A Good Veggie Stock, and Drawing More Regularly

Two things that have eluded me until recently come together!

The stock, I don’t know, I’d just never been happy with any that I’d tried, it was one of only maybe two times that the Joy of Cooking has outright failed me, I wasn’t sure what other recipes to try . . . I finally “got” it when reading Deborah Madison’s Greens Cookbook, for some reason the way she explained using the veggies you have and tailoring the stock by adding say ginger and garlic for curry soup, etc., made more sense to me than essentially the same advice I’d read other places . . . so I just started making it, using “basic” vegetables and adding whatever seemed good or to go with the soup.  Hooray!

The drawing, it’s something I continually mean to do more of, and occasionally set specific goals and/or read books about it from the library, but for some reason it’s hard for me to keep up on any kind of regular basis.  I know, I KNOW that if I would just practice I would get smoother and better and eventually I could make little sketches that look like what I see, which is a goal of mine (I do my own illustrations for knitting handouts, which involves drawing the human hand, but very slowly and only when I’m in the exact right mood, ie almost never).  Then just this week I happened upon this post in which Jess shares some “maps” she made for parties, little plans with drawings and words about what she plans to make and how to arrange it.  This idea clicked with me immediately since I am such a visual learner, I think images enter my brain on a fast track while words need translating first.  So I started making them as plans for the day or the week, drawing the parts that are easily visualized.  I’ll show you some – later.

 

For now: Recipe Sketch (real sketch this time!):

 

 

 

See what I mean?  The drawings don’t have to be perfect, the point is not that they achieve any particular proficiency at all (good thing because my first potato looked more like a mutant amoeba), the point is that I’m practicing and if I keep practicing I will necessarily get better!  I’m in love with these visual lists, I find them really playful, letting my brain roam in new directions rather than just spitting out one item of “to do” after another.

It seemed like a good time to bring these two together since stock is one of the few foods NOT crying out for me to photograph it.  And, if you’re cooking anything vaguely traditional for Thanksgiving, you’re likely to have a lot of these ingredients on hand.

Do you draw for fun, or add visuals to other things?  Please share what you put in your veggie stock, I’d love to have more ideas!

 

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Asian Coleslaw Recipe Sketch

 

This is a family recipe in a few ways.  I first got obsessed with this salad a couple of years ago when one of my aunts was making it a lot.  Hers was inspired by two different recipes (neither for Asian coleslaw), which I bothered her until she sent me, I thought it was so good I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I have been making my version of her salad (below) for long enough that it’s established its own pattern in my head of what “Asian Coleslaw” is like.

So, during our craft retreat, another aunt decided to make “Asian Coleslaw” with some veggies left in her fridge.  Great!  I offered to help, and had to laugh as soon as she started putting things in.  Parsley?  Olive oil instead of peanut or sesame?  If you’re putting that, why not add this cauliflower?  No?  As it became more and more clear that our visions differed (and of course her version was also delicious) I realized that here was one of my own lessons coming back to me, of course you can make it with whatever you have and whatever you like!  Please feel free to experiment.

 

Asian Coleslaw

This much will feed four as a side.

Combine in a bowl:

1/2 small cabbage (your favorite kind) shredded

3 medium carrots, grated

1/4 cup chopped cashews (peanuts and or/sesame seeds would also be good)

3 green onions/scallions, chopped fine (optional)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro (and/or parsley or other herbs)

Dressing (I make this in my little food processor):

1 Tablespoon shallot, or 2 cloves of garlic

1 Tablespoon fresh ginger

2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil (you can also use peanut)

Juice of one small lime (or splash of rice vinegar, although I like lime better)

2 – 3 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

2 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup

Squirt of hot sauce (or add serrano or another hot chile)

Process the dressing until everything is combined and chopped fine (you could also mince the solid ingredients by hand and combine everything in the bowl).  Pour the dressing over the salad, toss, and you are done!  This also keeps quite well in the fridge for several days.

 

 
I realized as I was thinking about posting this recipe that’s a really a year-round salad.  I tend to think of it almost more for winter, since the ingredients are still readily available, and it provides a little something fresh when almost everything seems warm and stewed.  But, it also makes me think of my cousin (sweating out the Brooklyn summer without AC) and everyone stuck in the Midwest heatwave – a tasty way to get your veggies without ever turning on the oven.  I’m still making it here, even though our monsoon-season weather has been exquisite, so close to perfect that I keep sitting on the (brick) front steps with my laptop to feel the breezes.   I’m telling you, the world’s best weather is in the mountain southwest, once it starts to rain.

One last note, my DIY envelope tutorial was featured on KP’s blog today!  We became friends in person (when we lived in the same country) now I love keeping up with her fun projects and lovely photos (plus she has a recycle project challenge)!

 

Recipe Sketch: Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Pan-Marinated Tofu

 

Last summer when we were at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, I fell in love with this salad.  Instantly it was the only thing I wanted to eat on a hot day – it’s cool, it’s nutritious, the lovely clean flavors of the sauce and herbs on top make it so refreshing.  I’m pretty sure I got it (from a local restaurant’s stand at the festival) all three days we were there, and I’ve been seeking it in other cities ever since.  This week, I was sitting on the couch, thinking about all the other things I have to do and wondering what on earth to make for dinner, flipping through my recipe book, when I remembered this salad – being home in warm weather was the perfect time to try making it myself!

 

Vietnamese Noodle Salad

Noodles: I used very thin rice stick noodles. I’ve also seen this served with slightly thicker clear or white noodles.  Whatever kind you can find, check the package directions, boil just until tender (usually only a few minutes), then rinse under cold water.

Veggies; any or all of the following: shredded carrots, thin sliced bell pepper, cucumber, zucchini . . . almost all of the versions I’ve had include bean sprouts and shredded lettuce.  Tip: rinse bean sprouts in a generous spray of very cold water to get them at their tastiest and crispiest.  For my version, I sauteed the bell pepper and zucchini strips briefly over high heat, just to get little caramelized edges, then let them cool.  If it’s really hot out, you could just leave all the veggies raw and avoid turning on the stove!

Pan-marinated tofu: this seems like a good time to include this technique, which I use pretty much every time I make tofu.  Start with extra-firm tofu.  Cut it into slices, rectangles, triangles, whatever you like.  In a large skillet, heat a generous splash of peanut oil (sorry about the no-measuring for this part, I just don’t!) over medium heat.  When it’s getting hot, add in a splash of soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar or lime juice, and a small spoon of brown sugar.  Stir around until the sugar dissolves, then add the tofu.  Stir the tofu around, then shake the pan occasionally while the liquid evaporates.  Keeping the heat on med-low, and stirring when you first put the tofu in will help keep it from sticking to the pan.  Once the liquid is gone, a nice caramelized crust will form on the tofu – yummy!  I haven’t found a better way than to flip each piece over once the bottom is brown and crispy.  If there are patches of sauce left, steer the flipped pieces onto those.  You can also add a little more of the marinating ingredients if necessary.  When both sides have a lovely golden crust, you’re done!  Flip the tofu out onto a plate to cool.  I did this one day as an experiment, and I have done it every time since, when I make tofu for Pad Thai, curry, etc.  Side story: once I was hanging out with my brother while he was grilling brats.  He said it’s the juice dripping down from the meat and being shot back up by the fire that makes it taste good.  Sometimes I think of this technique as giving the tofu some tasty juice of its own.  Ok, back to the noodle salad.

 

 

Herbs and peanuts: whatever veggies and other ingredients you choose, this and the sauce are key to the flavor of this dish!  Coarsely chop a generous handful of fresh mint, basil, and cilantro.  Finely chop some raw or roasted unsalted peanuts.

Sauce:  start with equal parts maple syrup, soy sauce, lime (or lemon) juice, and water.  For one person’s lunch-size bowl, use about a tablespoon of each.   Taste and adjust.  You can also add a clove of minced garlic and/or a little hot sauce if you wish.  What I love about this is the clean clear flavors, but some friends liked it better with a LOT of hot sauce. Hat tip to theKitchn for what to put in this sauce!

Assembly:  put the bean spouts and cooled noodles in the bottom of a bowl.  A wide shallow bowl would be ideal, since the sauce tends to sink to the bottom (otherwise, stir it up).  Top with veggies, herbs, tofu and peanuts, and pour sauce over the whole thing.  Enjoy!

Variations:  I made it the next day with an fried egg on top, also super tasty but not quite as cooling.  Of course you could add stir-fried meat as well, or practically anything else you like.  Pickled vegetables? It can easily be vegan, gluten free, or not, really the sky’s the limit here!

 

 

Enjoy!  I can’t go without mentioning the dessert I made for this meal, roasted strawberry coconut milk popsicles from The Year in Food.  Dude.  These were incredible!  I’ve been dying to make them and I was so happy I finally could.  My only note would be to lightly crush or grind the cardamom.  I love it when a recipe opens up whole new ideas, I never would have thought to roast a strawberry.  My whole house was filled with an explosion of strawberry jam smell so wonderful that I couldn’t stand to spoil it by cooking anything else at the same time.  They look cool too, I couldn’t resist taking my own picture!  Anyways.  Get out there and eat some summer!

 

 

DIY Fruit and Nut Bars

 

We’re headed to our next art show today (Brookside in Kansas City, MO) and along with my usual motley assortment of library books (shhh) and projects in progress, I’m packing two versions of these bars!

We eat a lot of Clif bars, Odwalla bars, Larabars, regular old granola bars, etc. for breakfast when we’re in the truck.  By the end of the summer if I never saw another one it wouldn’t bother me, with the possible exception of the Larabar type.  There’s nothing in those besides dates, nuts and spices, and of course they are also the most expensive kind, I usually don’t buy them unless they’re on sale.

This winter on our trip to Oregon I was sitting with our friend Becca when she came up with a brilliant idea – why not make them?  She was eating a bar made at the lodge where we were, which was mostly chunks of dried fruit and nuts held together with honey.  This seemed like such a good idea, and of course so obvious once she said it, it lodged in my brain and fortunately stayed there until I tried it out.

The first version had more dates, and fewer almonds, with none reserved for coating the outside.  It was good, but sticky, and even a little too sweet, despite the fact that there’s not any added sugar.  Here’s version 2:

Date and Almond Bars

Add 8 oz dried, pitted dates to a saucepan in which they barely fit in a single layer.  Grate on top: zest of one orange.  Pour in enough water to make about 1/8″ in the bottom of the pan, just enough so that all the dates have some to soak up.  Bring the water to simmer, then turn off the heat, cover the pan, and leave it for about half an hour, until the dates have soaked up the water and become soft and plump.

Grind 1 cup raw or toasted almonds to a coarse flour with some chunks remaining.  Grind a further 1/4 cup to flour without chunks.

Put the soaked dates in the food processor, and chop/grind until you have a thick puree.  I added a splash of Amaretto to the processor, totally optional, but adds a nice extra flavor.

Scoop out the date puree into a bowl or back into the pan, add the coarsely ground almonds, and mix together into a thick paste.  On a cutting board or parchment paper, sprinkle out about half of the almond four.  Scoop the date/almond paste on top of the flour, sprinkle more almond flour on top of it, and roll out like you would cookie dough to your desired thickness, using the almond flour to keep the bars from sticking to the surface or the rolling pin.

Cut into bars, use the extra almond flour that falls off to coat the edges, let dry for a few hours, and you’re done!

 

 

Seeing as how I was making my own fruit and nut bars, I also bought some figs, and made:

Fig and Pistachio Bars

Using basically the same procedure as the date and almond ones.  I needed to cut the stems off the figs, and they weren’t quite as juicy or sweet as the dates.

Add 12 oz dried figs (I used black mission), a little orange zest, about 1/3 of the orange (lemon would also be nice here), 1 Tablespoon of honey, and just a little water as before to the saucepan.

After soaking, there was still a little liquid left, so I brought the pan to a simmer again and boiled it off just for a minute or two, stirring, until it was more like a thin syrup that stuck to the figs.

When I was writing this up yesterday I forgot that I had used slightly fewer pistachios than I did almonds in the date bars, about 3/4 cup in the fig bars, but still 1/4 cup ground to dust the outsides.  This seemed to make sense because the figs were a little drier, and also because I ran out of pistachios!  Of course you can vary the amounts to your own taste and see what you like.

From this point process the figs and grind the pistachios just like the above recipe.

 

 

Maybe my favorite thing about this idea is that if I get tired of one kind, I can just add another variation, some spice or a different nut for a new flavor!  I’d love to know your thoughts, what flavor combos would be good?  If you try your own, how did they come out?