Food is a Necessity, Taste is an Art

So the other day, Dianne Sylvan posted a question about how people eat over at her blog crazybeautiful. More specifically, asking about people’s repertoire of recipes, that sort of thing.  So, here goes:

The three of us are, technically, flexitarians or pescetarians.  We’ll occasionally eat fish, and Kanai has said on more than one recent occasion that she plans to start eating meat again.  That said, I still keep a vegetarian kitchen.  So, we’ll eat non-meat things out or take-out, but not home-cooked.

We are also a pretty chaotically scheduled household. to say the least.  Both Cariad and Kanai are full time students with part time jobs, and I’m transitioning from being a full time student to finding (hopefully) full-time work.  So we don’t have a lot of meals together, especially recently, since we’ve all been sick since January (yay!)

However, when I’m cooking like I like to, I’ll usually go with themes for each night rather than a specific dish, to avoid cooking all pasta all the time.  There’s Mexican night for build your own burritos, crock pot enchiladas, bean-cheese-and-random-vegetable quesadillas, migas, whatever I’m feeling and have the ingredients for.  There’s Asian night which usually turns into stir fry night, really, but I leave it open in case one day I feel adventurous, feel like making that one fantastic peanut noodle recipe a friend gave me, or happen to have Trader Joe’s vegan Thai spring rolls in the freezer.  There’s always a pasta night, and usually a soup night.  Oh, and a “something involving pie crust and gravy” night, because hey, pie crust and gravy.  That’s usually on a night when Cariad’s not eating with us, though, since he’s not as much of a fan.  I’ll admit to also having a pizza night on the rotation, with the option of ordering it out, because dishes suck, and pan-warmed leftover pizza and a salad is awesome.

The one thing I try to do, at least for myself, is try something new every week.  This is mostly as part of a bargain with myself over the farmer’s market, though it began as a way to try new vegetables.  The farmer’s market is a little pricier than, say, MalWart, so I make the deal that if I shop at the market, I have to try one new thing every week.  I don’t require that I come up with exotic recipes – it’s usually nothing fussier than oven roasting, most times – just that I try some new fruit or vegetable.  This is how I discovered arugula, beets, swiss chard, butternut squash, and tomatoes that don’t suck.  I also like to try at least one new recipe each week, which is where having the themes is a big help.  Cook’s Illustrated,, Molly Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven, and Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker come in very handy.

As far as actual recipes, there are a few things that are staples.

  • Pasta all’olio e aglio:  this is a dish that has been made in my family for as long as I remember.  My mother makes it with shrimp, which I omit at home, but never turn down at her house, ’cause it’s awesome. You cook pasta as you like it.  The sauce is equal parts butter and olive oil (though I have been known to shift the ratio in favor of the olive oil when feeling like it’s an awful lot of butter, and to omit the butter entirely when I realize I’m out after the fact.)  To this you add a lot of crushed garlic, and a healthy amount of dill (if you’re using 4T butter, 4T olive oil, I’d add 3-4 cloves garlic and about a teaspoon of dill.)  Toss the pasta in the sauce.  You are done.
    The nice thing about this basic recipe is that it’s almost infinitely flexible.  I often add mushrooms, sauteed in the butter.  If we have it, I’ll toss fresh spinach in with pasta while I’m tossing the sauce, since this is usually enough time to wilt it into submission.  You could add just about anything that plays well with oil, and it will taste fantastic.
  • Orechiette with beans and cream cheese:  this is a bastardization an evolution of a recipe I saw on Giada De Laurentis‘ show.  I try to use orechiette (the pasta that looks like little WWI helmets) because it gives the beans little nooks to get into, but most small/short pasta will do.  In my version, I roast grape tomatoes and garlic cloves in the oven (tossed with olive oil and salt,) then mash them up in a big bowl.  I reserve a little of the pasta water to and pour it over the tomato/garlic mash.  Since I’ll typically used canned beans for this, I’ll drain and rinse the beans in the colander, then dump the pasta in the drainer over top of them, which usually gets them sufficiently warmed up.  Throw that in the bowl with the tomato/garlic mash and add enough mascarpone or cream cheese to make a nice silky sauce.  Once in a great while I’ll use fake-meat sausage, but since I don’t use very much fake-meat period, that’s rare.  I also think this would work pretty well with fake dairy, or even pureed silken tofu, spiced properly.
  • Beans.  I almost always do these in the crock pot, then just leave it for whenever we have a chance to eat.  Kanai will usually eat them plain with a little bread and cheese.  Cariad doesn’t much care for pinto beans this way, so I’ll make bean and cheese quesadillas with those for him.  For pinto beans, I add a small onion, finely chopped, and a chickn bullion cube, a bay leaf, and some thyme.  That’s it.  I also almost always cook the beans in the water I soak them in, but for people with digestion issues, changing the water before cooking solves most problems.
  • Polenta with roasted vegetables.  This is something I usually only make for myself, but I love it to bits, so I’ll include it.  Cook’s Illustrated had a “set it and forget it” creamy polenta recipe a while back that makes this awesomely easy.  I almost always add cheese to it, but you could certainly forgo it and still have it be totally tasty.  Roast Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are especially good with this.  The bonus to this is that I then have polenta available for breakfast, which is awesome with sauteed apples.

So…  That’s that.  I’ll talk more soon about why I’m vegetarian, and why I eat meat for part of the year, but this post is already ridiculously long  Good night, all.  Sweet dreams.


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