Sunday, November 8, 2015

Building our home life, from the kitchen's perspective

It's nearing five months since Andrew and I moved into our apartment, and exactly three months since our wedding.  We're gradually figuring out a rhythm for this shared life.  For me, given my household neuroses and the fact that cooking is one of my at-home responsibilities, that means learning how to gauge groceries for two people (volume, nutrition, budget, and consistency vs. novelty) and how to prepare enough meals that are nourishing and enjoyable, without requiring me to spend tons of time in the kitchen.

Since I do like cooking and baking, and I typically find the kitchen to be a therapeutic place, this new life is a great opportunity for me to increase my repertoire, technique, and efficiency.  I've got plenty of support: an enthusiastic eater husband (who has also turned me into a coffee enthusiast), my mother and mother-in-law (two experienced home cooks who have always held demanding jobs), a bounty of inspirational and easy-to-reference cookbooks (e.g. Food52's "Genius Recipes" and anything by Ottolenghi), and food blogs (e.g. Orangette and Heart Of Light) written by practical-minded cooks who are honest about their own time and energy limitations.

Equipment station, pre-Halloween

Andrew and I don't have significant food allergies, with minor limitations being that I'm moderately lactose intolerant and can't eat raw melon or certain tropical fruits.  We try to keep red meat at a minimum, instead relying primarily on chicken, fish, tofu, yogurt, and eggs for protein.  When we do purchase red meat, it's a treat, and we try to buy a sustainably raised product from a reputable butcher.  We are fortunate to have a year-round supply of excellent produce thanks to the great farmers markets nearby, including our favorite: Saturday morning at Virginia Park on Pico Blvd.

About twice a week I try and cook a complete, multiple-dish dinner, with enough volume to support the familiar theme of Leftovers and its variation Leftovers Supplemented With Something Quick/Fresh on other days.  I am getting better at the throw-a-bunch-of-things-into-a-pot-and-add-some-seasoning play.  About once every 7-10 days we have Potsticker Night, wherein we rely on the frozen potstickers from Mitsuwa - surprisingly good - and some steamed vegetables.  We do intermittently get Thai or Persian takeout, especially since we live two blocks from Tehrangeles, or we make an expedition for pho or ramen.  Trying a new restaurant, or returning to a favorite, is typically a weekend activity.

Given all that, here's a speed-round recap of some of my recent cooking successes ("recent" = "in the past two months").  These are preparations and flavor profiles that will be in my pseudo-regular rotation.

Chicken Milanese (Giada's recipe), with eggplant (the thinner Japanese kind, sliced and roasted with garlic).  Leftovers, sliced, make great panini.

Linguine with mixed mushrooms (first iteration shown above): slice and saute crimini, white, and portobello mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil with minced garlic until texture is tender but varied.  (I've also added oyster mushrooms.  Whatever the input mushroom types, the idea is that the softer mushroom types break down enough to form a nice sauce once pasta and pasta water are added, but the firmer mushroom pieces remain intact.)  Salt gently.  Add nearly-al-dente linguine and some pasta water to the pan and cook, tossing intermittently, until pasta is al dente.  Add some finely grated Parmesan and/or Pecorino Romano, toss, and adjust seasoning.  If desired, add some chili pepper flakes.  Add more pasta water as necessary.  (I served this pasta with spinach-kale-strawberry salad the first time I made it, and warm carrot salad another time.)  Leftovers reheat really well.

Stir-fried "king beans" (a.k.a. yard long beans) with tofu and ground turkey: Saute ground turkey (or ground pork) with minced garlic and olive oil until cooked through, seasoning with some soy sauce and a little salt, then set aside.  Meanwhile, drain firm sprouted tofu (from TJ's) and chop into cubes.  Chop beans into 1-in pieces and saute until yielding to teeth but not overly soft.  Add ground pork and tofu cubes, turning heat down slightly, and add additional seasoning to taste (soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, chili pepper flakes, salt/pepper, sesame oil).  Add some cornstarch dissolved in water.  Toss entire mixture until tofu cubes are a little bit broken down.  Serve with pasta or rice.

Eggplant and tomato salad (left, above, with corn/gai lan/pancetta and sauteed greens): chop regular-sized or baby eggplants into bite-size pieces, toss with olive oil, salt, and minced garlic, and roast until tender.  Let cool slightly, then toss with chopped heirloom tomato, minced green onion, and a little olive oil and vinegar.  Correct seasoning.

Warm potato salad (top right, above, shown with quick-roasted salmon and sauteed zucchini): starting with small potatoes (I like the tri-color variety bags from the farmers market), cut each in half, then bring to a gentle boil in salted water until easily pierced by a fork.  Dress while still warm with whisked-together Dijon mustard, sesame oil, a little olive oil, green onion, lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper.

Carrot salad (adapted from a recipe in Ottolenghi and Tamimi's "Jerusalem"): peel and chop carrots into ~0.75" pieces.  Simmer until a butter knife pierces quite easily.  Dress with any number of possible combinations, e.g. harissa + pepper flakes + a little cumin, or the same dressing as the potato salad above, or just vinegar + oil, etc.

Marion Burros' plum torte (made with blackberries).  Given how many people have raved about this recipe, I used the proscribed amount of sugar, and in fact it was not too sweet (though next time I probably will still reduce the sugar.  I just can't help it.)  The texture and flavor might even be better on day two.

Gluten-free brownies (TJ's flour blend): softer and more crumbly than when made with regular flour, not surprisingly, but very good, especially around the edges and corners.  The centers were possibly more fudge-like in a way, which isn't a bad thing.

Zucchini bread ("My new favorite zucchini bread" on Food52) with toasted pine nuts.

Hamentaschen w/a blend of all-purpose flour, coconut flour, and almond meal (original recipe posted by Molly Yeh).  Texture was definitely different: stickier and softer pre-baking and a little more crumbly right after baking, but by day 2 they had become a little more moist.  I don't use halva spread but I do like using different jams and adding additional bits of filling like a fresh berry or some sliced or chopped nuts.

"Quintessential chocolate chip cookies" by Martha Rose Shulman on NYT Cooking.  I used Callebaut dark chocolate chips (purchased at Surfas in Culver City, though I heard that they're closing in a few months, so I should probably stock up).  I reduced the white sugar to about 80 g, down from 100 g, but I keep the brown sugar at 80 g.  Did I mention that my food scale has markedly improved my baking?  It has.  Also, cookie quality is definitely improved by refrigerating the dough (already shaped into logs and wrapped for easy slicing) for at least 24 hours, and with a sprinkle of flaky finishing salt before baking.