Water Dragons

You’ll want to start with a reasonably sized, closable vessel for the oven (a dutch oven may be too big in this case) and a couple of thick cuts of fish (fillets are probably too thin, steaks are cut the wrong way, I used cod loin, but if that is not cost effective in your area, or is out of season, make the smallest possible adjustment from this option you can).

In addition, you want a mango (soft, but not mushy), a large stick of lemongrass, hot peppers (I used habanero I oven dried two Summers ago), olive oil and basic seasonings.

Apply a thin (but complete) layer of olive oil into your cooking vessel. Lay the fish flat, keeping the upper surface dry of the oil. Cut the lemongrass into a handful of large pieces which you bruise with the back of a knife, but keep whole (you need to remove them later, and you really don’t want pieces of lemongrass ending up in your creamy sauce), and scatter these and the hot peppers around (but not on top of) the fish.

Season the top of the fish.

Slice the mango into long, thin strips and arrange these on top of the fish.

Cover and put into a 225f degree oven for at least an hour, two might be better.

Transfer the fish to plates, and get out the lemongrass (compost it). Everything else goes into a blender or food processor to be rendered smooth and creamy.

Dress the fish and serve with saffron rice. Depending on how many hot peppers you used, have alcohol or dairy on hand.

If you have extra sauce left over, it makes a fantastic sauce for pasta with lump crab meat.

Well, unless you don’t like sweet heat.

Tenser’s Vegan Disks

Yes, I know that I have made this joke before. I don’t care, it’s funny anyway. Novelty as a benchmark is the primary rhetorical fallacy of the 20th Century.

Besides, we’re going to use pita, not tortilla, this time.

At a loss for what to do with left over, stale pita bread? Tired of making pita chips to choke down with hummus? Me too.

Here’s a quick, easy solution to the problem.

The quickest, easiest way is to cheat and do the following things:

  • Go to Trader Joe’s and get a container of these:
    • Bruschetta (in the chill case in a white plastic tub)
    • Artichoke antipasto (glass jar)
    • Olive tapenade (either glass jar or clear plastic tub in chill case)
  • Acquire jar of simple vinaigrette salad dressing
  • Combine the three items from Trader Joe’s with just enough dressing to make the result easily spreadable

If you’re a bit more committed than this, get tomato, onion, garlic, fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley and basil, artichoke hearts [1], olives (mostly black and/or kalamata), olive oil, dressing vinegar (not white), and basic seasonings, and chop everything up finely (either by hand or in a food processor) and combine to recreate something similar to what is described above.

Variations on this topping can be made by including roasted red pepper spread (either including or removing the artichokes) and/or capers.

Spread the result of either approach onto old pita bread which are arranged on a baking sheet and slide into a 250 degree oven. Yes, that’s very low heat. The goal here is to drive moisture out of the bread and the topping without scorching the bread.

When the bread is nearly, but not quite, completely stiff, slide them back out of the oven, and top each disc with either a spring mix salad or simply baby spinach, change the oven into a broiler, and return the tray for just a couple of moments to wilt the greens.

I find it easier to slice the discs prior to cooking, rather than after, either in half or fourths. but you could just as easily serve the discs intact and let your adventurers sort it out for themselves.

What you end up with is something very much like a “fully loaded” veggie pizza, without any cheese. However, the oily texture and umami of the preserved vegetables ensure you won’t miss it.

 

If you’re interested in a dish which is not vegan, but is Lenten, you can add chopped, pre-cooked, crab or shrimp between the vegetable spread and the salad greens just before going under the broiler. 

 

[1] I don’t recommend buying fresh artichokes, steaming them and breaking them down yourself, it is an enormous amount of work and the results are rarely as good as what you can get in a jar (or can).

Kobold Slaw

Eh? Get it? Kobold? Cole, bold? Bold cole slaw? Kobold slaw? No? Sorry.

Anyway, food ideas have been thin on the ground here, lately. I went into a long post Lenten funk, and then I spent the whole month of June on a road trip eating other people’s largely uninspired cooking (with a few notable exceptions).

But yesterday’s festivities found me doing my eye of round roast with the zatar rub, sliced thin, and wrapped into pita with tabbouleh, which I served to friends. Alas, I do not yet make my own tabbouleh. But thus inspired to actually make real food, I did embark on a “one shot” quest. Our side dish was a fresh slaw.

One small head of cabbage, cored, quartered, and sliced thin.[1] One sweet onion [2], cored, halved, and sliced thin. One each of green, red and yellow bell peppers, cored and sliced thin.

I would say for an off the cuff batch, go with that, but use two each of the peppers. But I was trying to use up some of the last of the harvesting from my garden (the time has come to turn most of it over and plant black eyed peas and sweet potatoes), so instead I used four “blushing beauty” bell peppers (these are smaller than the usual variety, hence four instead of three), and a large cucumber which I removed the seeds from and sliced thin as well. I also de-seeded and sliced into ribbons three of my fresh habanero peppers which are only just barely turning orange these days. It is from this last that the dish is dubbed Kobold Slaw.

As a dressing I whisked together toasted sesame oil, olive oil, soy sauce, salt, black pepper, prepared horse radish paste, powdered ginger (if I had planned ahead, fresh would have been better), and a teensy bit of egg-free canola mayo [3]. The idea was something along the lines of a sesame ginger salad dressing, but thicker. Keeping in mind that the oil is going to draw the heat out of the ribboned hot pepper flesh, as well.

Again, if you plan ahead, you can make this dish hours prior to serving it, tossing the dressing around every 30 minutes or so. The longer it has to set up, the more profound and complex the flavors will get. I served this first within an hour of making it, and it was good. We served the rest much later for the fireworks party and it was so much better.

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If you prefer a more traditional cole slaw, I did have a genuinely inspired variety during my travels that included whole caraway seeds in with the cabbage and carrots which was very, very tasty.

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[1] If you actually plan ahead, do this an hour or two before everything else. Salt the cabbage liberally, toss it every few minutes for at least half an hour, then rinse off all the salt. This will remove a lot of water from the cabbage which will otherwise end up in your dressing at the bottom of the serving bowl.

[2] Remember that “Vidalia” is a brand name from a specific county in… Georgia or one of the Carolinas. Get whatever sweet onions grow most locally to you, even if they’re just some uninterestingly labeled alphanumeric. Reducing your carbon foot print tastes better than terroir.

[3] Vegan without having to buy “veganaise” which is just gross, since the only way to get mayo made with ethical eggs, that I know of, is to make your own from scratch, which is tasty, but a hassle.

Kale Chips … of FIRE

Lately we have been drowning in a see a greenery which has resulted in … yep … salads.  An adventure in a salad is a lot like a 15th level Paladin walking in on a room of 1st level skeletons.  For the uninitiated — none whatsoever.  However, there is sometimes a rare jewel that makes things interesting.  A bauble that drops from nowhere and suddenly the mundane turns interesting.  And so it is with kale chips of fire.

Typically I find kale unappealing.  I’ve used it before.  I’ve made soups with it.  I’ve sauteed it.  I’ve otherwise abused it into a form I would eat and hopefully digest.  But this recipe makes all the difference in the world.

Preheat an oven to 350F.  While it warms, remove the kale leaves from the stems and shred them into something resembling the size of your favorite chips.  Reckon an amount that would cover a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and reserve the rest for another time.  In a large bowl, toss the kale you plan to use with a light coating of olive oil, a dash of salt, perhaps a little pepper, and red pepper flakes (quantity of your choosing…).  Spread on the parchment paper lined cookie sheet and place in oven.  Bake for 10-20 minutes and keep an eye on them.  The goal is to bake them until most of them turn brown.

Let them cool a bit and enjoy.

When I first made this, I got a little eager with the red pepper.  As a result, I conjured a fire elemental to wander about the chips for awhile… and then in my glowingly warm belly.  They were kicky, but they were good.  And I vanquished them.

Non-Loaf Vegan Nut Roast

While I based this recipe very heavily on this (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/index.html?recipe=recipes/vegan-nutroast-recipe.html), I am going to write it according to the minor changes I made.  The printed version is a little funnier because it reads “bread made into crumbs” while the online recipe reads simply “breadcrumbs”.  Since I make a fair amount of bread, I used actual crumbed bread.  I think the various chunks of bread provided a more interesting texture than if I had used packaged breadcrumbs.  Of course, with the latter it is also difficult to tell if they are truly vegan.

  • 1t olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped small (but not diced)
  • 1 grated carrot (I shredded it with a peeler)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped
  • 2oz. sliced mushrooms, chopped — about 1/4 cup
  • 8 oz. chopped mixed nuts — about 1 cup
  • 1 oz. (25g) wheat flour — about 4t (I’ll confirm later and update)
  • 5 fl. oz. (125ml) vegetable stock
  • 2oz. (50g) breadcrumbs — about 1/4c
  • 1T Mixed herbs — I used rosemary, sage, and basil at 1t each
  • 1/2t salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4t pepper (or to taste)

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5 / 190 °C / 375 °F.

Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion until translucent (5-10 minutes). Add pepper, celery and mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes — only trying to bring them up to temperature. Add the grated carrot and saute for one more minute. Remove from the heat, add the flour and stir. Add vegetable stock, nuts, breadcrumbs, mixed herbs and a little salt and pepper, and mix well. Grease the inside of a loaf tin. Put the mixture into the tin, pressing it down with a spoon. Bake for 40 minutes.

As with so many adventures, my very first step (bite, in this case) resulted in a “this isn’t what I bargained for”.  For some reason, I was expecting something more like a “meat loaf” from this, but it was nothing like it.  This was a “roasted nut casserole”.  I think the next time I will subject the nuts and mushrooms to a joy ride in the Machine of Whirling Blades to get a more granular texture out of them.  Perhaps that would help it be more “loafy” in texture.  An Ooze of Vegetable Broth (aka a gravy) might help as well.

Mediterranean Vegetable and Grain Salad

This was last week’s offering for the pot luck dinner. Much less work than tonight’s dish.

One cup of the same old baked barley I’m always talking about. 375 degree oven, 3 cups of water, one hour. Blah blah blah.

While that is cooking, in the food processor combine

  • a dozen cloves of roasted garlic (I make huge batches of this by getting bulk peeled garlic at Costco)
  • lemon juice (a fair bit)
  • olive oil (to match, you’re making a dressing)
  • red pepper flake
  • smoked paprika
  • salt & pepper
  • sumac
  • thyme (dried)
  • sesame seeds
  • cumin
  • oregano (dried)
  • cilantro (dried)

Render that into a dressing.
Course chop the following (either in the processor or by hand)

  • green, black and kalamata olives.
  • artichoke hearts
  • one can stewed tomatoes
  • capers

Toss the barley (after it has cooled and been fluffed) and the chopped veggies with a can of garbanzo beans and a can of black beans. Toss in the dressing.

Salads like this taste best if allowed to mellow overnight, but taste just fine after a couple of hours setting up. Served immediately upon combining, they will seem flat in a way you can’t put your finger on, somehow.

Why Do Druids Sell Fresh Herbs Only in Huge Bunches?

Maybe this is only a problem for those of us who rarely cook for more than two people at a time. But when I’m buying fresh basil, or cilantro, or parsley, I really (really) don’t need three quarters of a pound of cilantro. After you’ve put that quarter cup of chopped herbage into your recipe, what do you do with the rest of the bunch before it is fit only for the compost?

Mint is easy. You put it in the food processor with sugar and just enough water and you then have a great simple syrup for your spirituous libations.

Rose mary, sage, and other heartier greens should be wrapped in towels and dried. This way they keep a long time, and work more or less just as well — sometimes better.

But the delicate greens like basil, parsley and cilantro? What do you do?

Step one is to find an art supply or restaurant supply shop (do not go to a dedicated cooking store as these are almost always very over priced, especially that one you find in upscale malls that seems to be named after a California grape growing region) and to purchase a few squeeze bottles of a reasonable size. You know, the kind that look like they should have ketchup or mustard in them. But get clear ones if you can, not the red and yellow ones, to avoid confusion.

Next, put your herbs, one at a time please, into your blender or food processor with high quality olive oil. High quality, but not the super ultra premium stuff.

As a bit of a tangent, let’s talk about olive oil. Everyone loves to talk about fancy extra virgin olive oils. Everyone loves to find those free samples in the grocery store with bits of bread to taste oils that come in tall, skinny, dark green glass bottles which are the equivalent of a single barrel scotch or a regional wine. This stuff is not for cooking. This stuff is for eating. Yes, by itself, with bread. These high end oils have unique, strong flavors that don’t belong in food, but do belong in your belly. Heck, when the Orthodox fasting rule excludes oil, what it means is this kind of oil, the stuff you’d break out for a feast of some kind, not eat everyday. Why not everyday? Because that skinny glass bottle costs $20 or more, that’s why not. But our culture has even gotten a bit weird about cooking olive oil, as well. TV chefs of the variety that make me question the way men think about women and also drive me to drink like to get all sassy about their “ee vee oh oh” when they’re cooking. Behold as I wave my magic wand and make you disappear (that’s a remote control joke). As a rule of thumb, the higher the quality of the olive oil, the lower the smoke point is. Thus, the better it is, the less useful it is for cooking. Now, I’m not saying you should start doing all your cooking with canola or vegetable shortening. I’m just saying that there’s nothing wrong with those big cans (or big plastic bottles) of fairly generic extra virgin olive oil or even olive oils that are not extra virgin, or even virgin. This stuff is cheap. It has a high smoke point, and you can get more than 20 ounces of it at a time, which is good. This is what you’re supposed to cook with. Sure, it isn’t prestigious, but that’s because you aren’t going to put it out on the table in a clear dish for dipping bruschetta into. You’re going to use huge glugs of it at a time to make your food cook better and taste better. And you don’t want to go broke in the process. I cook almost exclusively with olive oil. We keep small amounts of sesame oil in the house for certain Asian dishes, and we have some extremely high smoke point stuff like safflower around for the wok, and baking gets done with something more neutral than olive oil. But if I’m cooking, I’m cooking with olive oil. Like my “go to” preserved vegetable items, I buy this stuff in bulk at the warehouse store. Seriously. There is no shame in this. You may find that many dishes actually taste better with a cheaper olive oil that brings less flavor into the mix. Try making steel cut oats one morning with that top shelf stuff and tell me it isn’t better with the cheap stuff.

Sorry, tangent over. Put your herbs into the blender or food processor with some of your good but not great olive oil. There’s a balancing act here, much like making the simple syrup with the mint, where you want just enough of the herb and the oil so that neither really dominates the mix. Store this in the squeeze bottle in the fridge. This will now keep much longer than fresh herbs do, but gives you a way to cook with fresh herb like flavor without wasting huge bushels of green leaves in the compost every two or three days. Just remember to take the bottle out and let the oil come up to room temperature before trying to use it, or it won’t come out of the bottle. Also remember to put it immediately back into the fridge when you’re done.

If you want to make an amazing salsa-type dip, dice up your veggies (onion, tomato, tomatillo, garlic, chili &c.) and then dress them with a bit of cumin, salt, and your cilantro oil. No nasty leaves in your teeth, and still that great, fresh, green lawn clippings flavor! Or, make an Italian cold salad with white beans (cannellini) and your basil oil.