Sunday, June 29, 2008

Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Casserole

I'm taking the next step in learning how to cook - limiting myself to cooking with only what I have on hand in my kitchen. This is born partially out of my desire to simplify my cooking and my life, and partially out of gas being $4 a gallon and not wanting to make special trips to the grocery store.

We got a head of cabbage in our CSA basket a couple weeks ago. I have never cooked with plain cabbage (I have used Napa cabbage before though), so this also sat in my fridge for a while as I tried to figure out what to do with it. I found this recipe and it fit the bill. I do like cabbage rolls - my parents used to make them when I was younger - so the fact that this was a "lazy man's version" was very appealing. I had some ground turkey and ground beef leftover from recipes gone by in the freezer, so I mixed those together to brown. I doubled the vinegar and brown sugar to give it a little more flavor. I didn't have crushed tomatoes, so I used a can of whole tomatoes that I cut up, and a can of diced tomatoes. Instead of garlic powder I sauteed a clove of garlic and threw that in.

This was good, for cabbage. I wouldn't go out and buy a cabbage just to make this recipe, but if I found myself in possession of another cabbage, I would make this again. I think I overcooked the cabbage, and it was a little too wilted. I think if the cabbage was more firm I would have liked this more. The caraway seeds definitely give this that "cabbage roll" taste - the flavor took me back to my parent's kitchen. So - for those of you who like cabbage rolls, this is a nice way to enjoy the flavor with much less of the work.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Spaghetti with Sauteed Kale, Walnuts, and Garlic Scapes

In our last CSA basket we got two things I have never eaten or cooked before: kale and garlic scapes. I had never even heard of scapes before so I had no idea how to use them. Apparently they are the little green shoots that come up before the garlic bulb develops cloves, and you can chop them off and eat them. Kale is a dark leafy green vegetable (i.e., really really good for you). They all kind of sat in my fridge for a little while as I tried to find some recipe to try them in.

I just love the Web. I did a search on scapes to figure out how to use them, and not only did this recipe call for scapes, but wouldn't you know it, calls for kale too. Now, cooking a recipe off of a random blog is a little out of my comfort zone (no ratings, no comments by seasoned cooks... a little more of a gamble than cooking off of Epicurious or Food Network. Kind of like cooking from a cookbook.) (Did I just give away what generation I am from?). But sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind.

To my delight, this was actually quite delicious. I found the recipe a little hard to follow (starting on low heat, then going to medium, then going to low again seemed a little unnecessary). I ended up sauteing the scapes and garlic on medium heat, then I added the kale and left it on medium for a few minutes. When the kale started getting a little tender I decreased the heat to medium-low. I wasn't really sure when the kale was officially done, so I just let it get tender and tasted it. I would have never thought of adding toasted walnuts and leafy green vegetables to spaghetti, but the mix of flavors in this recipe complemented one another. I would happily make this again (and my husband would happily eat it). You could probably substitute shallots, garlic or scallions for the scapes if they are not available.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

My old college roomie graciously shared this cookie recipe with me after reading my lament about my lack of cookie-baking prowess. She makes this cookie all the time and seemed pretty confident that I would adore it. Now, I trust this friend, more so than some random blogger who recommends a recipe to me, so I rushed to the kitchen (okay, I thought about rushing to the kitchen, then made the cookie a week or two later).

My first attempt to make this cookie was a little bit disappointing. The original recipe says to bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes. I baked mine for about 19-20 minutes and they came out a little too crispy and dry. I know everyone has their cookie consistency preferences (chewy/crispy/cakey/raw/etc.), but I prefer chewy. Of course, that didn't stop me from eating all of the cookies. Oh, just kidding, not all of them. I let my husband have a few.

Now usually when I try a recipe once and it doesn't knock my socks off, I don't make it again. But like I said, I trust this friend and her judgment. If the cookie didn't come out as I had hoped, it was probably my fault and not the recipe. So I tried it again - this time letting the butter soften a little more, and cooking them for 15-16 minutes (just long enough for the edges to brown a little). The first sheet spread a little too much, so I put the rest of them in the fridge for 5-10 minutes before they went in the oven. I also just baked one sheet at a time (the first time I baked two sheets at once and rotated them halfway), and made the cookies a little bigger than I did the first time.

The result? Oh so chewy and delicious. I'm glad I didn't give up on this one. The cookies are substantial given all the oatmeal in them. They make a perfect dessert or afternoon snack. The first time I made them, they were still good 4-5 days later (and actually had softened up a bit), so they last a fair amount of time. So to my roomie - thanks for the recipe! I owe you one.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Spaghetti with Broccoli and Garlic

Sometimes you just want a simple meal. I lack simple meals in my culinary repertoire. I usually like a challenge in the kitchen and learning new things - but there are some nights when you just want something easy that is healthy and tastes good. There are also some nights when you have a head of broccoli in your fridge from your CSA and need to figure out some way to use it. Well, if you are in similar straits, I have just the thing for you - Spaghetti with Broccoli and Garlic. (Doesn't it seem fancier than it really is when you capitalize the nouns? I think so.)

I've never had broccoli rabe which is what the recipe calls for, but I think you can reasonably substitute regular broccoli (you will just have a milder flavor and more florets than leaves). Well even if you can't, we did, and it turned out just fine. I only used 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, because our tastebuds are wimpy. Next time I would use a 1/2 teaspoon. I also used less olive oil, as 1/2 cup just seemed excessive. This was a great, easy one-pot meal. My husband helped me, so it was on the table in about 20 minutes. (He boiled the water and put the spaghetti in the pot. I know that does not seem like a great amount of help, but I am terrible at measuring out spaghetti and never make enough - so I prefer to let him do that step and that way I don't get scolded when we don't have enough spaghetti.) I'll make this again when I don't have time to cook something more elaborate. I like having pasta recipes that don't require a tomato sauce - it's nice to have a little variety.

Panfried Tofu with Asian Caramel Sauce

I am always looking for new ways to cook tofu - we like the taste and are both vegetarian sympathizers (we prefer eating vegetarian meals, but I will never turn a good steak down). I found this recipe and was intrigued by the prospect of making caramel sauce. I have only made caramel once - when I made praline for Thanksgiving and kind of burned it - but I was armed with experience this time and knew to watch the sugar more closely.

If you have never had Vietnamese-style caramel sauce, here is your chance. It is not anything like candy caramel, if you are concerned about that. It is a nice mix of sweet and savory. I didn't have shallots so I substituted the white parts of scallions, which turned out just fine. I skipped the fried shallots/scallions and didn't miss them. I also skipped the fresh basil and mint - I usually have those growing out on my patio, but I got lazy this year. I steamed the bok choy for about five minutes. I have always wanted a steamer but have never gotten around to buying one - then I read a tip online to just use a metal strainer over a pot of water - why didn't I think of that? Well, whoever did - genius! Thanks for saving me money.

We both really enjoyed the flavor of this dish. The bok choy goes wonderfully with the tofu and sauce - I have never made bok choy but I love the flavor. I would make this again, but unfortunately the recipe failed the dishes test. There were too many pots and pans that my husband had to clean, and he was not that thrilled with that. One pot for the sauce, one pot for the bok choy, and two skillets for the tofu (I don't have one that's big enough for all the slices). And of course a chopping board or two. So - when we live overseas and have a househelper to clean our dishes, yes, I would make this one again. Until then I think my hubby would prefer my one-pot meals.