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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Category Archives: Vegetables

There’s a new vegetable in my life: broccoli rabe. In the past I found it too bitter, but twice now, in the part of Brooklyn that is farther from hipsterdom and closer to the ocean, I’ve been to local Italian eateries that serve it so garlicky and tender that I got the idea to try it at home on a sausage sandwich. Let me just say that it tasted as good as it looks. The combination of the slightly bitter, garlicky green with sweet roasted peppers and onions was divine. The recipe from Epicurious worked really well although some stalks remained a bit too woody to eat – not sure if I need to trim better or cook longer. Either way, broccoli rabe and I will definitely be going on a second date .

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This is the dinner I didn’t make on Sunday. It’s our own version of the Jackson Diner without going to Queens. The Jackson Diner is an Indian Restaurant where the kids discovered the joy of Masala Dosa – a crepe like dish with a savory potato filling. The first time we tried to make this we attempted to make the crepe too which was a disaster of starch tragically glued to pan. So we gave up on the dosa and kept the masala. It has exotic (to us) ingredients like curry leaves and chana dal (toasted yellow split peas) and tumeric. It isn’t difficult to make and it’s delicious. We served it with Naan bread, roasted cauliflower and corriander sauce and it made for a filling vegetarian meal.

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It was a family affair in the kitchen last night: my daughter made the salad and my husband helped me cook the tortilla. Fine Cooking’s Spanish Tortilla is one of those recipes that I associate with Pepperoncini Pasta: a staple of our repertoire from the early days of our marriage when we got Fine Cooking Magazine and he did all the cooking! The tortilla is an odd combination of no-fail and slightly involved. It seems to have a lot of separate steps where you have to be careful (slice potatoes 1/8 inch thin, cook them in oil, don’t let them brown,  repeat process with onions that also have to be very thin but not brown…)

We usually do everything in one pan but this time he did the potatoes and I did the onions at the same time. Later I commented how much more relaxed it seemed to be to make the tortilla together, but then I realized that after cooking the onions, I whisked the eggs and then left the kitchen where he and my daughter finished dinner. So I think maybe it was relaxing because he did most of the work!

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I should have known better than to plan a complicated(ish) meal like gazpacho and quesadillas on shopping day. That made no sense. Cooked the meatloaf and string beans instead. Also was critique night in which the thing I worked so hard on and is still so flawed was going to have its flaws discussed. Thus, the comfort food.

When I started school I told myself to make big mistakes. The kind that comes from taking big risks. Its so much easier to say that than to do that. When I handed the work in last Friday I felt so discouraged; but by Tuesday I was ready to hear what people had to say. Also much easier said than done. I still find it very difficult to translate critiques into forward motion. I think the critique confirmed what the strengths and the weaknesses of the piece were and I have a very crumpled idea of how to map out my next step but it is really, really difficult to get myself into the car. I wish getting critiqued was like filling an empty tank with gas, but it’s not. It’s more like taking your beloved old car to the shop to have the starter fixed and discovering the transmission is bad too. You fix it cause you need the car, but you really hate to do it and find yourself questioning if the damn car is really worth it in the first place.

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In an attempt to make up for a vegetable-less meals this week we had a four vegetable meal! We made zatar chicken kebabs (vegetables 1 & 2 – onion and red pepper) with cucumber salad (3) & garlic broccolini (4). The broccolini was an impulse purchase at the store. I’ve learned to follow those impulses lately instead of ignoring them. It’s the only way to move from Unnatural Cook to Natural Cook.It is bizarre to have to “learn” to “follow your instincts” its supposed to be, well, instinctual. But there it is.

I’m one to believe in the power of skill over talent so I’m willing to do what it takes. This time it took buying the broccolini first and then figuring out what to do with it. Which turned out to be blanch it for two minutes then saute it in a pile of minced garlic. My one mistake was not letting the garlic brown long enough before I put the broccolini in the pan. I didn’t realize how much water it would release, thereby turning my saute into a sort of unwanted steam. Blanched garlic doesn’t pack quite the kick that fried garlic does, but no one complained.

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All right, last night was a first. My 9 year old twins planned, cooked and cleaned up the entire meal!

Because they are on spring break they were forced to do the grocery shopping with me this week and when I asked if they had any ideas for the “surprise” meal, they volunteered to make it themselves. Here’s the menu they came up with: pasta with chicken apple sausage and garlic broccoli in red sauce & a salad with romaine, red peppers, sliced mushrooms & cherry tomatoes in a lemon vinaigrette.

Here’s what they have to say about making dinner:

Clem: “It was really fun, but it was hard to get the tomato paste out of the tomato can and Finn thought it was disgusting when he cleaned out the can.”

Finn: “I can’t believe you have to do that much work every night.”

The food was delicious and the Unnatural Cook is looking forward to many, many meals cooked (and dishes cleaned) by her very natural little cooks.

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Because I am a selfish woman, it was not enough that I should be cooked for on Passover, I also had a secret hope that over the weekend, I would also be served Deb’s famous Mediterranean Roast Chicken & Vegetable Salad. I was not disappointed. This is a huge crowd pleaser for a huge crowd. It can be made in advance and keeps well for snacking, noshing and sending home with greedy guests who keep asking for more.

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