Monday, September 15, 2008

Adventures in camping

I love camping. This is a fairly recent discovery, given that I've only gone camping three times in my entire life — the first time being a little over two years ago. This past summer, the Anthropologist and I went twice, just the two of us, which gave me plenty of opportunity to hone my outdoor cooking skills.

Being as picky about food as I am, I'm not content to just eat canned or dehydrated food. (Also, since we car camp, this is not a problem, as I don't have to worry about things like hiking long distances with only nonperishable food.) I also like to make a combination of things that can be cooked over a fire and things that I cook over a propane-powered stove.

One thing I learned that I truly enjoy eating in the out of doors are Sloppy Joes. In general, I'm a big Sloppy Joe fan, and since I don't mind making up the meat (or, in this case, fake meat) mix in advance, it's easy enough to freeze it, toss it in the cooler, and eat it for lunch the day after we arrive. At that point, it's simply a matter of throwing the mixture into a pan, heating it up, and pouring it into buns of some sort.

As the days pass and the perishable food runs out (mostly because the cooler is no longer able to keep things cold), I do turn to "shelf-stable" items – bearing in mind that a lot of produce can be perfectly content when stored at room temperature. One particularly delicious success was baked potatoes and sliced zucchini, both cooked over the fire. I topped the potatoes with canned veggie chili and shredded cheese, with the zucchini served on the side.

In planning for the first of our summer camping excursions, I looked for good camping recipes online. Unfortunately, it seems that people assume that if you're cooking in the great outdoors, you're either a meat-eater (which I am, but the Anthropologist is not) or have a way to keep food refrigerated for long periods of time. So most of the recipes involved ground beef, eggs, bacon — which are all fine, up until I start to want recipes for things to make with nonperishable foods. With a little creative planning, though, I managed to come up with plenty of good things to eat for both trips, which included such things as blueberry pancakes, breakfast burritos, and cheesy toast for breakfast; Sloppy Joes and PB&Js for lunch (I've never been particularly creative when it comes to the midday meal); and for dinner, fish en papilotte with veggies, the baked potatoes described above, and, my personal favorite, baked beans with hot dogs.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about it all.

It'll be a long while before I get another chance to go camping, though. The Anthropologist, my camping partner, is leaving for India (with a brief pit stop in Virginia) tomorrow and won't be back until July 2009. I suppose we'll go camping again next summer after he's back — and I will regale you with further tales of my outdoor cooking adventures.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ramen: staple of college life

I had an intense love affair with packaged ramen noodles. I loved the many flavors available: beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, oriental (whatever that was!), creamy chicken. I loved that they cooked up in as much time as it took to boil water plus three minutes. I loved that they would go on sale at Safeway for ten cents a pop. I loved that they could be jazzed up (or turned into "posh ramen," as my English flatmates called it) with egg, green onion, slices of fish cake, and just about anything else that suited my fancy.

And then one day, it was over.

I became a food snob. I stopped buying groceries at Safeway. I stopped eating such overly-processed foods. I stopped eating foods with such a high sodium content. Ramen fell to the wayside as I became someone who ate fresh, local, organic food.

Recently, though, I noticed that my local Whole Foods sells an organic version of ramen, made by a company called Koyo. (Then again, what can't you find in an organic version at Whole Foods, king of the organic-yet-processed?) It comes in what I assume are meant to be more "adult" flavors, like mushroom, lemongrass, and tofu and miso. It still has a ton of sodium in it, but it claims to be made of organic noodles. I bought a couple packages, willing to give them a try.

So what does my palate think? Well, it's not the same as the stuff I ate for years in high school and college. The flavors don't have that delicious meat-based taste. In fact, they don't really taste like anything, except salt. Plus the noodles soak up the broth too quickly in the bowl, which make them extremely mushy and unappetizing as you get to the end. My verdict: If you want ramen, stick to the traditional conventional stuff. If you're going to go processed, then go all the way.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The thrill of the grill

In the summer, food magazines always run articles about grilling: the best ways to grill, what's trendy to put on the grill this year, and what's trendy to grill on this year, plus marinades, rubs, sauces, and sides! All this talk of grilling assumes that everyone owns a grill — though I guess perhaps this is true, since I read somewhere that 80% of Americans have a barbecue at some point during the summer. Well, what about those of us with no patio, balcony, garden, or outdoor area in general? There are those of us who live in apartments in urban areas who do not have access to a space in which to grill — or who do not have a grill to begin with.

I also heard somewhere that the favorite scent of West coast residents is grilling meat. (What about other regions of the country? Frankly, I don't remember.) I have to say that it's definitely one of my favorite scents — next to crayons, pool water, and freshly-cut grass. And when I can smell the scent of someone grilling their dinner as it comes through the open windows, I definitely get jealous that I don't have the capability to go outdoors and grill up my meal, too.

So what's an apartment-dwelling girl to do? Well, while it doesn't create the same great scent, a grill pan does the job in a pinch. I "grilled" up garlic-rubbed shrimp and skinny asparagus, and they both turned out really well. Instead of having the characteristic charred flavor, it was more as though they had been roasted, but the shrimp definitely had grill marks, which was nice for presentation. This method does not solve my problem of what to do when it's so hot in the kitchen that cooking is not appealing, but it works for when I really want to enjoy some semblance of barbecued food.

Do you barbecue? What are your favorite things to put on the grill?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ode to the farmers' market

I love summer, and I especially love summer at the Santa Cruz farmers' market. I love the vendors, I love all the gorgeous produce available, I love all the people milling about, and I love how happy everyone is: buying and selling and celebrating all the delicious, locally-produced, abundant amounts of food.

I had a day off today, and what else to do on a Wednesday afternoon but drive down to Santa Cruz for the market? I could have easily dropped a hundred dollars on fruits and vegetables because it all looked so good: corn, blueberries, snap peas, black- and raspberries, peaches, sprouts, wild mushrooms, strawberries, rhubarb, cucumbers, basil, melons, figs, zucchini, and tomatoes of every color. But, considering I'm a little short on cash these days (too much shopping lately!) and that there is no way I could eat everything I wanted to buy, I limited myself to a select few items. I picked out two ears of corn for corn chowder, two bunches of basil to turn into pesto (and freeze), and a few other bits and bobs. My major purchase was a half flat of Swanton's strawberries, most of which I will freeze and later turn into ice cream, pie, and possibly jam (if I ever get around to getting me some jam-making equipment).

After going to the downtown Santa Cruz market for many years, I finally got around to treating myself to some fresh, raw oysters. I started with one, and once I had downed it, I decided I was going to have to do the three-for-$5 deal. They were slippery, oceany, and wonderful. I passed on the lemon, tabasco, and other flavorings — I only wanted the unadulterated oyster flavor. The flavor lingered after I had walked away, and I wondered when I would have another Wednesday off to have more.

With my work schedule, I'd have to hope for an opening shift in order to drive down to Santa Cruz after work and get to the market before it closed. Perhaps I'll be able to convince my new team (we start teaching together at the end of August) to let me open one Wednesday a month. Being at the Santa Cruz market makes me so happy — it's better than therapy. Seriously.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The invitation

The other day, I received an invitation to the wedding of a friend. I haven't been to a whole lot of weddings thus far, but I must be getting to be of that age when everyone and their sister is getting married — because everyone and their sister is getting married this year. I mainly have been to the weddings of relatives on my mom's side; in which case, the invitation is sent to my mother, and she tells us where and when to be there.

So, upon receiving the invitation in question, I was confronted with a decision I haven't really had to make before: beef, fish, or vegetarian at the reception? Now, I've confronted with these options when on an airplane (back when people were actually fed hot food on transcontinental flights), but in those days, it didn't really matter much to me. It's different now: I care about where what I'm eating comes from and about whether the food being offered has been chosen in a socially-responsible manner. Will the beef be from a CAFO ("concentrated animal feed operation"), or perhaps from a happier place like Niman Ranch? Will the fish be sustainably caught or farmed, and will it contain little to no mercury?

I emailed my friend with these questions. Since the menu has not been finalized, she could not answer them for me. Besides worrying that she thinks I'm some crazy hippie, I'm worried about how people go about planning big events like weddings. Are there caterers who offer sustainable food options? Do people take these kinds of issues into consideration when making wedding plans? When faced with lots of other wedding-related decisions, is being green the last thing on people's minds? Which isn't to say I'm assuming my friend isn't making an effort to be green (I really have no idea).

The truth of the matter is, I'm picky. But I think my pickiness is valid because it's an informed sort of pickiness. And, without being preachy, I do want others to be aware that their choices and their dollars make a difference — a huge one, if you're spending thousands of dollars on a wedding. I don't need people to announce their sustainability in big neon letters (another acquaintance who is getting married this summer is doing just that on her website, and I think it's over-the-top) — I just want people to spend more time thinking about the impact we have on the planet. Not just with weddings, but with everything.

When I sent the reply note back, I checked off "fish." I know that people will make the best choices they can, and I trust that whatever the fish actually is (or how it's served — don't get me started on my pickiness around catered food!), it will be fine. Besides, it's not about the fish that day, it's about celebrating the newlyweds.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My favorite shrimp

A few weeks ago, the Anthropologist and I went out for Chinese food, and I ordered one of my favorite dishes: walnut shrimp. Afterward, doggy bag with leftover shrimp in hand, we went to a friend's house for a party. I wound up forgetting my beloved shrimp in their fridge, and honestly, I was quite upset about it — enough so that later that week, I began my quest to make my own walnut shrimp.

I love recreating Chinese dishes at home. I make a darn good sweet and sour chicken (if I do say so myself!), as well as chow mein and fried shrimp-and- shitaake-filled won tons. So it wasn't too daunting of a task to research the recipe, gather up the ingredients, and put the dish together. In fact, I had a lot of fun with it!

The first step in recreating honey walnut shrimp is making the candied walnuts. This required briefly boiling walnut halves, then sautéing them in a mixture of butter and brown sugar. My tip is to keep a close on them while they are cooking because the sauce burns easily.

Next, the shrimp are coated in a batter of rice flour and egg. I thought the batter was too clumpy and didn't stick too well to the shrimp, even after they were well-patted with a paper towel. Next time, I might just toss the shrimp with a little plain cornstarch before pan-frying them in oil.

Finally comes the sauce, which is what makes the dish. I learned that it's made from a mix of mayonnaise, sweetened condensed milk, and honey. Easy, completely fattening, and amazingly delicious.

On a non-shrimp-related note: Last year, I got The Cook's Canon: 101 Classic Recipes Everyone Should Know from my dad. I'm hoping to cook my way through it, from apple pie to zabaglione (minus any recipes involving pig flesh, which I don't eat), and I'll share my adventures with all of you.

Honey Walnut Shrimp
(gleaned from several web-based recipes)

1/4 c walnuts
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 egg whites
1/3 c rice flour
1/8 c mayonnaise
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp sweetened condensed milk

Parboil walnuts for 2 min. Drain. Melt butter in a small pan, then stir in brown sugar until dissolved. Sauté walnuts in butter mixture until golden brown, about 3-4 min. Set aside.

Beat egg white in a small bowl until foamy. Stir in rice flour to create a paste.

Heat about 1 inch of oil in a heavy, deep skillet. Dredge shrimp in rice flour batter and fry until golden, about 5 min. Remove and drain on paper towels.

In a serving bowl, combine mayo, honey, and condensed milk. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Sprinkle walnuts on top and serve.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pocket pies

Here in the Not from a Box household, Tuesday nights are not when cooking happens. The Anthropologist goes out to play poker, and I usually stay after work to have dinner with my girlfriends. Then I go home, watch a little TV, start reading my favorite food blogs... and that's when it hits me that I haven't posted in an entire month.

So here's a little something I whipped up several weeks ago, when apples were aplenty and a baked dessert was in order. They're super easy to make, too, thanks to frozen puff pastry. You can also fill them with whatever fruit is handy and spice them however you want. Because, really, that's all I did. In fact, I don't remember precisely all that went into the apple filling because I was just making it up as I went along. The following recipe is my best guess at how I went about it. Feel free to adjust it to your liking.

Pocket pies
(inspired by Alton Brown)

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 apples, peeled and diced
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar, to taste
pinch of cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, ginger

Preheat oven to 400°F. Meanwhile, sautee the apples in butter and sugar until apples are soft and sugar has caramelized, about ten minutes. Add spices, and cook for another minute. Let cool slightly.

Roll out puff pastry. Cut into four squares. Place about one tbsp of filling onto each square, then fold over, creating a triangle shape. (You may not use all the filling.) Use a fork to seal and create a decorative edge, then cut small vents in the top.

Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden.

Serves 4.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Not loafing around

I haven't had much time to post recently, since my other hobby, scrapbooking, has gotten in the way. I'm working on a big family scrapbook for my grandfather's 90th birthday party, which is in two weeks. This doesn't mean I haven't been cooking, but otherwise, I've been up to my elbows in paper, stickers, and photos. Now, however, I've got some time because I ran out of archival-quality glue stick and all the craft stores are closed for Easter.

(Couldn't they have at least stayed open for a couple hours? Having had lots of time to explore scrapbooking materials, I've noticed that the majority of craft stores market to Christian soccer moms with big families who go on vacations to the beach, camping, or Disneyland every summer. Not that I have a problem with these kinds of people! It just makes it hard for the rest of us scrapbookers who don't fall into that category and want materials that touch on other topics — and who need a glue stick on Easter. But I digress...)

Inspired by variety of people — Alice Waters, Barbara Kingsolver, my cousin Deb — I've taken up making bread. Using the recipe for sandwich bread in How to Cook Everything and armed with a food processor, today makes my third loaf of bread in a month. Before this, I hadn't made my own loaf of bread for over three years — and it had been done completely by hand. Well, no wonder bread seemed hard to make, what with all the stirring and the kneading of the sticky dough. A food processor makes it the easiest thing in the world to make incredibly delicious, yeasty bread.

The first loaf I made didn't seem to be rising, and I thought I had somehow ruined it. This time, I put the dough to rise in my oven (which is gas and stays slightly warm all the time), and it has risen so much better than previously. For the second loaf I made, I forgot to grease the loaf pan, and the bread stuck pretty tight, which required a lot of tearing away of the nice, brown crust. I definitely remembered all steps this third time around.

After coming out of the oven, the Anthropologist and I can easily eat half a loaf right away, with butter or as a PB&J. Over the next few days, we eat slices with eggs or as French toast for breakfast, and the Anthropologist makes sandwiches with anything that might happen to be leftover. I've been making white bread, since that is the type of flour I've had on hand, and this is hands-down the best and the only white bread I will ever eat. (Typically, I buy whole wheat bread from the store.) The Anthropologist asked me why this bread is better than what we can purchase, and honestly, I'm not sure. Is it the lack of preservatives or bread softeners? How incredibly fresh it is? Or maybe that it's made with love?

Whatever it is, I'm eager to make other kinds of bread. I bought whole wheat flour today and will make whole wheat bread next weekend. And perhaps I will start looking into more labor-intensive breads, like challah or sourdough. Meanwhile, I challenge you to make your own bread — because once you do, you may never want to go back to store-bought bread ever again.

Sandwich bread
(courtesy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)

3-1/2 c all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp sugar or honey
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
1-1/3 cool, whole milk
oil or butter for greasing

Into a food processor, put the flour, salt, and yeast, and process for 5 seconds. Keep the machine running, and add through the feed tube the sweetener, butter, and milk. Pulse for 30 seconds, until the dough forms a ball. If it seems too sticky, add flour one tablespoon at a time, pulsing for a couple seconds after each addition. If it seems too dry, add milk one tablespoon at a time, pulsing afterward.

On a lightly floured surface, knead for one minute. Shape into a ball, and place into a large greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel, and let rise for at least 2 hours or until doubled in size. Once risen, punch down, then recover and let sit for 15 minutes.

Knead on a lightly floured surface for another minute, then fold slightly into a rectangle. Place into a greased loaf pan, flattening it firmly into the pan. Cover, and let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the loaf lightly with water, and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Seasonal Eating 101

Not too long ago, the Anthropologist asked me how he was supposed to know what was in season. Rather than telling him to Google it, I put together a list of fruits and vegetables, organized by the season they are available here in California. I printed it small, so that he could tuck the paper into his wallet for easy reference when he was at the store.

Fast forward to a week or so later, when I brought chocolate sugar cookies (the first thing the Anthropologist and I have ever cooked together) to a classroom potluck. I left a little note on them, letting everyone know they were made with organic and fair trade ingredients. Apparently, when I was out of the room, the parents began talking about how it's hard to know what to buy these days. (Maybe it's time to start preparing some notes for a presentation on sustainable eating...)

Then I decided that I could share the list I created with the families — and with the entire Center in general. I emailed my coworkers to let them know I would get them some copies if they wanted them. And I got several "orders" right away! So I tweaked the format of the list to make it double-sided, still wallet-sized, with some handy info about seasonability. They are a little labor intensive to make, but I'm rather proud of them — and excited that I can share something I am passionate about.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Emailing about milk

While I don't read as much as I'd like (oh, television, you are so hard to give up), I do manage to read a whole lot about food. In fact, I have an entire shelf in my bedroom dedicated to the food books I am slowly but surely accumulating. Currently, I am working on Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which the Anthropologist got me for Christmas) and Sandor Ellix Katz's The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. I am full to bursting with food knowledge that I am eager to share with others — whether they want to hear it or not.

Working at a child care center, the topic of food often comes up, not only in relation to children but in relation to the food that the teachers eat (remember who I work for and the free food we get?). The first food-related email thread that went around a couple months back wanted to know why we didn't get fruit like grapes and bananas in our kitchen and how difficult it was to get used to eating seasonally and locally, which is something the chef staff highly values. So I got onto my soap box and let them know why eating this way is a good thing (better nutritional value, supporting local farms), including giving them what I call my "banana lecture," which basically breaks down why buying bananas creates such a large carbon footprint. I don't know if anyone actually paid any attention to me, but I did get a couple of thank-yous for the information.

The latest opportunity for me to spread the good food word came today, with an email about milk consumption at the center. The head chef was concerned that the children weren't drinking enough milk and that 12 ounces was meant to be their recommended daily allowance. Back up I went onto my soap box, and I said: "Milk is a food, and it is a food that the children are consuming as part of a varied diet. By eating milk and milk products, beans, meat, grains, veggies, etc., our kids are getting what one would assume would be a well-rounded amount of nutrients every day. K------ said, 'Children require about 12oz. of milk each day to insure proper growth.' I would think that if the children are getting their calcium from dark leafy greens or yogurt or cheese, and their vitamins A and D from other sources (carrots are a good source of A; sunlight gives us D), we shouldn't worry too much about how much milk they are or are not drinking."

It's am interesting topic to me, this whole milk thing. Personally, I love milk. After reading Marion Nestle and Nina Plank, and doing research on which companies produce the most sustainable, consumption-friendly product, I drink whole, nonhomogenized, organic Strauss milk (in the glass bottles). Despite being able to easily put away a glass or two of milk in a sitting, I don't necessarily agree that milk is as important as a food as the dairy industry would like us to believe. Certainly, it is no more important than any other foodstuff. Anyway, I'm curious whether anyone will have a response to my position on milk.

In other news, I have been very uninspired to cook lately, and I have to convince myself not to stop at Taco Bell or suggest to the Anthropologist that we have dinner at the brewery. The last couple times I went to the farmers' market, I went home with very little in my bag — which is, perhaps, just a sign of the between-seasons slump: I'm tired of root vegetables and greens, apples and oranges. Bring on the asparagus, artichokes, and peas!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dinner improv

Some days, I have no idea what to make for dinner. So I headed to the local grocery store and found myself at the fish counter. "Sure," I heard myself saying to the guy who had just asked, "Can I help you?" "I'll take a pound of those mussels." Except I'd never cooked mussels before and wasn't certain I'd bought enough for two servings, much less what to do with them when I got home.

Armed with some knowledge from the Food Network and a couple recipes as reference, I managed to whip up a pretty tasty dinner with stuff I had in the cupboards:




Moules Provencale
(adapted from a recipe on
serves 2

1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c vegetable broth or white wine
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
pinch each of dried basil, herbes de Provence, and sugar
1 lb mussels, scrubbed and beards removed

In a large pot, saute onion and garlic until soft. Add broth or wine and let reduce slightly, then add tomatoes and seasonings. Bring to a simmer, then add mussels. Cover and continue to simmer lightly until the mussels open, which only take a few minutes. Discard any mussels that haven't opened.

Serve over your favorite skinny pasta (I used capellini) with some crusty bread to soak up the sauce.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My food philosophy

The Anthropologist, in his attempt to get me to start thinking about writing my own food book, asked me a couple weeks ago to write a paragraph on what my philosophy is regarding food. It has definitely changed over the last couple years, as I read more about humane and sustainable eating and think more about how I shop (both for food and for other things). While I probably spend more time contemplating my food choices than the average person does, I feel good about the decisions I make.

So, without further ado, here is what I wrote for my "assignment":

For me, food should be real. This means food should be made of wholesome, natural ingredients with names I can actually pronounce. I prefer that these ingredients come out of the ground or from the animal in as unadulterated form as possible. I think if food is going to come out of a box or a can or a bag, these “convenience foods” should be viewed as an occasional treat, not as something that is the mainstay of every meal.

Food should be something that both sustains us and is enjoyable. I believe food should be nutrient-dense, that the calories our bodies take in should be joined by vitamins, minerals, and fiber that occur naturally in the food. This same food should also be a pleasure to eat because it tastes good.

It is important to me that we know the source of our food. Yes, Old McDonald had a farm, and on that farm he had some chickens, some of which laid the eggs for our breakfast and some of which became the roast chicken legs for dinner. Food does not come “from the grocery store” — it comes from the dirt and from animals that were once living and breathing.

Finally, food should be produced in ways that sustain the environment, provide fair wages to workers, and humanely treat animals. When we purchase food, we are, as Marion Nestle puts it, “voting with our forks” by choosing to support the conglomerate or the organic farmer or anyone else in between. I aim for my food to be as locally-produced as possible, with the exceptions of chocolate, coffee, spices, and sugar.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Winter comforts, part 2

I don't know how I'll ever manage to live outside of California, knowing that we are so spoiled for choice here in terms of fresh produce — even in the winter. I've really been enjoying going to the farmers' market on Sundays and filling up my bag with eggs, blood oranges, turnips, carrots, chard, kale, leeks, mushrooms, raw cheese, and bread. If I were living in freezing cold Minnesota or Virginia? No such luck.

To celebrate, in a way, the bounty of winter here on the west coast, I made a giant pot of roasted vegetable broth. Because, in all honesty, the kind you get in a can or box just doesn't taste very good. I started by roasting a variety of root veggies, onions, and garlic, then tossed them into a pot with a huge amount of trimmings and otherwise wasted vegetable parts: green carrot tops, red onion skins, shiitake mushroom stems, and the green part of leeks. I threw some water over it all, added some pepper and soy sauce, simmered for a while, and voila! It tastes great as a base for a winter vegetable stew or to cook brown rice in. It's also quite lovely just in a bowl, with a poached egg floating in it. As a bonus, it made the apartment smell wonderful.

Alice Waters, in The Art of Simple Food, has convinced me (even further than usual) that if you can do it better yourself, using high-quality ingredients you can feel good about using, why not take a little time to cook? Reading her cookbook has inspired me to start cooking more and start making ice cream and baking bread again.

Roasted Vegetable Stock
(adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

olive oil
1 leek, well-washed, cut into chunks
4 carrots, cut into chunks, with tops removed and reserved (if available)
1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
1 parsnip or turnip, cut into chunks
6 cloves garlic
whatever veggie leftovers you might have lying around (I often save bits that might be good to put into broth)
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp dried thyme (obviously, you can use fresh herbs, but I didn't have any on hand)
1/4 c soy sauce
10 black peppercorns
1/2 c white wine
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Combine olive oil, leeks, carrots, celery, parsnip, and garlic in a large roasting pan, and toss to coat. Put the pan in the oven, stirring occasionally and turning everything at least once until everything is browned, about 45 minutes.

Put this mixture into a large stockpot, then add the extra veggie trimmings, herbs, soy sauce, peppercorns, wine, and 3 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and turn down the heat so the water is at a bare simmer. Cook until the veggies are very soft, 30 to 45 minutes. Strain, pressing on the vegetables to squeeze out all the juice. Taste and season as necessary.

Makes 3 quarts, give or take.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Winter comforts, part 1

It's an old cliché at this point — that there's something about winter that just screams for comfort food. Personally, I think there's never a wrong time for comforting, home-cooked meals. Regardless, I present to you one of my favorite comfort foods: the Sloppy Joe. Generally considered kids' fare, I've actually eaten more Sloppy Joes as an adult than a did as a child. We never had them much at home when I was growing up, though I do remember making "Sloppy Toms" from a recipe in a Better Homes and Gardens children's cookbook (the difference was swapping ground turkey for the beef). Paired with baked beans and a mix of corn and peas, this satisfies my nostalgia for an idyllic childhood supper, one which I imagine much of middle America eats to this day.

Making Sloppy Joes at my house can be a bit of a production, since I eat meat and the Anthropologist does not. I start with two pans, one for the ground beef and the other for soy-based imitation ground. Then I add the ingredients for the sauce on top of each filling and let both simmer while the buns heat up in the toaster oven. The Sloppy Joe mixture ends up moist and saucy, which is exactly how it should be — it's not called "sloppy" for nothing!

Sloppy Joes
(adapted from Bob Sloan's Dad's Own Cookbook)

1/2 lb ground beef
1/4 c ketchup
1/4 c tomato sauce
2 tsp each: red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar

Brown the beef, then add the other ingredients to the pan. Simmer for 15 minutes and pour the mixture into toasted whole wheat buns.

Serves 2.

(Out of ketchup? Barbecue sauce makes a delicious substitution, which was the Anthropologist's suggestion when I was faced with that dilemma.)