Snow and Pho

3:58 pm

We’re up to our elbows in snow, and a good four days into our 10-day adaptation of the Food Lovers’ Cleanse. The biggest problem I’ve had (as I suspected would be the case) is that it has been really difficult to make the plan’s suggested breakfasts and lunches work with my weekday schedule, but I’ve also found that the recipes in general have been really hit or miss.

Dinner:  January 9, 2011

I was almost ready to give up entirely after our first dinner, the disastrous Ultimate Winter Couscous, which smelled so lovely in the oven but tasted like a whole lot of unpleasantly-textured nothing on the plate (and I’m still at a loss as to why those vegetables needed four whole tablespoons of olive oil). Mike tried and really liked Heidi’s cinnamon quinoa, the edamame hummus (both of which I look forward to trying), and the tuna with celery root and apple salad, but I couldn’t even smell that salad without gagging (and I love celery root). I ended up eating dry tuna with even drier Wasa crackers.

Dinner: January 10, 2011

On a positive note, we truly loved the salmon in Bengali mustard sauce and the black-eyed pea curry (for which I used yellow-eye beans from Freedom Bean Farm in Maine), both of which we’d happily put into regular rotation.

snOMG

Perhaps my favorite recipe so far, though, is one that does not appear in the original BA Food Lovers’ Cleanse, but one I decided to swap in for the OMG-are-you-serious? on-a-weeknight? Successively Simmered Koya-Dofu and Vegetables, the incredibly aromatic, delicious, satisfying, and – wait for it – easy enough for a weeknight (or any darned time) Vegetarian Pho by our friend Winnie Abramson.

snow day lunch

You toast coriander seeds, cloves, star anise, and a cinnamon stick in a dry skillet until fragrant, add them to some warm vegetable broth with an onion and some peeled and smashed ginger, plus an Indonesian soy sauce (which I couldn’t find, so I used her suggested substitution of brown sugar and tamari). You bring it to a boil, simmer, strain out the solids, chop the softened onion and ginger, then add them back to the pot along with edamame and chopped bok choy. Cook a little longer, add your rice noodles (I even used whole grain rice noodles! Healthy!), and finish with a big hit of fresh lime juice, Sriracha, cilantro and fresh scallions. Easy. Peasy. Delicious. And so nice we ate it twice.

Hitting the sauce

Dinner:  February 11, 2009

In the afterglow of what was one darned fine bowl of noodles, I’m wondering: why did it take me so long to discover the wonders of fish sauce? I mean, honestly, I’m thinking of all sorts of dishes past that could have benefited from a hit of that fabulous savory nectar, and I’m trying very hard not to sneak spoonfuls of it straight from the bottle.

Mike and I enjoy all sorts of Asian cuisines, but again, they are a bit outside our comfort zone for cooking at home, so we haven’t done so often. Now I’m thinking that’s just crazy, and I’m looking forward to doing some research and experimenting more.

These brothy noodles weren’t just about the fish sauce, though – they were about beautiful Maine shrimp (yes, we’re still on that kick), the shells used for stock and the tender flesh just cooked through before serving; they were also about sweet local carrots, peppery hydroponic watercress, and bright spring onions, all of which added a pop of color and clean bursts of flavor to the dish.

Shelling the tiny shrimp was really the most complicated part of this dish, and it wasn’t difficult at all. The rest came together quickly and easily, and the result was so good, there’s no way I won’t make this again. Here’s what I did (and I actually measured, so you even get something resembling a recipe):

Brothy shrimp noodles

A glug of olive oil
1-2 large-ish spring onions, bulbs and green tops sliced and separated
1 long, thin dried chile pepper, lightly crumbled
1 lb. Maine shrimp, peeled, shells reserved
6 cups water
1 package thin cellophane noodles, plus water for soaking
2 tablespoons fish sauce (or more to taste)
Juice of one lime (or more to taste)
1-2 medium carrots, finely shredded or grated
1-2 handfuls of watercress
Asian chile sauce (like Sriracha) for serving

In a large pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced spring onion bulb and the chile pepper and cook until fragrant. Add the shrimp shells, tossing to coat with the oil, and cook 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the water, cover the pot, reduce heat to low and cook 20 minutes or so, then pour through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, pressing down with a ladle to extract all of the liquid from the shells. Discard the solids and return the stock to the pot (wipe out any remaining solids from the pot first). Add fish sauce and lime, stirring through, cover and bring to a low boil.

In a kettle or separate pot, bring several cups of water to a boil, and then pour them over the cellophane noodles in a bowl. Let noodles soak for 10 minutes, then drain noodles and set aside. To serve, place some of the noodles in deep bowls; scatter the sliced green tops of the spring onions over, as well as some of the grated carrot. Place some of the shrimp on top, and then carefully ladle the hot stock into the bowls, gently stirring through – the shrimp will cook in a minute or two just from the heat of the stock. Top with watercress and serve, passing chile sauce, additional fish sauce and lime juice at the table to adjust seasoning to taste.

One Hot Dish

Dinner:  March 27, 2008

I’ve admitted in the past that I have a secret love for canned soup casseroles, but it has been years since I’ve made one at home because I just don’t cook that way anymore. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve missed them, and from time to time, I think about how I might put one together without adding a can or three of that sodium-laden, over-processed cream-of-whatever to the mix.

Dinners this week have been largely unplanned. All of the energy I would normally have put toward sketching out a meal plan for the week has been directed elsewhere: to making lists, making plans, making arrangements and sorting out the numbers in preparation for our move. And again, there is the matter of clearing the freezer and pantry, paring things down so we can start fresh at our new home.

By the time lunch rolled around yesterday, I was in the unfamiliar (for me) position of still not knowing what I was going to cook for dinner. We are, as you can imagine, trying to be particularly thrifty these days so going out wasn’t really an option, and though I could have had Mike stop and pick up something fresh to cook up, that really goes against the whole culling thing that we’re trying to do. So I thought back to the cupboards, fridge and freezer, and inspiration struck: I had half a brick of cream cheese left over from Wednesday night’s stuffed chicken breasts, a couple of cans of good tuna on the shelves, and the last of the peas I shelled, blanched and froze last summer. The cream cheese, when mixed into a basic béchamel sauce, might just work as the base for a tuna noodle casserole…

It did work, and beautifully, making a thick, creamy and flavorful sauce to bind the cooked pasta, fresh peas, drained and chunked tuna and some mushrooms which I had chopped and sautéed until golden with shallot, sherry and dried marjoram. As with all good canned soup casseroles, this one got a cheesy, crisp topping of grated parm and dried breadcrumbs, which baked to a golden crust. This was the comfort food of my youth elevated to a new (guilt-free) level, and I can’t wait to play with future variations.

Seared Scallops and Sesame Udon

seared scallops sesame udon

I love Asian flavors, but I don’t use them in my cooking as often as I’d like to. I wanted to do something a little different with the scallops I had lined up for dinner, so it seemed like a good opportunity to play with some of those underused containers and bottles of Asian condiments we have in the kitchen.

I had a couple of bundles of soba noodles in the pantry, so I decided to make a sort of warm soba noodle salad to go with the scallops. I set a pot of water to boil while I sliced a couple of carrots into matchsticks. I’m a big fan of watercress – it has a great peppery bite and it’s loaded with nutrients. We had a bunch in the crisper, so I cleaned and trimmed it and decided to add that to the noodles as well.

watercress

I whisked up a dressing of sorts, dissolving a couple of heaping teaspoons of white miso paste into the juice of one lime, a couple of hefty splashes each of rice wine vinegar, mirin and tamari, and a squirt of Sriracha. I added about a quarter cup of toasted sesame oil to that and whisked it all together. I brushed a little bit of the dressing onto our scallops (8 big ones, about half a pound), and reserved the rest for the noodles.

I added the carrot matchsticks to the boiling water with a couple of pinches of salt and let them begin to cook. The soba noodles went in next, and I allowed them to cook with the carrots just until the noodles were soft and pliable. I turned off the heat, drained the noodles and carrots, placed them back into the dry pot and added the reserved dressing and the watercress, gently tossing everything through.

The scallops were even simpler – I placed them into a hot saute pan for about two minutes on the first side, then flipped them and cooked them for an additional minute. The scallops and udon went onto plates and I garnished them with a little bit of fresh mint (my first thought was to garnish with black sesame seeds, but they were buried in the far recesses of the cupboard). I was really pleased with how this turned out – the dressing/marinade had a nice blend of sweet-sour-salty flavors which was delicious on both the scallops and the noodles. This will definitely be a great light meal to keep in mind for busy weeknight meals.