Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Eat More Green Vegetables!

Dan and I have decided, for both financial and health reasons, that we are going to eat significantly less meat and focus more on vegetables. I had to go to the grocery store anyway today, so I decided to grab an array of fruits and vegetables (my major annoyance being that the peppers I bought were all brown and splotchy on the inside... my grocery store has a really pitiful produce/meat/anything I want to buy section). I really had no idea what I was going to make tonight, so I just followed my heart. But I'll get to tonight in a second.

First, I want to tell you about my delicious curry-carrot bread... which was not meant to be.

I have Michael Ruhlman's book Ratio, which I love. I've had good luck with other doughs and batters I have made from it... but something with this quick bread went terribly wrong (and I think it had something to do with me browning butter, not beating the eggs slightly before I added something that probably should have been cooled longer, and just being generally unpracticed in baking).

The batter looked kind of weird to begin with:

What are those chunks?! Are they butter? Are they egg? They tasted like butter... but there's a lot of butter in this recipe, so who really knows. I tasted it and I couldn't tell. But whatever, right? I figured everything would just melt and cook up in the oven. Why not?

Don't let that delicious, crisp, perfect golden-brown complexion fool you. Inside, it was a mushy, eggy, greasy mess:

It wasn't even edible. You could taste how it would have been delicious had something more chemically-correct happened inside.

I thought I could salvage it by making croutons out of it (which is going to be a future project, because seriously, how awesome would curried croutons be in a salad?), but by the next day they were just soggy lumps again. How sad.

So that was that.

Today, on the other hand, was very successful. I started out by restocking our juice supply with some more orange juice and grapefruit juice (this is, admittedly, pricey... but the containers last for 2-3 days before they go bad, we moderate our consumption, and it's like eating an orange or half of a grapefruit every time you have a small glass). I didn't strain the grapefruit this time because Dan likes the chunks when it's not coming from a carton. Now let me tell you, oranges are the easy, laid-back hand-juicers... grapefruits are the opposite. They are the high-maintenance, attention-demanding fruit. Oranges I squeeze and it's done. Grapefruits make me deal with these:

Not only did they have large seeds, they had all these tiny seeds which couldn't all be picked out before juicing. So because I'm a good girlfriend (keep in mind, I can't handle grapefruit in it's pure form, so I don't drink this stuff) I went after each round of juice with a spoon to pick as many of them as possible out - and that is, of course, after getting as many as possible before juicing with the pointed tip of a steak knife. I need to buy a fine mesh strainer because this was a little much even for me. But now we have fresh juice in the fridge, which is a great after dinner treat or an anytime snack (I like getting a glass when I want to eat because I'm bored).

Then it was time to figure out dinner. I knew it had to involve salad because I had red leaf lettuce in the fridge that had to get used real soon.

So I chopped up the lettuce and added two carrots-worth of carrot peel into the mix for some color and texture:

(My dad made the serving set! He's awesome!)

And then I whipped together some dressing because I had a cut lemon in the fridge from cocktails I don't know how many days ago. This is an easy and delicious salad dress:

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (which I think is worth spending a few extra dollars on; there is noticeable quality difference between your supermarket's store brand and a brand a few notches up. You don't have to go all out, but I think it's a worthwhile expense especially when oil is one of your only condiments.)
1 Tbs dijon mustard
1/2-1 lemon (depending on how lemony you want it to be; you can use a lot without it being too overpowering - everything else in the dressing cuts the intense citrus very nicely)
garlic powder - I would say about 1/4 tsp (I do all spices to taste, always start with less and taste; you can always add) (ALTERNATIVE: for added zing, use 1-2 cloves fresh, crushed - preferably through a garlic press - cloves; because the garlic isn't cooked it will add a significant amount of spice to the dressing. Keep that in mind if you don't like things very spicy. If you're worried, stick with garlic powder. The other option is to infuse the oil with garlic by gently cooking the two together over low-medium heat... but that's for another day!)
basil - dust the surface of the olive oil with it so it's fairly covered*
parsley - same as basil
chives - quarter sized dollop in the palm of your hand
thyme - same as chives
a shake/pinch of crushed red pepper flakes  (totally optional, but delicious)
salt and pepper to taste
*If you're using fresh herbs, chop them up very fine and use a couple of fair-sized finger pinches

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl or measuring cup. Instant dressing!

I'm going to keep some unrefrigerated for a few days and see what happens. From what I can gather from the label of the mustard bottle (which is the only thing I was kind of concerned about just sitting), there really isn't anything that I wouldn't keep out of the refrigerator as separate ingredients in it. Which, of course, doesn't mean anything (please, if someone has learned this lesson already, let me know), but I'm willing to see what happens.

This salad was being made while I roasted tomatoes in the oven. They were tossed in a bit of olive oil, some red pepper flakes, parsley, a dash of cayenne, and some salt and pepper and baked in a 350 degree F oven until they were sizzling and just beginning to look crispy.

Towards the end of their time in the oven, I filled a medium saucepan with water and got it to a rolling boil because I had frozen string beans that needed to be blanched quickly before they could be sauteed. I love string beans and they never look good in the supermarket here. You can find frozen string beans without any salt added; a nice alternative to fresh. Right before the water reached a boil, I began cooking the garlic (much to my neighbor's bane!). To infuse the oil, start the garlic and oil together in a cold pan over medium, medium-low heat.

When they start to turn a light golden-brown around the edges, you can throw in the string beans. Be careful if you just blanched them - shake out as much water as possible from them to minimize oil splatters. The garlic will finish cooking and develop a nice crust without really burning while the string beans cook. Sautee them, stirring occasionally until they too start to brown (or a little before, whichever you prefer). In the middle of cooking:

(Check out that fine pan Steve bought me for Christmas)

A couple of minutes before I took the tomatoes out of the oven, I sprinkled some gorgonzola cheese over them and let it melt.

I also cooked up a couple of servings of couscous while I was finishing the beans. It's easier to make than pasta (which I thought was impossible)!

Boil 1/2 cup of water, some salt, 1/2 pat of butter.
Add couscous.
Stir virogrously and immediately take off heat and cover.
Let sit 5 minutes.
 Fluff with fork.

It does not get any better than that when satisfying the need for a starchy sidedish. And you can add in basically whatever you want for flavor. I used parsely, but any combination of herbs, spices, and dressings would be welcome.

And then I put all of the elements together on one beautiful, tasty plate:

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