chezpei.com

Trying to eat something delicious, each and every day.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Pesto Pasta and Brussel Sprouts

I was vegan today. I assure you, it was accidental. I'll make up for it tomorrow (evil laughter). But, as we all know, it's not terrible to go a day without meat if you eat a lot of tasty things. I had this for both lunch and dinner:

Pesto over curly elbow pasta, and a side of duck fat brussel sprous. Oh! Duck fat! I guess I wasn't vegan after all. For those who haven't tried cooking with duck fat, it's phenomenal! You only need a very small amount, about a teaspoon for several handfuls of brussel sprouts. Slice the sprouts into thin rounds, then scrunch them up a bit so there are different sized pieces. Add some carrots sliced into similarly sized circles. Heat up the duck fat over high heat, then add the vegetables and give everything a few tosses to coat the vegetables with fat. Add a tablespoon or two of water, cover, and let the vegetables steam for about a minute. Toss with the lid on to prevent scorching, but do allow some pieces to brown. Remove the lid and toss a few times to evaporate off any excessive moisture, and there you have it. An exceptionally tasty brussel sprouts dish, sweet and savory with nice burnt edges.

Paired with a generous fruit salad, this meal brought me up to 6 colors today (for those of you who are counting).

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Fruity Dinner

Except for my lovely one-on-one time with that sandwich earlier today, I spent the day driving around East Bay like a maniac, looking for plumbing and light fixtures and fielding phone calls from all kinds of vendors. By 5pm, I was grouchy and pooped.

Luckily, J was stuffed full of leftover pastrami sandwich so neither of us was really hungry. Instead of a real dinner we enjoyed a huge plate of fruit from LA. The satsuma tangerines are from my house and are a prized harvest each and every year. They're way bigger than satsumas from the market, and juicier and sweeter too (and free!). The guava's are from my brother-in-law's house; his father has a green thumb. The pears are from my aunt, but unfortunately she did not grow them. She just has a talent for selecting the best at the market.

We also had some homemade daikon cake that we brought back from LA. See? I only eat meat once a day. It's not so bad, although I did have a momentary craving for Popeye's for dinner. Yes, Popeye's. I like it!

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Salt N' Pepper Chips

I took homemade to a new level today: potato chips! I admit homemade potato chips is a little overboard, but I had a lot of potatoes and wanted to play with my Zyliss vegetable slicer.

I fried up three small Russet potatoes and we had them as a mid-afternoon snack today. They were really tasty; not as good as Kettle Chips but much more thin and crispy than most of the brands labeled "rustic" or "organic." I hate thick, crunchy chips!

The trick with potato chips is to soak the sliced potatoes in cold or iced water for an hour, then drain and dry them on paper towels. Heat up a wok of oil to over 350 degrees. Frying potato chips is easier than frying other foods because chips are paper thin; you don't have to worry about charring the outside before the center is cooked. The oil will sizzle when you put the potatoes in, then stop sizzling as the potatoes darken and lose moisture. When it's time to pull the potatoes out, you might be tricked into thinking the oil is cold because it won't sizzle at all. Don't be fooled; it's still very hot and you need to carefully transfer the chips to a baking sheet lined with paper towels or a flattened paper bag. Salt and pepper the chips before they cool, then eat when they are safe to touch!

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Semi-Veg Dinners

Red chard, I think, is one of the most beautiful vegetables out there. I just had to show a picture of it growing in the dirt, since none of us know what vegetables look like before they're lopped off and packaged for the supermarket. (photo courtesy of wikipedia).


It's been another week of not eating out, but I'd thought I'd share the vegetable-intensive dinners of two unabashed carnivores. We're not shy about eating meat, but I do try to follow a few rules. I try to eat meat once a day, I buy everything I can from the farmers market, I rarely eat canned or boxed foods, and the hardest thing to remember: I try to eat five different fruits and vegetables a day. You'd think that with three meals a day, eating five different plants would be the easiest thing on earth. But it's hard! Let's see how I did this week, at least in terms of dinner.

MONDAY: Spaghetti and Meatballs
-the meatballs had parsley, onions, and garlic in them. The sauce had tomatoes and basil. I also had a romaine salad. That's four kinds of vegetables. I think I ate an apple for dessert. Barely five.

TUESDAY: Pork Chashu
-potatoes, carrots, and onions in the braise, and water spinach as a side. Pears for dessert. Again, that's barely five.

WEDNESDAY: Vegetable Spring Rolls
-we did really good this day! Spring rolls filled with carrots, mint, red lettuce, and egg; blanched gai lan (Chinese broccoli), and stir fried potatoes and carrots. I had a persimmon for dessert, which brought me up to seven. Seven!!!

THURSDAY: Butternut Fennel Soup
-I haven't made dinner yet, but the plan is a hearty soup with fennel, butternut squash, carrots, onions, parsley, garbanzo beans, and chard stems. As sides I'll serve poached eggs in a bed of braised chard and a plate of sautéed lions' head mushrooms. If I do fruit for dessert again we'll be at seven (eight if you count beans), and if I serve a side salad we'll easily reach nine or ten.

The lesson here is this: eating five plants a day becomes easier if you don't eat meat. Look at the days we ate meat: there wasn't much room left for leafy greens. We've gradually decreased the amount of meat we eat over the years, and made a pretty concerted effort the last few months to really pump up the vegetable eating these last few months. That's more money in the bank for good, tasty, delicious meat (beef, anyone? Seriously, I could never give up beef--unless it was all replaced with buffalo).

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Lambs Quarters

Today I present another nutritional powerhouse: lambs quarters! The guy at the farmers market referred to it as wild spinach, and it wasn't until I looked it up that I realized this was the wild green I'd so often read about but always forgot to look for at the market. Lambs quarters are basically a weed that goes for $1 a bundle at normal farmers' markets. Hit up a fancy shopping arena like the Ferry Building, however, and I'm sure you're paying anywhere from $3-6 for the same handful of greens.

Weed status notwithstanding, lambs quarters are one of nature's super foods. They are more nutrient dense than regular spinach, and rank up there with nettles and purslane as being ridiculously chock full of vitamins, antioxidants, and so on--wild vegetables are just better for you, there's no two ways about it. Excited by our new find, we sauteed a huge bunch of these in sage and garlic brown butter and ate it with rice and some sauteed mushrooms. See? I told you we are practically vegan these days.

*photo courtesy of modernbeet.com

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Vegan Fish

There's a whole style of Chinese cuisine that centers around fake meat products. While I can't say it's a favorite style of mine and I don't think vegetarianism should automatically be equated with meat substitutes, I do really enjoy vegan fish.

I prepare this the way I would prepare real fish filets: sear on both sides, then simmer in a combination of water, soy sauce, sugar, ginger, and rice wine. In the last ten seconds, add thinly shredded green onions and toss lightly before plating. The texture of this fake fish is a little stringy and a little chewy, and it actually has a nice savory flavor. The seaweed "skin" is a nice touch.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Vegetable Curry

The sudden change in weather was a call for comfort food.

Easy vegetable curry. I diced up seven different vegetables and sauteed them in a scant tablespoon of olive oil. Then I added enough water to cover all the vegetables, brought the water up to a boil, then turned it down to a simmer until the vegetables were almost cooked through. Then I stirred in two cubes of Golden Curry to create a chunky curry with plenty of sauce. You can get as creative as you want with the vegetables you use, but this time I used: acorn squash, purple bell peppers, carrots, onions, red potatoes, yellow potatoes, and celery.

This time, I added a vegetable that is brand new to me: moringa. It seems to have originated in the Tamil region of India, and is popular throughout South and Southeast Asia as well as Africa. The leaves are small, tender, and almost flavorless. I would say it's most similar to spinach, but really has no taste except perhaps an extremely mild cucumber flavor. It's very high in a variety of nutrients, contains a lot of protein for a tree, and often credited with helping impoverished regions stave off starvation. I think, unless it's seasonal, this is going to be a cheap and versatile leafy addition to our diet.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Now in Liquid Form

I love liquid sustenance: soups, teas, mate, coffee, milk, soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, smoothies, milkshakes, slushies...you get the idea. But when it comes to juice, I'm more picky. I barely tolerate citrus juices in paper cartons, and I almost never drink any other kind of packaged juice (Mott's? Ick.)

But I do love fresh fruit juice, whether it's from a market or homemade. I recently started juicing at home, and it's been a nice addition to our meals and as part of snacks. Here's a simple recipe for about two and a half cups of juice (three times what's in the photo):

  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1/2 large cucumber
  • 1 small apple
  • 1 small beet
Scrub everything very clean and juice everything--skin, seeds, and all. The above is my standard combination: an apple, a carrot, a beet, and something green. It's a nice balance of colors and nutrients, and results in a drink that looks and tastes pleasant. No matter what people tell you, no one likes drinking green or brown sludge.

If you have a hard time wrapping your mind around vegetable juices, use a large apple or add some other fruits. Pears and oranges work nicely, or make your juice and throw it in a blender with a banana to make a smoothie (but please don't put a banana in your juicer).

If, on the other hand, you're feeling adventurous, add more vegetables. I've used celery, broccoli, or a very (VERY) small amount of bittermelon without J detecting it. He's very picky about odd combinations, but if you have a ripe apple it pretty much masks all strange flavors.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Home Again

I've been absent from the blog for a week entertaining relatives in SF and the Russian River. It's been a fun but tiring week! We went vegetarian tonight as a start to our upcoming week of detox.

Heirloom tomatoes from Andy's Market in Sebastapol, topped with their fresh mozzarella and the standard caprese salad ingredients.
French bread smeared with Andy's Italian torte spread, which is a tricolor block of mozzarella, pesto, and pureed sundried tomatoes.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Basic Vinaigrette Tutorial

A lot of how-tos this week. I got a lot of questions while on vacation about how I do this and that, which of course is incredibly flattering--but not as flattering as when people actually try it my way and let me know how it goes! (hint hint) Every avid cook likes to know if her directions actually work.

Anyhoo, this is tonight's basil vinaigrette. Most people buy salad dressing in a bottle, but it's so easy to make a small amount. Not only do I get to change up the flavors every time, it helps me use up the vinegars and olive oil that tend to just sit around in my cabinets. Call me crazy, but the fewer bottles lying around the better.

Vinaigrette is an emulsion, so creating a creamy vinaigrette requires two things: the right proportions, and agitation. Here are the basics you'll need:

  • one part acid. This can be vinegar, lemon juice, citrus juice, or a combination of the three
  • three parts oil. This is usually the olive oil of your choice. Use light oil if you want the flavor to be delicate, and extra virgin if you want the grassy olive oil flavor to shine. You can also use infused oils
  • salt and sugar to taste
  • optional: herbs, garlic, ginger, peppers, nuts, fruits, and/or other flavoring agents
If you whisk the acid and oil together very quickly, you'll soon have a creamy vinaigrette. The rest is bonus! But for those who want a real recipe, this is what I did for my basil vinaigrette:

  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 leaves basil, chopped finely
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4/tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
I combined the basil, pepper, salt, and sugar in a bowl and ground them together with the back of a spoon. Then I added the vinegar and mixed until the sugar and salt dissolved, Using a whisk, I drizzled in the olive oil and whisked furiously until the dressing was creamy. Then I poured it over some mixed greens and heirloom tomatoes.

Having one fresh herb or brightly flavored fruit really takes your vinaigrette to the next level. Last weekend, for example, I pureed a single perfect strawberry into a bowl of dressing for a group of 11. Not much of an investment, but suddenly we were dining on strawberry vinaigrette instead of just eating olive oil and vinegar.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Zha Jiang Mien

Would you believe dinner tonight is vegan? I don't always follow my own rules, but I try to eat meat only once a day. Today, I succeeded.


This is my first attempt at zha jiang mien, a Chinese noodle dish that's usually a mix of vegetables atop a meat and tofu sauce. It's Chinese spaghetti, if you will. Today, I used a mix of wood ear mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, and pressed tofu in lieu of pork. Since the meat version doesn't require much pork to begin with, the difference in taste is not unbearable even to meat lovers.

The biggest pain in the you-know-where about Chinese cooking is finely slicing so many vegetables. This is after already dicing up tofu, mushrooms, onions, and garlic for the sauce!

But it's worth it. The noodles are topped with sauce, then vegetables, and everything is mixed together while the noodles and sauce are still hot. The result is a big variety of colors, flavors, and textures.

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