The First Week

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Things are finally getting back on track here.  In one short week, my brand new kitchen has gone from this…

to this:

This is how we were doing Tuesday night, before about eight of my girlfriends came over for an impromptu ladies’ wine night while the boys played poker, doubling as a rough, rough draft of a housewarming party.  It was, however, the best way I could have ever hoped to ring in the first night in the house alone (after Jesse had, as promised, spent the full first week there together with me — immensely helpful and fun).

Oh yes, and I did in fact get the fridge of my dreams.

French door fridge access, bottom drawer freezer, automatic (crushed!) ice and water dispenser — stainless steel, and 78,000 cubic inches of pure refrigerated goodness.  Plus, I got it at a killer price, at the Standard TV and Appliance Outlet Store (who knew?!) for $1,000 less than its original list price!

Yup, I got me a fridge.  And a kitchen sink.

The first non-take-out meal in the new house??  Baked potatoes.  I’m not sure why I got an insane craving for baked potatoes earlier this week, when I probably haven’t eaten one in 4+ years, but I did, and then when I walked the FOUR BLOCKS around the corner to my newly-discovered Grocery Outlet (don’t worry, you’ll hear more about this.  It warrants an entirely separate blog post), I found they had 10-lb. bags of russets on sale, so that sealed the deal.

Plus, I’ve only found about 10% of my dishes and utensils so far, so a DIY potato bar seemed to be the way to go, adorned with some seitan that I scored for $0.99, and then fried up in the skillet with some jerk seasoning, and topped with various chopped veggies, shredded cheese, and the last little bowlful of Greek yogurt that actually did make the cut and came with me in the cooler from the old house.

With Portland’s version of a heat wave upon us, and a kitchen that’s finally not in a basement, I’m loving the easy-dinner lifestyle of making do with whatever’s in the fridge, and turning it into some sort of creative cold salad.  Last night, I swung by the GO on the way home and, though their produce section is not the most impressive part of the store, I did find a good looking eggplant and a bag of cole slaw for super cheap, and turned it into dinner.

First I roasted the eggplant in little spears, coated with olive oil, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast.

I made a spicier version of my go-to pizza dough, adding some tandoori seasoning that gave it a nice saffron flavor.  But instead of baking it, I rolled it into a little patty disc and lightly fried it in the skillet, giving it a wonderful naan flatbread quality.

I found some leftover ranch dressing in the fridge that I used to dress the cole slaw, and layered this on the flatbread with the eggplant spears for an awesome main dish.  I had a handful of beets in my fridge that I had already roasted a few days earlier, when my friend Hollis (now a Portlander!!!) brought over a bunch from her garden to the Tuesday soiree.  I sliced these up and tossed them with some red onion, olive oil, balsamic, candied walnuts, and Bacos.  Fantastic.

All right.  I think I’m back on the wagon.

This Week’s Groceries

Fred Meyer 7/27

  • Cucumbers: $1.18
  • Green pepper: $0.59
  • Orange pepper: $1.50
  • Roma tomato: $0.64
  • Roasted chicken: $5.99

TOTAL: $9.90

REMAINING FOR THE MONTH: $146.75 (carried over $6.65 unused from last month)


Grocery Outlet 7/31

  • Cottage cheese: $2.39
  • Chocolate milk: $1.69
  • Pico de gallo: $2.99
  • Pepper jack cheese: $3.17
  • Cubed seitan: $0.99 
  • Green onion: $0.50
  • Red bell pepper: $0.59
  • Bag of russet potatoes: $2.99
  • Avocado: $0.99
  • Green grapes: $2.99

TOTAL: $19.29



Valentine’s Day

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So a few of my friends and I have a little tradition of doing V-Day ladies’ night every year, which usually entails getting dressed up and going out to a fancy dinner at restaurants I wouldn’t normally find myself at.

But this year, due to some vegan constraints (or faux vegan, we later found out), we decided to do dinner in, so I suddenly found myself hosting a Valentine’s Day dinner party for 7.

So with my only constraints being meat-and-dairy-free, and complementary to the pasta salad and ginger beet soup that Kate and Helene were bringing (yeah, it was a lot of beets.  But it’s Valentine’s Day!  And winter in Oregon!), here’s what I came up with as a supplementary menu:

  • Bruschetta with homemade baguettes
  • Salad of mixed greens, roasted beets, and coconut-candied walnuts with Dijon shallot dressing
  • Marinated eggplant
In case you haven’t noticed, I am fond of making entire meals out of combinations of appetizers.

The bruschetta recipe is one of my favorites, and I was so stoked because I usually don’t get to whip this one out until summer barbecue time, but for some reason the tomatoes at New Seasons keep being from California, so I’m kind of going nuts with them.

Start by mincing 4 garlic cloves and throw it in a mixing bowl with 1 teaspoon coarse salt, some red pepper flakes, and the juice of an entire lemon.

Then, chiffonade 15 large basil leaves, and chop 3 medium tomatoes.

Add these to the bowl and pulverize them with a potato masher, then add 2 teaspoons white sugar, and 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar.

Let this all marinade together for an hour or so, and then add 2 more finely diced tomatoes and a glug or two of olive oil.  I could have diced these more finely, but this bruschetta tastes so good I always just end up eating it with a spoon anyway, so I’m not so concerned with its steadiness on a cracker.
I find that by the time this is ready to serve, it’s way more liquidy than I like.  Fortunately, it’s delicious liquid, so at this point I strain out all the excess juice, and set it aside for a future incarnation as salad dressing.
Then, the baguettes.  This is a super simple recipe, and astonishingly fast.  I’m used to baking bread that takes 4-5 hours in total, all said and done, with multiple risings.  Not this one — you can go from initial mixing to out-of-the-oven in just over two hours.  The key is a ton of yeast.

Start by mixing 5 teaspoons yeast with half a cup of lukewarm water, and letting it activate for 5 minutes.  Add 1.5 teaspoons salt and 4 cups of flour, and slowly incorporate more water until you have a nice, doughy consistency, kneading for 5-10 additional minutes.  Return it to the bowl, cover it, and let it rise for 1 hour.

Divide the dough into two portions, and roll them out into long tubes.  I start in the middle and massage the dough, rolling while I press down with my hands and move out towards the ends, stretching and smoothing the dough at the same time.

Once you’re happy with the length, place them on the baking sheet you’ll be using, make those diagonal scores you always see on baguettes, and let them sit for about 20 more minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

The key to baguettes is they’ll be baking at a very high temperature, for a very long time (1 hour!).  That’s how you get the outside crusty and the inside chewy.  But, to prevent the crust from burning, you need to remove them every 15 minutes and baste them with cold water.  

By the way, I like to do really deep scores; that way you don’t have to deal with all the shrapnel that comes from slicing baguettes; you can just tear each piece off as you go. 

I know, right?!

Now, the eggplant.  This is another Smitten Kitchen-inspired recipe, and a super easy one to toss together for a dinner party or potluck.
Start by slicing 2 medium size eggplants to 1/4-inch thickness.  Arrange them on a baking sheet, brush the tops with olive oil, and broil for 3-4 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, mix together 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons small capers, 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs like mint or parsley, 1/4 teaspoon salt, some cracked pepper, and 3 tablespoons olive oil.  As the batches of eggplant come out of the oven (although I have TWO ovens, with independent temperatures, I for some reason only have one baking sheet, so this dish inevitably comes in rounds for me), let them cool and add them to this marinade, gently mixing.

And then finally, the salad.  This only forethought this required was to start a large beet roasting while I prepared everything else, wrapping it in foil and tossing it in a 400-degree oven for an hour, then unwrapping it and letting it cool.  
At this point, the skin will slide off easily in your fingers and the only slicing I had to do was to cut the beet into little half-circles and add it to a bed of mixed greens.
Candied walnuts are always a welcome addition to any salad, but remember, vegan!  Instead of candying the nuts in my usual go-to of butter and brown sugar, I instead melted together some coconut oil, agave syrup, cinnamon, and a bit of salt, and then threw the walnuts in, browning them until just before they were about to burn.

And the dressing?  Well this is where we welcome back the strained juice from the bruschetta.  There was an entire mason jar’s worth of liquid left over, so I later whipped up a larger batch of this and am keeping it in the fridge as a ready-to-go homemade dressing.  
But for this salad I used about a quarter of the liquid, and added to it: 1 minced shallot, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, a pinch of fennel seeds, and some nutritional yeast (I can’t help it!  It makes every dressing better).  Yum.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Roasted Eggplant, Tomato Sauce, and Ahi Tuna Steaks

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This was an iron chef kind of meal.  Nothing in mind to make for dinner, but a green pepper and gargantuan eggplant that needed to be used up. 

Sometimes I like to chop up eggplant into little chunks and use it in a sauce, or puree it and make babaghanoush, but tonight I was in the mood for something meatier, like thick roasted slices of eggplant, mushy but charred at the same time.

I sliced the eggplant, and lined them up on a baking sheet before spreading them with olive oil, and sprinkling them with chopped garlic, salt, and nutritional yeast.  I covered them with another layer of foil and baked at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, and then to crispen the tops, broiled for about two minutes with the foil off. 

Simply sauteeing the pepper would have made this meal too bland — there needed to be some red in there.  I found the letovers from a large can of juicy diced tomatoes in the freezer, which was precisely what this meal needed.

Prep-wise, all I had to do was chop half a yellow onion and the green pepper into small squares, and saute this in my small soup pot with some olive oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and the fresh herbs that I had on hand — oregano and marjoram (I don’t even chop these, just flake them off the stem straight into the pot).

To that I added the frozen brick of tomatoes and a little water, and covered on high-medium heat until it had all melted into a rich, bubbling sauce.  Then I added some leftover red wine that I had in the fridge to give it a smokier flavor, and let it bubble for awhile with the lid off, to reduce.

Last but not least, the quick and easy protein was a package of Trader Joe’s ahi tuna steaks.

Pre-marinated, all you have to do is defrost and sautee, with some lime juice over top to finish.