauce and stir-fry for another minute or two.

Add the bell pepper and again stir-fry a minute or two.

Next up the tofu:

Finally, the greens:

Stir-fry until the greens have cooked down.

Add the fermented black beans and cook for a minute or so, then add the broth mixture. Bring to a boil, then stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened. Top with the sliced scallions.

Serve with brown rice.

What do vitamin greens taste like? Well, I didn’t get a pure taste of it considering I hid it in a spicy stir-fry (maybe I should just cook the remainder up by themselves), but it wasn’t at all sharp or mustardy as I thought it might be as a member of the mustard family. It was definitely “mild” as stated on the sign. Really good, though. I’d say it was a bit spinach-like in flavor. They cook similar to chard. It might be a good green for trying on greens-haters, as it’s not overpowering. Mark’s getting a lot better about eating greens, but I was still worried he’d pick all the vitamin greens out of his stir-fry, however, he actually seemed to enjoy them. So vitamin greens are a huge winner in my book and I’ll be keeping an eye out for them. They tasted great and I liked the texture they had in the stir-fry. They are also apparently good in salads, which I may try tomorrow as well.

I dropped my camera this morning, heading out to the wildlife sanctuary. It only fell about a foot and it landed on carpeting, but a trip to the camera store later when I realized it was broken resulted in me finding out the lens was completely gone and the body would cost almost as much to repair as its current market value. Even though it was an entry-level dSLR, I loved it and hadn’t felt the need to upgrade, so I was kind of upset about this. It was a good camera. So, feeling sad, I went home and asked Mark if he’d bought me a birthday present yet (my birthday is this week), and when he said no sort of asked/informed him he was buying me a new camera for my birthday. So I very unexpectedly got a new camera today. What this means for you is probably an onslaught of posts, or at least a lot of pictures of my cats. Here, for example, is Torticia playing with a wax bean, which she removed from the refrigerator when I was in there getting stir-fry ingredients.

In retrospect, I should have just taken a video, which apparently I can do with my new camera. Woo!

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Two Dips

No, the title of this post does not refer to me and Mark. Nor Gomez and Torticia. No, in fact I made two dips for dinner tonight: baba ganoush and smoky herbed bean. Why? Who knows. Tonight’s dinner was all over the place. I had some eggplants from the farmers market I needed to use. I also wanted to clear out some of my dried beans because I’m expecting a shipment from Rancho Gordo next week. There were frozen falafel in the freezer. Frozen naan. More vegetables from the farmers market. I even made Mark some barbecued seitan. Somehow it all seemed to work together, though.

Baba Ganoush

2 smallish or 1 large eggplants (about 1 pound)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp tahini
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp smoked salt (or to taste)

Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Prick the eggplants all over with a fork.

Roast eggplant for about an hour, or until very soft, turning every 15 minutes or so.

They will have caved in on themselves.

Mince or press the garlic. This is waaaay more than you need; I was making several dishes requiring garlic at the same time.

Juice a lemon.

When the eggplant is done, let cool until it can be handled, then peel it and put it in a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients.

Process until smooth.

Makes about a cup, maybe a little more.

Smoky Herbed Bean Dip

8 oz dried white beans (such as cannellini), soaked (speed soaked is okay), or 1 can of beans
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried parsley (a couple tablespoons fresh, minced, would be even better)
1 tsp smoked salt
1/2 tsp smoked pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano (or 2 tsp fresh)
1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh)

Cook beans until very soft – I used my pressure cooker. Drain beans and place in a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth.

Garnish with vegan “bacon” bits, and/or drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired.

Here’s everything, minus Mark’s bonus barbecued seitan. I also made yellow wax beans. In retrospect, those falafel don’t make for a very appetizing photograph.

It’s hard to follow cat party, but if you don’t need the next four minutes of your life, you can watch Gomez get high, and Torticia not get high, on the ‘nip.

I want to keep you posted on Rica and Rowena Raccoon, but it is very, very, very hard to take a picture of active raccoon kits, especially with an iphone. This is the best I could do. They are waiting to be fed. Next time I’ll wait until after I feed them and they are at least a little quieter!

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Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Corn, and Pinto Bean Salad

Mark and I recently returned from a week with his family at Folly Beach in Charleston. Apparently, while we were enjoying a week of absolutely perfect beach weather of sunny, upper 80 degree days and lower 80 degree ocean temperatures (bliss!), the Maryland and Virginia areas were suffering record-setting, scorching 100-degree days around Memorial Day – followed briskly by a cold front bringing in 50-degree nights and 70-degree days the second half of the week. Well, we’re home now and it’s back up to the upper 90s again: summer is here with a vengeance. This week has been weird because I wasn’t able to get to a farmers market over the weekend and I don’t know, I just find it difficult to buy vegetables in stores during the summer, so my refrigerator hasn’t really been stocked properly since our return. I had to go to Whole Foods out of desperation for fresh food today, and it was hot, hot, hot. I found myself looking at some heirloom tomatoes and wondering what I could make for dinner that would fit the weather and my relaxed, happy, tanned, and very warm mood. This is what I came up with:

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Corn, and Pinto Bean Salad

1 heirloom tomato, seeded and chopped
1 (or better yet, 2) avocado, peeled and chopped
2 ears corn, cut from cob and cooked
1/2 Vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped
1 cup whole wheat couscous
lettuce leaves, for serving/garnish

For the beans
1 cup dried pinto beans, soaked (quick soaked is okay)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 dried chili piquin, or other form of heat to your liking (optional)
1 tsp ground ancho chili powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp tomato paste
smoked black pepper, to taste (optional)
vegan “chicken” bouillon (or other broth), to cover
or you can cook some beans (they needn’t be pintos, either) by whatever method and recipe you prefer

For the dressing
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp pickled jalapeno juice, or a vinegar you think sounds good
juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 Tbsp)
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1 cube frozen cilantro (Trader Joe’s sells this), or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper or smoked black pepper, to taste

First, get the beans cooking. A pressure cooker is s huge help here. Place all ingredients in the pot, with the broth just covering the beans. I cooked them for six minutes in the pressure cooker, then quick-released the pressure, returned to the heat and cooked another 15 minutes or so, boiling off some of the liquid. Careful with those pressure cookers: usually I don’t care if I overcook pintos because I like them refried anyway, but for a salad you’ll want to retain a bit of a bite in the bean. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook until tender but still a bit firm.

When the beans are cooked, drain them if necessary, reserving any liquid. I had about 3/4 cup liquid.

Make the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together. Set aside for flavors to blend.

Cut the corn from the cobs and boil in water to cover for 10 minutes or until corn is tender. Drain, again reserving the cooking liquid.

To make the couscous, combine the bean cooking liquid, corn cooking liquid, and, if necessary, enough water to make 1 1/4 cups of liquid. I love it when I think to use cooking liquids for other purposes. If you aren’t using dried beans and/or fresh corn, you can use broth or water to make the couscous. Heat the liquid to boiling and pour over the couscous. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Prepare the salad: chop the tomato, avocado, and onion. Gently toss the vegetables with the beans, corn, and dressing. I use my hands.

Line each serving dish with lettuce leaves. Put some couscous on the lettuce, then top with the bean and veggie mixture. If you have it, sprinkle with just a touch of smoked salt flakes. Garnish with lime wedges, to be squeezed over the salad, and serve a hot sauce like Tabasco on the side.

Mark seemed quite impressed with the presentation of this meal. I told him it just looked nice because of the lettuce leaves, but he said it went beyond that and looked very “fancy”. I don’t know that it really looked all that fancy, but when I later asked him if he liked the way it tasted he said it tasted “like summer” and was (I was to quote him) “summertastic”. I don’t know if it’s just one of those married people things where we can read each others’ minds (it happens), or if I’m just good at making meals that say exactly what I want them to say, but “like summer” was exactly what I was going for. He also requested the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, so I know he liked it. I only had one avocado, but I think the one thing that would have improved this salad would have been a second one. I probably really should have made 1 1/2 to 2 times as much couscous for this amount of salad as well.

Our vacation was on one hand very comfortable and very normal: we spend a week at the beach with Mark’s family every year and it’s always wonderful, but on the other hand a little unusual for both Mark and me in that a) Mark didn’t touch a computer for 7 days and b) I didn’t touch my camera for nearly 7 days. We both did uncharacteristic amounts of relaxing. But here are some pelicans, also relaxing:

And here is a very cool, very old tree.

Now for a raccoon update. The bad news: Rachel Raccoon never collected two of the three babies. The good news: because I volunteer with a local wildlife organization and had been in touch with a raccoon rehabilitator about working with her even before the raccoon/attic incident, I got a crash course in feeding very hungry, very vocal baby raccoons, and then drove them to the rehabilitator myself. And Sunday I started helping the rehabilitator on what will be a regular basis, so I got to visit my babies again, and I’m going to help raise and eventually release them! They’ve been named Rica and Rowena – they are both little girls – and I’m not sure which one this is on my lap just after a feeding, but look, her eyes are open now!

Working with raccoons has been a great experience. When they are babies, they’re a lot like cats, and are very affectionate and sweet. I’ll keep you posted on Rica and Rowena’s growth over the upcoming months. I feel terrible they aren’t with their mother any more, but they’re in great hands with the rehabilitator and I intend to be the best (part-time) surrogate mother I can be, and in five months when they are old enough to be released, they’ll not only be in a great location, but right next to a county park that has special meaning to me and Mark. So that’s almost as good as their being in my yard, and really, probably safer for them in the long run. We have a LOT of wildlife around here, which I absolutely love, but we DO live in a suburban neighborhood. The park is probably nicer for them.

Finally, tomorrow will mark one year from the day we met Gomez and Torticia. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year already, although at the same time I can’t imagine a life without them. We were really, really, really, really lucky: these cats are simply the most wonderful, perfect cats in the world. I can’t tell you how much I love them. As a tribute, I’ll be making a donation to the Northern Virginia SPCA this week in the same amount I paid for them last year (I’d give even more if rabies vaccinations didn’t cost a gazillion dollars, leaving me broke this month…) because I love these cats, I love the SPCA for bringing them into my life, and I want the SPCA to continue to bring other people and cats and dogs together to form bonds like I have with Gomez and Torticia.

(One of Mezzie’s nicknames is actually “Perfection”. He’s just simply perfect. He’s not just a cat, he’s the Platonic ideal of a cat.)

(I’ve mentioned before that I turn most songs into songs about Tigger. I still do; Tigger still gets sung about far more than anyone else, but Torticia has three songs. The Kinks’ Victoria is really “Torticia” (Torticia was my queen!). Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecilia is also really “Torticia” (Torticia, you’re breaking my heart!). But for one song, I don’t have to change the lyrics because her (nick)name is already in it: YOU’RE THE ONE FOR ME, FATTY – YOU’RE THE ONE I REALLY, REALLY LOVE!)

One last thing: if you haven’t seen it yet: Vegan Black Metal Chef. And if you liked that, Black Metal Library rockers. My day has been filled with an inordinate amount of black metal, which I don’t even like…unless it’s about vegan food or books!

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Sicilian Baked Tomatoes and Onions

Donna Klein’s The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen is probably my favorite cookbook to turn to when I want something simple but amazing, when I have fresh produce that I want to showcase. I love tofu and seitan as much as the next vegan – don’t get me wrong – but there is something very refreshing about a vegan cookbook with not a single mention of either one: it’s all “naturally vegan” recipes from the Mediterranean. When I needed to use up two tomatoes I got at the farmers market on Saturday, I thought immediately of the baked tomato recipes from this book. There are two baked tomato recipes; I made the Sicilian. I was in a quandary because I wanted to share the recipe, but didn’t want to alter its simplicity to make it enough my own. But then I found that it’s on, so I guess I’ll go ahead and post it. But not without urging you strongly to check out this cookbook. It’s really good. As the author suggests in the book, I made the baked onions at the same time. The two recipes are nearly identical, so I’ve just combined them.

Sicilian Baked Tomatoes and Onions
slightly adapted from Donna Klein’s The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen

2 large tomatoes
2 medium yellow onions, peeled
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp smoked salt, or other flaked, kosher, or sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the onions.

Place onions in a pot of boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes, then drain and set aside until cool enough to touch.

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, and use your finger to poke all the seeds out. Drain them as well as possible.

I also cored mine.

When the onions are cool enough to touch, cut them in half.

In a small bowl, mix together bread crumbs, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Put the tomatoes and onions into a baking dish into which they just fit.

Fill the holes of the tomatoes up with the bread crumb mixture and sprinkle some more on top. Also sprinkle the onions with the bread crumb mixture.

Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes and onions.

Bake for an hour and a half (yes, really!). Let sit for a few minutes, or allow to come to room temperature, before eating.

Donna Klein suggest serving both of them together over rice or couscous (quinoa would also be good), which I’ve done before and it’s great. Tonight, though I was also having white beans and a salad, so I just served them on their own. The beans are pressure-cooked Great Northern beans, with sauted spring onions, a lot of garlic, imitation bacon bits, and sage, and a generous addition of Bryanna’s bacon salt.

This is the sort of thing I like eating when I want to feel particularly healthy! I served it all with Italian wine, and while it was cooking read some of a funny and very enjoyable Italian book.

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Russian Kale

I’m so glad the farmers markets are open again! I was so happy wandering around there on Saturday, even if not much is in season yet. (Half of the offerings seemed to be seedlings, or vegetables in progress.) I managed to fill my basket nonetheless:

One of the things I picked up was kale, but I wasn’t sure what kind of kale until I got home and did some research. It’s Russian kale, a gentler, more delicate variety.

Russian Kale

1 bunch Russian kale
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
red chili flakes, to taste
wine or broth to deglaze the pot
your favorite salt or seasoning salt, to garnish

Thinly slice the onion, and mince or press the garlic.

Wash and chop the kale.

Heat some olive oil in a pot, then add the onion …

… and saute until soft, then add the garlic and red chili flakes and cook another minute or two.

If necessary, add some white wine or broth to deglaze the pot.

Add kale …

… and cook, stirring, until wilted and cooked down a bit.

Continue to cook until the kale is soft and about a third of its original volume.

I bought Bacon Salt (the Hickory flavor is vegan) this weekend, which I thought I would try on the kale. If you don’t want to buy it, Bryanna has a recipe for it (of course she does; she has a recipe for everything!). I actually made Bryanna’s Friday night, so it’s kind of weird I found the real thing on Saturday. Anyway, it was pretty fun on the kale, but I don’t usually think vegetables need to or should taste like bacon, so by all means use your favorite regular salt, or whatever seasoning salt you like.

What’s absolutely amazing about this kale is Mark liked it. He doesn’t even know he ate kale; I guess he’ll be finding out when he reads this post. He never would have eaten if if I’d told him what it was, and in fact, I made asparagus as well figuring he wouldn’t touch the kale. When he asked what “the green stuff” was I told him it was “delicious yumminess,” which somehow convinced him to put a small amount of it on his plate. After eating the few bites he put on his plate, he excused himself while we were watching television to go upstairs and get a big helping of “the green stuff”! And he did! He went all the way up there and got a huge portion of it, all of which he ate! Russian kale, I love you!

I served this with glazed “ham”, but I can’t share the ham recipe because it started out as a disaster yesterday! I rescued it and ended up with something edible, but it was a mess at first. The glaze is the zest and juice of a tangerine, some agave nectar, champagne vinegar, and a touch of oil, whisked together, then poured over the “ham” slices, which had been studded with whole cloves. Baked at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, covered, for 45 minutes.

My little Tortellini:

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Ramp Soup

I worked from home today, partially to recover from last night‘s ridiculous commute. When I went to bed last night, I had intended to go into the office today, and so had packed a lunch, which included a bowl of some vegetable soup I’d made a pot of on Sunday night to use for weekly lunches. But when lunchtime rolled around and I was at home, I felt as if I were depriving myself of the opportunity to cook if I just heated up the soup I had packed. On the other hand, though, I was working and didn’t have time to cook. So what did I do? Made a different kind of soup, of course. There’s something wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with the soup I made, though, in fact, it was fantastic. You see, I had some ramps from last night left over, and what do I do with most leftovers? Soup!

Ramp Soup

1 lb potatoes, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 oz ramps, cleaned well, white parts chopped, green parts roughly chopped
4 cups vegan broth (I used “chicken” flavored)
freshly ground pepper, to taste
lemon wedges, for serving

Dice and chop the potatoes, celery, carrot, and ramps, and place in a soup pot. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until potatoes are soft. Season with pepper. Puree in a blender or with an immersion blender. To serve, drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Here are all the awesome things about this soup:

  1. Next to no effort: a little bit of chopping, and then a little blending. In between, you can do other things. This was great for working from home: I got the satisfaction of a homemade soup, with very little interruption of my work.
  2. Fast: if you dice the potatoes small enough, and boil the water in a kettle while you chop, this can be ready in as little as 20 minutes.
  3. Fat-free: Not only did skipping sauteing the veggies save time, but there was no need to add oil.
  4. It involves ramps!
  5. It tastes great!

Really, this soup was great. I’ll make it again. I served it with a “chicken” salad sandwich, served on a Five Grain Levain roll (I try to keep a bunch of these in my freezer). I thought when I made the sandwich that it looked like a dinosaur head, but when I looked at the picture later, I thought it looked like a human skull. Either way I’m probably crazy, eh?

Other than my delicious lunch, today has been quiet. The cats are probably confused because although he’s at the office today, Mark works from home 95% of the time and I work from the office 95% of the time, so it’s unusual I’d be here and he wouldn’t. They don’t seem like they’re letting this oddity bother them much, though.

Torticia stuck her tongue out at me when I wanted her picture:

And I’m just boring Gomez:

Doesn’t he look like a bear?!?

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Pasta with Ramps

It’s been two weeks since I last posted?! It’s not from a lack of cooking, but I haven’t made anything new or blog-worthy recently. Ironically, I have spent much more time working on this blog than usual over the last couple of weeks, you just can’t see the results yet: I’m putting together an index of recipes. I also thought I’d spice things up by truncating some of my database tables! Wooo! That wasn’t the first time I’ve had to congratulate myself for backing things up nightly, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Anyway, hopefully I’ll have that up soon if I can manage to do it without destroying everything…again. It’s been interesting categorizing all my recipes; I discovered trends I wasn’t expecting. I apparently cook a lot of Mexican food?

In the meantime, brace yourself for the same old story: Northern Virginia, grrrr! I DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH LONGER I CAN LAST HERE. My office is 10 miles from my house. Sometimes I mention that to someone who does not live in this area and they respond, “oh, so you’re close to work; that must be nice.” I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or punch the person in the face when I hear that. It’s normal for my commute to take an hour. If I’m very, very lucky, it’s 45 minutes. Sometimes, though, it’s even more than an hour. Today it was TWO AND A HALF HOURS. To go 10 miles. It’s the sort of thing that can drive (no pun intended) a person crazy. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I weren’t able to read books on my phone. I read a few hundred (yes a few HUNDRED) pages of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White while sitting in traffic (iPhone pages, yes, but we’re talking about 20% of a rather long book), and it kept me incredibly calm. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I recommend The Woman in White for reading-while-driving, by the way. It’s a peculiar kind of reading that not all types of books are conducive to, but I’m really enjoying this one. (Wodehouse is also good reading-while-driving material. Zola, not so much. By the way, everything I read on my phone is free from Project Gutenberg.)

Anyway, after nearly three hours in traffic, with a headache and cramps, I was tempted to skip the grocery store visit I had planned to make, feeling justified in just wanting to go home and curl up in the fetal position. I rationalized that I’d feel better about life if I managed to accomplish the task I’d set out to do, though, so I forced myself to stop at Wegmans. And I was rewarded with ramps! Rather overpriced ramps, but ramps nonetheless. Pasta with Ramps was sounding like the perfect antidote to my miserable afternoon. It wasn’t until after I’d already written up most of this post, made the dinner, took the photographs, processed the photographs, and then tried to upload the photographs that I realized I posted almost the exact same thing last year. I really should have known this considering I spent several hours this weekend categorizing all my past posts! Anyway, I’m posting this one even if it is a near-duplicate.

This is Mario Batali’s recipe. The internet pretty much agreed it is the best ramp pasta recipe, and it was so simple (and vegan!) I didn’t see reason to mess with it. I did scale it down to two servings, however.

Pasta with Ramps

8 oz dry pasta of your choice
4 tsp extra virgin olive oil
4 oz fresh ramps
1 tsp – 1 Tbsp red chili flakes, depending on the heat level of your chili flakes and your love of chili flakes
kosher or Maldon flaked salt, to taste
1 Tbsp breadcrumbs

Boil a big pot of water. I don’t always salt the pot when I cook pasta – it depends on what I’m doing with the pasta – but it matters in this dish, so once it’s boiling, add about two tablespoons of salt to the pot, then add the pasta, cook until al dente, then drain.

Wash the ramps very well. They are dirty little things. Line the root ends of a few at a time up and trim them, then repeat for the others.

Line all the ramps up and slice the greens from the white parts.

Chop the white parts.

Roughly chop the green parts.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, then add the white parts of the ramps and saute until soft.

Add the chili flakes and the salt and cook a minute or two.

Add the green parts of the ramps.

Cook, stirring, until they wilt.

Toss in the pasta and stir until coated with the oil and ramps.

Sprinkle with bread crumbs to serve. I served it with some asparagus, which I grilled then drizzled with lemon juice + lemon zest, some smoked Maldon, fresh pepper, and a tiny bit of olive oil. I peeled the asparagus after seeing this survey on The Kitchn and being completely confounded by the very idea of peeling asparagus. (Note: I don’t intend to do it again.)

A final comment about this dish (until I make it again next May and try to post it a third time): LOVE the pasta you choose. I was totally not wild about that kamut and quinoa stuff I used tonight. I love trying alternative grain pastas, but some are better than others, and this just didn’t work well with the ramps. You really need a very pasta-y pasta.

In other news, I finally got to see the Julia Child kitchen display at the Museum of American History. Mark and I occasionally take advantage of our proximity to the nation’s capital and visit some of the Smithsonian museums.

I like Julia Child’s kitchen because it’s totally my style. Which is pretty much hanging stuff everywhere! I will never have a sleek kitchen with all my tools hidden away. For one thing, I have too many tools. And for another, I like them to be accessible. And what’s more, I like LOOKING at them. I couldn’t have worked in Julia’s kitchen because she had all of her counters raised 5″ to accommodate her height, but I love the peg boards and the super homey feel. You want to BE in Julia’s kitchen. People seem to want to be in my kitchen as well. People often tell me they love my kitchen, which I always find weird because it’s a rental house and basically I’m just making do with what I have. But then again, my kitchen IS about as awesome as a rental kitchen can be, mostly because it’s mine. It is, however, much smaller than Julia’s, although hers is not humongous.

And with that, goodnight and thank you.

 What? Kittens? Sigh. You’re so insistent. Okay. I needed an updated picture for things like my new About page. So I took some photos of myself. Some of the outtakes are amusing. This is a frequent happening:

I walk around the house like a pirate with his parrot half the time.

This morning BOTH cats jumped on my shoulders AT THE SAME TIME. I wish I’d been in front of the camera for that.

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Ramp Pasta

More apologies for my lack of posting. I fought my way out of my cooking funk only to find myself facing an unprecedented week-long bout of nausea. I ate practically nothing. Highly unusual. I was actually considering changing the name of my blog from I Eat Food to I Hate Food. Ugh. This continued until yesterday around lunch time when I realized I was experiencing a strange sensation that I soon identified as hunger. I’ve never been so glad to be hungry. So I slowly introduced bland foods and…oh, who am I kidding. I promptly ate some drunken noodles, went home, downed a large glass of wine, ate another meal, went out to the bar, drank some beer, and called myself cured. And just because I know what conclusion people leap to about women of child bearing age experiencing unexplained bouts of nausea, I’ll have to disappoint my mother by assuring you there are no little Smarks or Smarkettes on the horizon. A review of my symptoms (which also included headaches and vertigo) seems to indicate “blow to the head” as the cause. I don’t remember any blows to the head, but apparently another symptom of “blow to the head” is not remembering the blow to the head. My in-laws, on the other hand, seem to think it was a migraine, although I’m skeptical about that because the nausea was much worse than the headache and I’ve never gotten migraines before.

Anyway, you don’t come here for a medical review of my physical health, I just offer it as an explanation for my absence. I generally have an iron stomach and I love to eat, so I was starting to get a bit upset about my inability to eat. It’s over now, I hope, so to celebrate I experimented with a seasonal, local vegetable for dinner tonight: ramps.

I first tried ramps last year and was happy to find them in Whole Foods the other day. I’ve upped my swim days from two a week to “every single day I possibly can”, so dinners, even post-nausea, have been and will probably continue to be a little simpler than usual. A quick rampy google returned me several different pasta with ramps dishes that looked very similar, and it fit the bill for tonight.

Ramp Pasta

8 oz pasta (penne, spaghetti, or whatever you prefer)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 bunch ramps (I forgot to weigh mine, but you can see the amount in the photo; it was 12-15 ramps)
high quality salt, like Maldon (my favorite)
red pepper flakes, or crushed dried red peppers
1/4 cup Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix
1/4 cup pasta cooking water

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add some salt (use regular or kosher salt here instead of the fancy salt I call for above), then add the pasta and cook until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, trim the ends off the ramps. You’ll find they are a lot like sturdier scallions.

Cut the green parts off and reserve, then chop the red and white parts.

Roughly chop the green parts; I just cut them into three pieces.

Crush the dried red peppers between your fingers if using. I used tabasco peppers I got at the farmers market last summer and dried.

Remove about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve, then drain the pasta when it is done.

To make this a one-pot meal, rinse out the pasta cooking pot and heat the olive oil in it, then add the white and red ramp pieces and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. It was hard for me to take pictures because my pasta pot is tall and I am short, so I didn’t bother taking a picture of the following step which is add the salt and red pepper and cook for another minute.

Add the ramp leaves …

… and cook until they are wilted, about a minute or two.

Add the “uncheese” and 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, adding more water if necessary.

Toss in the pasta.

I recently found some fried onions on my cupboard that I’d bought for Thanksgiving and never used, so I topped my serving with a sprinkling of them, which added a pleasant crunch.

Here is a picture of a lunch I made myself earlier this week when I was starting to feel a bit better; it was good although I only managed to eat a third of it. It’s udon noodles in a veggie broth/kombu dashi mixture with a bit of miso, with wakame and spinach, topped with shredded nori.

Hopefully I’ll be posting more frequently now that I like food again. In fact, I already have half a post that I intend to finish this weekend, so I’m already ahead of the game.

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Spicy Peanut Eggplant

Apart from boxed macaroni & cheese and other “foods” of that nature, before I went vegan I knew how to cook exactly one dish: eggplant parmesan. I don’t even remember what inspired me to learn how to cook that, but it was my big speciality. Of course, it went by the wayside when I went vegan, and for some reason I never showed any further interest in eggplant. I think I over-eggplanted on the eggplant parmesan. It’s ridiculous to continue to avoid eggplant as it’s been 11 years now, although I don’t actually avoid eggplant, it just never occurs to me to buy it. That is, until I saw the adorable “purple pixie” eggplants at Wegmans last night. I should have taken a picture. They’re tiny and so cute!

I don’t know why, but I had decided I wanted to make something with the eggplants involving peanut sauce. Maybe because that’s the furthest thing I could think of from parmesan? At any rate, I got home quite late tonight and had a hunch that Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian would contain what I was looking for. I was not disappointed. It had exactly what I was looking for and what’s more, it was nearly instant: Cold Eggplants in a Spicy Peanut Sauce.

Spicy Peanut Eggplant
(lightly) adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

10 oz small or baby eggplants, quartered or halved then cut into 2″ pieces
4 tsp natural peanut butter
4 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp vinegar
2 tsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice) wine (or try sake)
4 drops stevia (or 2 tsp sugar or agave nectar)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp chili garlic paste
thumb-size piece garlic, grated
1 cube frozen cilantro (or a handful fresh, chopped)

Steam the eggplant pieces until tender. Jaffrey suggests 10-15 minutes, however, I checked after 9 minutes and mine were very over-done, so for particularly delicate eggplants, check after 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. Toss with the eggplant and serve cold or at room temperature.

I realized I was going to have much more sauce than I needed, so I cooked a bundle of soba noodles to toss the leftover sauce with:

In cat news, Brachtune likes to sleep in my reading chair:

You are probably wondering why I never take any photos of Brachtune that don’t involve her lounging around in that chair. Well, the fact of the matter is, Brachtune spends a good 95% of her time there.

I spend a lot of my time there as well, such as right now. Since we are competing for the spot, Brachtune is currently standing on me and kneading at my stomach, which is cute but also annoying because she’s always messing with my belly button ring. This is what Brachtune looks like when she wakes up and realizes I intend to claim my chair:

And this is what she does to make herself as super-adorable as possible in hopes that I will change my mind:

It never works. I just scoop her up and put her on my lap and then she sits there purring and drooling all over me. And sitting on my arm when I’m trying to type…

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