So here's my question: my boyfriend and I are moving in together next month (hurray!) and we have pretty polar opposite taste in foods. He has never met a vegetable he didn't like and could kind of take or leave dessert most of the time. My favorite food groups are cheese, chocolate, and coffee, and while I enjoy veggies, I would never pick beets over a brownie. He would be happy to have salad for dinner every night, whereas I tend to want something more akin to meat and potatoes. Do you have any ideas for me? Unhealthy veggies? Healthy cheesy things? Chocolate-covered kale does not sound so good to me...
I know this is an easy problem to fix and compromises will be found, but I'd love any inspiration you could give me!
First of all, congratulations for moving in with someone you love, and props to you personally for being a non health nut who’s ready to get down with some veggies.
American food culture seems to have a bizarrely bipolar relationship with vegetables. We’re either smothering them with ingredients designed to make them seem as unlike a vegetable as possible, or trying to keep them sacrosanct, steamed lightly with a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil. I guess you could always try out the contemporary trend of sneaking healthy ingredients into junk food, pureeing up those beets and plopping them in the brownie batter, but some people just want a brownie to be a brownie. You don’t have to go so far as to disguise them as baked goods: I think your best option here is taking vegetables off the pedestal.
The end of summer is the perfect time to start experimenting with this sort of thing. Buy some perfect late August cherry tomatoes and toss them with a little oil, whatever herbs you have cluttering the back of your pantry, then roast them in a very hot oven until they collapse into delicious puddles of tomato candy. This is a great trick to do with fall and winter veggies as well; hunk any and all root vegetables into little bits, oil, herb, salt, and roast. They get sweet and perfect, and are delicious tossed with orzo, goat cheese, and spinach. You can also puree said roasted vegetables with broth and a little cream to get delicious, warming, non healthy tasting soups guaranteed to get you cozily through the grayer months.
My other main suggestion would be to adjust your idea of meat’s role as the sun in your mealtime galaxy. Try using smaller, strongly flavored bits of meat to offset the deliciousness of whatever else you’re eating. Cured meats are particularly great at this; think of rapini and white beans tossed with parmesan and crisp little shavings of fried prosciutto, or black beans and rice topped with chorizo. You could even roast a chicken while you’re roasting the aforementioned veggies, and use roasted chicken bits to supplement the salads.
Oh, and chocolate dipped kale might be disgusting, but kale chips are a classic. Top ‘em with brewer’s yeast. You’ll thank me later.
I have a friend giving birth soon, and—having just had a baby myself a couple weeks ago—I know that one of the best gifts a new mother can get is a nice prepared meal. I'd love to make her something tasty that I can freeze and she can reheat in an oven. What's good for this that's not a casserole? Or, what's a good casserole—especially one that's vegetarian-friendly?
As a young lady with very few friends with babies to feed, I am totally unqualified to answer this question. But you know who isn’t? My vegetarian mother, who just happens to be a practicing doula and an all around friend to all babies and the moms who love them. Her favorite dish to bring to new mothers is mung beans and rice, a staple of ayurvedic medicine that practitioners believe helps balance heating and cooling energies. It’s a complete protein, easily digestible, and contains large amounts of, turmeric, garlic, and ginger, all of which are supposed to be quite good at soothing the baby-ravaged beast It also is incredibly gingery and delicious, and tastes great slathered with cilantro whole milk yogurt.
In your shoes, I would probably make comfort food, food that takes long afternoons to come together slowly and tastes of love and home and time, food that tastes like some platonic ideal of long ago European motherhood. Vegetable stew is perfect for this. Take a Sunday off, make a massive batch, eat half, then freeze the rest in single serving ziploc bags that your friend can pop out of the fridge and eat warm over buttered noodles or brown rice while the baby naps. If you’re looking for something more cassaroley, lasagna is easy to make and freezes up nicely.
Portable food is another great idea. If you’re the sort of person who finds fiddling around with edible things relaxing/possible with your new baby around, consider making up a big bag of frozen perogies, vegetable dumplings, or even a big bag of premade burritos ready to be popped in the oven. Really, anything that can be eaten out of one hand while you hold a baby in the other is ideal here. Whatever you make, your friend will love you forever when she discovers it at 5 a.m. one sleepless night, as she peers into the freezer in search of a quick fix.
As part of my not-so-triumphant march towards adulthood, I am attempting to build a solid cookbook library. What are the core cookbooks that any smart, poor, relatively healthy but treat-lovin' gal should have?
Let me know!
Aspiring Grown Up
John Waters famously said that you should never sleep with anyone who doesn’t have books in their apartment. This might not be true of cookbooks, but I always find that the people who have stacks of stained recipes piled on their counters tend to be better at feeding me. It’s incredibly easy to find out how to make nearly anything you’d like to eat by dipping into the internet, and to own cookbooks shows a certain commitment to process that I find commendable. Reading cookbooks helps you build your culinary instincts, figure out what sort of flavors might go well together, develop a feel for rations and cooking techniques when you decide to make something new. So hats off to you for wanting to build a library.
It might sound fairly basic, but Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything is, well, just that, an enormous compendium containing easily adaptable versions of almost any dish you might find yourself wanting to cook. In a similar vein, Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts has the perfect sweet recipe for any occasion, from banana bread to wedding cake. With these two (gigantic) books on your self, you’ll be prepared for virtually any culinary demand the world can toss at you.
Now that you’ve got your basics, it’s time to start exploring the highly specific world of niche cookbooks. I’m going to tell you about three of my favorites, but to be perfectly honest, it’s such a particular matter of individual taste that your best bet is probably to browse around the nearest large library’s cookbook section, which is where I found most of my favorites before I took the leap and bought them.
Yotam Ottolinghi’s book Plenty is the source of some of the most amazingly delicious dishes I have had the privilege to cook. Sure, the ingredients lists can be a mile long, but most of the recipes are still quite easy to make, and his smoked eggplant baba ganoush with pomegranate molasses will make you produce little cartoon cat nomming noises as you eat it—not to mention the braised garlic and goat cheese tart. Or the watermelon and feta salad. Basically, it’s just all amazing. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is another chef-written behemoth with lengthy ingredients lists, but Judy Rodgers seriously knows her stuff. This book is full of recipes (like the legendary roast chicken, or pasta with roasted tomatoes and braised bacon) that take familiar, basic dishes, and crank them up to 11 in the best way possible.
Finally, I know that Nigella Lawson can be considered a bit of a food network sex kitten, but she is also one of the best, most fun cookbook writers to read. I got through one particularly bad bout of wintertime heartbreak reading How to Eat alone in bed, savoring her florid descriptions of roast grouse and rice pudding until I felt better enough to get out of bed and start eating again. There is just something so comfortingly like a bedtime story in the way she tells you about all her Sunday lunches, discourses on the pleasures of cooking for one. Besides, her coq au vin is one of the best things I’ve made in my life.
Previously: Your Perfect Dinner Party