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(“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we?  Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans on this blog than you do.”)

 

remoulade2

[Dig that romantic lighting in this photo!]

I have a new love, and it’s not the HH.

(“What?  Mum, you’re not getting a divorce, are you?  Because who’s going to walk us in the morning if Dad is gone??“).  Now, before I go and scare The Girls, I should specify that I’m not referring to a human object of my affection. I’m talking about a new food-related amore: celeri rémoulade.  (“Phew! Mum, you really shouldn’t scare us that way. We’re very sensitive, you know.”)

Let me backtrack a bit and explain.  Even though the HH and I do celebrate Valentine’s Day, for the past few years we’ve done so a day or two after the fact, in order to avoid the  too-crowded-too-expensive-too-mushy restaurant crowds who seem to roll out like fog off a San Francisco pier all on that one day. Last year (the first V-day to occur after I started writing this blog), I broke all previous records and assembled a multi-course, ultra-extravagant, über-romantic and oh-so-dirty dinner (no, no, no, that would have scared the dogs even more than a breakup! We’d never offend their delicate sensibilities that way. I meant “dirty” as in, “generating a lot of dirty dishes,” silly!).  I vowed that this year, we’d move to the other end of the spectrum, with a simple,  quick, yet equally delectable meal. (“Thanks, Mum.  That divorce scare was more than enough for one day.”)

I’d actually chosen the appetizer over a month ago, after reading about celeri rémoulade on Molly’s blog.  Her description was so alluring–rapturous, almost–citing the “clean, fragrant crunch of celery root, and the alchemy of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. . . . somewhat rich [with a] flavor [that’s] light, bright, even hungry-making, a perfect start to a meal,” that I knew I had to try it out. The only glitch, of course, is that traditionally, the dish contains copious amounts of both mayonnaise and yogurt (the vegan versions of which are a tad too processed for my liking). Never mind; I decided to deal with that later. 

For the main course, I considered a recipe for Tempeh Stroganoff I’d found in an old (October 2007!) issue of Vegetarian Times

[11:32 AM.  Ricki and the HH sit at the kitchen table, sipping tea and nibbling on muffins.  The Girls lie on the carpet in front of the fireplace, Chaser sprawled with her belly facing the fire, while Else lies curled in a ball.]

Ricki:  How about this tempeh stroganoff from Vegetarian Times?

HH:  No.

Ricki: But it sounds delicious! And it’s even gluten-fr–

HH: Uh-uh.  No.  Nada. No way.  Nein. [As if to remind Ricki of a forgotten promise]: No tofu.

Ricki: But it’s not tofu.  It’s tempeh. 

HH: Tempeh, tofu–same difference.  No soy products.

Ricki:  [pouting] Well, but, this is what I want for dinner!

HH: Okay, fine. I’ll make a steak and have the stroganoff as a side dish. 

Ricki: That’s why I love you, sweetheart.  Happy Valentine’s Day!  Kiss kiss squeeze squeeze hug hug. . .

Okay, I didn’t really say that.  But I did think it.  Here’s what I did say:

Ricki: Well, in that case, I think I’ll make it with these fabulous tempeh meatless balls that I read about on Happyveganface.

HH: Still not eating it.

Me:  That’s fine, HH.  But just because you’re cooking your own steak doesn’t mean you don’t have to help me make the stroganoff.

HH:  Okay. 

Ricki:  That’s why I love you, sweetheart.  Happy Valentine’s Day!  Kiss kiss squeeze squeeze hug hug. . .

We figured we could whip up the stroganoff in under an hour (bake the meatballs while I made the sauce; julienne the celery root while the stroganoff simmered), having time to leisurely prepare the meal ensemble while listening to some Rodrigo, exchange good-natured banter, toss cashews to The Girls and sip our favorite bargain basement champagne, sort of like we used to do in the early days of our relationship. We’d have the early part of the day to relax in our jammies, peruse the newspaper, play with The Girls, check favorite blogs, and so on.  Perfect!

After a chillaxing day (browsing the paper, taking The Girls for a trail-walk, visiting the workout club–how ya doin’, burly guy with the black knee socks?  Nice to see you again, septuagenarian couple with the matching T-shirts!  Nice day, isn’t it, bleached blonde with the flirty giggle!), we finally turned to dinner. 

Perhaps I should have planned this “easy peasy” meal just a tad more carefully.  (Of course, by the time I got round to cooking, I was semi sloshed on Segura Viudas, which may have contributed to my somewhat inefficient kitchen artistry–but still).  

First, I discovered that the cashews (the main ingredient in the homemade sour cream) required an hour’s soaking, which set our prep time back by an hour.  No problem: I’d whir together some homemade vegan mayonnaise (I used the recipe in Cozy Inside, but this one sounds just as good) and whip up the meatballs while the nuts soaked. Then, I’d quickly prep the sour cream and throw together the stroganoff while the HH grilled his steak.  We’d be done and ready to dig in by 7:00 PM at the latest.

[7:00 PM. Having forgotten about the initial chopping and sautéing involved, Ricki is still mixing ingredients for the meatballs.  Sounds of rumbling tummies can be heard in the background.]

HH:  So, um, what’s our ETA for dinner?

Ricki: Well, I’ll just pop these meatballs in the oven–I couldn’t bear to fry them–and then make the mayo and sour cream, and then I can whip up the stroganoff, and then the celeri rémoulade, oh, and then I guess we should think about dessert–

HH:  I thought this was going to be a quick and easy dinner.

Ricki [pouting]:  Well, now, I suppose it HAS been easy for YOU, hasn’t it, Mr. Lazypants?  I mean, I’VE done all the work so far, I’m standing here covered in onion juice and flour and cashew crumbs, and YOU’VE been sittng there all day reading the paper and playing with the dogs, sipping your champagne, now, haven’t you??  Well, I wouldn’t be complaining right about now if I were you, mister, you’d better watch yourself, or else—

HH:  Um, well, I’m actually happy to help.  Just tell me what to chop.  Oh, and here’s your Valentine’s Day present [brandishing chocolate].

Me:  Oh, that’s why I love you, sweetheart!  Happy Valentine’s Day! Kiss kiss squeeze squeeze hug hug. . .

Ultimately, we didn’t sit down at the table until well after 8:00 PM (have you ever julienned a celery root by hand??? Insanity, I tell you–sheer insanity).  But the results were well worth it.  The celeri rémoulade was, as Molly promised, fresh, crisp, light, and entirely irresistible.  I really did fall in love, and ate two servings before even thinking about my stroganoff.

The main course, too, offered a winning combination of succulent, filling meatless balls atop a plate of velvety, herbaceous sauce. It practically hummed its smooth melody of rich, sour cream and savory, toothsome mushrooms.

It may have been more complex than anticipated, and it may have taken six times as long as anticipated, and it may have been cobbled together from seven different recipes intended for seven other purposes. . . but this meal was remarkable all the same. 

After all, who ever said the road to true love was an easy one?

In case you’d like to reproduce the meal yourself (if you happen to have three and a half hours to spare some weekend), here’s how I assembled it.

And since celery root is available in Ontario in February, this post is my submission to Maninas’s event, Eating with the Seasons, for February. 

Vegan Celeri Rémoulade

adapted from Orangette

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

remoulade1

Meatball Stroganoff (GF option)

based on a recipe in Vegetarian Times, October 2007

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

 stroganoff2

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

 

 Last Year at this Time

: Juicy Cuisine and Crunchy Granola

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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Date Pasta

October 27, 2008

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE SHINY NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

[No, not “date” as in “dried fruit with pit and high sugar content.”  I mean “date” as in the classic Saturday night event, “evening out with someone you like and with whom you might like to be, um, romantic.” ]

It’s been a whirlwind weekend, first, with a birthday dinner (THANKS for all those amazing well-wishes, everyone!) followed immediately by a wedding (the birthday dinner featured the HH and me; the wedding did not).  More on both next time, once I’ve had a chance to catch my breath.  Today, I’m just as excited to tell you about Date Pasta instead.

When we were undergrads in our 20s, one of the things that welded the friendship between my buddy Sterlin and me was our singleton status.  No matter how many relationships and breakups the rest of our friends experienced, and no matter how many blind dates, dating services, personal ads, university parties or fix-ups we two endured, Sterlin and I somehow managed to remain perpertually alone (well, I guess technically we weren’t “alone,” since we spent most Saturday nights with each other–but you know what I mean). 

Being permanently unattached until our mid-twenties (okay, fine, late twenties) didn’t mean we ever stopped trying, however. This pasta dish was Sterlin’s go-to recipe pretty much every time she wished to impress a potential boyfriend, or every time she scored a second date.  It was quick, it was easy, it was foolproof, guys seemed to like it, and–most important–it was the only dish she knew how to make. 

The guys in question, upon being served the pasta, would inevitably utter an appropriately impressed response, then spend an engaging evening drinking wine, gobbling up the pasta, and raving about how good it was, before leaving and never calling again. (What’s up with that, anyway?  Was it something we said?  Was it our nerdy demeanor?  Were they just not that into us? Or were they perhaps paralyzed by our incomparable wit, intelligence and (reasonably) good looks? I guess we’ll never know. ) Despite its inability to produce a lasting relationship, Date Pasta was so good that Sterlin kept making it throughout our university career.  

In fact, I was also so impressed with the dish (and ever hopeful about the fact that guys seemed to like it) that I asked for the recipe, and proceeded to cook it up dozens of times myself over the years.  It wasn’t until the HH and I were happily ensconced in our current long-term relationship and sharing the same abode that I dared to cook it for him. 

And then–magically–when the HH ate it, the curse was broken; he was able to love Date Pasta, and still love me, too.  

I hadn’t eaten Date Pasta in years, though.  First of all, the HH and I no longer go on “dates” (well, I suppose you could say our weekly sushi lunch together might qualify, but still). More importantly, however, the ingredient list of the original recipe contained spicy capicola salami, cut into cubes and flash-fried along with the other ingredients.  These days, I feel about salami sort of the same way I feel about steak.  When I altered my diet ten years ago, I placed the recipe in a file folder, and forgot about it. 

This past week, the HH’s friend the Engineering Guru came over for dinner.  Could it be that he resembled a guy I fancied in high school?  Or maybe it was that he’s tall and strapping and I know he, like the HH, is an avid meat eater?  Whatever the reason, Date Pasta came to mind.  The HH even remembered it from our early days and enthusiastically coerced browbeat badgered encouraged me to whip it up again.  So I did what I often do when cooking for the HH and me: I made a huge batch of the recipe in a meatless format I could enjoy, then let the guys add their own meat to their portions. 

Why did I never think of this before?  All these years, I’ve been avoiding Date Pasta, and missing out on this remarkably easy and delicious dinner! It’s so chock full of pungent, toothsome, salty and briny add-ins that it almost doesn’t need the pasta, and certainly doesn’t require the meat.  Who knows?  Maybe if I’d made it this way from the start, I’d have had more success in those early dateless years.  (Then again, I would never have enjoyed all those Saturday nights with Sterlin).  And so, Date Pasta, welcome back (can’t say that I miss the singleton status, though).

Oh, and now that I’ve finally made another pasta dish, I’m happy to submit this to Melissa at The Cooking Diva, who’s hosting Presto Pasta Nights, the weekly event originated by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast.

Date (or any other occasion) Pasta

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

While this is great as is, if you’re craving a meat stand-in, I think this pasta would be phenomenal with some cubed, smoked tofu as well.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

*Or, Mastering the Legacy of Mush and Goo

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.” 

When I was a kid, my mother was a fairly conventional 1960s housewife (well, except for the Valium) whose cooking style, too, adhered to convention; she’d cook pretty much the same seven dinners every week, according to the day: Mondays were hamburgers and mashed potatoes.  Tuesdays were veal chops and green beans.  Wednesdays were franks and beans. Fridays were chicken soup or roast chicken (but this changed to salmon patties and twice-baked potatoes, after one of her Mah Jong friends clipped a recipe from Good Housekeeping and passed it along). 

Only on the very rare occasion did Mom diverge from the predetermined pattern, if she saw a particularly intriguing recipe in Chatelaine, perhaps, or if my aunt cooked something she tasted and really liked.  Then Mom would pick up the ingredients during that week’s grocery shopping, and we’d have something new for a change.

One week, she decided to tackle homemade lasagna.  Never mind that she had never made it before. Never mind that it was a multi-step, fairly complex process. Never mind that my aunt–the inspiration for this experiment–was a professional caterer and could make a lasagna with one hand tied behind her apron. My mother decided we were going to have lasagna, and, dammit, that’s what she made. 

Well, sort of. 

I returned home from school that day to a scene worthy of the set of Psycho:  kitchen walls splattered with thick, wayward splotches of red, the stovetop covered in equally abundant patches of tomato sauce that had spewed from a teeming pot of sauce; topless, half-emptied cartons of cottage cheese and grated mozzarella littered across every surface, and detritus of carrot shavings, onion peel, and celery stalks strewn over and beside the wooden cutting board. 

It did smell heavenly, though.  My sisters and I waited patiently, watching Happy Days reruns, as we dreamt of thick, saucy hunks of lasagna, the long, ruffled noodles padded with meat, cheese, and my mother’s own sauce. But any aspirations of heavenly hunks were quickly dashed when my mother cut in to the first piece. The noodles (having been parboiled according to package directions, before being layered with the sauce and cheese) had practically disintegrated in the casserole dish, leaving only a mass of mushy, oozing goo.  She didn’t attempt lasagna again for quite some time.

When I finally got my own apartment as an undergraduate, I was determined to conquer the fractious pasta.  I cooked up a huge batch of my favorite spaghetti sauce with ground beef, chopped celery, peppers and carrots, accented with oregano and lots of basil.  I had my cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan) at the ready.  And, unlike my mother, I was savvy enough to take advantage of modern conveniences: I purchased pre-parboiled noodles, so that they could be laid, stiff and uncooked, right into the casserole dish with the sauce and cheeses.  I layered, I smoothed the top, I popped it into the oven, feeling pretty satisfied with myself.

About an hour later, I was drawn by the heavenly smell.  But any aspirations of success were quickly dashed when I cut into the first slice. . . which was a mass of mushy, oozing goo.  Needless to say, I had no desire to cook lasagna again for quite some time. 

One of the imperatives of my “Total Health” course is to eat more greens (and more on the course, below).  In searching the Internet for greens recipes, I came across the ubiquitous Potato and Kale Enchiladas on the Post Punk Kitchen discussion forum.  Now, I know it must seem lately that I’m shilling for Moskowitz & Romero (no, not the Las Vegas act; the vegan cookbook authors) given how many times I’ve mentioned their recipes on this blog recently.  But since kale is my favorite leafy green, and since the recipe was right in front of me, I decided to use it–sort of.  Having no tortillas in the house, I dug out a box of rice lasagna I’d bought on a whim months ago. Did I dare to try another lasagna experiment?  What the heck; I decided to live on the (stiff, ruffled) edge. 

Potatoes and noodles?  Yes, it’s an unconventional twist on that traditional dish. But I’m here to tell you, it worked.  Not only was the kale-potato filling hardy enough to support the layers of noodles, the lasagna itself complied and baked up perfectly; firm, cooked throughout, with neither mush nor goo anywhere in sight. It cut beautifully into semi-solid, clearly defined squares.  And the combination of potato, kale, tomato sauce and pumpkin seeds was a delightful, unusual and winning carnival of tastes.

This was a terrific dinner, one that would satisfy even the most avowed lasagna-lover.   The HH thoroughly enjoyed it (I believe his exact words were, “hmmmn, not so bad for vegetarian lasagna”), and The Girls were happy to help with the leftovers (“It may not be steak, but it was still good, Mum! And you might recall that we love kale.”) Next time you’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen, I recommend giving this this one a try.

And since I’ve finally made another pasta dish, I’m submitting this to Ruth at Once Upon a Feast, for the weekly Presto Pasta night roundup.

 Potato and Kale Lasagna (based on PPK recipe)

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

 

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

 

 

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Spicy Red Pepper Pasta

April 17, 2008

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

Sometimes it’s best not to complicate matters.  

Even though I am well aware of this principle, I’ve never been the kind of gal who naturally embraces “simple”: no scoop of vanilla ice cream for me when double-fudge-cookie-cream-caramel-swirl exists in the world; no blue wooly socks if I can wear my favorite pair emblazoned with frolicking brown and green puppies; no simple sentence when a complex, adjective-crammed, three-clause phrasing can be used instead. 

In terms of this particular trait, the HH and I are polar opposites. Unlike me, he invariably takes the path of least complication.  In fact, he’s frequently reminding me that, in his opinon, I tend to overcomplicate matters. 

Scene One: I’m worried about Elsie. Just look at her!  She’s terribly lethargic, sleeping on her pillow all afternoon.  She didn’t even come into the kitchen when I started baking.  Could she be sick? Maybe we should take her to the vet.  Maybe she’s got Distemper!  Or Lyme Disease!  We have to go to the after-hours emergency clinic!  RIGHT NOW!!

HH:  “Sweetheart, please don’t overcomplicate this.  Elsie’s just tired, that’s all.  I took them for an hour-long walk along the trail this afternoon.  She swam and she ran for an hour.  See?  Chaser’s exactly the same way.”

Me:  “Oh.  Yeah.”

Scene Two: I’m sure my sister is mad at me.  I mean, she got off the phone so abruptly, and she didn’t even ask about The Girls.  She definitely sounded upset.  Hmmn.  What on earth did I do to offend her this time?  Hooboy.  Now I’m going to have to apologize for some slight I can’t even remember committing. . .

HH:  “Honey, you don’t need to overcomplicate this. She probably had a bad day at work and just doesn’t feel like talking about it.  Didn’t she have some big meeting coming up. . .?”

Me: “Oh.  Yeah.  Now I remember. . . she had to fire someone today and felt terrible doing it.  Oh, gee, I guess I should have asked her about it. . . “.

Scene Three: That HH is so infuriating!  Why won’t he tell me what he’s really thinking? He just won’t share.  Men are so emotionally stunted!  They are so out of touch with their feelings!  All I asked was a simple question, and he can’t even give me a straight answer. . .!

HH:  “Ricki.  Please.  Do not overcomplicte this.  I really meant it when I said that I have no preference.  I don’t care whether you wear the flats or the heels. Please, just pick one.  We’re going to be late for the wedding.”

Hmmm. Okay.  I see his point.

Thankfully, when it comes to cooking, we are in perfect agreement: the less complicated, the better.  And this pasta dish fits the bill beautifully.

When I’m looking for something to whip up on weeknights if we’re headed out after dinner and need something pronto; or for indolent Sunday evenings when we’ve spent the weekend engaged in errands or household chores and feel too lazy for anything more elaborate, I turn to this pasta. It’s proof positive that sometimes, indeed, simple is best.

The recipe, I’ve discovered, is a slight variation on a standard Italian pasta dish:  spaghetti or linguine tossed with roasted red peppers, garlic, and a bit of chili.  The combination of sweet (the peppers), hot (the chilis), and pungent (the garlic) is truly inspired. My handwritten version was jotted on a piece of scrap paper several years ago, and I no longer recall the original source; but since I’ve adapted it to our tastes here in the DDD household, I’m setting this down as my own adaptation. 

And the preparation, as promised, is truly simple: the final product is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta.  You can create any number of variations on the base recipe by adding your own choice of dense protein (the HH likes sausage and parmesan cheese; I like chopped or ground almonds, or nutritional yeast). 

Because it’s both quick and appealing, I’m submitting this recipe to Ruth’s weekly Presto Pasta Night, over at Once Upon a Feast.  Look for the roundup after Friday evening!

Spicy Red Pepper Pasta

Simplicity itself is transformed into a satisfying, filling dinner in this pasta.  You can use either fresh or jarred peppers here;  I prefer a combination of both for the different textures and levels of sweeteness.

1 pkg. (about 350 grams) long, thin pasta (I use kamut linguine)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 red peppers, either fresh or roasted and jarred (the ideal mix, I’ve found, is 2 of each), cut in long strips

4-6 cloves garlic (or more, if you like), coarsely chopped

1 tsp. chili flakes

other toppers of your choice:  parmesan cheese, chopped or ground nuts, faux cheese, etc.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.  If it’s ready before the pepper mixture, drain, reserving about 1/4 cup liquid; cover, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and fresh peppers (however many you’re using), and cook until the garlic begins to brown and the peppers are wilted.  Sprinkle with the chilis and stir to combine.  If using prepared roasted peppers, add them now, and mix together. 

Once the pasta is ready, add it along with the 1/4 cup water to the pepper pot (always wanted to say that!).  Toss until the pasta is coated with the garlicy oil and the peppers are well distributed.  Stir in your optional extras and transfer to serving plates.  Sprinkle with more cheese or nutritional yeast, if desired.  Makes 4-6 servings.

 gnocchibowl2.jpg

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Gnocchi.

Gnocchi Who?

Gnocchi your socks off.

What?

Gnocchi three times.

Excuse me?

Gnocchi Three Times on the Ceiling if You Wa-ant Me. . . Twice on the Pipes. . .”

Okay, I think that’s quite enough.  

You shouldn’t gnocchi a guy when he’s down. 

I said that’s it!  That’s all I’m gonna take!

Oh, come on. Be nice to me.  I went to the School of Hard Gnocchis.

All right, buddy, you asked for it– 

Look, don’t gnocchi it ’til you try it.

*    *   *   *   *   *

Now, judging by my little preamble here, you might surmise that I don’t take my gnocchi quite as seriously as I should.  I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.  I fully understand the gravitas of gnocchi, believe me; in fact, I take them just as seriously as my job (extremely); or saving for retirement (nerve-rackingly); or even the well-being of The Girls (all-consumingly). 

(“Well, Mum, you know that we both take your well-being very seriously too, right?  Because if anything ever happened to you, how would we get our dinner?”)

I am well aware that the genesis of a good gnocchi is more art than skill; and also that I am, in that particular realm at least, neither artistically inclined nor very skilled.  Because the process usually requires planning, talent, and the equanimity of a Stepford wife, I have rarely ventured to attempt the challenge.  A shame, really, as I adore gnocchi.

In my long-ago wheat-eating days, I would snatch any opportunity to sample one of those freshly pinched and simmered Italian dumplings.  The HH and I patronized quite a range of small, family-owned Italian restaurants in our early days, and each boasted its own version of the little pasta pillows: smothered in Arrabiata with extra jalapenos mounded on the side; lightly pan-fried in olive oil, then sprinkled liberally with springy sage and dusted with freshly grated Parmesan; tossed gently in a vodka cream sauce with black olives and capers–I loved them all. I loved the slightly gooey exterior, the softly yielding chew, the smooth and subtle flavor that demanded a potato ricer to achieve.

Before today, I had yet to sample a spelt-based version of gnocchi.  (Seems they don’t serve spelt gnocchi in most Italian restaurants I’ve frequented. Quel surprise!). The few times I endeavored to cook up some of the light, spud-based morsels using a traditional recipe in the past, the result was a total flop.  Either the gnocchi were so hard and dense that they could be shot from a BB gun, or they turned out so soft and mushy that one might wonder where the pasta was hiding in this white, slushy gruel. And yet. . . and yet. . . they persisted in beckoning to me.  

So, last night, I threw caution to the winds, and allowed my passion for the little rascals to lead me into temptation.  I knew I’d likely get gnocchi’d up for my efforts, but just didn’t care.  After all, the outcome would be a bowl brimming with my delicious, darling pasta babies! Besides, I thought gnocchi would be the perfect submission to Ruth’s weekly Presto Pasta Night over at Once Upon a Feast.

I started with a fairly simple recipe for Spiced Carrot Gnocchi that I found in Gourmet Vegetarian by Jane Price, and adapted it according to my own dietary restrictions: no eggs and no wheat (replaced with silken tofu and a combination of whole spelt and oat flours, respectively).  I topped the gnocchi with a creamy, cheesy sauce of my own invention (I’ve had great luck with sauces in the past, thankfully), and sprinkled some chopped fresh parsley over top. 

How did it end up?  Well, let’s just say that the sauce was rich, creamy, and delicious, as expected.  As to my experiments with my potato nemesis? Well, I must confess that, once again, success eluded me.  Don’t get me wrong–they weren’t awful; in fact, the mildly sweet and dense chewiness was well complemented by the velvety, cheesy sauce.  Still, if you’re looking for the traditional version of this pasta, you won’t be satisfied with these. 

And I hate to admit it, I think I will finally put this kitchen quest behind me, once and for all.  That’s right–it’s time to gnocchi it off for good.

Spiced Carrot Gnocchi in Cream Sauce

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The contrast between the dense, slightly chewy gnocchi and the velvety sauce is a pleasing one. These gnocchi were a little heavy and slightly sweet; if you’re okay with non-traditional pasta, you may enjoy these.

Spiced Carrot Gnocchi

Adapted from Gourmet Vegetarian by Jane Price

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While taking some leisure time to browse through a few food blogs recently (read: two hours at my desk when I should have been working), I happened upon the blog event They Go Really Well Together, hosted by blog.khymos.org (“dedicated to molecular gastronomy”). The gist of the event is that two or more seemingly mis-matched flavors are paired according to their molecular compatibility (a la Fat Duck), said compatibility not always apparent to those deficient in the chef’s olfactory supremacy (such as moi).

Then I got to thinking, it’s true; some ostensibly odd couplings do actually work well together:  Sonny and Cher, purple and mustard yellow walls (but only for the previous tenant, not us), Elsie and Chaser, paisley and–hmmn.  Well, Sonny and Cher, anyway.

This pasta dish, a favorite in our house, is one of those weird couplings: rhyme off the ingredients one at a time and they sound not like a recipe but more like a grocery list jotted in haste on the back of an envelope, its disparate elements each appealing on its own, but not meant to share space in a simmering pot.  Yet, when tossed together haphazardly as we tend to do over here, the result is pure delight.

I must admit, I have a tendency to be remiss about planning meals even at the best of times (“Does that make you bad, Mum?  Bad Girl! Can we have your treats, then?”), but during times such as these, when I’m inundated with midterm assignments and hillocks of tests to mark, I’m lucky if I have a passing thought about dinner as I turn the key in the front door at 6:00 PM.  Okay, I’m exaggerating, just a little.  5:58 PM.

And so this pasta is our saviour many a busy night.  It comes together incredibly quickly, basically in the time it takes to boil and drain the noodles.  I’m sure I’ve seen variations of this combination floating about on the Internet, but since we were introduced to the recipe this way, we like to stick with it.

The dish combines soba noodles, the Japanese version of spaghetti, with the agreeable combination of ginger, soy sauce, and chard.  It’s also a great way to incorporate more greens into your cooking, as the chard shrinks down until it’s barely noticeable, never overtaking the toasted nuts.  The sprinkling of chili flakes provides a pleasant hint of spice that lingers on the palate.  And it’s enough, on its own, for a satisfying light dinner.

We got the original recipe from the newsletter we receive each week with our organic produce delivery.  We’ve tweaked it slightly, but not much.  And since it truly is a presto! pasta, I’m submitting this to the weekly Presto Pasta night event, hosted by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast. 

Soba Noodles with Ginger, Chard and Walnuts

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

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This is a great recipe for a quick and easy dinner.  Nuts combined with the whole-grain noodles provide a complete protein in this meal, and the chard adds a bevy of minerals and vitamins.  [And isn’t it cute how the pasta and the plate are all kind of the same colors?]

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As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

 

Even though this morning was the first day of my chocolate detox, that didn’t stop me from having a whale of a time at our (slightly postponed) Valentine’s Day Dinner last evening.  With the weather being as inclement as ever, the HH and I began prepping our meal around 3:30 PM, and just kept at it till the whole darn thing was ready and we could devour it.  I thought I’d provide a quick recap of my last evening of dining decadence for  a while.   (Thanks Sally, Jamie, Theresa and Johanna for your great suggestions!)

champersvday08.jpgTo commence the festivities, the HH poured each of us a glass of our favorite cut-rate bubbly, a Spanish cava that I think rivals true champagne.  Here’s the bottle next to one of our special-occasion glasses (purchased just before the turn of the century, in fact!).

Instead of my original appetizer idea for “neat” balls in a sweet and sour sauce, I decided to try Johanna’s Nutroast from Green Gourmet Giraffe. I had planned to make it into balls, but when freshly blended, the mixture seemed too soft, and I was afraid it would fall apart simmering in a sauce. So I just baked it in a square pan, and we then cut it into appetizer-sized squares.  I made only minor adjustments to the recipe (miso for yeast extract, spelt breadcrumbs for regular), but otherwise followed Johanna’s excellent recipe exactly.

The planned sauce was one from my childhood, something my Boston cousin used to whip up all the time, in the spirit of “1980s suburban mom must have dinner for 5 on the table in 25 minutes.” The dish was called “Chili and Grape Meatballs.”  Now, before you politely excuse yourself and dash from the room, I know it sounds rather, well, purple. Yet there was something very tempting about the combination of sweet, sour and spicy, with a modicum of “barbecue” thrown in. 

In an attempt to channel that tangy, sugary spirit (and also to use up a bottle of chili sauce in our panty–from whence I have no idea, it’s that old), I created two dipping sauces for the nutroast.  Each contained an equal portion of the sauce (which, as far as I could tell from the ingredients, is basically just a spicy ketchup), and either marmalade or apple butter.  The apple butter-chili version was, hands down, the preferred one. 

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But the nutroast?  All I can say is, “I love nutroast! Nutroast is King! LONG LIVE NUTROAST!!”  The HH was very fond of it, too.  In fact, I would have been satisfied with an entire dinner of just the nutroast, salad (Veganomicon’s Caesar, yet again) and that marvelous soup. (But then, insisted the HH, it wouldn’t have been a “real” meal.)  So we ended up having the pasta, too, but without the smoked tofu, as I just didn’t think I could bear something else heavy at that point (and I knew pie was coming later). I also took Jamie’s suggestion for chocolate-dipped fruit (strawberries), as I really couldn’t have an entire meal sans chocolate the very night before banning it from my diet entirely!

And so, without further ado, here’s the rest of our feast from the evening:

Cream of Olive Soup: 

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This was simply spectacular (and yes, it was that grey-green color you see here).  As I mentioned in a previous post, this is a soup I recall eating in my twenties, and the creamy, silky memory has lingered this long.  I was determined to reproduce it. 

I began with a recipe that’s everywhere on the internet and adapted it to our tastes; I used half green and half black olives and held back about one quarter of these when I pureed the rest (and chopped those very fine, to then be returned to the soup).  Even substituting soymilk for the cream, the result was a smooth, salty, overflowing-with-olive sensation.  If you like olives, you will love this soup.

Pesto Pasta and Caesar Salad

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The pasta does, I admit, appear very green here.  By omitting the tofu, we were left with just pesto pasta and sundried tomatoes, so we added edamame at the last minute.  While the combination was, indeed, pretty tasty, I think the pesto could have used more basil.

Next up, dessert!  By this point, we were so stuffed that we decided to take a break and tidy up a bit.  To say that we are “messy” cooks would not only be an understatement, it would actually be a compliment. You may, indeed, wonder how two fairly well educated, calm and rational people could create such a welter of utensils, pots, pans, spilled sauce, squirts of oil, miscellaneous soiled tea towels and other mayhem when cooking together (why, shame on you!  Of course all we were doing was cooking together!).  Me, too. But, hey, I’m not too proud to share it all–so here’s a pic of the post-apocalyptic kitchen:

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Dessert: Banoffee Pie

My attempt at vegan Banoffee Pie was sincere, but less than successful, I’d say. While not a total failure, it didn’t quite hit the mark I’d intended.  First, I whipped up my “cream,” which did manage to hold together well:

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After baking the pie crust and letting it cool, I sliced bananas and scattered them evenly over the bottom, then poured the caramel over top:

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This base was then topped with the aforementioned cream:

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 So far, so good, right?  Even though the caramel was rather thick and usually cools down to a solid state, some weird alchemy went on under that whipped cream.  By the time we finally cut into the pie several hours later, some of the caramel had dissolved, transforming it into caramel sauce that oozed out in dilatory rivulets from under each slice.  What to do? In the end, I used the “sauce” as a drizzle over the top of the pie, and we still enjoyed it immensely.  (I’ll still need to do a bit of refining before I’m ready to serve the pie to guests, I think).

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This morning, after waking up still stuffed from the meal, I was definitely ready to embark on the Week of Chocolate Asceticism (WOCA), which I’ll discuss more next time.  On the other hand, the HH wasn’t quite as fulfilled by yesterday’s all-vegan Valentine’s Day dinner. As he prepared his morning coffee, he casually remarked, “You know, that dinner was really good yesterday. But by nine o’clock, I was already hungry enough for another one.”  

Well, my beloved HH, I guess you’ll just have to wait until next year.