This week has been a week of failing at Lent. First, I failed at my goal of blogging twice a week since I last posted something oh, a week and a half a go because I’ve been busy having my soul crushed by my job. Then, I (deliberately) failed at veganism since A, E, and F came to visit and it seemed unnecessarily cruel to make them eat vegan for four days when our visits seem to revolve primarily around food. We do an absurd amount of eating when we are together. The number of different dishes we make and consume during the course of a weekend is usually more than I would make in a month. It would be impossible to tell the story of our weekends together without talking about food.
Despite my love of food, I don’t want this to turn into one of those blogs where I try to take artsy pictures of food and share recipes I try. All the same, I’m very impressed with the spread we concocted this weekend, so I’m about to make an exception. In this episode: Pear salad! Butternut Squash Soup! Edible Brussels Sprouts! Lasagna! Sad Person Brownies!
A, E, and F arrived from their respective cities late last week, just in time for the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival. After seeing a ballet Friday night and then stuffing ourselves with homemade salsa and guacamole, we got up bright and early (for a Saturday) to make our morning paddle boating reservation on the tidal basin. From then, we never stopped–visiting two art exhibits, traipsing up and down the National Mall, taking pictures with cherry blossoms, walking by the White House, and most out of character for us, never breaking for sustenance.
There was, of course, a reason we hadn’t gotten food–all day, we’d been planning to eat lunch at Chick-Fil-A. For reasons I will never understand, Chick-Fil-A is apparently A Destination. There weren’t many options in DC, and the most convenient one was located on GW’s campus. It took us longer than we planned to make it there, however, and suddenly it was 4 o’clock, we’d walked at least 10 miles, and all we’d eaten was coffee and pastries one might get with coffee. Then, tragedy struck.
|This feels like an extreme reaction, but who am I to judge?
Turns out the GW Chick-Fil-A is closed on Saturdays. I probably should have checked the hours, but Chick-Fil-A’s website sucks and I gave up after trying to look at the DC locations details for ten minutes. It was almost worth the two miles we walked to Foggy Bottom for this sign, though:
That, and there’s a Trader Joe’s in Foggy Bottom. After having given up on Chick-Fil-A, we decided our next course of action was to go home and start on dinner. I’m a member of a local food delivery service, Arganica, and like a CSA, you can purchase a random box of produce. F and I had been planning to make a mystery dinner out of one such boxes for a while, but we needed some extra ingredients. After standing in the world’s longest grocery store lines (at least fifty people long, easily), we carried our tired legs off to the metro and went home.
Here’s where this blog post turns into a full-on cookbook, as F and I started to prepare a five-course meal.
|A totally appropriate amount of food for dinner for four.
It would have been easy to look up recipes for the ingredients we had, but we decided it would be much more fun to fly completely blind here. There were a few challenges; in the foreground of the picture you can see some weird looking tubers that we think are some kind of carrots, but we’re not sure, the only person who likes pears is E, and no one had even eaten much in the way of brussel sprouts because our parents hate them. We were not to be deterred, however, and everything turned out shockingly well. I did my best to record the recipes, though I am the first to admit that I’m terrible at following directions or measuring things so I can’t be held accountable for any cooking disasters that may result from the following:
Course One: Cheese Plate
Serves some people.
|This picture was an afterthought. As you can see we had already made quick work of the cheese.
Variety of cheeses (Ours: Cotswold, Goat’s Brie, Delice de Bourgogne, Some blue cheese or other, Bloomsbury)
Bread or crackers
- Put cheese on plate.
- Eat cheese. With bread. Or crackers. Or nothing. The main goal is to get the cheese from your plate to your mouth, using whatever vehicle necessary. If you mess this one up, you’re an idiot and should probably skip the rest of this post.
Course 2: Tasty Pear Salad
Serves 4, unless those people are very hungry and don’t have several other courses to make it through.
This salad was light and delicious. The blue cheese and pears go together nicely, and the sweeter salad dressing complements the two nicely.
|Technically we served courses 2-4 at the same time. Sneak preview of what’s to come!
For the salad:
Head of Lettuce
Handful of Walnuts (Optional, only because I forgot to add them)
2 tablespoons blue cheese crumbles
Dressing to taste
For the dressing:
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon agave nectar
Salt and pepper to taste.
- Wash and dry lettuce, tear into pieces and put into salad bowl.
- Cut pear into thin slices and add to salad.
- Mix dressing.
- Add blue cheese, walnuts, and dressing. Toss adequately.
Course 3: Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6-8, depending on how much you like soup.
If for some reason you are still reading this, this is a great winter soup. It’s kind of heavy, which is why I put the number of servings so high even though it doesn’t make a ton of soup. It would be better served alone with a salad than with all this other pomp and circumstance distracting from it.
|After roasting the vegetables for the soup.
1 butternut squash
1 large yukon gold potato
3 small carrots*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 cup walnuts
4 cups vegetable stock**
1 teaspoon cumin
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
blender, preferably immersion
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Find an appropriate casserole dish for roasting vegetables and add olive oil and half the salt.
- Wash, peel and cut carrots into 8 pieces and add to casserole dish
- Wash and cut the potatoes into 1- 2 inch cubes (don’t bother peeling–arsenic is good for you!) and add to casserole dish
- Quarter the butternut squash and toss in oil with other vegetables.
- Drizzle maple syrup over the vegetables and bake for 25 minutes
- When there are ten minutes left on the timer, add the walnuts.
- After the vegetables are cooled, peel the butternut squash and cut into 1-inch cubes. Put vegetables, stock, walnuts and bay leaf in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Simmer for 20 or so minutes (forgot to record time here) or until vegetables are very tender. Somewhere in here, add cumin, rest of the salt, and pepper (I dunno, F did this part).
- Remove bay leaf (this part is important unless you want gross soup!)
- When soup is a little cooler, use and immersion blender (or normal works fine too, just more mess) while adding the yogurt.
- Reheat if necessary and serve.
*This was the point where we used those things we thought were just funny-colored carrots but might be something else entirely. Good luck recreating this recipe.
**I use homemade vegetable stock, which is delicious. You can use whatever vegetable stock/broth you like, but saving vegetable peelings and making stock out of them is really easy and non-wasteful. Just keep a gallon bag of peelings and sad-looking vegetables in the freezer, and when it gets full, dump it in a pot full of water, add some bay leaves and peppercorns, and then boil it for a really long time. Strain out the peelings, throw them in the compost, and make some delicious soup.
Course 4: Your-Parents-Lied-to-You Brussels Sprouts and Kale
Serves 4 brave souls
To be fair, A was not a fan of these. However, the rest of us thought they were delicious. That means that you will have 75% chance of liking this recipe. It’s scientifically proven! Four is a legitimate sample size, right?
|Post-roasting, pre-pan-frying brussel sprouts.
12 fresh brussels sprouts
12 cloves of garlic
Bunch of kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F
- Cut brussels sprouts in half and lay them in a metal baking dish
- Crush five cloves of garlic and distribute throughout the pan
- Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
- Put in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until slightly crispy but not brown.
- Wash, dry and remove the stems from the kale and cut into large pieces
- Finely chop the remaining garlic, and toss olive oil, garlic and kale together in a bowl until kale is well-coated.
- Just before the brussels sprouts come out of the oven, melt the butter on medium-high heat in a frying pan.
- Take out the brussels sprouts, put them in the frying pan, transfer the kale into the baking dish and return to the oven.
- Pan-fry the brussels sprouts. Because of the butter, they will turn dark brown and crispy in some places, but they aren’t burnt.
- Bake the kale for 5-10 minutes, until crispy but not brown.
- Serve immediately, the brussels sprouts on the bed of kale.
Course 5: Overly Complicated Lasagna
Serves a lot. Especially when you’ve already eaten four other things.
So it’s a very strange dream of mine to make a lasagna completely from scratch–as in, I grow all the vegetables, make the noodles, make the sauce, make the cheese, etc. We didn’t go quite that far this weekend, but we came close. With DELICIOUS results. Obviously you could use canned sauce or pre-made noodles, but to be honest, the noodles were my favorite part.
|Yeah, I was lazy with the pictures at this point. Mainly I just wanted to eat.
For the Sauce:
1 large red onion
3 pounds of tomatoes
1 bunch of basil, stems removed
1 head of garlic
1/2 cup white wine
2 T olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
- Finely dice tomatoes and basil and set aside
- Finely dice onion and garlic and add to a large stockpot with oil
- Saute onions, garlic and oil for about five minutes, until they start to become soft
- Add tomatoes, basil, and wine and bring to a boil.
- Add salt, pepper, lemon juice, and sugar
- Simmer until it looks like lumpy tomato sauce, about 30 minutes
For the noodles:
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 large egg
1 large egg white
- Mix ingredients together, kneading for about 1 minute.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
- Dusting with flour, roll out into 1 mm thick strips as you as begin to assemble the lasagna. Hopefully you have a pasta roller, or else you should just sit in the corner and cry.
For the lasagna:
1 large yellow onion
1 head broccoli, stalks removed
1/3 pound shitake mushrooms, stems removed
1 Tablespoon olive oil.
3 ounces baby spinach
16 ounces fresh mozzarella
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Chop onion, slice mushrooms, and cut broccoli into small pieces.
- Saute onions with olive oil on medium-high heat for about five minutes.
- Add broccoli and saute for a few minutes before adding mushrooms.
- Continue to cook vegetables until mostly soft, then remove from heat.
- Begin assembling the lasagna with a layer of tomato sauce in a 9×13 pyrex dish. Add the first layer of noodles on top. You don’t need to pre-cook the noodles, that’s the best part. They will cook themselves in saucy cheesey goodness since they’re not dry.
- After the first layer of noodles, do whatever you want, but I find that the following works well: fresh mozzarella, spinach, veggies, tomato sauce, noodles, fresh mozzarella, spinach, veggies, noodles, tomato sauce, shredded cheese.
- Bake in the oven until cheese starts to brown a little and the sauce is burbling around the edges, about 35 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Did you think I was exaggerating about our epic levels of eating? Cause I did not. This dinner lasted 5 hours. We were going to make some cookies for dessert, but instead we just drank lots of champagne. It’s a good thing we only see each other every six weeks, or I’d weigh about 300 lbs. Unfortunately, now everyone is gone and I am sad and I am making my way through a pan of brownies to distract me from my sorrows.
Depths of Despair Brownies
Serves 1 very sad person.
My life is very sad now because I have to return to the real world. I had a wonderful, perfect weekend with my friends and now they’re gone and I’m going back to work tomorrow and I’ll be vegan in a couple hours and IT’S ALL VERY SAD. These brownies will not make you feel better so much as help you wallow in self pity for how unhealthy you are after you’ve eaten the entire thing. MY LIFE IS IS SHAMBLES, OK? STOP LOOKING AT ME WITH YOUR JUDGY EYES.
|Had to take this picture before things got too embarrassing.
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
2/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
handful nuts, chopped (option for people who are lame and like polluting perfectly good brownies)
- Preheat the oven to 325 F.
- On low heat, melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan large enough that you won’t have to get another bowl for mixing. Fewer dishes should always be a goal for life.
- When butter and chocolate are fully melted, turn off heat and mix in sugar, milk, and vanilla.
- In a separate bowl (extra dish fail!), whisk eggs until light yellow. When chocolate is cool enough that you won’t get chocolate scrambled eggs, stir into batter.
- Add flour, baking soda and salt. Mix thoroughly.
- Add nuts if you have terrible taste in brownies.
- Pour batter into an 8×8″ greased pan. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or whenever you feel like taking them out since brownies probably shouldn’t be cooked properly anyway.
- Lick spoon. And fingers. And pan. And any other chocolate-coated surface you can find. Ignore your mother’s voice in your head telling you that you’ll get salmonella from the uncooked eggs.
- Cut into 1 1/2 inch squares so you don’t feel as bad about eating 17 of them in one sitting.
Wow, did you really make it to the bottom of this post? You either really like to cook, have a food-pictures fetish, or are very, very bored at work. If it’s the latter, I’m sorry. We’ve all been there. Maybe you should put on some headphones and listen to an episode of This American Life, or go through the archives of xkcd and see how many of the comics you actually understand. Fantasize about the house(s) you would build if you won the $153 million powerball jackpot today, if only you would buy a ticket (mine has a three-tiered roof-deck, a library with simultaneously a skylight and the ceiling from the Kennedy Center Opera House, a greenhouse and a barbecue in the sky)! There are many ways to fill the long hours of your work day, just use you’re imagination!