Saturday, January 27, 2007

recipe request - vegan dashi

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about our daily family bowl of miso soup (well, not actually daily anymore, but 3-4 times a week), and one thing I never really thought about is that miso soup made the traditional way cannot be vegetarian because the base is really the dashi, or fish stock. Using just water will make a much weaker soup, and using vegetable stock will change the flavor quite a bit. Luckily, my copy of the Book of Miso Soup* comes to the rescue with a seaweed-only dashi recipe that you can substitute for regular fish-based dashi!

Kombu Dashi

for each cup of stock you want, you will need 1 cup of water and one 2" x 4" strip of kombu.

wipe kombu down with damp paper towel. Using scissors, cut several slits partway through each strip (do not cut through). Place in a saucepan with the water and let stand 30 minutes. Put on low heat and bring to a simmer. When the water begins to bubble, remove kombu with tongs or strainer.

At this point, you can continue adding ingredients to make your miso soup, or you can refrigerate the dashi to use later. I also see no reason that you couldn't make a big batch, and freeze it in 1-2 cup servings. I doubt it would last incredibly long in the freezer, but certainly it ought to be fine for up to a month.

*I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes miso soup. The information in it is unbelievable, from a breakdown of every variant of miso to a guide on making your own, with over 100 recipes for different miso soups, each accompanied by color photos of not just the final product, but the ingredients as they should look prepped for cooking! One of the best designed cookbooks I own.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

what's on your menu?

So, you say you want to get into the weekly menu groove but you either can't cook, don't cook, or are out of ideas. Well, here are some of my favorite (print) resources for you!

First of all, if you're new to cooking or short on time, in general, avoid the ambitious stuff. And in fact, avoid any recipe with a lot of ingredients, especially if they're minor ingredients that you do not have on hand. (A little secret of mine - if I have a recipe that calls for say, a pinch of dried cilantro which I do not have, I just leave it out. And the food is none the worse for it.)

If you have cooked a bit but want some (mostly) quick recipes, do yourself a favor and check out the 1-2-3 cookbooks by Rozanne Gold. There are a ton of these (Desserts, Kids, Entertaining, Healthy, you name it) but a good place to start is with the basic Cooking 1-2-3 volume. Her gimmick is that every recipe uses just 3 ingredients (not including salt, pepper and water, I think) so while not all the recipes are easy, they are all pretty simple.

If you want to work more vegetables into your menus, Jack Bishop's Vegetables Every Day is essential. Nearly any vegetable you can think of, with buying and storage tips, plus recipes. And so far, not a single recipe I've tried from it has been a dud. This book is on my small "essential" shelf of cookbooks I literally could not do without.

Want to start baking? The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion is also on my essentials shelf. It covers everything you can make with flour, pretty much, from pancakes and biscuits to bread and cakes. Explanations throughout explaining "why", which is important to me when it comes to baking, which really is like science. Our family favorite pancakes are on page 3 (and I use malted milk powder, not sugar).

Finally, my number one current essential, Cook's Country magazine (which can be bought in collections by year, check the 2005 bound edition here). This is a sister publication to Cook's Illustrated, and is a more user-friendly version, geared to the beginner or busy cook. I am such a fan I get the magazine AND buy the bound editions at the end of the year, but you might want to just go for the books. Unfortunately a lot of their web content is inaccessible if you don't pay (which does suck, I mean, I buy the magazine AND the book but I still can't use the website without paying even more...) but there's enough free content on there for you to get a good taste (ha ha). This is a publication so user-friendly Evan reads it (and so does Emily, but that's a different story). Recipes, equipment tests, taste test and even menus!

In general I would have to also say, if you can, check cookbooks out from the library before buying. I always try to, and have avoided several purchases that I would have been unhappy with. And don't think people who write cookbooks are all infallible either; I have at least two cookbooks (by well-known chefs!) that have really bad recipes in them, as in they won't even work the way they're supposed to. So don't think it's just you if a recipe doesn't work or you don't like it.

So that's my quick roundup...stay tuned for a couple of tried and true recipes soon!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

what's on the menu?

Signs: Zaitzeff Menu - Originally uploaded to flickr by LarimdaME

One of the questions I get a lot, is "how on earth do you get so much stuff done?" And the answer is: well, truthfully, I don't get so much stuff done. My projects languish for what seems like forever. And I don't do even a tiny percentage of the things I want to. But how I accomplish what I do manage to get done is mainly due to being a little crazy with my organization. And one of my number one systems, because I know you are just dying to the weekly menu!

I know there are people who think doing a menu is insane, but seriously, it has worked out so well. And if I ever let it slide meals go to hell around here fast! I highly recommend it to anyone who cooks even half their meals (just mark those other nights as "takeout" or "pizza" or "tonkatsu at Mitsuwa" or whatever you plan on eating). In case you want to give it a try, here's my system.

First, I chose a day to do the whole week's menu. For me, Sunday is best, since it's a slow day and is one day after our local greenmarket and one before our main errand day. At some point that day I sit down and type out the next week's menu, along with a list of what groceries I'll need to make those meals. (I actually plan lunch as well, although that's pretty basic. Mainly I plan lunch to make sure we don't just eat the same thing every single day.)

How do I pick out meals? I have a master list of basic and quick favorites, which is easy because I can just copy and paste them into different days. I try to also plan one extra-special meal (roast chicken or brisket, for example) and include one new recipe. Although if things are busy I may skip one or both of those. Then once I have 7 dinners picked out, I shuffle them around until I have a line-up that makes sense (i.e. we're not eating the same thing three days in a row).

Once that's all done, I make 2 shopping lists -- one for Monday which is when we do our main shopping run, and a smaller list for Thursday or so for things I don't want sitting all week (produce and meats, mainly). And then I am set for the week - no last minute trips for something I needed, no staring into the fridge willing something to magically appear, and every day I can do a quick check to see if I need to pull anything from the freezer or start something early. So, a little time spent one day a week = lots more time during the week to....not get anything done anyway! yay!

Seriously, it really does free up a lot of time and save money. Give it a try if you are so inclined! Now, if you'll excuse me, I hear some multi-sided dice rolling down the hall and I think I need to go do an intervention.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

emily's apron

Emily's birthday apron!

You would not believe how small and cute this thing is. The apron, I mean. Emily has put it on every single day since she got it! Thanks again, Mary Ann!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

this girl is crazy lucky

first balloon

Today the last of her presents did show up! (additions to her animal collection from her Nonni) Then...the actual last of her presents (xmas from her uncle, aunt and cousin). And then....a bonus surprise extra birthday present from the truly awesome Mary Ann (my pal and 5-4-3-2-etsy partner)!! She made Emily an adorable teency little apron. First Emily stuffed it back in the package and carried "her mail" around for a bit, then she got it back out and tried to put it on. It was then on and off for the rest of the evening. Apron photos asap!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

oh happy day

A day of packages! Always exciting.

Today I got my camera back (I know it's old and a bit clunky, but I love it) -- it broke over the holidays, okay, got broken. When it was dropped. By a baby. Whose mother let her hold it. MY FAULT! Canon repaired it and got it back to me lickity-split and boy oh boy did I miss it. Using the crappy old Fuji while it was gone has been painful.

I also got my big post-xmas treat - a full-size food processor (or robot culinaire, yay!), something I've wanted for years and just couldn't bring myself to buy. Reading recipes with Emily, I kept finding things that called for a processor, and Evan finally said "let's get one!" So we did. And it's here. And we have already tested it with every fading vegetable we had in the house. Emily does not like it at all (probably a good thing) but Evan and I were like "sprouty potato? DIE!!" Now I have to go back and find all the recipes I've avoided because I didn't have one.

We also got an unpainted set of Milk and Cheese vinyl test shots for me to do a paint master on. Slowly but surely, these figures are finally working their way towards coming out.

Triple yay!

Now if the last of Emily's presents would just show up it would be the greatest day of the year so far.

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