Asparagus and Mustard Stir-Fry

Because I have the reading comprehension of a first grader and occipital lobes as lazy as an 80 year old’s, (ummm yes, I did just make a neurology reference, deal with it.) I vastly prefer cookbooks with pictures in them.

And really, how can you blame me? How am I supposed to properly cook something if I have no clue what the final product is supposed to look like? How do I know if my sauce is the correct color if there’s no standard of comparison? How do I know a recipe is appetizing if there isn’t a mouth watering portrait to drool over? Really, my method saves time by relying on gut instinct (tee hee hee). If a recipe looks good in pictures, I’ll take the time to read it…who has time to read cookbooks as if they were novels? Not this girl!

Lucky for me, cookbooks with pictures are usually the ones found in the bargain aisles of major booksellers, next to the coffee table kama sutras and anthologies of Scottish lighthouses. For some reason, these cookbooks also seem to not be sure as to whether to use the metric or imperial system of measurement and will switch freely between the two.

Sometimes said cookbooks will reference a commonly found American ingredient by its British name. This can be embarassing when you’re running around the produce aisle at Stop and Shop asking people to help you locate a “capiscum” only to find out later that it’s the British name for a red pepper.

But since part of my unspoken New Year’s Resolution was to try cooking things I wouldn’t normally, these cookbooks have lately been my trusted friends.

For example, up until this week, if I were asked to write the dictionary definition for “stir-fry,” my entry would look something like this:

Stir-fry v. (Cookery) To locate every spare vegetable or article of protein in one’s fridge, cut into small bite like pieces, and heat together in a wok as one conglomeration of vegetables and sauce. To serve over rice and lament the fact that you once again have to go shopping for vegetables.
n. A last resort meal when nothing more interesting strikes your fancy.

But apparently not everyone agrees that stir-frys require the use of every vegetable in your possession nor have to be as dull a meal as microwaved canned soup. No siree, in fact, my $7.98 cookbook suggests a multitude of single-vegetable stir-frys. I know, I know…that’s borderline crazy-talk.

I'm not lying, it really was $7.98

In an effort to be adventurous, I decided to try my hand at one: an asparagus and mustard stir-fry. Extremely simple, but more flavorful than any stir-fry I’ve gotten my grubby little paws on over the last year. Not only was this a deeply satisfying served over rice as its own meal, but I bet it would be one killer side-dish when you’re feeling just plain tired of regular ol’ roasted asparagus.

I’m not going to lie, the onion really makes this dish, so feel free to add more; the slices take on a very sweet, tangy taste during cooking that mixes really well with the spiciness of the mustard. Toss in some chicken or tofu if you want to make it a whole meal and hit all the bases. Enjoy!

Asparagus and Mustard Stir-Fry (from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook)

  • 15 oz. asparagus (who knows that this means, just go with one whole bunch)
  • 1 tablespoon oil (I used peanut!)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard (those little yellow mustard seed balls)
  • 1 teaspoon honey (I used about two)
  • 1/2 cup cream (I used milk and it turned out fine. I’m sure coconut milk would work great too)
  1. Break the woody ends off the asparagus by holding both ends of the spear and bending gently until it snaps at its natural breaking point. Cut the asparagus into 2 inch lengths.
  2. Heat the wok or pan until very hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the side. Stir-fry the onion for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Stir in the crushed garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus to the wok and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, or until tender, being careful not to overcook the asparagus.
  3. Remove the asparagus from the wok, set it aside and keep it warm. Combine the mustard, honey, and cream. Add to the wok and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture reduces and thickens slightly. Return the asparagus to the wok and toss it through the cream mixture. Heat until the sauce thickens to slightly thinner than a glaze, but isn’t soupy. Serve immediately.
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Improvising Peanut Sauce

A long, long time ago…

Before the responsibility of things like a job, and rent payments, and foster dogs, and billz billz billz…

I traveled far “across the pond” to live in London for 6 glorious months as part of “study” abroad. And ohhhhhh my, “study” I did. Over that half a year I learned many things about Britain, its culture, and its storied history. For example…

I learned that Big Ben really is prettier at night…

And that it’s practically a sin to call Tower Bridge “London Bridge” (but I did it anyway)…

And that these red phone booths pretty much serve no function other than for escort ads and obligatory tourist photos…

And that it is necessary to wear brightly colored tights with your dresses if you want to fit in with London’s hipster scene…

What looks like a grungy basement in this photo is actually a famous, super popular venue called Notting Hill Arts Club frequented by people like Courtney Love and Robert Pattinson. Despite being super trendy and full o' celebrities, it is indeed pretty much a medium sized basement with an overpriced bar.

And that warm beer really isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be (and that you should wait until photos are over to start gulpin’ it)…

But aside from building an epic bottle collection in our kitchen, practicing my British accent, and apparently only ever wearing the colors red and black, I did find time to actually learn some things.

Yeah, I learned a lot about history and manners and culture and traveling and street smarts and all that jazz… but surprisingly, I also learned a ton about cooking.

London was the first time I had a fully equipped kitchen at my disposal and no cafeteria to abide my laziness. Prepared foods and meals are few and far between in European supermarkets. Yep, everyone cooks… which meant I had to learn how, too.

Another important kitchen lesson learned in London: how to do the dishes while drunk.

One of the biggest culinary accomplishments I had while in London occurred while le (ex)boyfriend and I were on a never-ending mission to find the perfect peanut sauce recipe. It started one day when one of us ordered peanut noodles at a food stand called “Mr. Peanut,” run by a small, 80-year old Asian man whom I can only assume was Mr. Peanut himself. Now I dunno what Mr. Peanut put in these noodles, but they. were. heavenly. After three orders we were practically worshiping at Mr. Peanut’s food truck alter, and an obsession to re-create the noodly, peanuty, deliciousness was born. Three times a week, every week, we attempted a new peanut sauce recipe to pour over ready-wating spaghetti.

But something wasn’t working… we must have attempted a dozen recipes, but every single time got different results: spicy, goopy, watery, thick, tangy… nothing was really jiving with our taste buds, nor remotely compared to the crack-like ecstasy that was Mr. Peanut’s sauce. Fed up, one day I said to myself “screw it, we’ve done this so many times, I know the gist of the ingredients, I’m just going to wing it now…” And with a lot of patience and a few mishaps, a little improviser (and a great peanut sauce!) was born.

Ever since then, I’ve stuck to mostly my own intuition when making peanut sauce (and sauces in general). I can’t say that the sauce comes out tasting exactly the same every single time, but it’s always a sauce the I’m interested in eating, which is all that counts, right?

Working up the courage to face peanut sauce head on without the comforting reassurance of a recipe was probably one of the greatest contributions to making me the confident little chef I am today!

Learning about sauces is a great way to figure out how different foods interact with each other without the big risk that comes with improvising a whole entire meal. When a made-up sauce doesn’t work out, you can just scrape it out of the pan and heat up some Prego — crisis averted and meal saved!

But if it works out, whipping up your own sauces can teach you a lot about flavor combinations and food purposes, which can really help turn your gears when it comes to getting creative in the kitchen…which is precisely why I’ve whipped up this little tutorial to help get your feet wet with improvising sauces, starting with an easy-peasy peanut sauce.

  1. Read a lot of recipes. Take note of their differences and similarities. Chances are, more a dish as common as peanut sauce, there is going to be a lot of variability in recipes, but you’ll probably still be able to get a grasp of what you’re going to need.
  2. Understand your “cast of characters.” In food dishes (and especially in sauces), ingredients can be looked at like parts in a movie or play. You’ve got your star of the show, supporting characters, some extras, and some understudies. Knowing which ingredients play which role can help you figure out proportions, but more importantly, knowing what exactly an ingredient DOES for a dish is the key to knowing how to balance, add, and correct inadequacies. Sometimes it helps to actually write out the list of ingredients and their roles. For peanut sauce, our cast of characters is as follows:
    1. Peanut Butter — the star of the show! Its purpose is to be the most prominent flavor and fill your mouth with peanuty goodness. For half a pound of noodles you’ll want to start with about 1/2 to 3/4 a cup of this.
    2. Soy Sauce — a supporting character. Its purpose is two-fold: add flavor and add liquid to start breakin’ that peanut butter down into a sauce. You’ll probably want no more than a few tablespoons of this.
    3. Rice wine vinegar (or any clear colored cooking vinegar) — plays a small role but an important one! This little guy is necessary to break apart the peanut butter’s gooey consistency to a more sauce-like texture. Just a dash of it is necessary.
    4. Honey, brown sugar, or some other sweet ingredient — Balances the strong taste of the soy sauce and vinegar. The sweeter you like your sauce, the more of a role this guy is going to play. The amount you’ll need is all up to you, but I’d start with a tablespoon and go from there.
    5. Water — Controls the thickness of the sauce. Add more water to thin it out, heat the sauce longer to thicken it. Sometimes I don’t even use water, this is one of those ingredients that will have to be adjusted as you go.
    6. Oil — Use whatever oil you like here, but I recommend peanut or sesame. Its only real purpose is to heat the pan and keep the peanut butter from sticking (so you’re not going to need a lot of it, just enough to heat the pan).
    7. Extras — There are soooooo many things you can add to peanut sauce to make it shine! Some recommendations (to add, little by little): chopped green onion, red pepper flakes, siracha, milk (for a creamier sauce), sesame seeds, mustard seeds, garlic, ginger, chopped peanuts (for a chunkier sauce), lime juice. All up to you, little improviser!
  3. Have all your ingredients in front of you and START SLOW. Heat the oil in the pan, use low heat, and add the ingredients one by one. Once you’ve added the peanut butter, soy sauce, and vinegar, a sauce should start forming (with a little help from a spoon or spatula). Add in the sugar, mix well, then taste.
  4. Use your senses to critically appraise your sauce and figure out what it needs. Taste critically to figure out what it needs:
    1. Too salty? You probably added too much soy sauce. Counteract this by adding more peanut butter, sugar, or water.
    2. Too sweet? Too much sugar. More peanut butter or soy sauce, or perhaps a spicy addition like red pepper or siracha.
    3. Too bland? Figure out what you want to taste more of. Needs more sweetness? Add sugar. More spice? Whatever spices your hear desires. More salt? Throw in some soy sauce.
    4. Visually appraise the sauce, too. Is it thick or thin enough for what you’re using it for? If it’s going to be a dipping sauce, you want it thick. For noodles, you’ll want it thinner so it spreads. Adjust the thickness by adding water to thin the sauce out (a little vinegar helps too), heat the sauce longer if you’re looking to cook off some of the liquid.
  5. Whatever additions you make, always do it little by little. Remember, you can always add, but never subtract. Adjust teaspoon by teaspoon and taste after every addition, asking yourself “what else does it need?”
  6. When it tastes good, looks good, and is warm enough, STOP adding and remove from heat. Your sauce should be done! Serve it whatever way your heart desires: as a satay dipping sauce, over noodles, over meats or veggies, on top of rice:

There you have it, little improvisers, a one-of-a-kind sauce without any help from a recipe! Mr. Peanut would be so proud! These same steps can walk you through whatever kind of sauce you’re lookin’ to make, and soon enough you’ll be on your own, whippin’ up whatever sort of sauciness sparks your creativity! Happy improvising!

New Year’s Resolutions and No-Calorie Noodles, Three Ways

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good at a lot of things. I’m a terrible parallel parker. My artistic abilities are limited to shoddily drawn cartoons on par with those found in a third grade art class. I can’t for the life of me deep fry something without either completely ruining it, starting a fire, or burning off half of my taste buds.

But I have no shame in admitting that I am exceptionally good at making New Year’s resolutions. So good in fact, that last year I made exactly 50 of them.

Yes, 50. I have issues, don’t judge me.

Did I accomplish any of said resolutions? Considering I threw away the notebook containing them sometime in September, I would venture to say probably not…

But this year I’m doing things differently.

For starters, I’m not making 50 resolutions.

And this year I’m not going to be secretive about them and pretend I’m above all that New Year’s hoo-ha.

And I’m going to resist the urge to lump all of my goals into one big resolution like, “I’m going to be better at everything I’m already doing and start doing all the things I’m currently not.”

And this year I’m not going to start my list of resolutions with a resolution to make a list of resolutions. Yeah, that happened:

This year, I’m narrowing it down to five solid, concrete, accomplishable resolutions with measurable outcomes.

And I’m going to work my butt off to accomplish them…

…because on the off chance the world ends this December, and judgment day is less than 12 months away…well, I’ve got a loooooootttttt of work to do if I ever have a shot of getting my ass into heaven.

So, this year I’m going to work on 5 things, and only 5 things:

1) Find a new job.
2) Cook. Five times a week. No excuses, mofo. And baked potatoes with butter and cheese don’t count. Oh, and start packing a lunch while you’re at it. And for god’s sake, eat a normal breakfast once in awhile.
3) Blog. Once a week. At least. Don’t complain about it, you love this shit.
4) Share. Let others read Two Veggies. Play guitar for someone other than your stuffed animals. Go running with someone, even if you’re afraid you look like an injured ostrich while doing it.
5) Be healthier. Resume some form of viable exercise and perform it at least three times a week. Eat more vegetables. Eat a piece of fruit once in awhile. Commit to eating “healthy” meals five days a week.

Concise, right? <<Insert applause>>

But let’s talk about that last one for a minute.

A lot of people make resolutions like that… you know, the usual buffet of typical New Year’s promises: be healthy, lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, stop drinking, stop stuffing yo’ face full of chocolate cake at every forsaken opportunity.

I’m not a nutritionist, or a doctor, or motivator, or a life coach. I can’t give a long, inspired speech about finding your inner willpower, harnessing the inspiration to make get off the couch, making small permanent changes instead of big temporary ones… all that sing-songey new year’s stuff.

But I can share a little secret I stumbled upon that might make all those things easier:

Tofu shirataki. Looks like pasta. Tastes like pasta (i.e., nothing). Has the same texture as pasta (almost). But is only 20 calories per serving.

Did you hear that?!

I said, 20 friggin’ calories per serving. If that’s not a New Year’s miracle, then I don’t know what is.

In addition, the shirataki is (sort of) all natural. It has three ingredients: tofu, yams, water. It is dairy free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, and (almost) no carb. If you’re Paleo, I imagine this is as close to a pasta substitute you can get (while I’m pretty sure cavemen didn’t eat tofu shirataki and it wouldn’t “technically” be Paleo, I doubt it would be a harmful addition to a Paleo meal when you’re just dying for some friggin’ pasta). They’re available at pretty much every grocery store I’ve been to, usually in the produce aisle next to where they keep the meat substitutes.

I’ve spent some time cooking with these bad boys over the past few months and I’ve had great results. As an Italian, it would be sacrilegious of me to ever consider permanently giving up pasta, but it’s always good to make substitutes when and where you can and save up all your pasta points for a night when you can really splurge on something goooooood…like pasta carbonara.

Here are three tried and tested recipes using tofu shirataki, each with a completely different taste to help you get kick started with your goals in the New Year! They all serve two VERY generously. Happy 2012!

Broccoli and Tofu Shirataki in a Spicy Ginger Scallion Sauce

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed with hot water
  • peanut oil, for sautéing
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 large broccoli crowns, chopped
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, ground
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (depending on how sweet or salty you like your sauce)
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • siracha sauce to taste
  1. In a large pan or wok over high heat, add a liberal amount of peanut oil and the chopped onion. Stir until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the broccoli crowns, stirring constantly until they become heated and soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and broccoli from the pan and onto a nearby plate for later use.
  3. Heat a little more peanut oil and add the scallions and ginger. Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, honey, red pepper and some siracha. Heat for about 2 minutes and then taste, adjust the ingredients to your liking.
  4. Add back in the broccoli and onions and coat well in the sauce.
  5. Lower the heat and add the tofu shirataki, stirring until evenly coated with the sauce and heated through.
  6. Serve with some freshly grated ginger on top!

Thai Curry Noodle Soup

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained
  • 2oz Laksa paste or other Thai curry paste
  • 1 large can (1 1/2 cups) light or full fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups mixed chopped vegetables
  • handful fresh basil leaves
  1. Place noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 1 minute then massage to loosen into individual strands. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or other vegetable oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add curry paste and stir fry for 30 seconds. Quickly add coconut milk and 2 cups boiling water. Bring to the boil and add vegetables. Simmer for 2 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to your liking.
  3. To serve, divide noodles between 2 bowls. Pour soup and vegetable mixture on top of the noodles and top with basil leaves.

Mexican Pasta Bowls

  • 1 package tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed under hot water
  • half an onion, minced
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 package fake veggie chicken (if you like)
  • three bell peppers (of assorted colors if you’re feeling fancy), cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup of canned black beans
  • 1/4 cup of frozen corn
  • small pinch of red pepper flakes
  • shredded chedda’ cheese, if you please (I sho’ do!)
  • Hefty pinches of:
    • Cumin
    • Chile powder
    • Paprika
    • Salt
    • Pepper
  1. In a large pan, saute the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the fake chicken, bell peppers and frozen corn. Cook for about 7 minutes, until peppers are soft.
  3. Add the black beans and all the spices, mix well and heat thoroughly, about 3 minutes. Toss in the tofu shirataki and heat another 2 minutes.
  4. Dish into bowls and serve topped with shredded cheese, salsa, gauc, or whatever else fits your palette!

A Christmas Story

‘Twas the month of December, and blog posts? There were none.
But wait! Before you get angry…there was much to get done!

I had to make presents and eat cookies and decorate my house…
…and travel to Orlando to meet a famous big mouse.
There was butterbeer to be drunk and playgrounds on which to climb…
…and two very bestest friends having a wonderfully magical time.
Then it was back to Boston, my home sweet home,
where, Merry Christmas to me, I bought an iPhone.
Then a yankee swap at work, where we drank lots of wine with lunch…
I got a margherita gift basket from those mofos. Hey, thanks a bunch!

Then off to New Jersey for more presents to unwrap.
Santa was f***ing good this year, just look at all this cool crap…

I got a zebra hat and mittens to protect from winter’s rough bark…

…a macro lens to take badass photos, and a floating toy shark.
But the real reason I’m typing out this silly, long ballad,
is because tucked in my stocking this year…

…was the recipe for my grandma’s famous potato salad!

(more about the recipe after the recipe.)

Nonna’s Smashed Potato Salad

  • 5 pounds all-purpose potatoes
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 medium sized sweet onion, grated so that the onion is essentially a pulp (more on this below)
  • Helman’s mayo (to taste…more on that, again, below)
  • Salt, pepper and garlic powder (to taste)
  • A whole lotta paprika
  1. Hard boil the eggs. (See below.) When cooled, peel and chop them.
  2. Boil the potatoes until easily pierced with a fork. They should be at a mashable consistency, not much firmer. Put in the fridge to cool. When cooled, peel off the skins (I pulled the skins off right after I took them out of the boiling pot…I see no reason why you can’t do the same).
  3. Cut the potatoes into evenly sized cubes and put into a large mixing bowl. Add the grated carrot, onion, egg, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mix well with a wooden spoon. The potatoes should become slightly mashed.
  4. Little by little, add the mayonnaise to your liking. The salad shouldn’t be white with mayo, and should have a fairly thick, stable consistency (not soupy).
  5. Continue to mix until the potato salad has a consistency of mashed potatoes with lots of lumps.
  6. Top the entire bowl with lots and lots of paprika.

I’ve loved this potato salad since I was a kid. It was the only potato salad that ever called to me. In fact, I had sworn off potato salad before I tried my Nonna’s. I don’t like the potato salads that are soupy, covered in thick white stuff, crunchy…nope, I don’t want any of that shizzz…

I begged my Nonna forever for her recipe and I got the run-around for the better part of a year. Imagine my surprise when I found a little index card tucked in my stocking this year. At one point during the holiday, I proclaimed it my favorite gift, which invited dirty looks from my mom who had just bestowed upon me a $300 camera lens.

But of course, in typical Nonna fashion, the recipe was horrifyingly vague. Look at the picture I posted of the index card above… she lists only two ingredients: 5 pounds of potatoes and 6 hard-boiled eggs. Later in the recipe, she mentions all the other crap I need, but gives no quantities. Not to mention, she says nothing about how to hard boil eggs… which I may or may not have had to look up directions for…

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that the onion is so finely grated that there is no annoying onion-y crunch present when you bite into a fork full, just some pleasant onion taste. Obviously if you like just a liiiiiiiitle bit more crunch, you can dice the onion, slice it, or mix and match.

Anyway, above is my best interpretation of her recipe and the results were spot on to the potato salad that was present at every springtime family function when I was a kid. Sure, it’s a little out of season right now, but it reminds me of family…my family…my big, crazy, food-loving, grudge-holding, tradition-following, Italian family.

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese with Sage Breadcrumbs

Fall is weird…

Sometimes Fall is warm. Sometimes Fall drives you outside and takes you on long, ambling walks. Sometimes Fall wants you to put on a sweater and spend the day at a pumpkin patch, or a corn maze, or an apple orchard, or a football field. Sometimes Fall hands you a big bowl of pumpkin ice cream and tells you that you sho’ better get your fair share before Winter comes a-knockin’.

Sometimes Fall is cold. Sometimes Fall strongly calls for a large dose of pumpkin coffee and a pair of fuzzy socks. Sometimes Fall barges in through your open window and makes you want to curl up under the covers and never, ever leave your bed. Sometimes Fall urges you to bake apple pie solely so you can warm your feet by the oven.

Sometimes Fall is lonely. Sometimes Fall strips the landscape and drives everyone indoors. Sometimes Fall is selfish and hogs all the sunshine and makes you walk home in pitch dark at 5:30. Sometimes Fall likes to remind you of people who aren’t there anymore.

But sometimes Fall is uniting. Sometimes Fall takes you out to your favorite bar for a pumpkin beer and Sunday night football. Sometimes Fall dresses you up in silly costumes and lets you eat candy with all your friends. Sometimes Fall reminds you how important family is and urges you to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle to spend some time with them…

And sometimes…Fall puts a good friend in your life who loves the crazy, mixed-up season of Fall just as much as you do…

…A friend who will take those long, ambling walks with you when it’s warm and buy you pumpkin coffees when it’s cold…

…A friend who will talk to you about football over poutine at your favorite bar…

…A friend who will come over when Fall makes you feel lonely and play your guitar and teach you songs…

But if you’re really lucky, Fall might just give you a friend who has discovered an epic, heart-attack-inducing, belt-loosening recipe for pumpkin mac and cheese…

And if you’re really really lucky, that friend will want to help you make it!

And it’s a good thing, too… because this recipe is hard work! It took the two of us, working full-time on it roughly three hours to complete! Luckily we were armed with an arsenal of good music and flavored vodka to keep us entertained and focused (…sort of)!

The result was highly intriguing. Decedent? Hellers yes! Pumpkiny? Yes sir! Cheesy? Sho’ was! And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing… my natural instinct is to say it needed mo’ salt (surprise surprise), but really, I just think it needed more oomph of any kind. Cheese and pumpkin and pasta and breadcrumbs all wrapped together can get kind of bland… if I were to do it again, I would go double or triple on the spices and make that shiz POP!

Don’t get me wrong… I nearly cried tears of bliss when I took the first bite from it straight out of the oven. But was it worth the three hours it took to make it? Given that time frame would I make it again? Hmmm, that’s up for debate. If I were making it by myself, I might have to give it some serious consideration… but for a lazy Saturday afternoon with a good friend, some good cocktails, and some good music? Nothing could be better. 🙂

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese With Sage Breadcrumbs (From The Small Boston Kitchen)

  • 1 – 2 1/2-3 lb. Sugar Pumpkin, scrubbed clean
  • 6-7 whole cloves (I didn’t have these so I left them out)
  • 3 pieces of whole wheat bread (I recommend getting a fresh loaf from the bakery on this one, with a similar consistency to french bread. Don’t use sliced bread from the Wonderbread aisle)
  • 1 lb. dried pasta
  • ½ Vidalia onion, diced (I used a whole one)
  • 6 TBS + 2 TBS butter unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 TBS flour
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup shredded smoked Gouda
  • 1 + ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1- 8 oz. log of goat cheese
  • 1 TBS whole grain mustard
  • 1 TBS + 1 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
  • A generous pinch nutmeg
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • Olive Oil for drizzling
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Carefully cut the pumpkin into six equal parts and scoop out the seeds. Pierce the insides of the pumpkin pieces with the cloves, salt generously and then lay onto a cookie sheet, flesh side down. Roast pumpkin until it is very soft, about 35-45 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel off the skin of the pumpkin and place the flesh into a blender or processor. Blend the pumpkin until smooth and velvety, and set the pumpkin puree aside.
  2. On a baking sheet, toast the three pieces of bread until they start to brown a bit. Set them aside to cool, then use a processor to pulse the bread crumbs. Mix in 1 tsp fresh sage and a pinch of nutmeg. Using your hands, combine 2 TBS of softened butter to the crumbs until they are evenly distributed. Season with salt and set aside.
  3. Heat a medium-sized sauce pot and add enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan. Add the diced onions and a generous pinch of salt and cook on medium heat until they start to lightly brown (about 15 minutes). Add the butter to the pot and once it has completely melted, gradually add the flour, stirring constantly. Let the butter-flour mixture heat for a minute or two and then remove the pan from the heat and gradually add in the milk, stirring constantly. Return the pan to medium heat and add two cups of the pumpkin puree, stir, then add the mustard, goat cheese, smoked Gouda and 1 cup of cheddar cheese. Stir until the cheese melts. Add the 1 TBS sage and cinnamon and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add a generous amount of salt. Cook the pasta until very al dente (about 5 minutes). Strain pasta and add to the cheese sauce, and pour into an oven-safe casserole dish. Top with remaining ½ cup of cheddar cheese and Sage Breadcrumbs. Bake, uncovered at 400 degrees until the breadcrumbs brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Apples Galore!

Is it just me, or did mother nature skip over Fall this year? Two weeks ago it was in the upper 70s. Last Monday we turned on the heat in our house for the very first time. Three days ago I dusted off my winter jacket and bundled up with a scarf and gloves.  Yesterday I walked home from a Halloween party in three inches of snow. Today I went to CVS to buy Halloween candy and the Christmas stuff was already overtaking the seasonal aisle.

Is this some sort of joke, mother nature? What happened to fall foliage and sweatshirt weather and crisp evenings that make me want to consume mass amounts of cranberry apple tea? I feel like I’m being robbed of my second favorite season (second only to Christmas season, o’ course!).

Regardless of the weather’s severe lack of cooperation, I’ve been pretty darn proud of the work I’ve put in to appreciate what semblance of Fall has been given to us…

I’ve worn lots of pretty, colorful scarves. I’ve taken long, ambling walks through Beacon Hill, appreciating the “classy” fall decorations. Come Monday, I will have attended three Halloween events… in costume.

But most importantly, I’ve made a concerted effort to consume something pumpkin or apple flavored on a daily basis.

Not that it’s been hard… no sir, not when you have 25 pounds of fresh picked apples like we do! Yep, that’s right, 25 pounds…

Whoever gifted all those apples to my roommate probably thought they were doing something exceptionally nice, but for the past two weeks we’ve been feeling completely overwhelmed with the seemingly bottomless bag of apples on the floor of our kitchen…

We’ve both been packing them every day with lunch. My roommate (a teacher) hands them out liberally to her kids when they’ve forgotten a snack. We made a year’s worth of apple sauce with about 30 apples… and we still have enough apples to pack both of the crisper drawers in our refrigerator.

So last weekend, I decided it was time to bunker down and go to town on our apple supply…

I know what you’re thinking…

Apple pie?

Close…

Apple turnovers!!!

Anyone with half a brain knows that the best part of apple pie is when the crust gets all ooey gooey with apple sugar goodness. Most of the time, when someone cuts me a slice of apple pie, I scoop out the innards and concentrate solely on the warm, gooey crust…

That’s why turnovers are so awesome! They only use an itty bitty spoonful of apple pie filling, surrounded by a big heaping mass of layers upon layers of puff pastry. One turnover is like eating a Laurenized slice of apple pie… all crust, with just a hint of goopiness!

Not to mention, they’re SUPER easy, which is a necessary element of any baking endeavor for me, since I’m severely lacking in baking mojo.

Apple Turnovers (adapted from allrecipies.com)

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 Granny Smith apples – peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 (17.25 ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Combine the lemon and 4 cups water in a large bowl. Place the sliced apples in the water to keep them from browning.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Drain water from apples, and place them into the hot skillet. Cook and stir for about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, and cinnamon, and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Stir together cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water. Pour into the skillet, and mix well. Cook for another minute, or until sauce has thickened. Remove from heat to cool slightly.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  4. Unfold puff pastry sheets, and repair any cracks by pressing them back together. Trim each sheet into a square. Then cut each larger square into 4 smaller squares. Spoon apples onto the center of each squares. Fold over from corner to corner into a triangle shape, and press edges together to seal. Place turnovers on a baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between them. Brush the top of each pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle lightly with white (or colored!) sugar.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until turnovers are puffed and lightly browned.

Vodka Infusions

Well, well, well… look who’s resurfaced in the blogosphere…

Yep, that’s right folks, I’m strappin’ back on my bloggin’ shoes and goin’ back in for the fight.

Major apologies for my sudden (and rude) disappearance. Some big events unfolded in this veggie’s life and things got pretty darn complicated for awhile. But I’m makin’ some big changes and I want you, dear reader, to share ’em with me!

The first major change is that, starting today, I am officially sharing this blog with a real, live human monster. He’s been buggin’ me for nearly 6 months now to see the blog and today, which just so happens to be my 23rd birthday, I’m giving myself the gift of no longer having to put up with his relentless requests. Say hi to my friend, everyone!

His name is …well, we’ll just call him Mother Monster. He’s a cool kid. He listens to Lady G. He plays some mean guitar. He is a big big fan of Oreo cookies.

In fact, we share many of the same food passions! He let me borrow his subscription to Cook’s Illustrated. We’ve gone on an extensive hunt for the best poutine in Boston together. He introduced me to pulled pork (ummmm…what? move along…). He helped me sample these vodka infusions for the first time (more on that later).

On to the second BIG change. As you can see, Two Veggies looks a little different. New templates, new header, updated pages… I would have done new fonts too, but I’m too poor to afford font packages and ill-adept at using WordPress on my own. Speaking of which, when I changed my template, I lost all my comments… has this happened to anyone else? Any WordPress whizzes out there know how to get ’em back?!

The last BIG change? This is a tough one…

This is no longer the tale of two veggies. Le boyfriend and I split up, so now this veggie is on her own. This obviously made life supremely complicated for awhile; chief amongst my problems was the issue of this bloggity’s name. Do you know just how hard a feat it is to come up with a good blog name?! I’m not prepared to do that sort of brainstormin’ again. Send yo’ suggestions my way.

Anyways, since the breakup, I’ve tried to bite the bullet and start a big project to take my mind off of things. I had recently acquired an excess of mason jars, so infusing vodka seemed like the most logical undertaking. If not the most exceptionally stereotypical.

Infusing vodka is super easy (and super delicious).

The recipe goes something like this:

[fruit of your choosing + mason jar + a spoonful of sugar + high quality of vodka]/a few days to a few weeks = the tastiest vodka you ever laid your tongue on.

Here are some of the combo’s I made:

Strawberry Vanilla

Blueberry Peach

Raspberry Vanilla with Gold Flakes

Mixed Berry Vanilla

Aside from being painfully easy, this little project is a great way to make some unusual, customized gifts fo’ people in your life… or an easy peasy way to impress your friends. Here’s the directions (if you couldn’t figure them out from my above formula).

Homemade Vodka Infusions

  • Fruit of your choosing
  • A mason jar or other air tight container
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar (for small jars, 2 for big ones)
  • High-quality, plain vodka
  • Other additions, some recommendations
    • Cinnamon sticks
    • Whole vanilla beans
    • Spices
    • Flowers
  1. Cut and clean the fruit. Layer it nicely in the mason jar and add the sugar.
  2. Fill the rest of the jar with vodka and put the lid and ring to the jar back on. Shake well.
  3. Twice a day, agitate the jars with a few quick shakes. Store in a cool, dry place for 3-14 days (the longer, the stronger).
  4. When the vodka is finished infusing, use a cheesecloth to help drain the fruit from the jars. Discard the fruit and serve the vodka with a simple mixer like Sprite, tonic water or ginger ale.