The same old story–take what you find, throw it all in one pot, somehow make it work. The odd combination here consists of fenugreek and thyme, which to my surprise worked together rather well. I served it with a lemon-rosemary roast chicken and white rice, but this would also make a good vegetarian/vegan main course.
Carrots, Fennel & Olives in Curried Tomato Sauce
Serves 2 as an entree, 4 as a side dish
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1.5 cups carrots in half-inch dice
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 1.5 cups fennel in half-inch dice
- 30 Kalamata olives, split lengthwise
- 2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2-cups tomato puree
- 2 teaspoons thyme
- Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat until shimmering.
- Add the carrots, salt and pepper, stirring until everything’s coated, then stirring frequently for five minutes.
- Add the fennel, stirring until everything’s coated, then stirring frequently for another five minutes. Reduce heat if the carrots cook too quickly.
- Add the olives, fenugreek, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, stirring until everything’s coated, then stirring frequently for another five minutes.
- Add tomato puree and the thyme. Stir until everything’s coated, then reduce heat to a low simmer for ten minutes, stirring frequently. You will thicken the sauce in this fashion.
Serve piping hot over white rice, brown rice, or couscous. Probably best with a pale ale.
I hope you enjoy this recipe, or ever better, inspires you to create something even better!
Vonn Scott Bair
Let us see; what have I in the way of snacks?
Hmmm, olives, carrots, celery, two cheeses and crackers, marinated smoked mackerel, and a dip made from mayo, mustard, garlic, horseradish and spices. Yes, this looks sufficient. Now what about a main course?
Homemade two-layer pepperoni pizza (pepperoni both above and below the cheese).
I am ready for some football!
I happen to have some personal interest in the Oregon Fashion Disasters vs. Florida State Seminoles game. Oddly enough, the fact that my niece attends Oregon is the lesser one. Much more important for the game itself: I happen to work with a woman whose son will play for the Costumed Catastrophes. If you watch, keep an eye out for defensive back Chris Seisey, wearing #12. He is a redshirt freshman who normally sits on the bench, but Oregon lost its best defensive player to injury so he will have to play almost the entire game. Everyone talks about the two quarterbacks, Winston and Mariota, as well they should, but Florida State will almost certainly target Seisey early on in the game. He played most of the game vs. the then-17th ranked Utah Utes, playing very good man coverage on one player on every play and took his opponent out of the offense.
But this is Florida State.
If Winston stops throwing to teammates covered by Chris, then the Oregon Horrific Uniforms will advance to the national championship. If he targets #12 all day long, the day will become all too long for the Gang Green (an old OU nickname). So the result of one of the three-biggest games of the year *might* depend upon a backup redshirt freshman.
But hey, no pressure.
Vonn Scott Bair
(UPDATE: I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Oregon crushed Florida State 59-20 with the aid of 41 second half points. FSU did not throw in the direction of Chris Seisey very often, which means that overall he did a very good job in man coverage; the television announcers even singled him out for praise late in the game.)
During my Christmas visit to family, it came to pass one evening that we supposedly had “no food” in the house. Rather than order Chinese takeout or pizza, I took a look around and found a few items that I threw together and we ended up having a dinner of equal parts improvisation, vegetarianism, and tastiness. I’ve tweaked my madcap make-do meal a bit to create a Christmas-themed variant of the classic Italian dish Pasta e Fagioli.
Many Christmas Eve traditions include a vegetarian dinner in preparation for the Christmas day feast, making this a good choice for a main course soup. In addition, the bright red and green colors make this meal visually appropriate for the holiday. Although it requires many steps, all are extremely easy. I prepped and cooked the entire dish in less than one hour. I hope you will experiment with it and enjoy!
Christmas Eve Pasta e Fagioli, Vegan and Vegetarian Versions.
- 1 pound of farro pasta, preferably small shells or elbows
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 small red onion, quarter-inch dice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- One 15-oz. can of garbanzo or red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup of chopped walnuts
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika (pimenton)
- 1-3 teaspoons of dried red pepper flakes to taste
- 1 tablespoon ground fenugreek seeds (odd but effective)
- 12 cocktail cucumbers (2-3 inches long, .5 inch thick), sliced into quarter-inch slices. Substitution: 2 Persian Cucumbers or 2 small Zucchini in quarter-inch dice
- 30 red cherry or grape tomatoes, split lengthwise
- 1-2 tablespoons of dried thyme to taste
- 2 cups of julienned spinach leaves
- 3 tablespoons Pesto Genovese (the traditional basil, Parmasan cheese and pine nut recipe). Vegan: Three tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil.
- 1 pint vegetable broth
- Finely chopped Italian parsley and/or basil for garnish
- Optional Garnish: finely shredded Parmasan and Cheddar cheeses. The Cheddar seems odd, but it worked.
- Have reading a boiling pot of salted water for the pasta.
- Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until shimmering.
- Add the onion and reduce heat to medium low, stirring frequently, until translucent and soft, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper, the beans, and the chopped walnuts, stirring until everything is coated. Add the smoked paprika, fenugreek, and red pepper flakes, stirring until everything is coated again. Stir for about 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in the cucumbers and saute for about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the tomatoes and thyme; saute for about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the spinach and either the pesto or basil.
- At this point, make sure the pot of salted water is boiling.
- Add the broth to the saute, stir once more, bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cover.
- Add the pasta to the water and cook until al dente. Drain thoroughly, but reserve one cup of pasta water.
- Add the pasta water to the broth. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
- Set forth 4-6 bowls.
- Divide the pasta evenly among the bowls.
- Divide the broth evenly among the bowls, pouring over the pasta.
- Garnish with the herbs and optional cheeses.
- Serve with soup spoons, accompanied by a rustic bread and mixed green salad.
The bright red and green colors will lend a festive appearance to the Christmas Eve table. Totally improvised from an “empty” larder but the results came as a nice surprise to everyone, including yours truly.
Vonn Scott Bair
Like my cheddar and creme fraiche recipe, this dish also works in a variety of contexts: side dish to the main course; topping for burgers, turkey or chicken breasts, steaks or sandwiches; pureed, it becomes a sauce.
Triple-R Onions: Red Onions in Red Wine and Rosemary
Ingredients & Equipment
- 1 extremely sharp French Chef’s knife
- 2 Red Onions, combined weight about one pound
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
- 0.5 – 1 cup of Red Wine, depending upon need
- 1-2 Tablespoons finely chopped Rosemary, to taste
- Salt and Pepper
- Peel and halve the onions along their axes.
- Slice very thinly with the knife to produce onion strings, ideally one-sixteenth inch thick although one-eighth will suffice for this recipe.
- Gently separate the strings from each other
- Gently heat the olive oil over low heat in a stainless steel sauce pan (not cast iron). When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions, and stir gently and frequently for 10-15 minutes until they became very limp, have sweated out all of their water, and that water has evaporated. Two important points here. First, you want to get rid of the onions’ water, almost dry them out. Second, do not burn the onions; you have to keep stirring slowly and gently.
- Once the water has evaporated, add one-half cup of the red wine to the onions and stir. If the onions absorb the red wine too easily, add the other half.
- When the red wine has absorbed into the onions, stir in the rosemary. Cook for a few more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and serve.
I have no idea what kind of dish this is, but it works very well in a variety of contexts.
Vonn Scott Bair
I need your help on this one. But not with the recipe itself, inspired by something similar in the New York Times.
Cheddar-Creme Fraiche Something-Or-Other
- 8 ounces Creme Fraiche
- 3-4 ounces finely grated Cheddar cheese, to taste
- 1 Tablespoon stoneground mustard
- 1 teaspoon horseradish
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- Pepper to taste (salt is unnecessary)
- 1 Tablespoon dried or finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice.
- Mix the creme fraiche, mustard, horseradish, garlic and pepper in the top of a double boiler and gently heat until it turns piping hot.
- A bit at a time, stir in the Cheddar, until all is incorporated and throughly melted.
- Remove from heat at once and stir in the herbs.
Can’t get much simpler, can it? So what’s my problem?
Oddly enough, I have no idea what I created.
When it’s hot, the Something-Or-Other pours beautifully over a baked potato or egg noodles. Or you can stir it into a bowl of mashed potatoes and be amazed at the results. When lukewarm or at room temperature, it becomes a great dip for grilled vegetables, chicken wings, beef satays, skewered mushroom (cooked or not), and who knows what else. When cold, the Something-Or-Other becomes a sandwich spread for sandwiches made with leftover turkey and/or cooked mushrooms, hamburgers, or cold chicken breasts. Or you can scoop it with carrots, celery, pita chips or the like.
Sauce? Dip? Condiment? Sandwich spread? I have no idea.
Tastes pretty good, though.
I, too, remember the dark days of Brussel Sprouts. They came frozen in 6 inch x 6 inch x 2 inch white-packaged bricks, boiling them to death was the only known cooking method, and frankly, they tasted faintly of urine. However, in the early 1980s, I worked at the restaurant that might have served as the starting point for their slooooooow comeback to respectability. The Commissary, part of a Philadelphia empire of restaurants owned by Steve Poses, would split them in two vertically, blanche them for 1 minute, immediately shock them in cold water to stop cooking, and then drain them thoroughly. When called for, the second cook would sauce them in butter, top with crumbled bacon and salt and pepper, then serve as a side dish.
The recent trend in Brussel Sprouts seems to consist of oven roasting them whole without blanching. It’s OK, but sometimes the stems are not quite done. This past weekend I had about 12 ounces of sprouts–largely because what the heck, why not?–and thought I night try something slightly different. I knew that freshly grated nutmeg is the secret ingredient to great creamed spinach (weird if you think about it, but it does work); I knew that many Chinese recipes include both cabbage and ginger. So let’s have fun.
Pan-Seared and Roasted Brussel Sprouts in Nutmeg & Ginger
- 12 ounces Brussel Sprouts, washed, drained on paper towels, stem ends trimmed, split in half vertically.
- 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 0.5 – 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (and it has to be freshly grated)
- 0.5 – 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Put Brussel Sprout halves in a bowl.
- Toss with oil then with salt and pepper. I like to go light on the salt and heavy-ish on the pepper.
- Heat saute pan to medium-high. I used a 10-inch cast iron skillet.
- Working in batches, place Brussel Sprouts cut side down on the skillet.
- Leave untouched for 3 minutes. Check for a nice light to medium brown sear on the cut sides. If you have the sear, transfer cut side up to an ungreased baking sheet.
- If too light in color, let sear for 1-2 minutes only, then transfer to sheet.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes in the oven. Ten minutes if you like crunchy, fifteen if you prefer a softer texture.
- Transfer to a heat-proof serving bowl.
- Sprinkle the nutmeg and ginger on the sprouts and stir gently until thoroughly coated with the spice blend. I like strong flavors and went with a teaspoon of each. You might want to start with a half teaspoon of nutmeg and ginger if you prefer mild spice flavors.
Serves four as a side dish.
Some notes: Leaves will fall off. That’s fine; you’ll have something to munch on as you work. More importantly, I cannot stress strongly enough the use of freshly grated nutmeg. The complexity of the aroma and flavors make a big difference.
Vonn Scott Bair
So what do you do with about 8 ounces of Padron Peppers that you bought on a whim at the farmers market?
Well, first, figure out what they are. My basket of Padrons consisted mostly of .75 – 1.0 inch dark green chiles with a few about 2.5 inches long. Shiny, no spots. They have thin walls, very thin, so I decided to stir fry in very hot olive oil. While they have a white pepper-like character, Padrons tend to be spicy but quite mild. You will occasionally run into a hot one, but those are rare. Overall, Padrons are a very rare guest to the farmers market or the produce section, so I recommend grabbing them when available.
Stir-Fried Padron Chilis in Lemon and Garlic
- Olive Oil
- One (1) pint of Padron Chilis, washed and dried very carefully
- Juice of 1 small lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garlic powder to taste
- Heat olive oil (I used 2 Tablespoons) until very hot in a saute pan.
- Add the chiles and stir-fry nonstop for 2-3 minutes. Be careful of water spatter if you didn’t dry them well. Like balloons, the chiles will deflate and turn very soft. You might even hear the hissing or squeaking sounds of air escaping their interiors.
- Spoon the chiles with the oil into a bowl.
- Add the lemon juice, along with lots of salt, pepper and garlic powder; toss the peppers until evenly coated.
- Let cool to warm or room temperature.
Once cool enough to touch, my favorite way to eat them consists of using the inedible stems as a sort of toothpick, plucking the peppers into your mouth and discarding the stems whilst mopping up the oil with bread. You can also cut off the stems and use them in sandwiches or burgers. Good as a side to a fish filet.
Vonn Scott Bair