Category Archives: pasta

spaghetti & meatballs with a vegan (and gluten free!) twist: zucchini spaghetti and beanballs with fresh marinara + vegan ‘parmesan’ cheese

zucchini spaghetti and vegan beanballs

I came home the other week with a book called “Raw Food Detox Diet,” and I’d be lying if I said that James didn’t look just a wee bit petrified.

No, I am not on some fad diet (nor do I think the raw ‘movement’ is a fad, but I digress), but you may have noticed I’ve again been slightly scarce around here lately, and that’s because now that we are settled in to our new-ish house and hometown, we’ve been up to our usual hijinx of visitors, entertaining, eating, and drinking. We had visitors staying with us for a solid 4 weeks straight (not all the same ones, mind you), and when people arrive to your new spot the last thing you want to do is go to bed early and eat salad.

No. You’ll want to go wine tasting, and while we’re at it — toss in a cheese plate. You’ll have a hankering to make baby back ribs (3 separate times!), throw marinated flank steak, spatchcocked chicken, and lamb burgers on the grill, and whip up a ‘vodka bolognese’ (with beef and pancetta) as a birthday dinner for a dear friend. There will also be cake at said birthday dinner, and a morning spent mixing up fresh bloodies to enjoy poolside. There will be a lot of indulgences, and not much restraint. The Diem will be Carpe’d, every single day, to the absolute very fullest extent.

So after lots of meat, cheese, wine, beer, and bread (because I failed to mention the brick oven pizza place down the road we’ve been hitting up on the reg), I was left feeling a bit bleh. I, by all natural inclination, am not a huge meat eater, and after feeling like I consumed more animal products in a month than I have in some entire seasons passed, I began to feel a bit queasy.

photo3

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insignificant as they might be: old school spaghetti and meatballs and a simple tomato sauce (with lamb, pork, and beef)

the best old school spaghetti and meatballs and a simple tomato sauce, by cory at eatandrelish.com

I was all set yesterday to tell you about one of my favorite things to make and eat when  I crave something simple, nostalgic, and just so freaking tasty, but then….suddenly these meatballs just weren’t important anymore.  There is nothing more to say that hasn’t already been said about the tragic events of yesterday, and I can’t pretend to be eloquent enough to put into proper words that sick feeling we all carry in our guts, or the fiery rage we have yet to be able to direct at any one person or organization.

whol garlic ready to be minced

A marathon runner, I am most definitely am not, but being from Cape Cod, the Boston Marathon is an event that I grew up with, and one that has served as a point of pride and celebration for Bostonians and Massachusetts residents alike.  At any marathon, there are of course the elite competitors, those more casual “weekend warrior” athletes, the yearly pacemakers and medal collectors, and the slew of first-timer-gotta-knock-it-off-the-ole-bucket-list runners. There are those who come to stand on the sidelines and cheer for someone who is running to support a cause that is dear to their hearts, and those who come every year to cheer for no one in particular, but instead for everyone who impressively puts their mental and physical reserves to the test by donning a number and vowing to finish.

starting to cook down the grated onion and tomato paste

The entire event encapsulates just so much good, and encourages and fosters a strong bond within the community; on Marathon Monday, it’s not just about physical fitness and the fanfare of winning a first place medal, but about the words of encouragement, the triumphant faces of those who’ve overcome and endured a massive  commitment, and the brotherhood that comes along with sharing a struggle. Essentially, so many things that make up the Boston way. The American way. For a monster to come in and senselessly and cowardly take that away from the runners, from Boston, and from all of us….is soul crushing.

bright green parsley

President Obama said today “If you want to know who we are, who America is, how we respond to evil — that’s it: selflessly, compassionately, unafraid.” I know my hometown of Boston is woven of a strong and hardy bunch, and that they will, eventually, recover.  Even still, it’s of little solace in sad times like these, and my heart and mind, along with the rest of the country, and the world, will continue to be with the people and families who were so deeply affected by this despicable and senseless act.

always lots of grated parmesan cheese

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a predictable friday spectacle: summer scallop pasta with fresh tomatoes, leeks, and prosciutto

 

I think most people would agree that Friday is the best of the seven days that we have to choose from, but there’s a little something that occurs every Friday, just before seven in the morning, that consistently and without fail continues to get my knickers in a twist.

That something is the weekly trash collection, and though normally something so benign, necessary, and actually helpful shouldn’t be a bother, I can never seem to remember that it’s collection day until I hear that big creaky trash truck turn down our back alley.

Inevitably, Friday morning at six-fifty-four in the AM, you’ll find me barreling out the back door barefooted and in my pajamas struggling to keep a weeks worth of trash bags from touching my legs while chasing the trash truck as it passes right by our empty barrels.  At that point I’ll usually remember that it’s also the recycling pickup day, and I’ll have to sweet talk the busy trash team into holding up their whole operation just so I can dash back inside to retrieve our overflowing recycling bin.

What’s that you say? Why not just put the trash in the bins as we go? Or, at the very least, the night before? Well my friends, while in New York about the worst thing to happen to your trash would be a human dumpster-diver rummaging around in hopes that you threw anything out of actual value out with your banana peels and peach pits, here we have to worry that said dumpster diver will be big, brown, and furry, and have a knack for cracking open full garbage barrels as if they were Kinder Eggs.

That’s right – a bear will come and turn that whole alley upside down if you so much as think about putting your trash out a few minutes too early.

(Ahem…see this post for how I learned that lesson.)

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a virtuous treat: green couscous with fresh herbs, lemon zest, and garlic

Patience has never been a strong suit of mine.

As a child I was known to beg and plead for just one Christmas gift to open up early on Christmas Eve, unable to bear the anticipation and build up that inevitably resulted after those frenzied weeks of singing Christmas carols, crafting paper reindeer out of hand tracings, and mainlining hot cocoa and peppermint bark.  It wasn’t my fault, really – what six year old would possibly be able to contain themselves?

That same (totally unfounded) ‘we-might-as-well-do-it-early-if-we’re-gonna-do-it-anyway!‘ reasoning lasted throughout throughout my formative years and weaseled it’s way straight into my adult psyche.

It’s a well known fact that I have trouble sitting on a gift; it literally pains me deep inside to hold a straight face when I have an exciting surprise all wrapped up and ready to go tucked up just a few short feet away and ‘hidden’ in the top of my closet. I just get so antsy and anxious and excited to see their face as they tear away the wrapping and trimming, and at this point it’s understood that I will try and convince James he should open his birthday gift a day early – you know, just to temper all that other excitement that could be sooo overwhelming on the big day.

Right.

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tofu 1.0: a big red curry noodle bowl with zucchini, red pepper, kale, tofu + crushed peanuts

On the list of things I commonly hear when I say that we eat tofu on average twice a week (partnered with a quizzical head scratch), is that:

a) you have no idea how to cook it
b) you find it very bland
c) it reminds you of a wet sponge
d) your husband/boyfriend/roommate/dog would stage an angry coup d’etat if presented with a bland wet sponge you had no idea how to cook for dinner

And I’ll admit – I totally understand that.

We have only been including tofu in our regular rotation for just over a year or so now, and I can absolutely sympathize with concerns over the validity of it’s presence in your dinner.  I most definitely didn’t come flying out of the gates making delicious tofu recipes; there was a bit of a learning curve, and there were admittedly a few duds amongst the greats along the way.  How to prepare it, how to cook it, how to serve it – dealing with tofu is definitely different than cooking the other proteins that we Americans most commonly eat.  And, after a long day, most people are going to want to come home to something home cooked and delicious that they know is going to taste good – they’re just not up for humoring tofu-science-experiments of any kind.

I, my friends, totally understand. 

I’ve posted a couple of other easy tofu-centric dishes here before (see here and here), but I have not really addressed in depth a few things that I think are important for keeping your tofu dinners out of wet sponge territory.

In my opinion, the key to making tofu taste great is flavoring it well – even if those flavorings are just a bit of crusty brownness and a salty edge.  See the tofu right here, up in that picture above? It’s crispy, brown, and crunchy, and looks nothing like the strange unscented white cube that wiggled it’s way out of the package.

Tofu takes on whatever flavor you impart on it, and that is one of the reasons why it is so awesome.  What’s that you say?

So what, Cory? Chicken takes on lots of flavors too, and it doesn’t freak anyone in the family out when I announce it’s on our nightly menu.

Ok.  That might be true.

But tofu has a whole host of positive attributes that I think qualify it as a very viable at-least-weekly addition to your dinner repertoire:

  • Tofu has 80 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving (I’m basing this on the Whole Foods 365 brand, but most are very close).  Most packages contain about 4 servings, and even in a recipe like the curry bowl I detail here (where 1 package is used for 2 very large servings/with leftovers), you are only looking at 160 calories and 8 grams of fat total for your protein.
  • Tofu is vegetarian, and if you are like me and are picky about the provenance of your meat  (I genuinely make an effort to only purchase meat I know was humanely and organically raised), you can chow down feeling good about what you are eating and it’s environmental impact.  I personally would rather pay more to eat higher quality ‘happier’ meat less often, and fill in my gaps with other alternatives, like tofu. 
  • Tofu is a great source of protein, calcium, iron, and healthy omega-3’s, and is a great addition to both vegetarian and omnivore diets alike.  Most tofu is dairy free, and if you check your package, a good deal of them are gluten-free and vegan as well. (And kosher!)
  • Tofu costs $1.50 per package, each package 4 servings.  Again this is the Whole Foods brand, but thats about what it what it will run you wherever you find it.  What animal protein can you find that will feed 4 people for $1.50?
  • Tofu’s shelf life is generally at least a month (and usually more) from your purchase date.  Unless you plan on freezing your chicken/beef/pork/fish, nothing can compare to how long it stays fresh.

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the moment is now: shaved brussels sprouts and toasted whole wheat israeli couscous with sour cherries & bacon

As I get older (–sob–), I am aspiring to make a conscious and deliberate effort to live more in the moment.  Not so much in the approach of being careless or making reckless decisions (no – that’s what college was for), but rather to direct my intentions towards savoring the time I am blessed with in the present, instead of always wishing to fast-forward my life to a point in time ahead of me still.

It’s a terrible affliction I think many people have, whether or not it’s realized.  That unfortunate habit of always lusting after another time and place; one that’s perceived to be more enjoyable than where we are just now.  Maybe it’s wearing blinders at work while focusing on a vacation that’s three weeks away, or wishing the time between now and the weekend to disappear, or even dwelling on just how much you wish you were wearing flip flops and cut-offs – four months from now.

And of course it’s perfectly fine to look forward to these things – after all, we all need some type of carrot in front of our noses to keep on keepin’ on – but what I’m trying to say is that I want to spend more time enjoying the view.  Rather than wishing my life away in a blur of weekends, vacations, and carefree moments, or than feeling overwhelmed about stretches of time without excitement, I want to focus on the little pockets of sparkle that dot our daily lives.  Instead of waking up on Tuesday with the a case of ‘I wish it was Fridays,’ I might as well roll over to the brighter side of the bed.

I may as well enjoy where I’m at.

Savor those few dusky moments in bed just before the alarm sounds, when the whole fam is in that blissful hazy-awake-but-not-really mode.  Spend an extra moment soaking in the neon sunrise, and take pleasure that the forecast is brimming with those golden rays.  Look forward to making a surprise dinner at home.  Be excited about a business meeting, and energized at it’s possibilities.  Paint my nails pink with gold glitter, just because I want to wear something sparkly.  Laugh at the pug chasing her tail.  Make a lemon pie.  

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shaken, not stirred: the slanted door’s shaking beef

I’ve been fortunate enough to eat at The Slanted Door in San Francisco twice now, and both experiences have nothing short of transcendent.  I love almost nothing more in life than really, really good Vietnamese food, and The Slanted Door is (in my opinion) absolutely outstanding.  It also happens to be located at the far end of The Ferry Building, which is the perfect venue for waddling around after you’ve just stuffed yourself to the gills with things like honey-hoisin spareribs and shrimp springrolls.

Once you’ve eaten there, it’s obvious why even for lunch they are booked out weeks in advance and the wait time for a bar seat can be upwards of two hours.  Even on a weekday, as the scent of toasty ginger and garlic spills out into the wide hallways of the adjacent enclosed building throngs of people mob the hostess stand to proffer their firstborn for a table.  Every item on the menu is well thought out and crafted using extremely fresh, local ingredients, and the portions are always perfectly generous.  As many days in San Fran can be, both times I have dined there the weather has been, well — less than desirable: cold, wet, and foggy (hate to admit it…but it is).  Although those three descriptors are none that I normally wish any day to be, they are however the perfect conditions for big brothy bowls of noodles and steaming seafood claypots; that is, the perfect day for a cozy hot meal of The Slanted Door’s grub.

When I first saw Shaking Beef on the lunch menu, I wrinkled my nose and quickly returned my attention to nursing my sriracha spiked bloody mary (which by the way is fantastic, if you’re curious).  Shaking beef?  To me, those words conjured up a scene whereupon a platter of wiggling and jiggling beef would come bursting through the double doors of the kitchen and careen towards me, held high above the waiter’s shoulder, while the other patrons stared in both curiosity and disgust and then I would realize – horrifyingly enough – that the offensive dish in question was actually, my lunch.  I’d immediately passed over it and not given it much thought, until months later when I read that it was one of their signature, and most popular, dishes.

After a bit of investigation, I realized my fears had been totally unfounded; descriptor be damned in this case, as the beef in Shaking Beef is decidedly inanimate from start to finish.  ‘Shaking’ refers to the way that the hot wok is maneuvered after the cubed beef has formed a crisp crust from resting on the blistering metal; the wok is jerked in a back and forth motion to release the beef, and then tossed back and forth to incorporate it and all it’s juicy goodness with the other ingredients.  Ah-ha!

This is so easy to make, and even though at first glance the ingredient list looks fussy, it really isn’t.  Ex the salt, pepper, sugar, canola oil, and soy sauce (which you probably already have on hand), you’ll just need to scoop a few fresh ingredients, and stock up on a couple others that after using here, you will surely use again.  The combination of these – the rice wine vinegar and fish sauce – gives that delicious salty-sweet edge to the dish and transforms it from run of the mill stirfry to knock-your-socks-off good.  They key here is getting the wok searingly hot before tossing in the beef to let it brown and crust up;  you have to work quickly after that to avoid overcooking the beef, but if you have everything in place, chopped and ready to go, it’s totally easy.

The salty marinated meat is perfect with the lightly crunchy vegetables and the slight bitterness of the watercress.  The noodles, while not included in the original recipe, are soft and slippery and just the thing needed to sop up the extra delicious sauce.  Served with a crisp white wine or a bottle of unfiltered sake (the option we went with, which I highly recommend), this is an absolute home run.  In spite of the beef, it’s not heavy or overly greasy, and the butter added in boils down to only ½ tablespoon per serving – totally negligible in my book.

Disclaimer: Before anyone points it out, I am very aware that the font on the paper background is not written in Thai, and hope that my being extremely generic in using paper with an Asian language (admittedly, I’m not sure which it is) for this Southeast Asian dish doesn’t offend anyone.  I simply loved the paper and thought it would look nice with a bowl of noodles, though I did realize after the fact that it could be offensive to some.  I am sorry.

Shaking Beef
Serves 4
Adapted from Charles Phan from the Slanted Door Restaurant, San Francisco

I added and changed a few things here that I think added to the dish overall.  Instead of the filet mignon that Phan calls for (which is a really pricey cut for a stir-fry), I used a good quality grass-fed top sirloin, and it was perfect at medium rare – juicy, tender, and very flavorful.  I suspect that you could use any flavorful cut that benefits from a quick cooking time over very high heat (but go for the filet if you want to be extra fancy).  I also added in one thinly sliced red bell pepper (for some color and crunch) and 2 green thai chilies, for a bit of heat.  Finally, I served this in a big bowl over glass noodles (aka bean thread noodles) and the watercress, to make it less of a salad, and more of a noodle-salad dinner.  I’m so glad I did that as I did not feel the need for anything other than this bowl for dinner (no additional sides or the usual side salad).  Refer to the link for the original recipe without my edits.  If you are unfamiliar with glass noodles, you can read more about them here: glass noodles

Cooking this in 2 – or even 4 – separate batches is absolutely necessary.  If you try to cram too much in the wok, the meat will not brown, and that is the whole point of Shaking Beef.  If you are making this for 2 people, I still suggest halving the recipe and still cooking it in two batches.

This is really, really delicious.  It’s a great way to change things up from just your average steak night, and since you are using little bites of it, you tend to eat less than you would just sitting down to a big t-bone.  The veggies are fresh and vibrant, and you’re left feeling full but not uncomfortably so since the glass noodles are so light.

1 1/2 to 2 pounds top sirloin, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1” cubes*
5 garlic cloves, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup rice-wine vinegar
1/4 cup rice wine or white wine (I used white wine – the savignon blanc I was already drinking)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce*
Juice of 1 medium lime + 1 extra lime cut into wedges for serving
2 bunches watercress (or 1 small head red leaf lettuce, separated into leaves – try to use watercress)
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
2 thai green chilis, minced (optional)
3 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 package glass noodles
sriracha sauce (optional, for serving)

tools – large wok

In large bowl or ziplock bag, place the meat, garlic, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1 tablespoon oil. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and no more than 12.

When your meat is marinated and you are ready to cook, whisk together rice-wine vinegar, wine, soy sauce, fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon sugar.  In a small ramekin, whisk together lime juice, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper – this is a lime sauce you will pass around with the finished dish.

Prepare the glass noodles according to the package instructions; generally glass noodles only require a quick boil, about 4 minutes.  When they are cooked (they will be tender with a tiny bit of bite), reserve them to the side, and place just a tiny splash of canola oil in them (and then toss them with your hands) to keep them from sticking together.

Divide the glass noodles between the four bowls, and top each with a fourth of the watercress.

Divide the meat into 2 portions.  In a wok or large skillet over high heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil until smoking, then add 1 portion meat in one layer (be careful – it will spatter). Sear until a brown crust forms on the underside of the beef, about 2 minutes, then flip to brown on the other side, another 2 minutes; your meat will be just about medium rare at this point.  Add half of the red onion, red pepper, diced chili, and scallions, and sauté, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1/3 cup of the vinegar mixture and shake pan to release beef, stirring if necessary.  Finally, add 1 tablespoon butter, shaking the pan until the butter melts.

Remove the mixture and divide between two of the prepared bowls.  Repeat with remaining portion of meat and remaining onions, red pepper, chilis, scallions, vinegar mixture, and butter, and divide between the remaining 2 bowls.

Serve with lime dipping sauce to pass around, and extra lime wedges for squeezing.  Pass a bottle of sriracha sauce if you wish for extra heat.

*Very important! Fish sauce adds this incredible flavor that you really can’t put your finger on.  It is not at all fishy and will really elevate the whole dish.  Pick up a bottle at a grocery store that has a well-stocked asian section, in any Asian grocery, or as a last resort find it online – I prefer the Golden Boy brand.