Roasted cauliflower with anchovies and capers

It’s 5pm on a Monday. You don’t have leftovers waiting for you at home. What do you do?

If you’re me, you make an easy, quick meal. And, if you’re me, you probably have all of the things you need for this dish in your house already.

Eat this cauliflower warm or cold, it’s satisfying and filling either way. You could toss in some linguini with a little of the pasta cooking water, a dash more olive oil and some parmesan and have a really delicious dish. Or, keep it simple and serve it with chicken as a side.

It only takes 30 minutes, 10 minutes of which is prep time and the rest is just waiting, hands-off time. Plus, it’s not the worst thing for you.

Ingredients:
A head of cauliflower, broken into florets of approximately the same size (you can also get precut cauliflower, fresh or frozen)
2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp capers (to your tastes)
2 cloves garlic
3 anchovy fillets, minced
A handful of parsley, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 F°.

Put the cut cauliflower into a large bowl, drizzle on the olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper. Spread evenly across a foil lined cookie sheet, then put it in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until cooked through. Some pieces will be lightly browned. Don’t burn it.

In the meantime, mince the garlic and anchovies and chop the parsley. Add the garlic, anchovies, and capers to the same bowl you tossed the cauliflower in. What olive oil remains will coat the ingredients.

When the cauliflower is tender, remove from the oven and transfer to the bowl. Toss to coat with the anchovy caper mixture and let sit quietly while you prepare the rest of your dinner. When you’re ready to serve, mix in the chopped parsley and enjoy! Easy.

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Kale Paneer

Palak paneer or saag paneer (used interchangeably from what I can tell) is my favorite Indian restaurant dish. It’s a delicious combination of what is essentially fried cheese cubes and creamed spinach. What’s not to love? … Aside from all the calories.

Something I’ve been making recently is a riff on this classic dish that substitutes kale for the spinach and is more a sautéed dish than a creamy, saucy one. This lightens the calories up a bit, which I like, and also makes it more agreeable as a standalone side dish that doesn’t require rice or naan to accompany it. I’m trying to reduce the amount of empty calories I eat, so not including rice or naan means I can save between 100 and 250 calories a meal.

This Kale Paneer is one of our favorites, and we make it often as part of a super supper that usually includes a protein like turmeric chicken or pork vindaloo and a pulse like lentil dal or chana masala.

This dish is also easily vegan-ized by substituting the paneer for firm, drained tofu, which is equally delicious. I made that version exclusively when I lived in China.

Ingredients:
1/2 lb or 8 ounces of paneer, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (it’s cheapest at New Seasons in my area)
5 cups of chopped kale, any variety (I like the curly, purple kind)
1 tbsp of grated fresh ginger or minced
3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tsp garam masala (see my recipe here)
1/4 cup of water
Salt to taste
2-3 tbsp peanut oil or ghee

Directions:
1. Heat 1 tbsp peanut oil or ghee in a large pan (that has a lid), sprinkle a quarter of the turmeric, some salt, and half the garam masala into the oil then immediately add the paneer cubes. Paneer doesn’t melt, don’t worry. Fry until golden brown on most sides, then remove to a separate dish.

2. Heat 1 tbsp peanut oil in the same pan. Add onions, ginger and garlic, plus the rest of the turmeric and garam masala, and sauté until onion is translucent.

3. Add the chopped kale and water, stirring to coat the kale with the onion mixture. Put the lid on the pan, turn the heat down a bit and let the water steam the kale tender.

4. Once the kale is just tender, remove the lid and let the water cook off. Taste and season – adding more salt or a tiny bit of grated garlic if it’s not punchy enough for you. Stir in the golden sautéed paneer and serve.

Enjoy!

Staples: What’s in my freezer

My freezer is my backup system.

Going shopping once a week requires that I use my freezer to store meat to cook later , but I also keep multipurpose fruits and vegetables in there, just in case.

A few tips + tricks:

Frozen fruits and veggies will contribute more liquid to your food than fresh ingredients will. For creamed spinach using frozen chopped spinach, this means I add less milk to the roux. For berry sauces, I just add a little lemon juice and no additional liquid.

Keeping bread in the freezer means you never throw out moldy or stale loaves. It does mean that the bread should always be sliced though. Whenever we want a sandwich or a piece of toast, we grab the number of slices needed and pop them into the toaster. 30 seconds later – toasty warm bread!

Use freezer Ziplocs to portion your meats into cooking sizes. I keep four pieces of skin-on chicken per bag, or 2 chicken breasts per bag. With other meats, I try not to put more than a pound in one bag. It makes it easier to defrost later.

Grating frozen ginger is much easier than grating fresh ginger.

Slice up the other half of that onion you didn’t use and throw it in the freezer. It’s easy, way better than letting it go to waste, and can save you if you ever accidentally run out of fresh onions.

Sausage thaws much faster than other meats because the fat that’s dispersed throughout it warms up quickly at room temperature. This fact makes it great to have on hand for emergency dinners. Run a package of sausage under cold water while you prep other things, and you’ll have it thawed enough to start browning in no time.

So, let’s get into it. Here’s what’s usually in my freezer.

Ingredient  Used in
Raspberries, strawberries or blackberries smoothies, baked goods, to cool mixed drinks, a quick topping for dutch babies
Chopped spinach smoothies, in soups, creamed spinach, scrambles
Sliced peppers and onions fajitas, scrambles, pastas, stirfrys
Sticks of salted butter always prepared for baking
Hot Italian chicken sausage  lasagna, tuscan bean kale soup, sausage and peppers
Skin/boneless chicken breasts  tacos, fajitas, fast lunches, chicken salad, you name it
Skin-on chicken leg quarters great for emergency dinners – baked with veggies
Mexican Longaniza sausage scrambled with eggs, fried with potatoes for sopes
Ripe bananas  banana bread, smoothies, 1 ingredient ice cream
A large knob of ginger grated for baked goods, sliced for chai tea, curries & stirfrys
Shelled edamame  as a side sauteed with bacon, in stirfrys,
Peas  pastas, tuna casserole, aloo matar, frozen as a snack
Sliced Bread all our bread is kept in the freezer so it never goes bad
Frozen treat (for emergencies) usually a sorbet or frozen yogurt (or frozen kefir)

What’s in your freezer?

Staples: Things in my fridge

When I moved to China I knew how to cook. I had no experience meal planning, though. I just always flew by the seat of my pants when it came to dinner.

Once I moved abroad, though, I had to learn how to make all my go-to meals basically from scratch. I wasn’t familiar with the pre-packaged foods there. It was hard to get started, but now I love making food with less mystery additives and more flavor.

We only go shopping once a week, so the things I buy need to last us all week and also not spoil before we’re ready to use them. It takes some practice.

Something essential we do around here is committing to staples. Making sure certain ingredients are always in our pantry, in the fridge and in our spice drawers ensures a smooth week of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Let’s go beyond the basics of milk, salted butter and mayonnaise. Here are the things I find essential to our weekly meals – some of these are a little unusual, but they are staples for our particular tastes. What are your fridge staples?

Ingredient  Used in
Eggs  easy and nutritious breakfasts, lunches and dinners
Better-than-Bouillon brand chicken and beef bouillon base sauces, soups, rice & grains flavoring, broth
Chipotles in adobo tacos, spread on a sandwich, dips, on top of beans
Cilantro Mexican or Indian foods, Pasta Emily
Ham sandwiches, breakfast scrambles, mix-in
Parsley pasta mix-in, sauces, spreads, salads
Romaine lettuce salads, on sandwiches, as lettuce wraps
Fermented chili bean paste (Dòuban) noodles, jianbings, stir fries, dip for potstickers
Celery snacks, for mirepoix base, fried rice
Tahini (sesame paste) hummus, Chinese noodles or hot pot, dressing
Baby carrots  snacks, for mirepoix base, grated for salads, baking
Lemon juice (bottled) desserts, salad dressing, sauces, fish, making jam
Corn tortillas breakfast tacos, enchiladas, chilaquiles, with beans,
Plain Greek yogurt with fruit, instead of sour cream, baking, tziziki
Green Onions salads, Asian sauces, salmon salad mix-in

Spiced Italian plum crumble

Right now, if I look out the window to the south, it’s blue skies. To the north, it’s grey clouds. It’s fall.

I was gifted 5 pints of Italian plums early last week and only managed to get through one pint by Saturday. So, it’s baking time. My go-to fruit recipe is a simple oat crumble (or crisp, or cobbler…whatever you call it) because it can be adapted to fit any fruit you have too much of. You also really don’t need a recipe for it, so it’s extra simple.

Change up the details depending on the occasion and time of year – use brown or coconut sugar instead of white (honey or molasses can work too), add orange or lime instead of lemon (or try apple cider vinegar in apple crumble), and change up the spices to match the occasion – you can even add herbs if you’re a fan of fruit + herbs like I am (like peaches and rosemary or strawberries and thyme.)

I try not to eat a lot of sugar – I usually use stevia in my coffee and in baked goods. It helps that I don’t really have a sweet tooth. That said, I do use sugar in this recipe because, for better or worse, I think real sugar lets the real flavor of the fruit shine. Still, this crumble is not as sweet as you might be used to. Adjust it to your own tastes and the fruit you have.

Any Fruit Crumble

For the fruit filling:
3 pints of ripe Italian plums
1/4 cup of white sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
A sprinkle of cardamom

For the topping:
1/2 a stick of salted butter
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 cups of rolled oats
1/4 cup of white sugar
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 tbsp cane or Demerara sugar
Cinnamon
Allspice
Cardamom
Pinch of salt

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, mix halved and pitted plums with other filling ingredients. Let sit while you prepare the topping.

Warm the butter. I do this in the microwave, but you could do it on the stove at very low heat. It shouldn’t be entirely melted, but more the consistency of loose frosting.

Mix butter and coconut oil with the 1/4 cup of white sugar. Add spices and a pinch of salt. Add more sugar or spices as you see fit. I trust you.

Note:
I really don’t measure the spices. I find it a bit tedious to spoon out precise amounts. I encourage you to taste as you go. Just remember -baked spices will be slightly stronger in the finished product and cloves, allspice and cardamom should be used with a less-is-more attitude as they can be quite strong and in large quantities, a bit bitter. You’ll be fine. 

Mix in the oats and stir until fully coated. This should be sort of like a paste, not a crumbly mixture.

Pour fruit mixture into an 8×8 inch baking dish, making sure to get all the juices that were released. Spread the topping over top the fruit. Sprinkle with sliced almonds, and then sprinkle generously with the cane or Demerara sugar – this will create a nice crunch on the top.

Put into your preheated oven and bake for about 30 minutes – until fruit bubbly and the top is golden brown. If you are unsure if your oven runs hot, check on it at about 15 minutes- you really don’t want to burn the almonds.

Serve warm or cold. With a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or little drizzle of cream. A cup of tea doesn’t hurt either.

Pasta Emily

This recipe comes from a Sunset Magazine Recipe Annual cookbook from 1989. Many 80’s cookbooks can be strange. Weird arrangements, odd garnishes, remnants of ‘haute cuisine’ elements from the 50’s… like aspics. Pasta Emily and its variations, however, are simple, tasty gems.

The recipe is found in the March section of the annual, with the heading Pasta for Breakfast because it includes you guessed it, eggs. I’ve never had it for breakfast, but I don’t think it’d take much convincing for me to try it. I make this regularly for lunch or dinner because I usually have all the ingredients on hand, it’s a one pot meal and it’s very fast. It always hits the spot. It makes dinner for two with a little leftover.

I grew up with this recipe and only recently looked at the actual printed directions in the book. I’ve never seen a more adorable set of recipe variations; there’s a Pasta alla Mama that all the others variations are are based, then, there’s Pasta Papa, Pasta Maxwell and Pasta Emily- a whole pasta family! My father and I just recently made one of the other members of the family, Pasta Papa, and it was equally delicious. I’ll include the other variations’ ingredients below… just to keep the whole family together.

Enjoy!

Pasta Emily
from Sunset Magazine’s Sunset Recipe Annual: 1989 Edition

Ingredients:
3/4 pound spaghetti (I love it with linguini)
3 tbsp butter or olive oil (or a mix)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium-large red or yellow onion, chopped
2-3 eggs, beaten (I generally do 2)
3-5 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (optional, and delicious)
1 or 2 tomatoes, diced
1 avocado, diced
a bunch of cilantro, chopped
Note: I sometimes add 2 slices of bacon, chopped

Directions:
1. Put large pot of salted water on to boil and cook pasta until al dente. Drain.
2. In the same pot, melt butter or add oil over medium high heat (or cook bacon slices, if using). Add garlic and onion and sauté until soft, about 1 minute.
3. Add drained pasta and mix well, aiming to coat the pasta with your hot butter or oil.
4. Add eggs and cheese if using, stir to coat pasta and cook until eggs are set, about 1-2 minutes. (Don’t overcook the egg, ew.)
5. Add tomato, avocado and cilantro and stir quickly, then take pan off of heat. Season with salt and pepper and eat!
I eat mine with lots of pepper flakes on top and extra cilantro. Yum!

Bonus Variations:

Pasta alla Mama includes everything in Pasta Emily up to the parmesan cheese, then adds parsley.

Pasta Papa is a heart-clenchingly delicious concoction of plus 2 links of hot Italian sausage crumbled, 3 slices bacon chopped into pieces, 3 garlic cloves, 2 tbsp chopped green onion, 3 eggs, chopped parsley and parmesan. It’s amazing!

Pasta Maxwell includes everything in Pasta alla Mama, then adds chopped smoked salmon and thinly sliced green onion. Mmm!

Taste of Sichuan in Beaverton

If you read this post from last week, you’ll know that I have China on the brain lately.

Most of my time in China was spent in or near Beijing, but I also spent one crazy year out West in Dujiangyan, a small town in Sichuan province.

It was the best of times…it was the worst of times. I think of that year very fondly.

I was 23, teaching art to sassy Chinese high schoolers, and obsessing about how to find butter in the small town I lived in. I made a lot of trips to local yarn stores and learned a lot of Mandarin knitting words. I used to ride to the closest yarn store on my little, bright green, electric scooter.

I lived just 3 blocks from a huge outdoor vegetable and food market, and made friends with a few of the stall owners. The lady who sold chicken who would cut the feet and head off a chicken for me once she saw me at the market. The old woman who sold smoke-blackened Chinese bacon slabs and thought my intensity in choosing one was hilarious. A particularly surly vegetable seller who chased after me to return my wallet when I left it at his stall.

The speed that people in Dujiangyan welcomed me into their community surprised me.

At that point, the apartment I shared with my boyfriend in Dujiangyan was the place I’d lived in the longest since I left home for my freshman year of college. Sometimes, I actually get a little…homesick for it, even though I was only there a year.

That’s why, as I was thinking about all the time I spent in China, I started to crave Sichuanese food. So we headed out to Taste of Sichuan in Beaverton.

Taste of Sichuan in Beaverton

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ◊

Good, authentic tasting dishes. We ordered WAY too much food, forgetting that the portions in the States would be so large. They were flexible with us when they realized we were familiar with Sichuanese dishes. Super nice staff. Minus one diamond for the long wait we had for our food, the higher cost of the dishes, and for being inconvenient to get to out in Beaverton.

Chao shou dumplings in spicy Sichaunese red oil – could have been a little spicier

Tea smoked duck – not too dry like some places, not quite smoky enough

Longbao dumplings – nice mild filling, good sauce

Dry fried tofu and green beans- really good tofu. Great texture.

Mung bean jelly in spicy sauce – really good, very authentic, super numbing!

Garlic fried bok choy – tasted EXACTLY like it’s made in China. A+.