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Variable Roasted Vegetables (an everyday favorite)

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Following up on the previous post where I asked about your favorite go-to everyday dishes (keep your ideas coming!) I thought I'd introduce some of mine. The posting of them may be sporadic, since I'll be taking pictures and things when I actually made them for dinner.

First up is something that is very easy to assemble, quite healthy, cheap, as seasonal as you want it to be, and almost infinately variable. It's simply roasted vegetables. I make this all the time, throughout the year, using whatever vegetables I have. It's a good refrigerator-clearer too.

Type:  recipe Filed under:  basics vegetables vegetarian favorites

Favorite everyday go-to dishes

Here are some of my favorite 'go-to' meals, that I go back to time and again. Most take minimal effort to make and are quite healthy. They are all very good of course!

Type:  handbook Filed under:  basics favorites

Being pleasantly reminded of a classic piece of food writing.

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It's hard to take an appetizing picture of this eggplant (aubergine) dish. But I promise you that it's absolutely delicious. Plus, it's so simple to make, requiring just 6 ingredients and water.

I found it in an old Japanese cooking magazine, which had an even worse photo of the dish than the one here. I was a bit sceptical but had bought a too-big batch of eggplant at the market, and wanted a way to use some of them up. I am so glad I tried the recipe, because it's now one of my favorite ways to have eggplant. And it's vegan too.

There's a saying in Japanese, akinasu yome ni kuwasuna (秋なす 嫁に食わすな). It means "Don't let your daughter in law eat fall eggplants". People debate what the intent of this saying is; does it mean that fall eggplant are too delicious to feed to the daughter in law, who was traditionally the lowliest member of the family? Or perhaps it's a thought of kindness, since eggplant is supposed to be a 'cooling' vegetable, which is not good for a pregnant or fertile young woman. Either way, there's no doubt that eggplant is particularily delicious in late summer to early fall, when they usually produce a second crop after a first one early on.

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_Nikujaga_, stewed potatoes with meat, is a staple of Japanese home cooking. It's filling and comforting, and appears quite frequently for dinner at our house. Recently though I've been making this vegan version more frequently, which is just as tasty as the meaty version. Thick fried tofu (atsuage) is the protein replacement, but it's not just there for it's nutritional benefits - I love the texture in a lot of dishes.

The recipe, plus some ideas on how to reform Japanese non-vegan recipes to make them vegan, after the jump.

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Notes on the Almost No-Knead Bread method, plus a recipe for bread with wine in the dough.

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As promised, here is my recipe for making Japanese style hamburgers or hamburger steaks, one of the quintessential _yohshoku_ or Japanese Western-style dishes. They are called hanbaagu (though they are sometimes called hambaagaa, but that variation usually refers to the kind that comes sandwiched inside a bun) in Japan, and are very popular for lunch or dinner, and are eaten as a side dish to rice (okazu) in Japanese homes. In fancier restaurants that specialize in yohshoku, they might be eaten with a knife and fork, but at home they're eaten with chopsticks. Whenever Japanese food magazines have a poll about popular okazu, hamburgers are always in the top three, especially amongst kids.

They don't have much in common with the American style of hamburger, except for the fact that they both start off with ground meat. A Japanese hamburger has more in common with meatloaf, and a rather similar texture. They are similar to the old TV dinner standby, Salisbury steak, but I think a lot better.

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Even with more than 900 (and counting) posts and almost 200 recipes posted on Just Hungry, there are still lots of things that I make all the time, but haven't got around to writing about yet. A lot of those things take more time to write up than cook, almost. This whole wheat pita bread recipe is one of them. You do have to account for the obligatory rising time for the dough, but otherwise it's dead easy, and your kitchen working time in total is maybe 20 minutes, 30 tops. For fresh baked bread!

The key is that the pitas are not baked in the oven. No need for preheating baking stones or quarry tiles or all that stuff. They are baked, so to speak, in a plain old frying pan. You can make them any size you want as long as it fits in the bottom of the frying pan. I like to make small, palm-sized ones for easy snacking or bringing along for lunch.

This recipe also only requires 3 cups of flour in total. I sometimes get a bit frustrated by bread recipes that call for like 6 cups of flour, since we are a small household watching our collective waistlines and there's no way we can eat that much bread in a reasonable amount of time. Sure you can freeze the excess, but then you can quickly accumulate massive amounts of frozen bread if you bake often. So anyway, this makes 12 smallish pitas, which are gone quite quickly, especially with a resident Bread Fiend in house.

I referred to many other pita bread recipes, especially this excellent one on About.com, before arriving at this version. The cooking in the frying pan concept came from watching naan bread and Chinese flat breads puff when cooked on griddles. A griddle is not necessary though - and I think most people have at least one frying pan.

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I love pasta in many guises, but when it comes to ultimate Comfort Pasta, there is nothing that compares to a spaghetti bolognese. By spaghetti bolognese, I mean spaghetti topped with a rich, ground-meat and tomato based sauce. No fancy ragu or such. I don't think it's that authentically Italian, but I don't really care. It's one of my favorite cool-weather dinners.

Once upon a time, I had what I thought was a perfect recipe for spaghetti bolognese. Then, about a year ago I lost my way. After a year of bewilderingly off-target bolognese, I've found my way back.

I blame Heston Blumenthal for messing with my head. (Disclaimer: I am otherwise a big fan of Mr. Blumenthal.) Last year, he tackled spaghetti bolognese on his In Search of Perfection television series (and in the book of course), and came up with a "perfect" version. The perfect Blumenthal version of spaghetti bolognese is, naturally, extremely complicated, but compared to the other "perfect" versions of various popular dishes it seemed to be the most doable. So, we (note the plural: it required a team effort) tackled it, piece by piece. It does help in life to have an almost equally food-obsessive partner for such quests.

It took us 3 full days to accomplish, starting from the pre-ordering of the meaty oxtails at the butcher counter (it's not a commonly used cut here), finding the perfect spaghetti, ripe tomatoes in December (yes, I know) and the final slow cooking of the sauce. And the result?

It was good, yes, but perfect? Neither of us was sure. But yet it had flashes of something great in there; the meatiness of the gelatinous oxtail, the unctuous richness. So, we embarked on a long journey of trying to tweak that recipe. We tried different meat combinations. (Turkey is a definite no.) We experimented with bacon, chorizo, various sausages, salami. We tried less or more of the vegetables, canned tomatoes alone or fresh alone.

All were interesting, but I still felt off kilter. Then, the other day I made bolognese more or the way I had made it for years until the Blumenthal experiments - and, it was just about perfect.

Mind you, it's probably because my criteria for a perfect bolognese are different from the great chef's, as I explain below. And some of the ideas gleaned from the Blumenthal version and the ensuing experiments did creep in, making the sauce even better. In any case, I'm now happy that this is my Perfect Spaghetti Bolognese. I can now move on to perfecting other things.

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One of the (many) food obsessions I have is nut brittles. Peanut brittle, macademia nut brittle, almond brittle (which, when pulverized, turns into praline). I love that combination of caramel and nut flavor. Peanut brittle is the most handy kind to get a hold of, and make. I make it as often as my teeth and waistline allow.

But, I realized yesterday that I have never had truly good peanut brittle.

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