Swarni’s tofu bhurji.

Between right now and the last time I posted here, I wrote 32 drafts of posts I either forgot about or decided were terrible and then sort of thought “whatever, I give up, I AM TERRIBLE,” and then ate my way into a new pants size. The timing of the new Adele record was ideal because it hit me right at peak-wallow, and let me tell you, you do not want to read the Hello-inspired blog post I considered somewhere around the third week of December.

(For your and Nick’s benefit, I ate every last one of those feelings, many of them on crackers and with glasses of very cold white wine.)

But things are looking up. I’ve reignited my relationship with MyFitnessPal, which means I – once again – have a handy, non-human place to direct my contempt. I haven’t eaten cheese in four days, which has been hard but necessary. And I got a few work-appropriate sweater-dress/leggings outfits for Christmas and they’re making the bloat a lot easier to hide in this lumpy post-holiday interim.

And I have a few new recipes, including this one from my lovely, wonderful friend Swarni whom I bother every day at work. Swarni is an essential member of the office potluck team, and a harsh critic of any Indian food brought into the office that isn’t up to her exacting standards. She brought a big dish of her tofu bhurji in for a holiday potluck in mid-December and it was so good that I spent the rest of last month haranguing her for the recipe.

I ended up adapting the recipe a little bit, as Swarni gets her spices ground fresh when she’s in India and so they’re more potent than mine; I also use a bit of turmeric for more of an eggy colour. It’s a very mild dish and good for children (even mine, praise Swarni!), but if you like things spicy, a little (or a lot of) hot sauce works well here.

Tofu bhurji is perfect for weeknights, and January when we have no money and pretty much just fridge scraps with which to feed ourselves. I’ve used butter here, but you could easily turn this vegan by simply replacing the butter with a bit of oil. It’s a bit like scrambled eggs, in the end, but with none of the fart taste that so often accompanies a poorly scrambled egg. It’s magic, and it’s not cheese which, just this once, is a very good thing.

Swarni’s Tofu Bhurji

(Makes two to four servings.)

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Madras or other yellow curry powder
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 lb. (454 g) medium-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
  • Cilantro

In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt butter and stir together onion, jalapeño pepper, and ginger. Cook for about a minute, until the pepper brightens in colour, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stirring regularly, cook for seven to 10 minutes, until veggies have softened and turned golden.

Meanwhile, mash tofu with a potato masher, or use your hands to crumble it until it resembles curds of scrambled egg. Set aside.

Add tomato, garlic, curry powder, salt, garam masala, cumin, and turmeric to the pan and cook for another three to five minutes, until the liquid from the tomatoes has mostly disappeared and the contents of the pan resemble a soft paste.

Add frozen peas, and cook for another three to five minutes, until the water from the peas has mostly disappeared.

Add the tofu to the pan, and mix well. Partially cover the pan and cook for another five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally. The pan should be mostly dry on the bottom, and the tofu should be evenly coated in spices.

Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Stir in chopped fresh cilantro, and serve with a blurp of your favourite hot sauce and rice or warm roti bread. Would even be good on toast, come to think of it.

And Happy New Year! I hope your 2016 is delicious and everything you hope and want and need it to be.

 

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Roasted cauliflower soup.

Gloom.

This is the hardest part of the year to get through. I have no patience left – please, no more squash! I’m done with potatoes. And I have no kindness left in my heart for kale. Let’s have some asparagus, already!

Tossed.

Spring gave us a sneak preview last weekend, a single day of sunshine and warmth where I ran around with bare arms and ate a bahn mi sandwich in a park while the baby learned the pleasures of sliding and swing-sets. And then things went back to normal, and the sky turned grey, and it has been that way ever since.

This time of year feels like purgatory. Molly Waffles has been pacing the apartment and pressing her paws to the window, scratching at the glass. She is desperate to go outside, but there is a family of raccoons out there, and city raccoons are the size of adolescent black bears and she would be little more than an appetizer. I am similarly desperate for something new and different. Maybe that’s strawberries and pink wine in the sunshine, or maybe it’s something bigger? I will be 30 in 30 days, and I am starting to feel like I’ve been pacing around and scratching at windows, like it’s time to make a mad dash for whatever’s beyond here, whether that means outrunning city raccoons or something even scarier.

Roasted.

Or maybe the wet that seeps in through the holes in my boots has found its way into my bones and now there’s mildew in my bloodstream. Maybe this itch for something fresh is just impatience, because something really good – like peach season – is on its way. And maybe what I need isn’t so much an escape as a way to bide time. If that’s the case, then soup will drag us all through these last dark days before the sun brings back all the green things that make us feel alive.

Soup.

Fingers crossed, anyway. We’ll know better what’s out there for us once the sky clears.

Roasted cauliflower soup

(Serves 4.)

  • 1 small head of cauliflower (1 1/2 lbs)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup shredded aged white cheddar cheese (between 1/4 and 1/2 lb.)
  • 1 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 325°F. Chop cauliflower and onion, and place in a large bowl with garlic cloves. Pour olive oil over top, mixing thoroughly with your hands so that all the pieces and bits are coated. Sprinkle with salt, and pour into an oven-safe pot – ideally one that will transfer from your oven to your stove-top.

Roast for 45 to 60 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Stir halfway through cooking for even browning.

Remove from the oven to the stove-top, and add almonds, stock, lemon zest and juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer over medium heat for ten to 15 minutes, until the almonds have softened. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender or regular blender, then return to heat. Add cheese, stir, then add milk. Taste, adjusting seasoning as needed and thinning to your desired consistency with more stock or water.

 

Creamy garlic and white bean soup.

Dinner for two.

Nick and I have been talking lately about whether we might the “too much garlic” people. Is that a thing? When people leave here after a dinner party, do they talk in the elevator on the way down about my heavy hand and effluvious kitchen? Do they sniff their breath from behind cupped palms and cringe? Anytime I make a recipe from a cookbook, I double the amount of garlic the recipe calls for, at least. Sometimes I smell it on my skin and in my hair, and always on my breath.

Raw garlic.

There are people for whom there is such a thing as too much garlic, and those are the people I will never understand. I once absentmindedly cut a slice of bread using a knife I had used earlier in the evening to smash some cloves of garlic, and I put peanut butter on the bread, and when I noticed it tasted like garlicky peanut butter toast, I still ate it. Also I should wash things right after I use them, but whatever.

My parents get garlic from a friend of theirs who grows fat cloves of organic garlic in his backyard, and though I’m pretty sure they aren’t supposed to give it to me (this garlic is not meant for just anyone, I’ve heard), sometimes they do. The garlic is pungent and aggressive, and it is so fresh that even dried, the cloves do not pull easily from the bulb. The skins are thick and ruddy, more like parchment than the whisper-thin white skins on imported supermarket garlic. This is good shit, and I get it all year round. For free.

Beans and garlic.

You can buy local garlic at your Farmer’s Market, and sometimes places like Whole Foods have some good options as well. The white, delicate bulbs you get from the supermarket are usually imported all the way from China, so there’s no way to know how fresh they are. They are subdued, but they will do in a pinch. Less-garlicky garlic is far, far better than no garlic at all.

Simmering.

If on occasion you want to feature garlic beyond being heavy handed with your marinara sauce or whathaveyou, consider putting it in soup. An easy weeknight garlic soup will fill your kitchen with slow-simmered aromas and your mouth with a healthful, soothing richness. White beans add body to this dish, and herbs bundled together and removed at the end lend complexity without leaving visual evidence of having been there. This is peasant food, simple and straightforward and wholesome. To save time you can roast the garlic the night before, and your apartment will smell like a bistro some late night in Paris and there is nothing wrong with that.

Dinner.

Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches. In case that wasn’t obvious.

Creamy garlic soup

(Serves four.)

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 lb. garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 540mL/19 oz. can white beans, such as navy, white kidney, or great northern beans
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 1 sprig fresh parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a small baking dish with two tablespoons of olive oil, roast whole garlic cloves for 30 to 40 minutes, or until brown and sweet-smelling.

Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, sauté onion with remaining oil until golden and lightly caramelized. Add beans, roasted garlic, and chicken or vegetable stock, and stir to combine. Bundle sage, parsley and bay leaf using kitchen twine, and pop into the pot. Simmer together for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove bundled herbs and discard. Puree soup using a blender or immersion blender. Taste, adding salt and pepper and adjusting seasonings as needed. Serve immediately, or simmer for an additional five to 1o minutes, or until desired consistency is achieved. Remove from heat and finish with cream, if desired.

Scraped clean.

Sweet potato tortilla Española

Eggs

Thank you for all your breakfast advice! I have put it all into a Word document and bullet-listed it, and the document will serve as an extremely wordy shopping list. We’ve been eating a lot of leftovers, and Nick is very excited about the idea of breakfast cheese. He is less excited about leftovers, but he could get up early and make us both something to eat if he really has a problem with it.

He has yet to volunteer.

I’m even putting my Crock Pot to work. It’s still making breakfast slop, but at least the slop is different – I like this list of porridge recipes at SweetVeg (Hi! Thanks for the tip!), especially the overnight barley one (which also works for a blend of barley and farro with dates and cardamom).

Your advice has been super helpful. I have, literally, been eating it up.

I have been gradually learning to cope with morning food, but since starting this new job where my hours are much more flexible we have been eating wholesome homemade dinners a lot more often. Sure, I am up way too early and at the office at an ungodly hour, but I am home by 5:00! It is just enough time to start a load of laundry and savour a brief, perfect moment of silence alone with a magazine and no one wailing on the floor about the injustice of being told “no,” and then to start dinner.

Sweet potatoes in eggs

Tonight, dinner was a lot like a breakfast I might make if I had any zest for life in the grim hours before 8:00 a.m. I actually stole this recipe from my friend Paul who learned it when he lived in Spain, like the well-travelled bon vivant he most dapperly is. Well, I adapted it – his recipe uses regular potatoes, and no thyme. I always have sweet potatoes, and usually a hardy herb or two on hand, so it evolved to suit my fridge’s contents; feel free to use regular waxy potatoes and no herbs if you prefer. The best part about it is that we have just enough for breakfast! If I am very lucky, Nick will get up first* and reheat it for me so I can sleep a little bit longer.

Dinner.

*Dare to dream, no matter how impossible your dream may seem.

Sweet potato tortilla Española

(Serves 2 to 4; portions for 4 will be small.)

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 lb. sweet potatoes, sliced thinly (1/4 inch)
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 4 tbsp. cup water
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

In a 9-inch pan over medium-high heat sauté the onion in two tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Add potatoes, tossing to coat in oil and onion mixture, then add water and cover with a lid. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent sticking (and scorching).

Remove the sweet potatoes and onion from the pan and cool for 10 minutes or until there’s no more steam, and heat the broiler. Fish out the thyme sprig and discard it. Wipe out the pan.

Whisk together eggs, some salt and pepper, and heat another tablespoon of oil in the pan, tipping to coat the whole bottom. Mix the sweet potatoes into the eggs, pour the whole thing into the heated pan. Run a spatula along the sides every so often, and when the sides are golden, after five or six minutes, then shove it under the broiler until the centre sets and the top is golden. Another three minutes, maybe five, but leave the oven light on and check frequently.

Turn out onto a plate, and slice into six pieces. Serve with salad and pickles or olives.

A slice of tortilla with coleslaw and pickles.

 

 

Crafty macaroni and cheese

Crafty macaroni and cheese.

Sometimes you just want to eat the food you grew up with, the kind of stuff that hearkens back to a time when cheese was powdered and that was okay. Remember when Parmesan cheese came in its own plastic shaker and was shelf-stable? I think it was made of nylon.

I have always loved macaroni and cheese, and for most of my life macaroni and cheese was something that came in a box. It never would have occurred to me to make it from scratch until a few years ago. When I moved out of my parents’ house and into my first “apartment” (translation: dank basement suite with limited natural light and a permanent damp smell), I was broke all the time and would maximize my calorie intake in the days before payday by cooking up a box of macaroni and cheese (remember when it cost less than a dollar?) and eating the whole thing super fast, then laying face-down on the couch, uncomfortable, to digest for the rest of the evening as though I were a snake that had just swallowed an antelope.

It was an attractive time.

It felt horrible, but it was oddly comforting. When I was a kid, even though we always had Costco cases of macaroni and cheese in the cupboard, it was a total treat, especially if you got it for dinner which almost never happened. I loved macaroni. And in my formative years, macaroni and cheese was always, ALWAYS orange.

Orange sauce.

When you make macaroni and cheese from scratch, it is mostly not orange, even when you use orange cheese. And while grown-up, from-scratch homemade white mac-and-cheese is extremely delicious, it is more like comfort food to me when it’s orange. But macaroni out of a box is the opposite of comfort food these days; when I eat it now, I feel … gross. But you know what’s orange? Carrots are! Also they are healthy, so you can pretend that’s why you’re using them.

Veggies.

This is a very simple dish, and I make it quite saucy so that I can add stuff if I feel like it – adding a 28 oz. can of hominy (drained and rinsed!) makes this kind of amazing – or so that I can plan ahead and have leftovers that reheat well. Add whatever you want – even chopped up hot dogs, if that’s what you like. I won’t judge. (How could I?)

Big pot of cheesy noodles.

Macaroni and cheese

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 carrots
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups uncooked macaroni
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded aged white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • Salt

Over high heat, bring carrots, onion and garlic to a boil in about two cups of water with a bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until carrots are soft, 15 to 2o minutes. Remove bay leaf, pour contents of pot into a blender, and blend. Set aside.

Cook macaroni in salted boiling water according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and whisk to combine. Add mustard, whisking again, then add the carrot mixture. Add Worcestershire sauce, paprika and pepper and simmer – whisking occasionally – until thickened, four to six minutes. Add cheese, stirring to melt. Add cream, if you feel like it – not mandatory, but it gives the sauce a richer, silkier taste. Add any additions – such as hominy, cooked sausage, roasted veggies, or whatever. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed.

Add cooked macaroni, stir well to coat, and serve.

Also, if you live anywhere between West Van and Langley, enter this week’s giveaway! Not a ton of entrants, so your odds are good.

Into the pantry: Lentil Sloppy Joes

Vegetarian sloppy joes

Nick and I grew soggier in 2012, rounder and softer than ever before and at the end of it, we felt so tired. I can’t recall a vegetable in December that I didn’t eat coated in sauce, and every time I had a feeling I covered it in cheese and chased it with a handful of chocolate. So while we finished 2012 in a food coma, we’re starting 2o13 a little lighter.

I made a critical error in weighing myself the morning after an epic New Year’s Eve feast. (Never do that.) The sum of every bad choice I made this year is much higher than I’d anticipated, but that’s okay – it sets the bar for success this year lower. I have been fretting over what I am going to do with my life – 30 is fast approaching and good lord, what have I done? – but the weight-loss excuse buys time. “I had to lose 20 pounds!” I’ll say, and then maybe no one will notice that I still haven’t lived up to that potential people used to threaten me with.

If you are wondering what to do with your life, I suggest starting with a simple, hearty meal. Sloppy Joes remind (reminds?) me of meals on weeknights in a time when bad choices weren’t measured by weight, that I would always eat without fussing, and that would more often than not finish with a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream from a bucket (heavy on the strawberry for me, please) and maybe a drizzle of chocolate sauce. This grown-up version eschews meat and ketchup, but is no less satisfying … perhaps more so, because it’s delicious but not to the point of discomfort. 2013. We can do this.

Spices.

Lentil Sloppy Joes

  • 1 cup green, brown or French lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, finely minced (or whizzed until almost puréed in a food processor or blender)
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. chili powder, such as ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 x 5.5 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • Salt to taste

Simmer lentils and bay leaf in 2 cups of lightly salted water until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and rinse, then set aside. Discard bay leaf.

Meanwhile, cook celery, carrot, and onion in olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat until glistening, cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove lid, add garlic, and cook until the mixture is caramelized and reduced by two thirds, an additional 15 to 20 minutes. The longer you cook this, the sweeter it will get.

Mirepoix.

Caramelized.

Add mushrooms, and cook until moisture has mostly dissipated and the bottom of the pan is dry. Add spices, thyme and tomato paste, stir until combined, then add lentils. Add the cup of water and the apple cider vinegar and honey. Stir to combine, and cook until the mix begins to bubble. Serve over lightly toasted sourdough or buns.

Lentil sloppy joes.

Corn waffles.

Do you ever feel like someone just reached into your head and squished your brain like a giant stress ball, and that it’s taking forever to regain its shape? I’m all out of smarts. I barfed the last of them onto the table at today’s job interview and now I’m just sitting around, watching remixes of Gangnam Style on YouTube with my mouth hanging open.

The sorry sight of me in my pajamas looking lobotomized in the evening is becoming too common, and is the one drawback to the sudden increase in interviews I’ve had lately. I’m drained. The average hour-long job interview is preceded by at least eight hours of performance anxiety and trying to remember all the stuff I’ve ever done at work while wondering what compelled me to get this stupid haircut that I have no idea how to style.

The interview is then followed by five days of questioning, of wondering “WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!” and doubting all of my life choices. I’ve gone through this eighty-thousand times since April. Was my mother right? Should I have learned a trade? Would I have owned a home by now?

Awkward first Internet dates might be less fraught.

To remedy the constant feeling of mental stupor, I’ve been dragging people into my dining room and forcing them to entertain me in exchange for food. This provides me with opportunities to do something that isn’t worrying, while also allowing Nick and I to interact with people who have verbal skills and whose pants we are not responsible for changing. (On the upside, I’ve been able to relate to the baby on an intellectual level lately. We both watched a Baby Einstein DVD all the way through without blinking today.)

This past week, with corn season underway and my friend Missy’s desire for fried chicken and waffles at an all-time high, we invited both Missy and Greg over for a weeknight dinner party and ate fried meat served on carbs and drizzled with maple syrup and hot sauce until we felt no more feelings but fullness. They talked and we laughed and everyone felt okay about life as we slumped onto the couches afterward.

That sounds weird, doesn’t it? The chicken, waffles, hot sauce, and syrup combo? It does here in Canada, because until recently that combo was only available to us through our TV screens via Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. I promise you that it’s delicious. It works for reasons I am not even sure I can explain.

I mostly wanted to tell you about the waffles though. They have corn in them, and the kernels pop in your mouth as you bite down on them, and they’re sweet. Some people think corn is a vegetable, so a plate of waffles is practically a square meal (regardless of the shape of your waffle iron). Well, maybe not. But they’re quick and you can have them in the time it takes to complain about not knowing what to make for dinner. You’ll be back to watching PSY videos online in no time.

Corn waffles

(Serves three to four.)

  • 2 cobs corn (or 1 cup frozen corn kernels)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup

Cut the corn from the cob. If you would prefer not to get it all over everywhere, cut the corn into a bowl. Once the kernels are off the cob, scrape the cobs with the knife to get any remaining kernel bits and corn juice into the bowl as well.

Sift the dry ingredients onto the corn kernels. In a separate bowl, whisk together the liquids. Stir the liquids into the dry/corn mixture and stir until no flour lumps remain.

Heat the waffle iron according to your waffle iron’s instructions. Spray the thing down with canola oil, top and bottom.

Pour batter into waffle iron, drop the lid, and cook until waffles have stopped steaming, and are golden and fluffy. Don’t lift the lid during cooking, or else they flatten out and get floppy.

Serve hot from the iron, doused in syrup. Or topped with chicken. Whatever gets you where you need to go.