Saturday, January 30, 2010

Newssaka, it's a Date!

The latest salvo in the war against leftovers came tonight with a series of offensives that our leftovers may never recover from. I think that in the war against leftovers the most crippling blow yet has been delivered.

For a salad: spinach, almonds, tomato, avocado, currants, brown rice, and ground flax. I dressed it with nothing other than Bragg's Liquid Aminos. It's something I've had around for years but seldom used. Lately I've been using it a lot. It has zero calories, tons of flavor, and is a great dressing for a salad if you mix in a number of other ingredients as well.

I don't want to be one of those people but Bragg's Liquid Aminos is a great thing to have in your fridge. For just a couple of bucks you can spray (or drizzle) this magical substance onto just about anything to make it taste better. The only downside is that I can't quite figure out what it is. I'm pretty sure I learned about amino acids in tenth grade biology class. I think they have something to do with mitochondria (which, incidentally, are the power house of the cell). I'm also pretty sure that all of that is wrong. It's been a while since tenth grade biology.

For the main course I took an elderly eggplant which was winding down its life in the fridge and turned it into this dish. It's like a take on moussaka except that it's so loosely based on moussaka that it can barely qualify to have that monniker. This is something entirely new all together: newssaka.

I browned some garlic and onion, tossed in some Jersey Fresh tomatoes (which, strangely enough, come in a can), basil, and ground beef from the freezer. Then I layered it with the strips of roasted eggplant, mozzarella, spinach, and brown rice (why not?) to make this casserole.

For wine we enjoyed some of the Tabor Hill Red Arrow Red that Jen's father had thoughtfully brought to us this past November.

For dessert I crushed up some graham crackers with a little Lyle's Golden Syrup and layered it with Medjool dates, melted chocolate, and coconut flakes to make this dessert. I call it a "Chocolate Date Mound" partly because of its shape, partly because of its ingredient similarity to the popular candy bar.

That freezer and those cupboards don't even know what hit them! We'll see the bottom of the freezer by midweek at this rate!

Here's to keeping those grocery bills low!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Duck, Duck, Gumbo!

After last Sunday's duck we still had some leftovers to use. If there's one thing Jen hates, it's leftovers. If there are two things Jen hates it's leftovers. Leftovers and grey, day-old poultry.

Behold: Duck Gumbo! I used some of the onion and peppers from our beans and rice and simmered them with the remaining potatoes from Kent, Connecticut. I also threw in a duck wing and leg bones to capture as much duck flavor as possible. As it simmered I made a dark roux with a little butter and flour. It is a long-standing culinary myth that you cannot make a dark roux using butter. The thought is that butter butter burns and you will burn your roux. I am here to tell you that that is a heaping load of malarkey. If kept on a low heat you can absolutely make a dark roux using butter.

Don't believe the hype!

All in all, a good use of leftover duck should you ever have an abundance. It's a little nonstandard to use our leftover brown rice as the gumbo rice but it worked out well.

There's precious little remaining in the fridge and freezer to use up now! February is going to be the start of something new, specifically: the food. Imagine what we could achieve when we don't have to empty the fridge and we get to buy groceries for things we actually want to eat!

It's going to be an amazing experience!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

99 44/100% Vegan

Monday saw torrential downpours and gale force winds that ripped down trees and destroyed electricity and, more importantly, internet connections in our area. After making it through this two-to-three hour ordeal with no internet I'm proud to say we came out the other end unscathed. Electricity only flickered on and off but the internet was out of commission for several hours! This left me asking myself the question: what on Earth good is electricity if you have no internet? Might as well just take it all, cruel fate.

That night I prepared a salad for dinner using my now traditional Sesame Fig Dijon Dressing. At only 25 calories per tablespoon (according to my calculations via's Daily Plate application.

I combined spinach, mixed greens, garbanzo beans, currants, and tomato and tossed it in the dressing for this salad. I've had variations on this salad for the past week sometimes adding brown rice, almonds, or whatever else we had in the fridge to get rid of. Considering the absurdity in how few calories there are in a cup of spinach (7, according to My Plate) you can pretty much have as much spinach as you have in the fridge then top it with a number of other ingredients. At 25 calories per tablespoon you can be pretty liberal with my Fig/Dijon concoction as well. I made a heaping pile of salad on the largest plate in our cupboard yesterday for lunch then topped it liberally and still had a salad that was less than 300 calories in total.

For dinner on Monday I made black beans and rice which I served on a flour tortilla with a dollop of sour cream. For the black beans I simply chopped up some garlic, onion, red pepper, yellow pepper, and sweated them in a little olive oil with chili powder, cayenne, and cumin. Then I added some frozen corn (the last remaining speck left from the farm share), and green onion. I mixed in some chopped cilantro at the very end and added some sliced avocado.

I served this over brown rice. I tried something a little different with the brown rice that I'd heard recommended recently. I browned it in a pan for about five minutes then cooked it with vegetable stock and a little Bragg's Liquid Aminos.

While I enjoy vegan cooking I just can't get behind vegan or vegetarian dishes that pretend to be something else. For that reason I used real sour cream. There are a few products out there that you can buy that are imitation sour cream made with tofu. You can even make it yourself with silken tofu, soy milk, lime juice, and nutritional yeast. But you really have to ask yourself, "Do I want to eat some concoction pretending to be sour cream, or should I just eat something different all together?"

Another day and just a dollop of sour cream was all that stood between me and a 100% vegan diet. Tomorrow that roadblock will come in the form of half a duck.

Half a delicious duck.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Welcome Home, Ducky!

This morning, at 7:00am, Jen returned from Salt Lake City. After having dined out for every meal since Wednesday morning I figured she'd be ready for a home-cooked meal.

For lunch, keeping with my early-day-vegan theme, I was able to utilize a good amount of items from the fridge to make this noodle dish with carrots, celery, ginger, tofu, noodles, miso teriyaki sauce, and chopped macadamia nuts.

For dinner I continued on with this theme and made a salad of arugula, avocado, shredded cheddar, lime juice, and olive oil. This salad was bizarre. I figured that I had nothing to lose by throwing all these things together. The result was good. Not great. Not terrible. Definitely strange. There may be a reason you don't see more salads with shredded cheddar in them.

For Jen's big welcome home dinner I started out by deciding to make polenta after a discussion with Jen's mom and Jen's sister about how neither of them cared for polenta at all. The result was delicious. I cooked the polenta with turkey stock, bacon, Parmiggiano, and fresh sage. I'm pretty confident I could make a vegan version that Jen's sister would like and that I could make polenta in general that Jen's mom would like despite their dislike for the dish all together.

I also sauteed some broccoli rabe with garlic.

For the main course I opted to make a roasted duck. I normally don't do it this way but people are always talking about how you need to score the skin of the duck so it crisps up nicely. I figured I'd give it a shot. I didn't add any additional oil to the duck. I just roasted it at 300 degrees breast side up for 1 hour, then 1 hour breast side down, then an additional hour breast side up again.

The 'X' marks on the breast collected most of the pepper when I seasoned it to make it look like this duck was straight edge. This duck doesn't mess with drugs and alcohol or eat meat. Unfortunately for the duck I do not hold these same principles sacred.

At least not at dinner time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Catalan 101: Salty Tales of Ribaldry (and Cauliflower)

Jen leaves for Salt Lake City in the morning. Before she goes I must mention an unusual set of circumstances happened in the past 2-3 weeks. Firstly, I got this book for Christmas from my mother and father-in-law:

They picked up the book on their trip to Barcelona this past summer. I thought, "Sweet, a Spanish cookbook!" As I flipped through it there were pictures of amazing-looking recipes that I wanted to try making. I then started looking through the book thinking that my kitchen Spanish was likely strong enough to get me by enough to read most of the recipes.

As I looked through I noticed that some of the words looked Spanish. Others looked French. Yet having worked in kitchens and speaking a horrible but apparently comprehensible version of Spanish paired with five years of French and growing up in a French-speaking community with a French-speaking wife I was unable to understand any of the words in the book.


It turns out the book is in Catalan. I am ashamed to admit that I'd never heard of this language which is apparently spoken in Barcelona. "No problem," I thought. "I'll just translate the words one-by-one with Google!"

No luck. There's no Catalan-to-English translation on Google. In fact, there are hardly any reputable sites on the internet at all that perform this translation. The precious few that do translate are pretty clueless about the intricacies of Catalan culinary terms.

Using the best translator I could find I translated the title from Catalan, La cuina comarca a comarca Berguedà, to English: The cooking comarca to comarca

Knowing this was going to be a huge undertaking, I set the book aside temporarily.

The second related circumstance was that I received this fantastic collection of salt blends to try. Normally I'm not big into oddly flavored seasonings but these smelled far too nice to not use. The kind I decided to try was the Flor de Sal d'Es Trenc Sri Lanka. I usually don't build a meal from the salt up but I was willing to make an exception in this case.

Thankfully the container is labeled in Spanish. Unthankfully there is no English translation. My sub-rudimentary understanding of the Spanish language allowed me to translate part of the label which says that this particular variety would be good on chicken. Or would not be good on chicken. It definitely says something about chicken. (Pollo means chicken, right?)

I went to the website,, in hopes of finding a little more information on the product but what I was greeted with instead was a giant picture of one of their products (orange chili salt which I'd love to try) and the odd phrase "yes, we build up something new..." translated into three languages. Not quite what I was expecting.

Through the magic of Google Translate I was able to decipher the seasonings added to this salt: Coriander seeds, green cardamom, tumeric, fenugreek, chili, black pepper, cayenne, cloves, and cinnamon.

I used the salt to coat and roast a head's worth of cauliflower florets. As an accompaniment I also roasted some potatoes (without the seasoning) then tossed them in a mixture of sour cream, cumin, and cilantro. For some color I wilted some baby spinach with garlic and olive oil. As a protein I made a curry crust for some lamb chops, seared them, then finished them off in the oven.

The cauliflower turned out even better than I'd thought it would. Jen commented that as a child she would only eat cauliflower liberally coated in cheese sauce. She said if she'd had this cauliflower things would have been different. I think she gives a child's palette too much credit.

After dinner research showed that this salt comes from the island of Mallorca. Mallorca, coincidentally, is the Catalan name for Majorca, the largest island of Spain. The company that produces these superlative salts was founded by Katja Wöhr. A Google search of that name returns a YouTube video of what appears to be Katja harvesting the salt. It also reveals a Facebook page for Katja Wöhr who appears to own this very company.

Know this: In 2010 my culinary mission will be to better learn basic Catlan cooking terms and master some of this interesting cooking.

Also, know this: A friend request has been sent.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mack(erel) The Knife (Because "Wholly Mackerel" was Too Obvious!)

This morning Jen went to get some milk for her coffee. When she opened the fridge she was greeted with a horrible surprise!

Jen complained about this incident in great details. She even insisted that the fish was "flopping around" in the fridge. I believe that this is an outright lie. Nonetheless she felt threatened by the presence of the fish. While I'd hoped to just leave it in the fridge indefinitely as a sort of pet/mascot, I decided I would have to take action and defend her from the fish's overt oppression.

I took action by zesting an orange and a lemon and then coating the inside and outside of the fish with the zest, salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil. I stuffed the cavity with citrus slices, red onion, and parsley then roasted it in the oven. As an accompaniment: more potatoes from Kent, Connecticut.

After vanquishing the evil fish from the fridge it was me time. That meant celebrating with a victory Lion Bar. To the vitory go the spoils.

And the Lion Bars.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hawaii Five-Dough

My Vegan-Until-8-PM "diet" was going so strong that I actually went straight through for 48 hours as a vegan. All that abstinence had me craving meat and cheese so it was time to launch into a mildly carnivorous dinner plan.

For a salad I made a dressing with fig preserves, tahini, Dijon mustard, balsamic, and a little sesame oil. I tossed it with mixed greens, sliced red onion, grape tomatoes, and almonds. I had intended to purchase some fig-infused balsamic vinegar for this dressing but the $12.99 price tag scared me off. I'm sure it would have been great but my bank account enjoyed the plain old balsamic just fine.

I had purchased some ingredients to make an oddball hors d'oeuvre for a gathering last weekend. It never ended up coming together so I wound up turning it into Hawaiian pizza. I used thick slices of Black Forest Ham, mozzarella, fontina, sliced red onion, sliced tomato, pineapple, sliced green onion, and grated Parmiggiano to make the pizza.

Jen commented on having only experienced this dish as a child in Canada and that after moving to America this never seemed to be a pizza option available to her. I had definitely had my fair share of Hawaiian pizza growing up in Rhode Island. It turns out that Hawaiian pizza seems to have been invented in a pizzeria in Chatham, Ontario, a mere 180 miles away from where Jen grew up.

That is if Wikipedia is to be trusted. I can't find any secondary source to back that up. But that's okay. It's the internet! Things don't have to be properly researched or correctly reported. That, my friends, is the future of hard-nosed journalism (which, of course, I completely think this blog is).

The 10's are going to be great!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Year, Old Food

This week left us with a lot of leftovers to work through. Jen dutifully got to work the other day making a number of different soups.

For today's lunch we had the most successful of the soups, a chicken tortilla soup. I declared it one of the three tastiest bowls of soup I have ever had. When challenged to name the other two I could not. So let's just say that this was the best bowl of soup that has ever happened to me.

Jen also grumbled here way through a good round of dumpling-making. Just enough time had passed since the last time she made dumplings for her to forget how much she hates making dumplings. The last time she made dumplings was on a snowy Valentine's Day weekend in 2003 when she was living on 34th Street and I had come to visit and got stranded in New York. This batch was even better than the the 2003 vintage. I can't wait until 2017. We're going to have some amazing dumplings then.

During the 2003 blizzard we were also working our way through ingredients in the fridge and it culminated in a meal of odds-and-ends quesadillas. Tonight, unaware of the growing 2003-connection, used a similar tactic to turn the leftovers in the fridge into quesadillas. Tortillas form the soup, roasted butternut from the cod a few nights back, fontina cheese (which I'd purchased for some screwball dish I was going to make this weekend but never got around to), cilantro, tomato, avocado, lime, and sour cream made up the dish.

As a dessert we finally removed our Christmas tree which resulted in this catastrophe you see before you.

You may be thinking, "Nate, when did you have lunch? I thought you were supposed to be vegan until 8!"

Well, dummy, it's Sunday! Vegans are allowed to eat meat on Sundays!

Don't you know anything about alternative diets?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Have a ‘Gansett!

I got a few delightful items tonight for another meal ready in 20 minutes. Take that Rachael Ray!

I got these tasty little guys for a song -- a song called $3.99 a pound! Boo ya! They're pink shrimp from the Gulf of Maine. I cooked them up with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and a little parsley for garnish. The best $2.95 I've ever spent on a food item in my life. They're only in season for a few weeks a year so I had to make hay while the sun was shining. Shrimp hay! Yoink!

For the main course: I roasted a cod loin along with some organic red thumb potatoes from Kent, Connecticut. They were tasty. The outside resembles a red thumb. Go figure! The inside resembles the interior of a purple and white-speckled alien thumb. That I was not expecting.

I also quickly threw together a relish with grape tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers, parsley, olive oil, and cracked pepper.

To accompany this fine feast I enjoyed a Narragansett Beer. (Warning: You must be 21 to visit their website. No matter how many times I randomly go to a website for some form of alcohol I am always amazed by how crazy this is!)

Narragansett is something my father would occasionally have around in tall silver (or was it gold?) cans in the fridge that was in the garage. My father-in-law romanticized this beer which was advertised on the Red Sox games he was miraculously able to pick up on the radio while in Canada as a youth. As the latter of the two fathers once put it: it's best served as cold as possible. My estimation is that 33 degrees is the warmest this beer should be allowed to reach before being consumed.

The beer is pictured here with a glass of water. In a blind taste test you would stand a 50% chance of guess which one was which.

It's a beer from my home state, and for that I am grateful. Rhode Island has not exactly exploded onto the scene with many alternatives in the past 120 years. It may not match your hoity-toity-hoppy-unfiltered-microbrews in the New England area but 'Gansett's got it where it counts.

It's made on honor and sold on merit. It says it right on the bottle!

That's the 'Gansett promise.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Vegan Until 6:00 8:00!

Hey, it's a new year! Why don't you follow our blog? You might win a kick ass T-shirt!

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. Even hearing a group of people discuss their resolutions makes me uneasy. Resolving to give up things you love in their entirety is a path to two guaranteed outcomes: failure and unhappiness. Those are two things that I don't want to start off the new year with.

Most people will mistake my new food trend as a resolution. Timing is everything. It's not a resolution. It's merely a response to a month of excess which tops all the previous Decembers of my life. I simply found after a month-long Christmas celebration that I felt repulsed by the idea of consuming another ounce of butter, cream, beef, or otherwise fatty cooking. This usually sneaks up on me around the beginning of January but this year it reached dizzying new heights.

I recalled something Mark Bittman had talked about which I remembered as "Vegan Until 5" which was a method of remaining vegan until dinner. It turns out he actually referred to this practice as "vegan till 6." Whatever you call it, the practice remains the same: nothing but fruit, vegetables, grains, and legumes until dinner.

The practice is shockingly easy, particularly when your body is begging for a reprieve from a month's worth of dietary excess. Most people scoff and say things like, "Nate, you are skinny!" "Why would you be concerned about fat intake?" "Never trust a skinny chef!" "Whatsamatta? You no a-like a-my mama's lasagna?"

This reaction is understandable. However, this is not a diet, nor is it a means of losing weight. It's also not a political statement, a passing off of processed foods, or an attempt to save the world from the devastating affects of cow farts. It's just a sort of "necessary cleanse" to get my gastrointestinal tract to stop hating me and put me back on its Christmas card list.

With that being said today I survived on a hummus, avocado, and spinach sandwich; tea; and my old favorite the peanut butter and jelly.

For dinner tonight I started it off healthy with this salad of baby spinach, golden berries -- an ancient berry with copious amounts of antioxidants and riboflavinoids (who can say no to riboflavinoids?) -- raw almonds, blueberries, red onion, grape tomatoes, lemon, and olive oil.

The main course: a pizza with baby spinach, ricotta, roasted butternut squash, and fresh sage leaves.

And just in case I was feeling a little too virtuous for my fairly healthy day I finished it all off with a tall glass of eggnog!

Hey, that stuff isn't going to go good just sitting in the fridge!

* Just probably not from this website. Good luck with that though!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Jen and Nate's Rockin' New Year's Eve

While the Black-Eyed Peas sung their ridiculous song about how they are "so 3008" and I am, apparently, "so 2,000 late" I sat in traffic on a snowy route 95, trying to make my way home to have a 2,000 late dinner with Jen. I was a little 2,000-hungry and dealing with the Connecticut drivers made me a little 2,000-pissed as well.

Jen started off dinner with this delightful apple and beet salad with capricho de cabra, pecans, and grapefruit vinaigrette. It was hard to tell if I was more proud of the deliciousness or the skillful use of multiple items that we needed to work out of our fridge before leaving town.

To accompany dinner we enjoyed the 2007 Lemberger from Tabor Hill which we acquired in Michigan this summer.

I was supposed to bring home a loaf of crusty bread but since I am terrible and forgot we thawed out some of Jen's rolls from the freezer. While untraditional they made a nice accompaniment to the rouille.

Jen made an exceptional bouillabaisse which, as it turns out, is far easier to make than it is to spell.

We got a tiny piece of tenderloin from a farm in Vermont (well, distributed by a farm in Vermont to a local market here). Jen made some frites and aioli to accompany the tenderloin. The tenderloin was quite tasty and much less painful than last year's beef disaster.

The only "champagne" I could muster up was this tiny bottle of super-cheap, overpriced, lousy sparkling wine. It was sufficient to ring in the new year but insufficient in making either of us comment: "Hmmm, that was reasonably tasty."

Watching the horrifically bad "Dick Clark's Rockin'ly Bad New Year's Eve Travesty" was the perfect cap to the evening. While I'm going to have nightmares about J. Lo's performance, I will sleep soundly knowing that terrible New Year's Eve "specials" haven't changed a bit in the past 30 years or so.

Happy New Year, everyone! Let's hope that 2010 brings some sort of community supported agriculture back to this site!