3 for the week

whoa! hey guys...where have i been? it's been nearly 2 months since my last post, a wee statistic i'm not so proud of. but i have a few good reasons for my absence, as listed below:

1. laziness and inertia. these factors simply cannot be discounted, for they are powerful and can creep in without you hardly noticing.

2. like sissy lauren, i too have been enjoying some dairy products in my diet. and so i've been asking myself, "what to do about this vegan food blog?" while it has been fun to experiment with new ingredients, a lot of the food coming out of our kitchen is still totally vegan. nevertheless, i have been second guessing myself about writing here. like - do i disclose? and if so, how? and should we rename the blog, or just keep on keepin on? i can sometimes overthink things. anyway, looks like i just came out, so at least that part is out of the way. as for what to do with/call this blog, well that is still under discussion. i will just assert that the mindful addition of milk, eggs, and cheese to my diet has really been fun and exciting, and the lil pangs of guilt i felt at first are long gone.

3. i got a new job! a really good job, one far away from cappuccinos and customer service. a 9 to 5er, in fact! my livelihood is now earned behind a small desk in a tiny, cozy office that's mine all mine. i keep the heat cranked to 70 F, drink french press coffee, do my work, listen to music and stare at a computer all the live long day. so when i come home, often the last thing i want to do is look at another screen. i'm sure many of you can identify. the day-job has led to other wonderful quality-of-life improvements, including evenings and weekends full of freedom. from this stable schedule, healthy things have arisen - namely going to the gym more and cooking way more than i used to.

in fact, one of my new favorite traditions is using sunday night as my alone time/recovery from the weekend revelries, preparing things to eat throughout the week. see, i made this pact with myself that i would only buy lunch out once or less a week. and for the past 8 weeks, i've totally stuck with it! going out for lunch just adds up too quickly, you know what i'm saying? it's also an easy way to eat all kinds of crap that you don't even want.

so while ryan is at work, adam is at band practice, and lauren is out potluck-ing, i pad around in my pajamas (even at 8PM! what a funny old lady i'm becoming), thumb through cookbooks and make food until i am simply too tired to continue.

for the past few sundays, i've made three things for the week: granola, a soup, and an entree. usually i eat some of the entree for dinner on sunday too. there's nothing like instant gratification, especially when good smells have been circling around you for a few hours.

this process is so meditative for me. i listen to a succession of records that i pull from the shelf without even looking - everything sounds good when you're alone and cooking. if i'm feeling jaunty (and not too hungover), i'll nurse a glass of wine or vodka soda. with any luck, i have my ingredients out and a plan at least half formulated in my head. if not, i figure it out as i go.

this past sunday, i started with a "braised tofu" recipe by mark bittman. i use the quotes to highlight my skepticism - ok, i don't even really know what braising is, but i don't think it is the right bit of vocabulary for this recipe. i'd just skip the pretense and call it a coconut tofu curry, since that sound great to me (i crave something with coconut milk in it at least weekly). regardless, the recipe starts with a cool technique that i've never used before to start a curry: you puree canned tomatoes with onion segments until it's all, you know, pureed up. this mixture the base for what i came to think of as indian gravy.

then you heat it over a medium flame and stir in a touch of olive oil, S&P, and 2 tablespoons of curry powder (i used 1 tblsp of garam masala and 1 of "bawa spice," a homemade curry made by our dearest halimah). i put some jasmine rice on at this point, since to me a curry without rice just seems naked. you know how to make rice, right? cool.

let the curry gravy briskly simmer for 15 minutes. then add 3 cups of chopped vegetables (in this case blanched cauliflower, broccoli and peas) and 1 pound of cubed tofu. cook longer, 7 more minutes?

the final and best step is adding in the can of coconut milk. it's so extravagant pouring the silky, rich cream all through the pan. my cast iron was almost overflowing! i had to resist the urge to sip right from the side of the cast iron.

lunch & dinner for the week! next time, i might add some red pepper flakes for a little more kick, but it's alright. big red aka sriracha peppered this batch right up.

as that was finishing up, i started a tomato soup, also from bittman. full disclosure: 99% of the recipes i've been making since christmas are from mark bittman's "how to cook everything vegetarian." it is so, so good, and extensive, and clear, and he's got this funny dad sense of humor that i find touching. so the tomato soup was from there, and pretty basic, and i will choose not rehash every step of the process here. but, come to think of it, it turned out super well, so i'll just copy the recipe below...anyway, what makes a better lunch that tomato soup? there is nothing better.

so as discussed in the past, the granola part is easy; i don't even use a recipe anymore. i just dump some oats in a bowl and stir in a drop of vanilla extract, a splash of veggie oil, a bigger splash of maple syrup, the tiniest pinch of salt, and whatever else we have around (this week it was hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas and golden flax seeds). spread the mixture out on a pan, and toast at 350F for 20 minutes, stirring every once in awhile. these twenty minutes provide a good time to have a small dish of the curry and/or soup.

when it's all done, i admire the lovely simplicity of the fresh granola. screw a $5 box of cereal.

at this point, maybe 9 or 9:30, i'm usually on the last round of dishes. even though we have a dishwasher in this house, i kind of look forward to doing the dishes, as the act brings some closure on my kitchen session. everything is packed nicely in tupperwarees in the fridge, and i feel accomplished. the food in those containers is a gift that the me of sunday is giving to the me of all week. and, there is a certain feeling of safety that comes with knowing that there is a stash of well made food in your possession that is ready to go when you are. it makes the dawning of another monday not something to dread, but something to anticipate. well, anticipate lunch time, at least.

Tomato Soup by Mark Bittman, from "How To Cook Everything Vegetarian"


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, or (more likely) a big pinch of dried thyme leaves
3 cups of diced canned tomatoes
2-3 cups of veg stock or water
soy/rice milk, creamer, cow milk, heavy cream, or sour cream (optional)

- heat the olive oil gently, and add the tomato paste. stir it around for a minute or two.

- add the onions, carrots, and turn the heat to medium. stir and heat this mixture up for a few minutes. add the thyme, and S&P.

- pour in the tomatoes, juice and all, and bring the mixture up to a low boil. lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. the tomatoes should start to break apart.

- add the stock or water and let it get hot again. try it. are the carrots and onions tender? if so, the soup is done. if you like creamy soup (and how i do), put your immersion blend to work. then if even creamier is your goal, slowly add a vegan or non vegan creaming agent until you acheive your desired shade of light red. i added in two very small dollops of sour cream, which helped to smooth out the flavor in a subtle way.

- obviously, if the veggies aren't tender yet, keep cooking it til they are. and if you're in the middle of other stuff, or have the time to develop a deeper flavor, you can keep this soup on a very low simmer for as long as you want. i let this batch go for 20 or so extra minutes.

it sounds too simple to be true, but this soup is tomatoe-y perfection...best comfort food!



zahav - a must hav

now, i know i throw around the word "best" quite a bit, but this time i'm not the one slinging the word. i recently ate at zahav in old city and, post-meal, discovered i had eaten one of the "best restaurant dishes of 2008" as declared by food and wine. that's a serious title if you ask me!

always one for a bargain, i decided to check out the slightly-above-my-price-limit restaurant during restaurant week, where a price fixed lunch menu was only $20. i really enjoyed the bright and airy quality of the dining room - where 2 out of the 4 walls sport floor to ceiling windows - as a departure from my usual dark and cozy night time haunts.

feeling cheery in the bright light of day, i ordered a "saz-arak" cocktail which had basil-hayden bourbon, st. germain, lemon, orange bitters and an arak rinse. i don't know what most of this means, i copied it off the website, but i can't say i much care because it was SO GOOD. fresh and fruity, but at $11 i had to sip slowly!

the price fix menu started off with salatim (4 small salads) and hummus with laffa, a softer than pita flat bread. the salatim was tiny little portions of smokey tomato okra, roasted spiced carrots, twice baked eggplant and fennel salad. the hummus was amazing smooth. it didn't blow my mind but that's kind of expected, as hummus isn't really a mindblowing dip. it's just creamy, smooth and goes great on pita. zahav has it down, for sure! the salatim were super cute and a couple bites of each went perfectly the the hummus and laffa as an appetizer.

our mezze dishes then arrived shortly after the salatim and we chowed down on fried cauliflower with a dill, mint and garlic yogurt sauce. the cauliflower was insaaanely good, crispy on the outside but still juicy and semi-firm on the inside. definitely my favorite dish of the meal! the other mezze plate was beets with a mustard green tzatziki and crispy shallots. i thought the mustard green tzatziki was really interesting twist on the usual version, but my lunch companion didn't like the leafy texture of the greens in the sauce. (it still got eaten, trust me!)

our "al-haesh" dishes, which means grilled over coals were really good but i was pretty full by this point in the meal. it seemed kind of crazy as every dish was on the smaller side. somehow we soldiered on and were able to eat the Galil: baby eggplant, pomegranate, pistachio, tahini, and a seafood dish that i, of course, took no part in. the baby eggplant was really soft and smokey from being cooked over the coals and the pomegranate was a reduced syrup that really worked with the tahini and pistachios. again - delicious!

(ok, so this isn't the most appetizing picture,
eggplant doesn't photograph too well, but trust me it was banging)

i didn't think i'd even be able to take one little bite of dessert, but again, i had no trouble once it got to the table. I MEAN LOOK AT IT!

i really wanted to go for the baklava, but once we found out about what the "konafi" was, the decision had been made for us. our waiter described it as "the closest you'll ever get to eating a cloud". konafi is basically really finely shredded puff pastry topped with ricotta cheese and fried in a frying pan, then topped with rose water and pistachios. HE WAS RIGHT! it was like taking a bite out of a cumulonimbus. the chocolate semifreddo was like a sort of melted gelato, really soft and creamy, atop a chocolate hazelnut crunchy wafer and candied cumquats (pictured above).

this is the texture of the finely shredded puff pastry

doesn't that sound like an insane amount of food for just $40? it was. it really was. i'll be back, zahav...maybe not until next restaurant week, but i'll be back.


p.s. the waiter told that all of the kitchen staff and some of the waitstaff was flown to israel to taste and see how the food of israeli culture is made. um...it worked.