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Spinach, Feta, and Roasted Tomato Omelette

Spinach, Feta, and Roasted Tomato Omelet

Sometimes, life gets a little absurd. Recently, I’ve been letting my dissertation take over every waking hour, because, well, someday, I want to get out of here, move on, and do something (anything) with my life that people might actually be interested in. I mean more than the 30 or so people in my field, who are working on similarly esoteric stuff.  That’s grad school for you, I suppose. But I digress … I’m really here to tell you that there ARE ways to make home-cooked meals, even when life gets crazy. If you have five minutes, and don’t mind leaving the dishes in the sink, you can eat amazingly well even in the midst of work-related chaos.  I think I’ll make these meals a monthly feature here on threeForks.

This first one is actually one of my favorite quick meals, especially because you can double the recipe and provide yourself with lunch or dinner the next day, as well.  It’s incredibly versatile — you can throw in anything (including leftover pasta!) you need to use up and end up with a gorgeous, filling meal. And it takes a whole 5 minutes, depending on your fillings.  I’ll give you a specific variation below, but first, I have some business to attend to.

Baking Blondie tagged me, so I will in turn tag Rachael, Arielle, and Marty, just because. Here’s some insight about my food obsessions…

You can take five items and are allowed one sentence in which to justify your decision. Tag whoever you like and link back! You are on a desert island so assume a plentiful supply of exotic fish, coconuts and sea salt. Ignore any issues regarding storage. There happens to be a very large solar powered refrigerator washed up on the shore as well. Now, on to the list…

1. Olive oil. With all that fish and salt, I’m going to need some to get gorgeous, crackling fish skin.

2. Coffee, because I am an addict.

3. A cast iron pot, because you can cook anything in one of these.

4. Flour, so I can make some awesome sourdough pizza.

5. A tomato seed packet. Then I can grow something delicious.

Ok, now back to the regularly scheduled program…

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Filed under cheese, eggs, main, quick meals, spinach, tomatoes

Get your greens

Pumpkin saag paneer

Pumpkin saag paneer

I’m never a one-dish girl. Even at my favorite restaurants, I can’t pick up a menu and order something that I’ve had before. God forbid I miss their best dish, even if I know I had it two weeks ago, and there’s no way in hell I’ll ever come close with anything else.  Call it a handicap of mine.

With one exception, that is.  I cannot stop ordering saag paneer.

Spinach!

Spinach!

It’s as if I’m channeling some inner Popeye the second I step into an Indian restaurant. Seriously, it’s a problem, because frankly, I’m a little ashamed of myself.  Until now, that is.

Squash.

Squash.

I’ve tried to make saag paneer at home before, to no avail. The cream and ghee they use in copious quantities in restaurant cooking doesn’t really make it into most cookbooks, because seriously, do you really want to know what you’re eating?  It’s never tasted quite as good. But this recipe, which I adapted from Veganomicon, is genius.  That creamy consistency? They achieve it with squash.

Paneer

Paneer

Kind of surprising, right?  It makes total sense if you think about it, though.  There is a reason butternut squash soup is kind of creamy, even without any cream.  If you’re not easily convinced, you must go cook this now. Seriously — I really think you’ll thank me.  My version is not vegan, because James really wanted to make cheese, and I kind of like paneer, but I think it would have actually been better without it. (James, by the way, agrees. And he had seconds — for a dish with no meat! If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will).

This is a great start to the “eat less meat” challenge I unofficially took on a little while ago.  (It’s been going well — more on that later).

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Filed under cheese, main, spinach, squash, vegetarian

More reasons to start a garden

Food porn opportunities are everywhere

Food porn opportunities are everywhere

Check out the gorgeous beans, tomatoes, and squash. Oh, the squash … We made some tonight, and it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. Not grainy, like you get sometimes with acorn or kabocha squash that’s been sitting in your grocery store for something like an eternity, but smooth and supple, with a sweetness that makes dessert entirely unnecessary. Oh, and the flowering thai basil just makes me excited. But yah, that’s enough fawning over produce for one night.  I’ve got places to be. Tomorrow morning, in fact. I’m off to California, to visit a friend, say hello to some family, and go to a conference. And I have serious food plans. A tasting menu at Melisse in LA, lunch at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, and more excursions to the Cheese Board in Berkeley, because why wouldn’t I go if the conference is in Oakland? I want more bread …. Oh, and sourdough is calling my name.

squash warts

squash warts

But that’s tomorrow. For now, I want to leave you with one bizarre and sort of cool observation: those funny bumps you see sometimes on squash? That’s where it rests on the ground. It makes its own pillow!  And two, you can make an awesome meal from a random assortment of veggies, a few spices, tortillas, and cheese.  If the veggies are good, you really don’t even need the cheese.

Funky delicious potato

Funky delicious potato

So, I want to give you some ideas for an easy vegetarian meal. This isn’t really a recipe — just the best easy meal you could have on a Friday night.  You can use any veggies that take your fancy, as long as they’ll roast well.

My meal

My meal

We started with the garden produce we had on hand — a squash, bush beans, and a few peppers. We added in one very funky looking (but delicious) farmer’s market potato, and some cauliflower, button mushrooms, a bit of garlic (unpeeled), and rainbow carrots from the store.  We cut the squash into quarters, after scooping out the seeds, cut all the remaining veggies into similarly sized chunks, and pre-heated the oven to 425 degrees F.  After tossing everything except the potatoes in olive oil, salt, pepper, a tablespoon of freshly ground coriander seed, and a smaller portion of ground cumin (maybe < 1 t.), we placed everything in baking tins and threw it in the oven. For the potatoes, we tossed them in salt, pepper, olive oil, and spanish paprika. When everything was fork tender (maybe 1 hour later — this is a 1 dish go-about-your-business sort of dinner), we heated up a bit of cheddar cheese on some store-bought tortillas (habanero lime, from Trader Joe’s), and made our own fajitas.

The boys dinner

The boy's dinner

We both had the squash on the side, because it was easier. I didn’t feel like peeling it. But you could cut it up and roast it, too, or fork bits of it into your tortilla. You could use butternut squash, or acorn squash as a substitute, and it’d work perfectly.

This was a great first vegetarian night. We both got exactly what we wanted in a meal, no meat required. Really, even the cheese wasn’t that necessary — the veggies were tasty enough.  And I am definitely going to be excited about setting up a garden again next spring. Bring on the seed catalogs!

I’m not done yet …

James suggested I tell you what we grew this year, so here’s a list, with a few comments:

  • Pink brandywines – awesome heirloom tomatoes, and much cheaper to grow than to buy. They’re a bit finicky if you live in a rainy environment, but how indulgent is brandywine tomato sauce? You will be making a lot of it from the tomatoes bugs started tasting first.
  • Sungold tomatoes – these are orange cherry tomatoes. They’re a hybrid, a heavy producer, and are DELICIOUS.  Slow roast them and savor them in everything.
  • Yellow pear tomatoes – these are cute but not as tasty as sungolds, and definitely not as disease resistant. We won’t be growing these again next year.
  • Yellow and purple bush beans, haricots verts. The yellow and purple bush beans are my favorite. They seem to achieve a nicer texture when cooked, and have a nice flavor. The haricots verts really didn’t produce much at all.
  • Swiss chard – Awesome. They’re gorgeous, and they keep throwing up stalks when you cut some off for dinner. They weren’t terribly prolific in our garden, but we had enough to feed us with greens all summer.
  • Sweet nantes carrots – Also awesome. These are small, and really need to be grown in potting soil, because CT has rocks everywhere. They’re sweet and flavorful, and have a cute wrinkly witch finger look about them.
  • Arugula – Yum, but eat it before it gets warm and starts flowering. It gets bitter once it gets leggy.
  • Thai and genovese basil. Both varieties did really well as companion plants for the tomatoes, and gave us some tasty meals. The thai basil is gorgeous — it has lovely purple flowers, and a slightly exotic taste (gee, you think?). It’s also hardier than the typical genovese, but is a bit too strong for pesto.
  • A fingerling potato from the Union Square market – Complete failure. It seemed like it was going to work, but it died off, and then there was nothing left in the soil!
  • Sage, marjoram, oregano, cilantro, rosemary. All good herbs to have. We kept these in pots, since they can be brought inside when it starts to get cold.
  • Pea shoots. You can eat these, and they’re easy. They also like cold weather. They’re so cute — they have curly tendrils!
  • Onions, shallots. These hated our rocky soil. I did get the onions to grow a bit, and pickled them when they were still pretty small. Yum.
  • Kale – these are just tiny shoots right now, because we just planted them. They look happy, and are a cold weather crop, so I can’t wait to see how they do.
  • Peppers — I bought a 5 variety mix, and I think we had three different types pop up. I have no idea what kind — some kind of bell pepper, some longer, low-heat pepper, and I think some jalapeños. Yum.

Ok, that’s all I can remember so far. My flight leaves early, so I’m off to sleep. I’ll be back before Halloween, with an awesome lime cookie recipe, and some reports on Zuni Cafe and Melisse. See you then!

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Filed under carrots, cheese, gardening, garlic, local, main, potatoes, roasted vegetables, San Francisco, squash, stories, travel, vegetarian

It’s madness, I tell you

Night shift vision. Photobooth is so much fun, especially at 2 am.

Night shift vision. Photobooth is so much fun, especially at 2 am.

You know when you’ve been up for so long and yet somehow asleep that everything sort of blurs into this funny, multicolored haze? That’s when I think Apple decided on its Photobooth filters, because they just seem so appropriate in the middle of a nightshift. Especially the distorted ones.

This week has been nuts so far, and it isn’t over yet. I have spent more time in the control room pictured above than any human being should, and you know what? I’m not the only one. In fact, I feel like a total slacker, despite working harder that I have in a very long time. But regardless, some bizarre combination of the Liz Phair coming from the speakers and the background electronics hum (and the fact that I’m running things here — no accelerator operator for me) is making me feel a little rebellious. Just a bit.

So what, pray tell, am I going to do about it? Well …

Having your own little jar of vegemite is practically an entry requirement.

Having your own little jar of vegemite is practically a requirement.

Heh… This and a Cadbury chocolate bar might help pass the night a bit more quickly. (You try staying up all night for two nights in a row and see what you crave. Of course, I have a notorious sweet tooth, but that’s another story entirely.)

At this stage, you either agree with me wholeheartedly or think I’m completely insane, as I’ve just suggested consuming a black, tar-like, salty substance known as Vegemite to pass the time a bit more quickly. But I tell you, people, B vitamins are beautiful, and this particular condiment is pretty much swimming with them. And it reminds me of grilled cheese sandwiches with beer, which can’t be a bad thing. I tend to pair it with cheese on toast, or, if I’m craving that sweet savory experience, Milk Arrowroots, butter, and vegemite are pretty much perfect. Milk Arrowroots, which are packaged, entirely unspecial biscuits from Arnott’s, taste kind of like animal crackers, and are big enough to actually spread butter on, for the record. They are pretty damn good — even if you’re trapped caring for a sick boyfriend Sydney with nothing else for dinner.

It’s funny, because I would never buy packaged cookies (ahem — biscuits) at home. And you know what? It’s not all that surprising, if only because you don’t find high fructose corn syrup in everything you touch. The ingredient list actually makes sense more often than not. It’s kind of refreshing.

Anyway. I am rambling, as I’m sure you’ve discovered by now. I will say that if you’re looking for something more substantial to get you through the night, curry noodle soup is pretty good at four AM, as well. It’s dead simple to make, too.

Authentic curry for all your fake exotic food needs.

"Authentic" curry for all your fake exotic food needs.

Start with homemade chicken stock (Or in this case, “Real Stock”, by Campbell’s, which I find hilarious — especially since it makes your food taste exactly like canned Campbell’s soup), a packet of fresh udon noodles, a bit of coconut milk, some curry powder, sliced up onions, garlic, and bok choy, mushrooms, a bell pepper, some thai basil, sliced bacon (very optional), and, if you can find it, a kaffir lime leaf or two. No recipe — just cook the bacon, veggies (start with onion and garlic first, then bacon and mushies, then bok choy) in a stew pot with a bit of oil until soft, throw in the stock, lime leaves, and coconut milk, season with curry powder and salt to taste, bring to a simmer, and then add in the noodles. Once the noodles are ready, garnish with some thai basil, and you’re good to go.  (For the record, I also threw some cilantro on top, which is what you see in the picture above).

This is so not something I would make at home, but hey, I have a spice basket there. Here, I have to improvise.

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Filed under Australia, main, night shifts, pasta, quick meals, stories

Getting lost in Canberra

Parliament, from the rear (aka, what you see if you get lost on your way up)

Parliament, from the rear (aka, what you see if you get lost on your way up)

If I had a sense of direction, I wouldn’t stumble upon Asian lions guarding the rear end of the Australian Parliament house, ready to pounce upon diplomats intent on a secret smoke break. But then again, I wouldn’t feel like I was going to be hauled in by the Federal Police, for wandering into somewhere I really shouldn’t be. I forget sometimes that I’m in Australia, where they seem to be a little less uptight about that sort of thing. I mean, you can walk on the roof of the Parliament House here, provided the grass isn’t frosty. There aren’t even guards with funny black earpieces and formidable eyeglasses to avoid.

Yes, Parliament and my lab have something in common. Somehow I think this execution was a little more successful, despite a few leaks in the glass roof.

Yes, Parliament and my lab have something in common. Somehow I think this execution was a little more successful, despite a few leaks in the glass roof.

Yes, I had my first tourist experience in Canberra. I had a little tour (there are more pictures on flickr, of the inside of the building), and I also walked to the National Museum and had a look. This is where I ran into this guy:

This guy knows how to live.

This guy knows how to live.

He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. It was a gorgeous day, so I don’t blame him. The Museum was actually pretty awesome, and free. The building was impressive, in a very modern, “I intend to be an important piece of architecture” sort of way:

Imposing. But free!

Imposing. But free!

That’s Canberra for you, though. The whole city is relatively new, and is full of man-made monuments symbolizing all sorts of things. It also happens to be huge, despite its relatively small population. I walked to the National Museum and Parliament house, and it took me about 5 hours to get through both of them by foot. It’s definitely a collection of suburbs, spread out and designed for automobile transport. So it’ll take me a while to see everything. After all that walking, I really wanted food. Lots of it, fast. So I did a warm salad, with bits and pieces from the fridge.

Apples and bacon are actually a perfect pair.

Apples and bacon are actually a perfect pair.

I threw free range bacon, mushrooms, pecans, apples, bok choy, garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, a bit of sugar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a pan (add the bok choy last), cooked it until everything was nice and soft, and threw it over some mesclun greens. It was just the thing after a long walk — sweet and savory and warm (it’s winter here, remember). And with the blue brie, fresh bread, and fig jam with fennel, it was a nice way to end a rather long day.

Oh yah — I almost forgot:

I could only afford this if I consider that I almost bought a $20 bottle of vino cotto instead.

I can only afford this if I consider that I almost bought a $20 bottle of vino cotto instead.

That was pretty good, too.

Tomorrow? Well, there’s work, and dinner at a collaborator’s house, for which I’m making truffles. And the experiment. Of course. But I bought a book on Canberra. Hopefully I’ll find something a bit more interesting food-wise to share. I know it’ll involve a bus or two, or perhaps a bike rental. The supermarkets around here have been rather mundane, so I’ll have to try a bit harder to find some of the more interesting ingredients I was hoping to try. Not that I’m complaining.

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Filed under Australia, bacon, dessert, main, politics, quick meals, stories

In which I confront a barramundi with a butter knife and a paper towel

It looks so innocent at first...

It looks so innocent at first...

You all should know by now that I tend to think labor isn’t worth much. At least, when it happens to be my own. So it should come as no surprise when I tell you I walked into Victoria Markets in Melbourne and decided to buy a whole fish. Despite the fact that I had no oven, and would have to fillet the damn thing myself with a knife that is probably older than I am. Not that I have a thing against old knives, but imagine one that hasn’t been sharpened in that amount of time, and you’ll understand what I’m getting at.

I wanted a barramundi, and I didn’t want to pay more than $10/kg for it (that is a little less than $5/lb for those of you back home). I figured I had found a place with a kitchen for a reason, right? Of course, if you’ve ever stayed in such a place, you may already realize that these apartments are not designed with the “gourmet” food snob in mind. The cutting board was the size of a small paperback book, and my fish wasn’t exactly tiny. The fish I chose was the smallest one I could find, and it actually weighed about a kilo. But it cost me $10. And I would get the head and all!

Which would make sense if I were at home and planning to make fish stock. Right.

Anyway, I made a huge mess cutting this thing into fillets. I probably even wasted a bit of its sweet, moist flesh. But I got there, eventually. I didn’t do much else to it — I cooked it in a bit of butter, with some garlic, salt, and pepper, and served it hot with a bit of lemon juice. The beautiful part about this was that I would have cooked it that way even if I were at home. You don’t need much to make this fish tasty.

You cant get much simpler than this.

You can't get much simpler than this.

I served it with some kale (or cavolo nero, as they called it in the market), which I sauteed in the same buttery garlicky mess I cooked the fish in, and some fingerling-like potatoes, which I got a kick out of because they were still covered in dirt. For the record, if you don’t mind washing potatoes yourself here in Australia, you can save yourself a bit of cash. Which is awesome when food actually costs what it should.

This also paired beautifully with the bread I found on St. Kilda. For the bread obsessed out there, here’s a close-up of the crumb:

No, its not a proper cross section. Remember, Im working with primitive tools.

No, it's not a proper cross section. I couldn't be bothered - trust me, it was gorgeous.

Too bad I have yet to find such a specimen in Canberra, where I’m setting in at the moment. The experiment is next week, and I’ve been working my ass off, so really, I don’t have much to report. I did make a mean curry udon noodle soup tonight with some drastically reduced Chinese broccoli, but I’ll save that for another night. In the meantime, check out my flickr page for a few shots from my short tour of the Dandenongs on Puffing Billy (I am a cheesy tourist sometimes) / on foot, depending on the view, and some foodie stuff from tonight. No actual pictures of Canberra yet, which is unsurprising because I’ve seen the man-made lake from a runner’s perspective and the inside of the lab. Oh, and the grocery store after dark. Exciting stuff, no? But more is soon to come, if I don’t manage to completely destroy my camera in the meantime. I busted the lens cover, apparently … Travel’s fun like that sometimes.

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Filed under Australia, main, potatoes, stories

Cuttlefish pasta

Mmm, cuttlefish

There’s something sinister about opening a can of tar-black something or other and throwing it into a pot. Unless, of course, you happen to be carrying a can of cuttlefish in ink. I discovered the stuff perhaps a year or so ago, in a local grocery store, and was intrigued by the box:

Cuttlefish!

This could either be a very good purchase, or a seriously painful mistake. Undeterred, I made the ugliest risotto I’ve ever seen. I’ve been a cuttlefish convert ever since. In case you haven’t had them, cuttlefish are basically squid. In this form, they’re cut into relatively small chunks and bathed in a swathe of squid ink, which serves as a rich but subtle reminder of your meal’s origins. It also happens to have a somewhat creamy consistency, which makes it excellent for making a pasta sauce that’s both creamy and dairy free.

Cuttlefish pasta

It pairs nicely (and quite simply) with sweet corn, garlic, and red bell peppers. This happened to be a pre-night shift lunch a few weeks ago, and took a whole 10 minutes to cook? The pasta was the limiting factor.

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Filed under bell peppers, corn, cuttlefish, main