Food Memory: Foil Campfire Dinners

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Nothing feels quite so “whole” as putting a few chunks of burger meat, a strip of bacon, and a bunch of coarse-chopped veggies in a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and cooking them in hot coals by a fire. A little salt and pepper and then just letting everything cook together makes for a meal that is surprisingly harmonious, no matter what you happened to throw into the campfire dinner. It doesn’t hurt that the process of starting a fire, chopping veggies, setting up tents, and hiking around all day usually makes me more hungry than I ever am in regular life, so this food has a super-positive memory palette for me, more from the simplicity of a meal in the woods than from any one fancy ingredient.

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Beautiful Food: Sweating Veggies

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The key first step to a great soup or pot pie is this: a pat of butter, a pile of onions and carrots and celery, and the exquisite heat that brings their flavors together. Veggies are beautiful in many forms, but I’m especially grateful for this combination when holidays are coming around – so comforting and fresh smelling and savory!

The Unexpected Pleasure of Veggie Side Dishes, brought to you by GoSun

The GoSun oven provides for my cooking of veggies what Pokemon Go provides players for walking: an extra pleasure, a delight above the regular benefit of the action. Walking and eating veggies are their own reward, but that’s sometimes not enough to make us do those things. The GoSun makes me cook more veggies than I ever thought I would this summer, and I thought I’d share my four favorite combinations:

  1. bell peppers and onions: This mix is especially great for breakfast, right alongside scrambled eggs and biscuits. You barely need to season a good onion recipe, and as long as you cut the bell peppers ahead of time and let them air-dry for an hour or two. Also nice on top of burgers!
  2. yellow squash and zucchini – It only takes a little longer to put these in the GoSun than in a roasting pan, so if you spice them up with red pepper flakes and some garlic, this can make for the best possible side-dish and also use up some of that squash piling up during this part of the summer.
  3. cut cherry tomato halves – to roast up cherry tomatoes before putting them in pasta or a casserole, throw them in the GoSun with a little olive oil! I have been doing this in order to make it not feel like we have too many tomatoes coming out of the garden – sure, they’re good on salads, but this packs so much flavor into other dishes.
  4. Green beans with a little bacon grease – I am not a huge green bean person, but putting a bunch of these in the GoSun with a little pan dripping from a batch of bacon makes them full of flavor and, as long as you don’t go overboard, still quite healthy!

Obviously, I need to get more adventurous with my cooking of other things besides vegetables, but these are just so easy to clean up after, so tasty, and such a good mid-summer run.

 

By the way, I get nothing from GoSun for these posts – I just really like this product and think that people will like it if they get it and use it regularly. Just letting you know, this ain’t an ad. 🙂

Spiced Veggie-Packed Sauce

So, I recently made an amazing discovery: with a bunch of veggies, some spices, and a secret ingredient, I can make a sauce that is super savory, convinces me that it’s creamy, and makes rice, toast, other veggies, chicken, you name it taste wonderful. You need a food processor to work this magic, but I assure you, it’s worth it.

General Directions for the Veggie-Packed Sauce

  1. Salute your favorite (or cupboard clean-out!) veggies together with just a tablespoon or so of olive oil. I used a can of tomatoes, a bag of spinach that was almost to the point of going slimy, an onion, and 3 cloves of garlic. If you don’t use at least one canned veggie, you may need some broth or water, because it should not be dry.
  2. While the mixture cooks, add a substantial amount of spicing: I used a tablespoon of a spicy stir-fry mix I’ve got, but curry would work, or if you like hot-hot, use some chipotle or red pepper flakes. Make sure you use quite a bit because your sauce will be on top of other things.
  3. Put the mixture, after it’s fully cooked, into the food processor. Pulse a few times, then add some CHICKPEA FLOUR. This flour, along with the little bit of oil, will help your sauce hold together and seem smooth and not just like a veggie paste. I don’t know how much flour I used, but I would estimate I started with a 1/4 cup and added another 1/4 cup later.
  4. Taste and add things as you need them: a bit more flour, a bit more oil, or a bit more spices. If you love chunky sauces, you can stop after a few pulses, but I really like this as a smooth sauce: very flavorful but doesn’t make you feel like you are eating something “healthy.”

Serve over rice, flatbread, chicken, on toast… anything! Obviously, this is too vague to be a mantra in itself, but the principle of sautéed veg+oil+chickpea flour+spices seems to be working for me lately. I added just a little shredded pepper jack to mine, though it was tasty without it so you can totally keep it dairy-free!

While I didn’t make this as a curry, I was inspired by the way that curries and other Indian sauces are so flavorful that you can use them to flavor other, more bland parts of the meal, like the bread or the rice. I am quite happy to be able to add so much nutrition to my rice and take it to work with me!

New GoSun Veggie technique

So, I have figured out that my favorite dish in the GoSun, for now anyway, is a healthy sauteed set of veggies to accompany something Husband is grilling or some leftovers; it’s easy, and while it takes a long time to cook, you don’t have to tend it except after half an hour or an hour, depending on sun or shade. The one problem is that the last two sets of veggies came out almost swimming in the water that boiled out of them, so they tasted more boiled and bland than crisp and roasted.

My technique involved cutting all of the veggies I was going to roast and letting them sit for two hours on a clean towel, leaching their water content or evaporating it or something until it was time to cook them. When I cooked them, I still added salt, pepper, and oregano to the green beans and peppers mix, but when they came out, they were steamy but not soupy! They went great with barbecue pork chops and I hope to do this again.

This technique was especially important for the green beans, which were frozen and had a lot of water holding them in weird clumps – I would have had to break them up a lot just to get them to fit into the GoSun’s tube, but this also meant that none of that external water went into the tube with the beans. As my tomatoes start coming in during the next two weeks, I think I’m going to experiment more with drying some of them in the GoSun – it gets really hot, so it may not be ideal, but I am excited to see what I can figure out. Last bit of news: the butternut squashes are very green but you can see them on the vines! Every day I check on them and they are a tiny bit plumper… YUM.

The Jungle in the Garden

So, I’m officially home, and to my great astonishment, the garden has mushroomed. It has exploded. It is everywhere!

Husband let me know that he’d been eating salads off the garden’s greens for the whole time I was gone, and I noticed that the basil is thick and lush again (time for more Brie-Basil Pasta, perhaps?).

The squash are almost ready to flower, and our strawberry plants remain thick and green even though they seem to have stopped flowering. The biggest growers by far, however, are the tomatoes: they’ve spread in every direction! We’ve also got two thriving pepper plants, which is good because I feel like I add bell peppers to every single recipe, and we’ve got carrots. I got impatient and tried to pull one too early a while back, so I’ve been resisting digging any of them up; I need to figure out exactly how long this variety of carrots takes to mature!

The potato barrel seems to be retaining too much moisture, but we’ve also just had a really wet month of June so far, which is bound to make them a little yellow and sad when they are in a barrel. The bush of mint seems to be thriving at the back of our yard, and our onion, while overshadowed currently by the mushrooming tomato plant, seem to still be sending up their tall thin feelers toward the sky.

When I think about how worried I was in early April that my tiny sproutlings would never take in the soil, that they’d wither immediately and die, I can hardly believe it! No matter how much fruit/veg comes out of the garden, I’m stunned at the way living things can blossom under sunshine and abundant rain. It makes me even more excited for the project we’re planning, where we’re going to add a new raised bed with a tomato trellis at the back of our yard. It gets even more direct sunlight than the current beds, which seems to bode quite well. Maybe we’ll also give our plants a little more space next year, knowing what kind of jungle can come out of just a few sprouts!

The How-Many-Vegetables Game and the Vegetarian Conundrum

IMG_3581I have a decent self-image, but I recognize that I eat in what can only be described as a lopsided food pyramid. Cheese, fried foods, and avocado top my list whenever choosing a meal, and leafy greens, whole grains, and fruits tend to fall by the wayside. This year, I’d love for that to be a little different, so I’m bringing back a game I started playing with myself years ago.

When I first started cooking for myself after a few years of college-cafeteria food, I would wager against myself: how many vegetables and other good-for-me foods can I slip into the chosen dish (read: usually pasta) without deeming the dish gross. This was far from an exact science, and more often than not, the dishes went from delish to gross because of a mismatched proportion rather than because I had too many vegetables in them. Whatever; it was all part of the challenge (can you sense a theme in my adversarial relationship with food?). I was the person trying to substitute pureed cauliflower in her cheese sauces, which I know has worked for some people, but not for imprecise folks like me.

This year, though, I’m hoping to have a more moderate view. At some point, as a modification to the how-many-vegetables game, I started making exactly what the recipe called for but subbed out some of the meat or grain for things like eggplant, onions, or broccoli. These sturdy veggies absorb flavor like champs, make a meal feel like a lot of food but are also lower in calories. Sure, nothing beats a real chicken parm sandwich, but when eggplant parm still tastes like cheese and marinara, I consider it a success.

So that may be a part of my modifications during this year of comfort-food recipes – if it seems appropriate for the recipe, I may sub a sturdy, flavor absorbing veggie for some of whatever meat or grain is called for in my recipes. I won’t make cheese sauce out of cauliflower (that was really a losing battle; I hate cauliflower. It was just so tempting: getting to eat alfredo and call it a vegetable is basically the dream of my entire life).

All these veggie subtitutes might make you think: is this girl a vegetarian? (She sure ain’t a vegan, am I right?) The truth is: no. I’ve never been a vegetarian, never gone a substantial amount of time without eating meat… at least not on purpose.

I would call myself a vegetarian sympathizer. I appreciate all the stats about how much more energy it takes to raise meat than to raise an equal amount of plant protein. I appreciate that there are many healthy plant proteins that don’t contain the marbled striations of fat found in my favorite meat products like bacon. I have actually gone for probably a week and a half without eating meat a few times because of one other fact, which is that I generally find cooking meat icky and requiring of higher precision than I care to exert. Thus, by accident of lazyness, I have indeed started to eat meatless entrees.

The main reason I will never consider the leap from veggie sympathizer to whole-hog vegetarian (hahaha) is that Husband is a carnivore. If he needed to eat meat at every meal, I’d probably be having some words with him, but he’s great: he is willing to try my meatless experiments and is a whiz at making enough food for leftovers and actually eating them – he’s more sustainable than I am and without all the bluster. Still, in exchange for his all-around reasonable attitude toward eating, I see no reason to become the person who has to cook totally separate dishes for each meal – that cannot be saving many dishes or plastic packages. The only exception I make to the we-eat-our-meals-together plan is when he wants something “spicy:” What is reasonably flavored and mouth-tingly to me is bland to him, so I always have him cook the whole dish at my spice level, remove my portion, and go nuts with the red pepper flakes once my portion is out of harm’s way.

So there you have a few important things to know about my cooking style: I am not yet a true convert to the idea of eating mostly veggies but I know it is better for me and (someday) for my family; it just won’t do for me to one day raise a child on pretty much just cheese. I also like the challenge of making something taste like the kind of food I want to be eating, while secretly sneaking nutrients into me. Finally, I’m aiming at more meatlessness in my life, but not sweating a few meaty delicacies. I just really hate getting my hands all chickeny.