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.)