In re: 15 minute meals?

While my wife and I do a lot of home cooking, I often don’t do it in the simplest, quickest, cleanest manner.  I often use a lot of pots, pans, bowls, spoons, plates and produce a dinner that takes up a good chunk of the evening.  Part of it is over ambition and part of it is failing to prioritize time over product.  Every now and then we plan out something and put together a quick dinner or on nights after a big production when we are just warming up the leftovers.  But scratch cooking in a quick time wasn’t always our strong suit (or at least mine).  I wasn’t evening thinking about my wife’s goal of speeding up dinner on some weeknights when I stumbled on a tv show by Jamie Oliver (oddly shown on CBS on saturday mornings) called 15 minute meals.  The show is a british show from a few years back which has been edited for the US (mainly by adding warnings to not do anything he does, i.e. chop food quickly, put your hands near a hot pan, or really anything with the slightest risk).  Not being a show intended solely for US audiences is generally a good thing as from what I’ve seen, the UK has some really good cooking shows and I am really confused why we don’t get more of them shown here? (Nigel Slater’s shows and Hest Blumenthal’s both come to mind).  Regardless despite being a show focused on finishing prep start to finish (minus his tea kettle boiling water) in 15 minutes, it’s actually pretty good.  Now I don’t think most people could actually make these meals in 15 minutes unless they start timing after they rounded up all the ingredients and set them out, but still makes for a quicker meal than many we do.  So using that mind set and some inspiration from one of the show’s we made an Asian beef noodle salad.  As you will see in the picture, the salad is a casual affair, setting piles of ingredients out next to each other on a big platter.  Part of the appeal for me of Jamie Oliver’s cooking style is showing people how casual they can be with putting something like this together.  Grate a big pile of carrots right onto the platter and one, move on.  The salad consisted of rice noodles, lettuces, cucumbers, watermelon radishes (which look just beautiful sliced thin on a Japanese mandolin), pickled ginger, cilantro, cooked onions, diced thai chilies, some steamed wontons and beef with five spice rub.  (The steak I used was frozen so I cooked it sous vide to rare to both thaw and precook it, I then seasoned and seared it on a cast iron griddle – not exactly a 15 min meal, but the sous vide is unattended.)  To serve we just grabbed what we wanted and dressed the salad on our plate with a dressing that was pretty similar to a vietnamese Nước chấm (fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, water, garlic) but we changed up the ratio a bit with some rice wine vinegar to make it a bit more like a salad dressing.  Ended up being a great dinner with leftovers for lunch the next day.  Hopefully we can keep the fast (but good) meals mindset up as having some more time in the evening is definitely a nice thing.



IMG 1020

Nước chấm


In re: Marketing veggies

An interesting article in the New York times by Michael Moss whose book on processed food I’ve been meaning to read. In this article they get an ad firm to create an ad campaign for broccoli and see what it would look like and the results are pretty good I think. He also explores why veggies are more expensive and not a bigger part of our diets.

Government spending mirrors the private sector. Greens and leafy vegetables, for example, together get only $13 million from the government in research funding; corn receives $121 million.

via Broccoli’s Extreme Makeover –

In re: Vegetarian Cooking

[This was an unpublished post from over a year ago – still trying to eat more veggie only meals. Haven’t posted in a while and figured I throw this up as is]

Vegetarian eating at good restaurants is pretty easy, especially if its at Indian restaurants where I don’t often see the need for meat (we still often get Butter Chicken/Makahani Masala – but the rest are veggies). Cooking good vegetarian meals night after night can be a little tougher though. (As I’ve mentioned I’m not a vegetarian and currently not planning to be one, but I am trying to eat less meat and more vegetables for the countless reasons Mark Bittman and others have pointed to).

Making vegetarian doesn’t need to be hard of course, lets look at the standard spaghetti with marianara, served with some vegetables you got yourself a meal that even vegetarians wouldn’t mind. The problem isnt’ that there aren’t many veggie pasta dishes, pizzas, or the like, its that if you want to branch out into broader menus you kind of find that veggie cooking requires a bit more thought – at least to someone who isn’t used to doing it.
I think of it this way, in the classic world of protein, starch and vegetable, you don’t need to do to much, you can sear a steak, a cut of chicken or pork and add potatoes and a vegetable and without much fuss most people see a meal. Take out the meat though and replace with another vegetable dish and you don’t have a meal, you have a trio of sides and suddenly it seems boring. Before with the meat you could have steamed broccoli and some mashed potatoes and that worked, I think without it your into boring territory.

So what do you need to do to make a good vegetarian meal? Well at least in my opinion it means adding more components, either ingredients and/or sauces and/or layers of flavors. This can take any number directions but generally it means adding more little elements, but doesn’t necessarily mean more work.

As an example vegetarian meal I like is patacon (I first became familiar with patacon at El Arepazo, here in Columbus a Venezuelan/Latin American restaurant). Patacon is basically a fried plaintain covered with meat, cheese, and some veggies and at El Arepazo you have to top it with cilantro sauce.
They do a great vegertarian version where rice, beans and some grilled veggies get added in place of the meat. Its a filling, delicious dish, that doesn’t make you think your missing anything.

I do a similar dish at home that uses brown rice, black beans, fried plaintains, sauteed zucchini and onions, a little cheese, lettuce, some corn salsa (from Trader Joes), cilantro sauce and anything else that strikes my fancy at that moment.

Its a lot of elements and it means having one frying pan to make the plantains, one to cook up the veggies, a pot for beans if your cooking them from dried, a rice cooker or another burner for the rice. So potentially your looking at a four burner recipe and a lot of different elements. It can be somewhat simplified however, putting the rice out of sight and mind in a rice cooker right when you start of course makes things easier and clears up some space (you still gotta wash it of course…) and cooking up the zucchini and onions first and putting them aside works fine and then using the same pan to fry up the plantains. I like to use dried beans if possible, but if I haven’t planned ahead using a can works and means I might just microwave them up.

The sauce takes a few minutes and messing up a blender or food processor – but trust me the dish is nothing without it. I’ve written up a version of the sauce before on here, but I have made it more recently as more an herb vinaigrette without mayo/sour cream. The sauce using vinegar and/or lime, garlic, jalepeno, and whole lots of cilantro makes a very tasty sauce. Yogurt makes a super tasty sauce and can replace the oil to switch it to a creamy sauce.

So once your done making all these elements you layer up the dish, with all the elements and drizzle on the cilantro sauce over the top. It’s an amazing dish, hearty from the beans, rice and plantain, each bite has little elements of the various components and flavors and is quite flexible, you could leave out the rice, or the beans, change the vegetables involved make it more like a salad with a lot of lettuce or less.

In re: Airline baggage tags: their brilliant design

Airline baggage tags: How their brilliant design gets bags from Point A to Point B. – Slate Magazine.

Just been flying a bunch this week and saw this really good article on all the design aspects that go into the modern luggage tag, kinda amazing how much we take it for granted (of course I am probably not thinking about this because we are crammed in like cattle and our flights are all delayed, but oh well).

In re: Backyard figs

Early last summer while walking into a Lowe’s hardware store we saw fig trees for sale. Not being an expert on figs I assumed that being native to the Middle East they weren’t something for Ohio’s climate but upon further reading of their detailed tag that indeed the variety of Chicago Hardy was listed as fit for Ohio’s winters. We took home one tree and planted it, and it barely looked like it did any growing over the course of the last summer. Now I wasn’t expecting fruit anytime soon, but amazingly this summer after moving the tree to make room for our eventual wood fired pizza oven that we were digging the foundation of, the tree took off and really grew nicely and put out two figs. Amazingly they grew and ripened and the other day, at the end of a rough day we cut the two little figs in half and ate them. They were quite good, better of course having picked them feet from where we were eating, maybe not the best figs ever, but something I never expected to be eating in Columbus fresh from the tree.



In re: homemade ginger ale


A few months ago I saw an episode of Good Eats that on Ginger. (For years I was a religious Good Eats viewer but I somehow stopped watching as often and eventually not at all, but have intermittently seen a few episodes over the last few months. The gags are a bit more annoying then I used to think- but still I have a soft spot for it. Also doesn’t seem like the show is on very much anymore, oh well the food network basically sucks these days.) At some point after seeing that I was over at the Asian market (one of the three in basically two or three blocks) I can’t believe I don’t shop there more – great prices, amazing stuff – like huge pieces of ginger at cheap cheap prices. So back to Good Eats, saw an episode on ginger and thought why not. So while not being that into the ginger cookies he was making and the stupid ginger bread man story the show was operating around, thought the ginger ale he made looked pretty good and amazingly simple. So that night after dinner I whipped up a 2 liter bottles worth and in 2 days we would get to taste the results.

The recipe/process from Alton Brown is pretty simple, you start by essentially making an infused simple syrup with grated fresh ginger. After you make that and let it steep for an hour you add this along with water, lemon juice, and a tiny bit of yeast into a clean 2 liter bottle and wait for the yeast to do its thing and carbonate it.
(The recipe from Alton Brown is here

So that first batch turned out to be pretty good, it was nicely carbonated, it had good flavor and it was amazingly easy. It was missing something though: more ginger flavor,(disclaimer though – I am a fan of the Bahamian ginger beer (Barritt’s is one of the classic brands – available even here in Columbus), which gets put to good use a dark and stormy – an amazingly simple drink of the aforementioned ginger beer and Goslings Black Seal Rum with a lime for a garnish).

So with all that in mind I had planned to double or triple the ginger the next time I tried it. The other thing that wasn’t quite right in that first batch was the flavor the yeast imparted that made the drink taste reminiscent of bread. It wasn’t as off putting as that might sound, but it wasn’t quite right. The only problem was I didn’t ever get around to making it again, despite being so easy.

Last weekend though I finally remembered we should make homemade ginger ale. Just as before we had in the fridge a giant piece of ginger (this time from an Indian grocery store) but this time I happened to think of making ginger ale at just the right moment – while I was standing in the wine making shop in Clintonville. We had stopped in the store on the way back from the farmers market to look for a good summer beer kit and to finally brew our first batch of beer. As we were checking out with a kit for summer ale I thought of asking about yeast for ginger ale. The clerk recommended champagne yeast and with the little packet in hand we were ready for batch 2.0.

The results were stunning. I doubled the ginger (although it could still use more) but the flavor profile and the bubbles were amazing. It still couldn’t be easier. I still basically used the Alton Brown recipe with the doubled ginger, and of course champagne yeast and two days later we tasted an amazing batch of homemade ginger ale with a clean taste of ginger, a slight hint of the heat and great carbonation. Thankfully a packet of champagne yeast has more then enough for several more batches.

In re: Picnic in the commons


Yesterday was the ‘official’ grand opening of the new stage at Columbus Commons, the park in Columbus on the former site of City Center Mall.  The park is an amazing addition to downtown and the new stage makes it just that much better.  To open up the new venue a free concert of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and Michael McDonald.  After some mild convincing my fiancee agreed to go see the yacht rock show on what was a perfect weather night in Columbus.  One of the great features of these shows is the ability to pack a picnic, sit on your blanket on the lawn – meaning if its a show you didn’t really feel like seeing, its still a good time.  

I was trying to figure out what to pack in the cooler when I stumbled on this post from a few years back by Mark Bittman on 101 Picnic Dishes to Make in 20 Minutes, the roast beef sandwich sounded appealing, so after a quick stop to Weiland’s made up some sandwiches with blue cheese, horseradish, some tennesse tomatoes that looked really nice and some lettuce from our garden.  Grabbed some pasta salad and a bean salad that was already prepared, grabbed a blank and some drinks and we were off to downtown.  We got lucky snagging a meter right by the state house and in no time we were spread out on the lawn enjoying the Jazz Orchestra and our dinner.  The lawn was packed but not painfully so and it was quite the cross section of Columbus who came out for the show.  All in all a very good time, can’t wait to pack up another picnic and get back to another show.