Gettin’ Sweaty in the Kitchen

In the book Divine Secrets of the Ha-Ya Sisterhood, Vivi talks about how she can practically taste good sleep, like a perfect BLT (exact wording may vary, as I’m too lazy to pull out the book right now).  I couldn’t agree more.  I’m coming off a four-night stretch of night shifts, which doesn’t sound so bad until you consider that my body is only used to two at a time, and I’m still working other shifts the rest of the time.  I don’t know whether I’m supposed to be asleep or awake, and I have no will for . . . anything.

Anything except cooking, that is.  And not just any kind of cooking, but Cooking Unnecessarily Involved Dishes That Seem Simple And Quick Until I’m Past The Point of No Return And Probably Shouldn’t Have Been Undertaken In A Kitchen Without Air Conditioning.  Best way to waste an afternoon.  Also one of the sweatiest that does not require nakedness.  But, hey, it cleaned out the fridge.

Apparently, good sleep tastes like Pasta Primavera.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Primavera

* 1 6-8 ounce package sliced mushrooms
* 1 Red bell pepper, sliced into strips (it would be good if you used one that was just this side of wrinkly, just like I did)
* 1 Medium-largish onion, halved and sliced medium thin.
* 3 Carrots, peeled and sliced into into strips
* 3 Small zucchini, peeled and sliced into thin strips (or the good parts of 3 medium zucchini that were also just this side of wrinkly)
* 1 Head of garlic, prepared for roasting
* Olive oil
* Salt and pepper
* 1 12 ounce package of spinach fettuccine
* About 1/2 cup of prepared pesto
* About 1/2 cup of half-and-half (cream would have been better, but I didn’t have any)
* Parmesan, the kind you grate yourself.

* Heat the oven to 450.
* In the biggest bowl you own, toss the vegetables with the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Don’t be stingy!  Divide the veggies between two baking sheets and pop in the oven along with the garlic (since my oven is really small, I just popped the garlic in its little foil packet right on one of the baking sheets).
* Roast until the vegetables are as tender as you’d like – I prefer mine fairly soft but not squishy – and lightly browned around the edges.  30 minutes is a good guideline.  Stir and switch the pans from upper to lower rack every 10 minutes are so.  If the garlic is not done (quite squishy and fragrant), reduce the oven temperature to 350-ish and let it finish cooking while everything else finishes.
* When the vegetables are almost done, start the pasta.  I kept the veggies warm by consolidating them to one dish and using it as a lid for the pasta pot.
* When the pasta is done, fish it out with a pasta server or tongs and add it to the veggies.  (Or drain it, reserving  some cooking water.)  If the baking dish is not deep enough to add the pasta and have room to stir, use the big-ass bowl you used earlier.
* When the garlic is done, carefully remove it from its paper into a small bowl and mash with a fork, adding some of the reserved pasta water to make a runny garlic paste.
* Add the garlic, pesto, and half-and-half, a little more salt and pepper, and some grated parmesan.  Toss together and taste.  If it’s too thick, add a little of the pasta water to thin it out.  Adjust seasonings as needed.
* Enjoy!  Possibly with a bit more parmesan on top.

I recommend making this for more than one person, because it makes a metric ton of yuminess that I suspect won’t save more than a couple of days.  Also, it would benefit from some lemon juice, to break up the richness.

And, as the final dish was not really photogenic, especially not with a camera phone, I instead include a photo of my kitchen supervisor, Erida, without whose expert guidance I’m sure I could not produce a single kitchen success.

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Vegetarian (or Not) Chili

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It was all cloudy and gloomy today (my favorite kind of day), so I decided I needed a big ol’ pot o’ chili.  Not wanted – needed.  However, I was seriously meat-deficient.  And I don’t like beans in my chili.  And I had no intention of going to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon to play “dodge-the-after-church-crowd” – I’d rather put my eyes out with a shrimp fork.

So, after consulting several cookbooks, and my own standard chili recipe, and a couple on the web, and my mother, I pulled a bunch of stuff out of the fridge/freezer and set out to create kitchen alchemy.  And, for once, I managed to turn raw ingredients into gold.

Vegetarian (or not) Chili

* 1 T oil
* 1 medium-ish sweet onion, diced finely
* 1 roasted red pepper from a jar, also diced finely
* 3 (or more) chipotle peppers from a can, diced (you guessed it) finely, and maybe some of the adobo, too
* 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped/smashed/crushed, whatever floats your boat
* 1 block tempeh, crumbled (or 1 block of tofu, frozen and thawed, crumbled, or a half-pound or so of ground meat, browned)
* 1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes, UNdrained (I used fire-roasted because I had them, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep if I only had regular)
* 3 small zucchini, diced finely (a scant pound)
* 2 T cumin seeds, toasted and laboriously ground in a mortar-and-pestle because your coffee grinder has been out of commission since your dog chewed on the cord a couple of years ago when she was a teething puppy
* 3 T dried oregano
* 2 T chili powder
* 1/8 t cinnamon
* pepper
* 2 C broth of choice
* 1/4 cup masa harina, dissolved in 1 C water or broth (cornmeal would work here, too)
* 1 short (8-oz) can crushed pineapple
* 1/2 C catsup or chili sauce (not hot sauce)

* In a tallish soup pot over medium-ish heat, heat the oil, and saute the onion fairly slowly, until it begins to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan.
* Add the red pepper, chipotles, garlic, protein of choice, and zucchini, and stir until well mixed.
* Add the tomatoes, broth, and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer over very low heat for about half an hour.
* When all the vegetables are suitably softened, and the flavors have mellowed, raise the heat and add the masa-broth mixture and allow everything to thicken.
* When the proper texture is achieved, add the pineapple and the catsup.
* Enjoy, possibly with the addition of a little sharp cheddar.

I would estimate 4 generous servings, maybe with leftovers (I live alone, so its hard to tell).

Update: the leftovers made excellent chili-mac with the addition of some melty cheese on top.  However, if you’re making the chili and don’t plan to have it consumed in one sitting, I would reconsider the pineapple — it still tasted great and gave a nice sweet-tart accent to the background, but it developed kind of a weird texture.  It could have been the cut-rate pineapple I was using, though.