Eggplant, roasted mushroom, red bliss, spinach bake

Eggplant mushroom bake

There are certain things in the world I like a lot. I think of these things as “Claire-y.” Otters, for instance, or green chairs with unexpected drawers, or boxes with little secret compartments and little bottles in them. These things are claire-y. I was trying to think of a way to describe this, and I kept coming back to the word claire-y. I love eggplant, mushrooms, spinach and potatoes. I love them cooked these ways, and I love them all together. I also seem to be drawn to odd dishes that defy definition and categorization. I’m not sure what to call this? Is it a gratin? A tian? A bake? A casserole? (For some reason a casserole seems like something my fourth grade teacher from the 70s would make. The one with the polyester suit and the glasses on a chain.) As I understand it, most of these words describe the dish it was baked in. But I don’t know what my dish is called! ACK! I decided to call it a bake. Because it’s baked. Here’s what it involves…thinly sliced vegetables, each prepared in a slightly different way, layered together with some cheese and baked. That’s about it. The potatoes are boiled, the eggplant is fried, the mushrooms are roasted, and the spinach is sautéed. It’s quite easy though! It sounds like a lot of steps, but they’re all pretty easy and quick. And then when it’s done, what is it? It’s hearty and satisfying enough to be a main course, but it also works quite well as a side dish. It’s whatever you want it to be, I guess!

Eggplant mushroom bake

Today friends, instead of finding a song about casseroles, tians or bakes, I’m going to post this song that has been haunting me. It’s so beautiful and plaintive. When a song like this is an earworm, it’s like having a little ghost howling in your head! It’s Tommy Johnson’s I Want Someone to Love Me.

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homemade paneer; green dal; tomato cashew curry

three curries

“This is my first sous chef job!” Said Isaac, brightly, as he stood on a chair before the stove, watching a pot of milk. It turns out watched pots do boil! What else have they lied to us about?

Isaac and I were making paneer. Here’s how it all went down…I felt a little bad that I hadn’t spent much time cooking with Isaac. It’s nice to have something special with Malcolm, but I was worried that Isaac might feel a bit left out. So I’ve been trying to think of something fun to make that Isaac likes. I noticed that whenever we get Indian food, Isaac goes crazy for paneer, the soft, white cheese. He’ll even eat spinach, if it has paneer in it. Paneer also happens to be quite fun and easy to make. So that’s how Isaac got his first job as sous chef. He made the sauce to cook the paneer in, as well. He chose all the spices, and the main ingredients, and described the taste and texture that it should have.

On the way home from school, Isaac said he couldn’t wait to get home and be sous chef. Malcolm said Isaac was the sous sous chef. Isaac said, “Mommy is the over chef.” Malcolm said, “She’s the ogre chef!” I can live with that title!

Homemade paneer

As you will no doubt remember, we just went to Patel’s Cash and Carry on our Super Bodega Traveling adventure, and I had some ingredients I wanted to try out! So we made a meal with lots of little dishes. Isaac’s sauce had peas and tomatoes and cashews. It was a warm, earthy sweet dish. To go with that, I made a light saucy dish with punjabi tinda (baby Indian pumpkin) and cauliflower; and a very green dal, with whole moong dal, bay leaves, curry leaves, jalapeno, cilantro, lime, and ginger. I added a little black salt to this one as well – it’s a volcanic, sulfur-y salt, that adds a very distinctive flavor! Everything went very nicely together. I tried to make dosa, too, with my new urad flour. Complete and utter failure. Curses and frustration! I’ll try again, sometime, once I’ve recovered.

My friend Chris is playing DJ for this post, and he suggested the perfect song (and video). As he said, it’s a saucy little number! It’s Asha Bhonsle singing a song from Jewel Thief, Baithe Hain Kya Uske Paas.
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Pupusa with pinto beans & spinach

pupusa

I had a rough week, and for some reason I found it comforting to watch videos of old women making pupusa on youTube. It’s one of those foods, like stuffed grape leaves, and many others, that you like to think about a group of women making together. The process is all made with hands, it’s repetitive and circular and almost hypnotizing. And I have a new fascination with stuffed flatbreads, which goes so nicely with my fascination with savory pastries! I’m also starting quite an impressive flour collection. I’ve got toasted barley flour, rice flour, semolina flour, chickpea flour, tapioca flour, buckwheat flour, wheat flour, and now masa harina. I’ve been intrigued by this for a while, and now I’m a big fan!

Back to pupusa – it’s a Salvadoran dish made with masa harina, and it’s stuffed with cheese or meat or refried beans. It’s cooked on a hot, ungreased griddle. I’m sure the version I made is not like the real deal, but it was so tasty! David said it’s like a combination of tacos and mashed potatoes – it’s got a very comforting quality, the taste and texture as well as the process of forming and cooking. You make it by taking a handful of dough, and turning and pressing, turning and pressing, trying to keep the edges neat. I love the idea that the pupusa will be the shape and size of the palms of the maker. You can fill it with anything you like. I chose pinto beans, spinach, and sharp cheddar. Just substantial enough not to be mushy, just soft enough to provide a comforting contrast to the crispy outside. This is one of my favorite things I’ve made in a while – to make and to eat.

It’s also gluten free, as far as I know! And it would be vegan if you left the cheese out.

Here’s Espiritu Libre with A Mi Me Gustan Las Pupusas.
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Asparagus & Spinach quiche

Asparagus quiche

We had this for dinner on St. Patrick’s day, and, I swear to god, I didn’t know it would be so green! It was not a calculated move! As it happens, green is my favorite color, so I’m exceedingly pleased that it turned out so green. I can’t really think of anything interesting to say about asparagus quiche at the moment, so I’ll just relate a few salient points. Firstly, I made this in an hour. One hour, start to finish! As it happens, I had some crust dough leftover, but even if you added dough-making time, it would still be, maybe, one hour 10 minutes. So it seems quite fancy (doesn’t it?) but it’s quick and easy. Second-of-all, I think it’s very pretty (and green). So it makes a nice spring-y meal. Even for a special day like Easter, I’d say. It’s flavored with a little basil and rosemary. And with nutmeg, because nutmeg belongs in a spinach quiche! I added some goat cheese, for freshness and tang. And now I’ll stop talking about it, or I’ll have gone on longer describing it than it takes to make it!

asparagus quiche

Here’s Nutmeg, by Art Pepper
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Portobello “steaks” topped with spinach and herbs

portobello steak

If you’re a vegetarian, you’ve heard it a million times. “Don’t you miss steak? If I made you a steak you’d gobble it up. How can you live without steak?” Let’s see…No. No. and Easily. And then they say, “Haven’t you ever heard a carrot cry?” And then you stick your fingers in your ears and say “La la la la la, I can’t hear you!” To be honest, I don’t miss steak, because I have portobello mushrooms, and I think they’re far tastier than any steak I’ve ever eaten. They’re something of a special occasion meal around here, because they’re not cheap, but they’re still far less expensive than steak, right? I like to cook them till they’re very very dark and crispy. Quite black on the edges. You can do this is a skillet, or you can do it in a roasting pan in the oven. I like portobellos with lots of olive oil, balsamic and rosemary. These ingredients mix with the mushroom’s own delicious juices to form a wonderful sauce…the mushrooms are tender inside, crispy outside and full of flavor. I sauteed some baby spinach and arugula with chopped mushrooms, garlic, rosemary and basil, and after the mushrooms were cooked to perfection, I put a scoop of this mixture on top, and then a slice (or two) of mozzarella over that. We had them with some thick cut roasted french fries. You won’t miss your meat!

Here’s Fats Waller’s Rump Steak Serenade.
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Spicy spinach cashew sauce

spinach cashew sauce

I’d like to apologize in advance for posting so often today. I’ve got so much I want to tell you about! I don’t know if I’ll get to it all, but if I don’t then I’ll forget how I made it, and then I’ll just have to post more tomorrow… Goodness gracious, I can’t keep up with my own self.

This one will be quick, though. Just like the sauce. It’s very flavorful, very easy, and probably very good for you because spinach and nuts have protein and iron and… other things, that are good. You’re the boss, with this sauce. You can make it quite thin and creamy, and have it with pasta or rice. Or you can make it quite thick, and use it however you would use pesto. I made it spicy, because I still have a cold, but that’s adjustable as well. It’s a nice dipping sauce for croquettes or kofta, and it’s very good with roasted vegetables, such as winter squash or sweet potatoes. It would make a nice meal with boiled diced potatoes stirred in. It’s creamy, yet vegan. And that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Here’s Duke Ellington with Spongecake and Spinach.
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Empanadas with greens, green olives and pistachios

empanadas with greens

I bought these beautiful little green olives. I can’t remember what they’re called, but I think they might have been castelvetrano olives. They were small and round and serpent green. Lovely! They were so pretty that it might have been a shame to stuff them inside of empandas – if the empanadas hadn’t been so mother-flippin delicious!

They have three kinds of greens – chard, kale and spinach, they have very green olives, and they have pistachios, which are green nuts! They also have ricotta, mozzarella and lots of herbs. I’m especially pleased with the texture of these. You never know how it’s going to go with greens and ricotta. Will they be watery and runny? Or mushy? This was perfect, though. Juicy, almost, but not soggy. It occurred to me that these were like large, baked, crispy ravioli, and in that spirit, I added a little semolina flour to the dough. (If you don’t have semolina flour, just leave it out. Or add 1/4 cup regular flour to replace it. Either way. )I made a sauce to go with these with roasted red peppers, almonds, tomatoes, paprika and chipotle. It turned out very spicy!

Here’s REM’s Green Grow the Rushes, because I’ve had it going round in my head lately.
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Salad of warm greens, french lentils and wild rice

warm kale salad

We’ve had a reprieve in the weather lately. In the afternoons you actually feel the warmth of the sunshine, and there’s a hopeful light that makes you forget we’ve got all of February to get through. And then you buy lettuce or tomatoes, and the iciness comes back to you. Luckily we’ve still got warm salads! This is a very substantial one – with flavorful french lentils and wild rice tossed in, and a handful of almonds thrown on at the end to add crunch. I made a sort of dressing with plum tomatoes briefly sauteed in olive oil and balsamic. This salad is a meal, and this meal is vegan. Cheese would make it taste even better, in my opinion – goat, or fresh mozzarella, or some grated sharp cheese. But then it wouldn’t be vegan, obviously! Anyway, it was quick to make, so I’m going to keep it quick now. (Yup, I’ve got to go to work!)

And here’s Big Daddy Kane with Warm it Up, Kane to sing to yourself while you warm up your kale.
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Deep pie with black beans, greens and pistachios

Beans & greens pie

Beans, greens, and … guava paste!?!?! That’s right! Guava paste! It lends a subtle sweetness and a mysterious flavor to this otherwise extremely earthy dish. I’m going to try to mix it up a bit with the bodega express ingredients. I might try one dish that’s a fairly traditional and accurate application of the star ingredient, and one that isn’t so authentic, but strikes me as a nice combination. That’s the plan at the moment, anyway. As it happens, it’s not unusual to find guava paste paired with cheese in an empanada, and this is sort of a giant, elaborately decked out version of that, I suppose. I would have made them as empanadas, and, in fact, I think the filling might work better that way – smaller and with a flakier crust – but I wanted to try out a new and improved version of my hot water crust pastry, so this tall handsome pie is the result. It contains black beans, kale, spinach, smoked gouda, pistachios for crunch, bread crumbs, sage, thyme, basil, allspice and nutmeg, and, of course, smoked paprika. The guava, which is bright and has a hint of tartness behind all of its obvious sweetness, added a nice balance for all the smokey savoriness. Actually, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of pouring jelly into the hole in the top of a pork pie (although meaty jelly isn’t the most appetizing idea, to me!) And I briefly considered melting the guava jelly down and trying this very practice! I chickened out, though. I think it would have been too sweet.

Anyway, this was very easy to make, and very nice with some mashed potatoes and a crispy salad, and I think it might be even nicer with a flaky paté brisée in smaller empandas. Someday I’ll try that and let you know!

Here’s Johnny Nash’s smooth cover of Bob Marley’s Guava Jelly. Still stuck in my head!!
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Say happy new year with lentils!

I’ve been reading up on foods that are considered lucky eating for New Year’s Eve. Seems that legumes and greens are consumed throughout the world in various guises. Fascinating! Green french lentils are deemed especially lucky in many countries. As it happens, french lentils and greens are among my favorite foods!! Fancy that! And round foods are also seen as fortuitous, for a variety of reasons. I happened to have a big box of large white mushrooms, so I decided to stuff them with a mixture of french lentils, greens, and cheese. And I made a sauce with the lentil-cooking broth and the leftover lentils. Yummy!

This morning we had pancakes in the shape of a circle, because circular foods are universally considered serendipitous as well.

And here’s Grace Cathedral Hill, a beautiful song by the Decemberists. It’s about New Year’s Day, and it’s a lovely story of a day when nothing in particular happens, but everything feels significant. I love those days! And one of my favorite parts (of course it’s food-related) is when they’re both a little hungry so they go to buy a hot dog. It’s not the best meal you ever had, but you remember it, and it becomes important, and it fills you up when you need it.
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