I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Veggie and "meatball" stroganoff

"Love food hate waste" is the name of a website after my own heart.   I used to live somewhere with compost collection, but now have moved elsewhere, and -- living in a flat -- any bad, spoiled, or otherwise no good food is destined for the dump.  A very sad end to their salad days to be sure.

I try to minimize such waste.  I freeze things whenever I can, try to be creative with my leftovers, and eat through as much as possible ("You mean that slice of cake will go to waste if I don't eat it?  I suppose for the good of all humanity I will force it down.  Oh the pain.").  

This particular dish came about from the last quarter of a tub of creme fraiche.  It began its days contributing to a pasta sauce, expended yet more of itself on some strawberries and brown sugar, but spent the rest of its life languishing in my fridge without a purpose.  It was getting to the point where I would either have to use it or throw it out, so I began fishing around the kitchen for other ingredients to accompany it to its final destination.

I decided to go with something warm and rich to balance out the tangy creaminess of the creme fraiche.  A little paprika and some tomatoes would make a delicious sauce for something, and the combination made me think of beef stroganoff.  No beef in the house, but a few sausages from the freezer made a good substitution.  Some vegetables rounded out the meal, and voila: waste not, want certainly not.

Veggie and "meatball" stroganoff

1 tsp. olive oil
1 leek, cleaned, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 carrot, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. each hot smoked paprika and sweet paprika
Approx. 2 C. cauliflower florets
3-4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped, or 1/2 can chopped tomatoes and juice
1/4 C. low fat creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
1/4 C. tomato paste
1/2 C. water
2-4 sausages, as desired, cut into bite-sized pieces.
1/2 C. zucchini, sliced into thin half moons
1 tsp. salt
Squeeze of lemon

Saute leeks and carrots in oil for 5-10 minutes until soft.  Add garlic and cook until soft.  Add paprika and cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.  Add tomatoes.  Mix creme fraiche and tomato paste and add to pan with water.  Add cauliflower, then nestle the sausage among the vegetables and let the dish simmer until the sausage is cooked through.  Add zucchini, cook until just tender.  Salt to taste.  

Garnish with parsley and a squeeze of lemon.  Serve over brown rice if desired, or noodles!

Serves 2-4, depending on size of appetite.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Bad picture good curry

Reading is a dangerous thing.  When I read Murakami, I need to stock up on soy sauce, mirin, and ginger.  When I read Balzac, out comes the brasserie and patisserie in my kitchen.  I haven't yet mastered Russian cuisine, partially because I have never managed to get through Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky.  One of these days...

For some reason, the last few books I've read have been set in India in the 19th century.  Intertwined with the narrative, I read description upon description of dals, chutneys and pickles, the method for making rotis or naan, how properly to cook rice, and the steamy heat of a curry cooked over a fire in a remote village.  My head filled with images of the Ganges, monsoons, small boats or palanquins on elephants, my tongue filled with turmeric and chili.  

Coming home one night with such a craving for spices and vegetables, but wanting something quick and light but satisfying, I looked through Anjum Anand's Indian Food Made Easy cookbook and found just what I was looking for.  A few tweaks -- in keeping with the spirit of her book -- and I was off.  I scarfed it down and had leftovers for lunch the next day.

It wasn't, however, until I cracked open my plastic container the next day that I really appreciated the recipe and decided it was worth recording -- hence the photo taken with my Blackberry.  The flavors had intensified and the aromas nearly transported me around the world to the land in my literature.  Proust would have been proud.

Bad picture, good curry

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp turmeric

¼ tsp red chili

1/3 C. dried shredded coconut plus hot water to cover

1 tsp minced ginger

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1 large potato, scrubbed and cubed

1 small zucchini, halved and sliced

1 can chick peas

2 C. chopped greens such as spinach, kale or chard

Add warm water to coconut and let soak.

Saute onion in olive oil until soft.  Add ginger and heat through.  Add spices and cook a few minutes until fragrant.

Add carrot and potato to pan and cook until nearly soft, then add zucchini and allow them to finish cooking together.  It may be necessary to add a bit of water to the pan to keep the vegetables from sticking.  Alternatively, speed up cooking times by boiling the potato in a separate pot while the onions soften, then add to the pan with the carrot.

Add chickpeas, greens, and coconut and water, then stir through to wilt greens and allow flavors to meld.

Serve with naan (or pita bread as in photo!) or rice if desired.

Serves 2.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Strawberry and rhubarb bread pudding

I had some old baguette and the last few inches of a loaf of homemade bread that were just on the far side of fresh, and not quite good enough for salvage in the toaster.  I cut it up into cubes with the intention of making Barbara Kingsolver's asparagus and morel bread pudding (which I think came by way of Deborah Madison).  Alas, no asparagus presented itself, so the bread went into the freezer.   

This past weekend, I had settled in for an afternoon of cooking and wanted to whip up something to finish off our lazy dinner.  I had bought some new season rhubarb and found myself with an extra box of early strawberries that I needed to use.  I wasn't really in the mood to make pie or short crust, and had slightly exhausted myself on crumbles this winter, but then remembered my bread cubes in the freezer.  I thought that a golden and puffy bread pudding, faintly scented with vanilla but grounded with a hint of ginger, would be the perfect showcase for these ruby-hued harbingers of spring.

What I hadn't quite taken into account was that, at that point, my bread cubes were really, really stale.  I whipped up my milk and cream mixture (I should have used Steph Chows'recipe!) and put the bread in to soak.  30 minutes later, the liquid was gone and the bread was still rather hard.  So more milk went in.  15 minutes later, yet more milk.  I have never seen anything retain so much liquid, with the possible exception of my swollen feet after a trans-atlantic flight.

Nevertheless, it all came out pretty well in the end.  I baked it with some brown sugar and almonds sprinkled on top, and drizzled just the last few drops of cream over before serving.  The rhubarb and strawberries held their own individual shapes and flavors, and my bread, gorged with dairy, held it all together.  Lesson learned: use frozen, stale bread cubes for bread crumbs unless you want to buy stock in dairy farms.

Strawberry and rhubarb bread pudding.

Day-old bread, cut into cubes, approx. 3 cups
2 eggs
1/2 C. half & half or single cream 1/2 - 1 C. low-fat milk -- add more or use less milk depending on how dry the bread is.  It should be quite moist by the time it is baked.
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 T. finely chopped crystalized ginger
1 1/2 C. rhubarb, sliced into 1 inch segments
1 1/2 C. strawberries -- left whole if small, or halved if larger, stems removed
1/4 C. slivered almonds
4 T. brown sugar
1 T. flour

Whisk eggs, cream, milk, vanilla, and ginger together.  Mix with bread in a large bowl and cover, letting the liquid absorb for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Chop rhubarb and mix with the flour and 2 T. brown sugar.  Cut up strawberries, mix with rhubarb, then stir through bread mixture.  If there is a large amount of liquid left in the bread soaking bowl, pour off before mixing with the fruit.

Spread mixture into a 9x9 in. non-stick metal pan, or lightly grease a glass or ceramic dish.  Strew almonds over the top, and then sprinkle with the remaining 2 T. brown sugar.

Bake at 350 until the bread is puffed and the rhubarb is cooked through.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Sunday night oxtail stew

It seems to me that, no matter how much you love your job, there will be the occasional feeling of the blues as the weekend draws to a close.  The thought of getting up the following day and starting the whir of the working week is just too much.  My perfect recipe for chasing away the Sunday afternoon dread is to spend some time in the kitchen.  Often I come out with a cake or some bread, but sometimes I need the long, slow cooking of a homey casserole, or the gentle rendering of some meat into soft and unctuous bites of stew.

Unlike most of my recipes, this is definitely not a quick weekday meal.  Easy, yes, but made for a lazy stretch of hours on a weekend.  This sort of cooking rewards the time with a comforting dinner and lunch the next day.

This past weekend, inspired by a story about alternative and affordable cuts of meat and finding some oxtail at the farmer's market, I decided to try this slightly forbidding piece of meat.  Like Sandra Dee, the oxtail resists all attempts to soften it up for about 2 hours, when suddenly it gives in.  What you're left with is a rich, complex pot of juices that's a little more leather than pearls and sweater sets.

Oxtail does tend to give off a fair amount of fat as it cooks, so not only is something starchy like potatoes -- or big, fat butter beans -- essential to balance it out, but I also try to skim some off the surface as it cooks.  This is easier after the dish cools and the fat sets, so the leftovers make a perfect and easy lunch the next day.  The anticipation certainly makes the Monday morning easier to bear.

Oxtail and butter bean stew

2 T. olive oil
1/4 C. flour
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 big cloves of garlic, minced
2 large carrots, sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds or half moons if very thick
2 C. canned chopped tomatoes
1 C. dried butter beans, soaked for 6 hours
4 large pieces oxtail -- approx. 4 in. across each, or about 4 lbs. total if using smaller pieces
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick

Roll the oxtail in the flour, shaking off excess.  Heat olive oil in a large, oven-proof pot.  Add the floured oxtail and brown on all sides, then remove to a plate.

Cook the onions over low heat until soft, then add garlic, carrots, tomatoes, bay leaves, cinnamon, and browned oxtail.

Cover and let bubble away over very low heat, or put into an oven at 300.  The oxtail will need to cook for about 2-2 1/2 hours.  After an hour, add the butter beans.

Serves 4.

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