homemade vegetable broth

The official name of this broth is “garbage soup,” but I didn’t think that would entice anyone’s taste buds.  When I first heard about garbage soup, I’ll admit, I was disgusted, but intrigued.  It’s named so because the key ingredients are scraps typically composted, thrown out or *gasp* fed to the garbage disposal.  Turns out, I’ve never tasted a better soup base.

Aside from the flavor possibilities, one wonderful thing about this “recipe” is that there are no rules as to what goes in, or how to cook it.  Onion, garlic and carrot peels, mushrooms, pumpkin innards left over from carving, celery root, leek ends, broccoli, peppers, fresh herb stems, turnips…  just about anything.  I’ve even used apple peel before!  A true experiment, if you will.

 

Materials (original idea and recipe by my dear friend, Sue)

any vegetable scraps (I take it easy on potato peels; too much starch)
fruit scraps (optional)

 

Protocol

1. Save produce leftovers in a plastic bag or airtight container, and place in freezer.  Add peels and scraps as they remain from vegetables used for other meals, and return to freezer until you’ve collected enough.

What’s enough?  That’s up to you and how much soup you’ll be making.  I started with a 1-gallon plastic bag full of produce peels, and yielded about 3 cups soup.  But again, there is no right or wrong.

2. When ready to make the broth, bring water and veggies (about 2:1 ratio, meaning for every 2 cups water, add about a cup of peels) to a boil, lower heat and allow to simmer.  The longer, the better, so the veggies have a chance to work their magic.  That’s it!

Once strained, the broth can be used immediately, or frozen for future use.  To make smaller servings of the soup base, pour cooled broth into an ice cube tray, and freeze until needed.  And once boiled and strained, the vegetables can still be composted.

So long, Buillon cubes!

 

an indian feast: curry red lentils, palak paneer, yellow basmati rice with cashews & spiced yogurt

One of my favorite cuisines, aside from Mexican food, potato chips and Nutella, is Indian.  I used to eat it often in California, but haven’t found a spectacular Indian restaurant in Portland yet, and I refuse to pay $47 for a meal to experiment.  So I’ve resorted to making my own.  Also, my dad likes it and requests “the Indian food” each time he visits.  So for more reasons than just one, it was important to have a staple feast recipe on hand.

Let’s start with the lentils.  Lentils are awesome.  Brown, red, yellow, black (also known as Beluga)… They’re all filling, full of protein, and they pack a fiber punch.  The other important players for this feast are paneer (a non-melting, mild-flavored Indian cheese that resembles firm tofu), spinach, yogurt, and a whole list of fragrant spices.  When I first attempted to cook anything Indian, I was intimidated by the lengthy list of ingredients each recipe called for.  It seemed that 9 out of 13 items was a spice, which deterred me every time.  This was before I discovered bulk spice bins.

Heard of cardamom?  It’s found in many Indian dishes, smells divine, and costs $50/pound.  My beloved New Seasons wants someone’s hourly wage for a 2-ounce jar, but the per recipe cost is in pennies (if purchased from the bulk bin).  I hope you don’t find this meal intimidating.  But do plan.  Always.

Let’s cook!

Materials and Protocols (serves 2-4, depending on hunger level)
Before I go on, a quick note: Kosher salt to taste in everything!

Lentils

1 Tbsp oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1 Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp mustard powder
1 cup lentils, any variety can be used (note: brown will require more liquid and a longer cooking time)
4 cups vegetable broth, or water and an appropriate amount of bouillon, or just water if you don’t have either
1/2 (8 oz.) can coconut milk (full fat or “lite”)

Heat oil in a large, heavy pot.  Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add spices, stir and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add lentils and stock/water, coconut milk and stir.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cover.  Stirring every 10 minutes or so, cook for 30-60 minutes.  NOTE: Cooking time of lentils depends on the type used.  Brown lentils contain a super high amount of fiber and usually take an hour to cook, whereas, yellow and red lentils are done in about 30 minutes because they contain slightly less fiber.

Palak paneer (palak = spinach, and paneer can be substituted with firm tofu to make the dish vegan)
1-2 Tbsp oil (I always use extra virgin olive, but go with the highest quality you have available)
1-1.5 lbs paneer, cubed
1 pound frozen spinach, thawed, blended in food processor
2 tomatoes, puréed
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 can coconut milk (I use full fat, but the “lite” works just as well)

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan.  Add paneer, cover and cook, gently stirring often, until most of the cubes have browned.  When cooked, place the paneer onto a few paper towels, and set aside.  Reuse the same pan to heat a teaspoon of oil.  Add tomatoes and spices, and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add spinach, stir and cook covered, on medium heat, for 5-7 minutes.  Add coconut milk, paneer, stir and lower heat to a gentle simmer.  Cook for an additional 12-15 minutes.

Rice
2 cups basmati rice, cooked
1 Tbsp oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp curry
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 cup cashews, or peanuts, coarsely chopped

Heat oil on medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add spices and nuts, stir and cook for another minute.  Toss into the rice, and stir well to combine.

Yogurt
2 cups plain yogurt (I use Greek, but it requires water to make it a bit runny)
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cardamom

Put all ingredients into a bowl and whisk together.  Sprinkle with a bit of cardamom prior to serving.

 

panzanella

Earlier this week, a woman at work brought in a box of what looked like 800 tomatoes.  Her vegetable garden is very giving, and, evidently, so is she.  The day this bounty came in, I didn’t want to be greedy so I took only three tomatoes, which is just what I’d need for a Margherita pizza or a Caprese salad.  But as the week continued, even though fewer and fewer tomatoes remained, there were still a lot left.  That’s when I took more.  Like, six more.  Don’t tell anyone.

Let’s make a salad.  A salad with bread!

Materials (serves four, or two famished souls, adapted from Ina Garten)

Salad
about 6 cups of peasant bread (or a baguette if you like crust), cut into 1-inch cubes
3 Tbsp olive oil
3-4 cups tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 English cucumber, diced
1/2 red onion, sliced into
20 sprigs of fresh basil, coarsely chopped

 

Vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp ground mustard, or Dijon mustard
1 large garlic clove, finely diced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

 

Protocol

1. In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium, add bread pieces and stir to coat.  Cook until browned, stirring as necessary to prevent burning (took me ~10 minutes).  Set aside.

2. To make the vinaigrette, add all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

Notice how the oil and vinegar don’t separate as they usually do?  The addition of mustard (a bonding agent due to its physical properties, which I could go into, but you might cry of boredom) creates an emulsion, which is a dispersion of molecules of one substance  (oil) in another (water) in which it’s usually not soluble.  In other words, two solutions that wouldn’t usually comingle, are now close friends.  Other culinary emulsifying agents include egg yolks and honey.  In case you don’t already know, science is too cool for words.

3. Before serving, toss all vegetables in the vinaigrette, add bread and toss again.  Feta is a nice addition, but not necessary or called for.  My sous chef (read: husband) loves cheese, so I sprinkled some in last minute.  I enjoyed the scant 1/2 cup of what was left over the next day, and though the bread was a bit soggy, the salad was still wonderful.

By the way, last I looked, at least 18 more tomatoes were still looking for a new home.

a trip to outer space & dill ranch dressing

During last week’s impromptu trip to San Francisco, I had the chance to dine at a restaurant I haven’t been to since college.  At the risk of aging myself, that was circa 2001.  Adorned in pink, 50s style diner seating and glitter, Saturn Café serves up a bowl of awesome in every dish.  What I most remember is, of course, the condiment that I drowned my steak fries in.  Holy dilly mayo!  The best ranch dressing in the Universe was back in my life!  Fortunately for my shrinking clothes, they don’t sell it.  But now that I was reminded of the ranchy goodness, I couldn’t let another eleven years pass before I have it again.  I had to make my own.

This recipe will probably evolve over time, but right now, it’s the closest thing to the best ranch dressing I’ve ever known.  I made about a pint tonight, and between two dinner salads, a mere few tablespoons remain.  Assuming you are more sensible and have leftovers, this dressing can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge (or as we say in the lab, “the 2-8″) for up to a week.

 Materials

2/3 cup buttermilk (if you prefer a thicker dressing, add less)
3/4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp mayonnaise (don’t even bother with the reduced stuff)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp red onion
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp fresh parsley
2 Tbsp fresh dill
1 Tbsp fresh chives
1/2 tsp cayenne

 

Protocol

1. In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together. If your taste buds tell you to do so, add more salt.  Dip, pour or drink- I won’t tell.

asparagus & gruyere tarts

Every now and then (OK, more often than that infers), I prefer a simple dinner– a dinner that requires little time standing in front of a hot stove, especially if it’s already a hot Summer day.  I don’t own or use a microwave oven, so poison-blasted meals, no matter how quick and easy, are never an option.  By the way, a hot day is anything over 81.

Today I was in dire need of groceries, but in no state to devote the usual 45 minutes it takes to plan out two weeks’ worth of meals, write down the necessary ingredients, and reorganize the list based on the items’ locations within the store.  Yes, I really do all that, and it’s a super time and money saver.  The fastest part of this routine is the grocery store attack, but much like my own house, my go-to store is undergoing a remodel, and things are not where they used to be.  Story of my life these days.  Hence, the need for a quick and easy dinner. And hopefully some leftovers for the next day.

Enter tarts.  I had sweet plans for this dough, but I can’t always have Nutella for dinner.

 

Materials (for 12 small tarts, adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 package commercial puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed in fridge overnight
2 Tbsp flour
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 pound finely shredded Gruyere cheese
~ 1 pound fresh asparagus (or frozen, if you’re absolutely desperate, and New Seasons just ran out and won’t have any until tomorrow)
salt and pepper to taste
balsamic reduction

 

Protocol

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Place pastry sheets onto a floured surface, and cut into 12 equal rectangles.

3. Lightly press using your fingers, and, using a knife, score each rectangle about 1/4 of an inch from the edge.

4. Brush each with egg, cover with a generous amount of Gruyere, and sprinkle with freshly ground salt and pepper.

5. Top with four to six asparagus spears (cut ends to fit on pastry), and place into oven.

6. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown.

To make the balsamic reduction, pour 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar into a small, heavy bottomed pot and put on medium to low heat.  Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the consistency is slightly thinner than you want it.  Remove from heat.

Drizzle balsamic reduction onto a plate and rest pastry into the pool of sweet tarty love.  Dip, swirl and engulf.

tarragon egg salad

Many trips to my local New Seasons involve my stalking of the deli area in search of something ready-made, something I could easily whip up at home, but would rather not at the time.  Don’t judge.  We all fall prey to fast food.

Or in my case, egg salad.  It’s light and creamy, and the flavor of this particular one was unlike any other egg salad I’d ever had.  A quick flip to the label revealed tarragon.  Ah yes, tarragon, that’s what was different.  I’ve always used just mayonnaise, mustard and sweet Hungarian paprika.  Lots and lots of mayonnaise…  Let’s go on a tangent.

If you know me, you know how I feel about mayo.  Not just mayo, but all condiments.  Even all non condiments that can used as such, i.e. cream cheese, butter and salad dressing.  A friend fondly remembers a college moment when I couldn’t decide between butter and mayo on a sandwich, and ended up with both.  Ah, that was a delightful time.  I could have both, and the calories didn’t seem to count.  But things are different these days…

So today I was determined to try a different spice and create a less oily version that would still satisfy my mayonnaise infatuation.  I tried plain yogurt.  And was pleasantly surprised.

 

 

Materials

6 eggs, hard-boiled
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/8 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp red onion, diced
1 green onion, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh parsley
1 tsp tarragon
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

 

Protocol

1. Peel hard boiled eggs, and smash whites and yolks using a fork into a bowl.

2. Add all other ingredients, and mix well.  That’s it!

 

You can enjoy your egg salad atop bread, crackers, corn chips (best choice at midnight) or by the spoonful- whatever your heart desires!  Today, a toasted jalapeno cheese bagel turned out to be the most suitable vehicle for egg salad delivery.