Friday, September 24, 2010

Meatless Month: Day 13

I didn't bother taking a photo of tonight's meal because it just wasn't that interesting to look at.  I had planned on making eggplant caponata with pasta for dinner, using the leftover whole eggplant I didn't use when making the eggplant Parmesan, but while cooking, I burnt it, and then even the unburnt parts didn't taste so great, so I gave up on the caponata, something I rarely do.  I don't think there was any fixing it, though.  It was just too vinegary and tart and just not good.  I can't remember where I got the recipe.

So I had half of a butternut squash left in the fridge and decided to make a butternut squash pasta sauce.  I softened the squash in the microwave, scooped it out of its skin, put it in a pot with some half-and-half, and pureed it with my immersion blender.  I added a bit of salt and some sage and put it on the stove to warm through while the rigatoni cooked.  I added a pat of butter, a little pasta cooking water, and some Romano cheese, mixed in the pasta, and dinner was ready.

It was just fine.  We ate it, Mr. Hungry even liked it - and he usually doesn't care for squash at all - but it was nothing special.  Still, there is satisfaction in getting a meal on the table that required no shopping and used up odds and ends in the kitchen.  Better luck tomorrow.

Meatless Month: Day 12

We were on our way to see Machete at Crossgates Mall last night and only had about an hour.  Mr. Hungry didn't feel like Chipotle or pizza, so we were planning on going to the Metro 20 Diner right on Western Avenue.  It's not the greatest diner around, but it would be fast and would most certainly have some vegetarian options.  I pulled into their parking lot only to discover they were closed for renovations, so I drove a bit further west on route 20 to the Western Diner, which neither the Mr. nor I had ever been.

Stepping into the Western Diner is like stepping straight into the 70s, right down to the music playing.  Wood paneling and amber-glassed lamp shades decorated the dining room.  We were promptly brought tiny glasses of water and a basket of potato rolls.  I decided to try their eggplant Parmesan, being fondly reminiscent of the batch I recently made, and Mr. Hungry ordered the stuffed shells.  I had thought about getting breakfast, and maybe I should have.

Dinner started with a choice of soup or salad, and I opted for the cream of broccoli soup.  Why, I don't know, as I don't generally like diner creamy soups, particularly cream of broccoli.  The broccoli is always cooked to a grayish mush and the soup itself is inevitably overthick, but it was fine.  Exactly as I expected it would be.  It very well may have had some form of animal broth in it, but we're not being that fussy about our "veg month," as Mr. Hungry has taken to calling it.

Our entrees arrived shortly after ordering and were both swimming in marinara sauce.  I am not a lover of any tomato sauce in the best of circumstances, and unfortunately, the Western Diner's wasn't great.  Too sweet, too thick, and just not delicious.  But my eggplant was crispy and the mozzarella topping was browned, so despite the over cooked spaghetti the meal was adequate.  Mr. Hungry's stuffed shells were so sauce laden that he scooped them out of their little serving dish onto a spare plate.  He said they were fine.

The theme for this meal would be adequate, and inexpensive at just under $30 including tax and tip.  I know not every meal has to be memorable, but I hate spending money on food that isn't really worth eating.  I don't think we'll be returning to the Western Diner anytime soon.

Meatless Month: Day 11

I must confess: I cheated on Meatless Month tonight.  I went to the New World Bistro Bar with some girl friends and ordered a trout special that sounded simply too good to pass up.  I'm not sorry, either.

We started our meal with the cheese of the day, which was a triple cream goat cheese from Nettle Meadow Farm in Warrensburg, which was served with crostini and fig jam.  I thought this was an enjoyable little nibble to eat alongside my pint of Brooklyn Pennant Ale.  My friends also ordered the chicken liver paté off of the "Forbidden Pleasures" section of the menu.  And here's another confession from me: while I typically like paté, this had truffles (or truffle oil?) in it, and I find the smell of truffles to be almost unbearable.  I thought I had a broad palate, but the allure of truffles is just lost on me.

The trout was described as cumin-dusted and served atop cheddar-jalapeno bread pudding.  There were a few bones in my trout, but aside from that, this was a delicious dinner and my friends had a bit of plate envy.  We also had dessert.  I had a lime tart, which was a massive serving, complete with a dollop of softly whipped cream.  It was tart and cool and refreshing, but I couldn't finish it.

I've been to New World Bistro Bar several times now and always enjoy my food, but I always feel like the food is always maybe a half step away from being exactly how I'd want it.  Nevertheless, the creative combinations and commitment to supporting local farms and food vendors keeps bringing me back.

Meatless Month: Day 10

Mr. Hungry and I go to our friends' house every other Thursday night for Game Night, during which we play any of a number of different board games.  We take turns cooking dinner, or sometimes we get takeout.  This past Game Night it was my friend N's turn to cook.  I always look forward to the nights she cooks as I know she'll make something delicious.

Knowing about our Meatless Month, she cooked kitchri, an Iraqi lentil and rice dish made using red lentils, cumin, onions, tomato paste, and garlic.  It's all cooked together, then topped with sour cream and a salad of onions, bell pepper, cucumber, and tomato.  It was delicious and tasted strangely like tacos.  I guess maybe it was the cumin.  It was very filling and very tasty, and despite Game Night being cut short thanks to Benadryl, it was a good night.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meatless Month: Day 9

Day 9 was the first real miss so far of Meatless Month.  I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later.  I'm frankly surprised that this dish was the one Mr. Hungry didn't like, as on paper it sounded right up his alley.

I used a recipe from Everyday Food magazine for Baked Eggs and Tortillas in Creamy Tomato Sauce.  I've had good luck with their recipes and appreciate that they're typically quick to make without seeming dumbed down or relying on packaged products much.

You start by making a simple tomato sauce of onions, garlic, and crushed tomatoes.  I only had diced tomatoes, so I used those plus a small can of Spanish style tomato sauce.  I probably should have just blended the diced tomatoes with my immersion blender as it was a bit too saucy in the end.

You then add a bit of half-and-half, layer it in a baking dish, top with some corn tortilla strips, and more sauce.  Crack a few eggs on top,

(Isn't that a happy looking dish?), coat with cheese,

and bake.  After a half hour in the oven, it looked like this:

It was just fine, I thought.  Hearty, tomatoey, slightly spicy, cheesy and gooey.  I don't know if they were supposed to or if my tortillas were just a bit old, but they dissolved into nothingness in the oven and simply thickened the sauce.  So I liked it, Mr. Hungry did not.  I probably won't be making this again, though I still find the idea of baked eggs very appealing.  I'll keep my eyes peeled for another recipe.

Meatless Month: Day 8

 The Hungry Household loves falafel.  When I proposed the idea of Meatless Month to Mr. Hungry his first question was whether we could have falafel for dinner.  I don't make my falafel from scratch, but I think I will try it some day.  I did drive to the Kosher Chopper (the big, new Price Chopper on Central Avenue in Colonie near Big Lots) to get the Israeli brand of falafel mix, which my Israeli friend tells me is better than Fantastic brand.

Unfortunately, I got to Chopper and they had two different Israeli brands of falafel mix in their Kosher foods section - Telma and Osem - and I couldn't remember which was the good one.  I bought Telma, only be told later I should have gotten Osem.  Oh well.  The falafel was delicious anyway.

I like to form my falafel into patties rather than balls as I think they're easier to eat that way.  I fried them in some vegetable oil until they were nice and crispy golden-brown.  Alongside the falafel I served tabbouleh salad, which is really easy to make and is a light, healthy side dish.  You cook some bulgar wheat and add chopped tomatoes and lots of parsley, plus lemon juice and garlic.  I also chopped up a tomato and a cucumber and dressed them with salt, pepper, and rice wine vinegar.  I toasted some pita (we've found that Thomas' Sahara brand are the best, oddly enough), got the hummus (Sabra is our favorite) out of the refrigerator, and we were ready for falafel night.  Falafel night may just replace taco night in our hearts.  Yum!

Meatless Month: Day 7

Hello, squash.  Half of this butternut squash featured prominently in last Monday's dinner.  I decided, rather ambitiously, to make a risotto with roasted butternut squash and caramelized onions.  I've made risotto before, and caramelized onions, but I didn't really have any sort of recipe for this. 

I started by getting my onions cooking, as in my experience caramelizing them takes quite a long time.  Here's my beauties after cooking for a while.  No seasoning added yet, just onions and a bit of oil.  Aren't they pretty?

While these were cooking, I also started the squash roasting in the oven.  Again, minimal seasoning here - just some oil, salt, pepper, and dried sage that I crushed a bit between my fingers.  Here's my cubed squash, about to go in the oven:

 I love the vibrant, autumnally orange shade of butternut squash.

The risotto was pretty basic.  I made a quick, simple vegetable broth using water, an onion, a carrot, and some celery, plus peppercorns, salt, and bay leaves, and used this as my risotto liquid.  I started with some garlic, deglazed with a bit of white wine, and then did the typical rice, liquid, stir, stir, stir! that is risotto-making.  When the grains of arborio had soaked up as much broth as they could take, I stirred in some Romano cheese, a little butter, and added the squash and onions.

It doesn't make for the prettiest picture, but I did my best to make it look appetizing.

This meal was more steps than a typical dinner in the Hungry household, and I wish I could say it was worth it, but it fell a bit short.  I think if the broth had been a bit more aggressively seasoned the final dish would have been infinitely better.  I will say that it tasted better for lunch the next day, and Mr. Hungry - a former butternut squash hater - enjoyed this very much.  There is little he won't eat if caramelized onions are involved. 

I've only made risotto a handful of times, but it's really not difficult to do or to cook the rice completely.  So why is it I've had it in several restaurants and it's often either not done all the way, or gummy, or just plain bad?  If I can do it, why can't chefs? 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Meatless Month: Day 6

Sunday evening Mr. Hungry and I went out to Blue Spice in Delmar for another friend's birthday.  It is located right on Delaware Avenue, across from the Hannaford plaza (be sure to park in the lot behind, not out front).  We'd been here a few times before and really enjoyed it, and I knew there were plenty of vegetarian options, so ordering would be easy.

We were very hungry when we arrived, so we ordered appetizers.  I went for the veggie spring rolls and Mr. Hungry got the fresh basil rolls.  The veggie spring rolls are like a skinnier cousin of Chinese style egg rolls.  Crispy and fried, they were filled with cabbage and other vegetables and served with a squiggle of what tasted like sweet chili sauce.  They were good, not great, but took the edge off my hunger while we waited for a few latecomers to arrive.  The fresh basil rolls are closer to the summer rolls at a Vietnamese restaurant.  They're made of rice paper wrappers, which are translucent and have a bit of a stretchy, rubbery texture.  I wasn't so fond of these as Thai basil is quite licoricey tasting, and I don't care for licorice, though the honey-tamarind sauce they were served with was very good.  I'm a sucker for tamarind.

I nearly always order a curry when at a Thai restaurant.  The most difficult part is deciding which curry to get.  Blue Spice offers a number of different curries, served with your choice of vegetables, fried tofu, chicken, shrimp, scallops, duck, pork, or beef, for slightly varying prices.  I've had scallops here in the past and they were large, of good quality, and cooked correctly so that they weren't raw, but weren't overdone and awful, either.

This time I chose the green curry noodles with fried tofu.  The green curry is described on the menu as a special occasion, coconut milk based curry.  It's about medium spicy by default and is served with zucchini, peas, red peppers, and green beans.  It was really delicious and quite a large serving for $12.  I brought home half for lunch the next day and it was just as good.  I'm not always a big tofu lover, but this was great - coated/breaded (not sure what exactly they do to it, but it's got a coating) for a chewy-crisp exterior, with a soft and velvety interior.  The coconut milk lends a smooth, slight sweetness to the curry sauce that took some of the bite from the heat away, and overall, it was just really good.  The noodles in this equation were linguine, which tasted good, but I don't know how authentic it is.  I'll admit to a very limited knowledge of Thai cuisine.  Maybe they do eat linguine?  Anyway, I'll be getting the green curry again for sure.

Service here is very accommodating and pleasant.  I don't need my waiter or waitress to be my friend, but it's nice when they seem happy to serve you, and here they really do.  It can be a bit on the slower side, but it's well within my range of acceptable.  Our waitress also picked up on the fact that it was my friend's birthday despite none of us mentioning it, and the staff sang to her and gave her a free fried ice cream, which was coated in a fresh raspberry sauce that my friends said was delicious.

If you haven't tried Blue Spice, do.  The food I've tried here has all been really tasty and the prices are reasonable.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Meatless Month: Day 5

Again, no photos for this post, but the meal is definitely worth writing about.  We were invited over to a friend's house for a birthday cookout/dinner.  I decided to bring along some vegetarian burgers to grill, as my friend was providing lots and lots of chicken but nothing vegetarian.

I used a recipe from a friend for homemade veggie burgers and they came out better than I had imagined.  I'm not opposed to the Morningstar and Garden Burger brand frozen patties, but these were so much better, and not much more difficult to make.  Although I doubled the recipe for the party to make eight burgers, here's my recipe for a single batch, modified from my friend's directions:

Kidney Bean Burgers
1 13 oz can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 small onion, grated
about 1/2 cup grated cheese - I used a sharp Cheddar
1 egg
1/4-1/2 cup bread crumbs
salt and pepper
any other seasonings you like - I used Penzey's Northwoods Seasoning.  More about that later.

Place the beans in a medium sized bowl and mash them with a fork or potato masher, then add the rest of the ingredients.  Mix well and form into four patties.  If they're not sticking together well enough for you, add more breadcrumbs.  Coat the patties lightly with flour and then fry in a bit of vegetable oil, or you could grill them, which is what I did.  They came out nice and crisp on the outside and were substantial, hearty, and delicious.  I served them on toasted potato rolls and had mine with a touch of sour cream   Sour cream is not a usual condiment on my burgers, but everyone was eating baked potatoes, and it was handy, so I thought I'd try it on my burger and it was pretty good.

Note that these patties are both delicate and quite sticky.  I'd form a patty and then wrap it in waxed paper.  I actually put my patties in the freezer for about half an hour before we left, too, so they'd firm up and be easier to handle.  If you grill them, make sure you oil the grill before you put them on, as they're prone to sticking.

Penzey's probably deserves a post of its own, eventually, but I'll tell you about Northwoods seasoning.  I order a bunch of herbs and spices through Penzey's website a few times a year.  Their quality and prices are outstanding, and they always include a free 1 ounce sample jar with every order.  One of my recent orders included Northwoods seasoning, which is a blend of salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, garlic, and chipotle.  It was perfect in these burgers and would probably be delicious added to hamburgers, too.

Mr. Hungry really liked these burgers and said they were just as satisfying as a beef burger.  All the party guests who tried them enjoyed them, too.  Another successful meatless meal that will be added into my regular rotation.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Meatless Month: Day 4

I'm sitting here with very itchy feet.  Last night was chilly and I was going to a friend's house where I knew I'd be outside, so I had on long sleeves and jeans.  But I wore sandals because I'm not quite ready to transition to shoes-and-socks-all-the-time weather.  And I'm paying the price.  Those darn mosquitoes zeroed in on the small amounts of flesh I'd left uncovered and I have numerous itchy welts to show for it.  Mosquitoes just love me.

Anyway, I'm a bit behind on my food posting.  I'll try to catch up in the next day or two lest I get too backlogged. 

After two days of eggplant Parm, it was time to move on.  Along with the abundance of beautiful and delicious tomatoes my mother had given us were two small zucchini.  I used those zucchini to make these pancakes, which I think are really more of a fritter, or at least mine were.  Call them whichever you prefer; they were very tasty.

I suspect I didn't have quite the called-for 4 cups of grated zucchini as the squash to egg ratio leaned pretty heavily towards the latter.  I used a sharp white Cheddar from Hannaford, just the store brand.  I didn't have chives, so I grated half of a white onion into the mix.  My box grater got quite the workout that night.  After I fried up all the fritters in canola oil I served them with salsa and sour cream, for no particular reason.  These cooked quickly, and I soon had a glistening, golden-brown pile of delicious zucchini cakes.

The salsa was Frontera brand - yes, Rick Bayless' Frontera.  I bought the medium salsa, which was roasted tomato and garlic flavor, and it was just ok.  I really should have known it would be this way, but I was still disappointed by the cooked tomato flavor.  I much prefer a raw, fresher tasting salsa.  Nevertheless, mixed with the sour cream it was a more than adequate condiment to dip the fritters in.

To balance out the cheesy fried goodness of the fritters we ate a big green salad.  And I promised not to fry anything else for the next few nights.  You'll hear more about those fry-free nights soon.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Meatless Month: Days 2 & 3

I called Mr. Hungry from Hannaford on Wednesday night to ask him if he had any dinner requests.  He's being a very game sport for this Meatless Month, and I'm glad.  I thought he'd be more reluctant than he was.  So when he asked me to make Eggplant Parmesan, despite having never made it before, I agreed.

Eggplant is not my favorite vegetable.  But I do like it very thinly sliced, breaded, and fried.  I've yet to discover a food that doesn't benefit from this treatment.  How many eggplants does it take to feed two people?  I really didn't know, so I bought two locally grown ones that were on the small side, but ended up only using one.

I didn't quite realize what I had gotten myself into.  Eggplant Parmesan is a labor intensive dish.  I sliced and salted the eggplant to drain some of the water off as I've heard this helps them fry and lessens bitterness.  I don't know if either of these things are true, but there was quite a bit of water in the bowl after they drained for a half hour.  I then did a flour dredge, dipped the slices in beaten egg, and then coated them in a breadcrumb, Parmesan, panko mix and put the slices in hot vegetable oil.

I had a half dozen big tomatoes from my parents' garden that needed to be used soon, so I diced them and added them to a saucepan with some olive oil and a minced clove of garlic and let it gently simmer while the eggplant fried.  Later I tossed in some homegrown basil to finish it.

So once all the eggplant was fried and excess oil was blotted, I layered the sauce, then the eggplant in a baking dish and topped the whole deal with slices of fresh mozzarella.  I love the ultra whiteness and soft texture of fresh mozzarella, and it seemed a good partner to eggplant to me.  Everything baked for about a half hour - just until the cheese melted.  Alongside the eggplant we had spaghetti and a green salad.

This looks quite greasy in the photo, but I can assure you it didn't seem overly so.  Here's the whole giant pan of eggplant after baking.  Please ignore the various items behind the baking dish:

I didn't follow any recipe, but this turned out so delicious, and as you can see, one eggplant made a lot of food.  We had this for dinner last night as well, with a fresh batch of spaghetti.  This is a definite make-again dish, meatless month or otherwise. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Meatless Month: Day 1

Before I get into what I ate today, a brief note about photos.  I don't really like taking photos, and I often forget to do so.  While my favorite blogs typically have lots of photos, I'm afraid mine just won't.  And my camera seems always to need charging.  I hope you enjoy the writing nonetheless.

Today was the first day of the self-imposed Meatless Month, and it was an easy day.  Oatmeal for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch.  Neither of these meals is typically all that interesting for me.

Dinner was delicious, easy, and rather attractive.  I do wish I'd remembered to photograph it.  It was also really inexpensive to make.  I made rigatoni with oven roasted grape tomatoes, basil, and Parmesan cheese.  The tomatoes were from my parents' garden, so they were free, and the basil was from my own little plant.  I tossed the tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put them in a 400 degree oven while the rigatoni cooked.  When that was done, tomatoes and pasta were tossed, basil and Parmesan added, and dinner was done.  We had a mixed greens salad with strawberries on the side and some little biscuits from the Fresh Market, too.

Mr. Hungry and I had dinner at my parents' on Monday and I grabbed a pack of the Fresh Market's cheddar tea biscuits on my way.  They're maybe 1/4 the size of a regular biscuit.  We forgot to eat them with dinner on Monday, so I brought a few home.  They were really good, and very cute.  I suspect they'd be really tasty with a bit of apple jelly or peach preserves.  Another bread/bakery product worth buying from the Fresh Market.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Meatless for a Month

Mr. Hungry and I are going to try our best to eat meatless for a month, starting tomorrow, September 7th.  There are a few reasons for this.  For one thing, I wanted to challenge myself as a cook.  I know I can create pretty good meals using meat, but I'm less skilled at cooking vegetable and vegetarian dishes creatively.  Secondly, Mr. Hungry and I should probably be eating more vegetables than we do.  And Mr. Hungry doesn't always like vegetables.  So this is a good way to try to introduce him to some new ones that he'll hopefully enjoy.

Breakfast, I'm expecting, will be easy.  Dinner shouldn't be too bad.  Lunch will be the hardest, at least for my husband, as he's a big sandwich eater.  I checked out Deborah Madison's bible of vegetarian cooking from the library, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and am armed with some recipes from elsewhere, too.  Tonight, one last barbecue.