Tag Archives: vegetarian recipes

Who Moved My Cheese? Deli Mac and Cheese and Pickled Carrots

3 Oct

Livin' the life

Are you part of the solution? Or part of the problem?

I’m pretty confident that I’m part of the problem – in countless ways, but this week’s litany of offenses against the environment and common human decency has been especially lengthy.

You see, Stephen and I are moving this week. We have been slowly shuttling boxes of whatnots and thingamajigs up to Kent Lakes for weeks, but D-Day has arrived, and we are so not prepared. In the madness of packing, most of my cooking utensils have been tucked away in heaving piles of boxes and bags, along with most of my spice cabinet, not to mention my will to live.

They say moving is almost as horrifying and traumatic as a death in a family or divorce. Not quite, but almost. Whoever “they” are, “they” are on to something. And the empirical evidence that I have gathered this week shows that moving may lead to one, or both, of the other major life stresses “they” are always rattling on about.

Stephen and I found ourselves craving super-fatty foods this week. (Fear that sinking our life savings into a pile of timber is a bad idea, driving us to hit the Twinkies harder than usual? Burning more calories by putting large objects in cardboard containers and repeatedly lifting and setting them down? The tingling, almost effervescent sensation of giddy, apocalyptic, murderous mania that always sweeps me up in a funnel cloud of personality disorders and impulsive eating when I move? Don’t know, don’t care. Give me that tub of butter and a big wooden spoon, or move aside.)

Every time I look over at my better half, he seems to be cramming something vaguely grotesque yet droolingly delicious into his mouth, and I’m right there with him: on Saturday evening, we each managed to put away granola bars, Tootsie Rolls, cups of steaming hot coffee, the last juicy nectarines of the season, quivering trays of chicken and shrimp dumplings, a giant vat of curried udon noodles swimming in a seafood-flecked oily broth, a thick bacon grilled cheese sammy, generous slices of carrot cake and toasted salt bagels with warm slatherings of veggie cream cheese. Unfortunately, some of the gluttony occurred in front of Brenda and J., friends we met in China, who were hanging in NYC for the weekend. While they delicately sipped green tea and sampled a few dumplings, Stephen and I guzzled German beer and attempted to cram the entirety of FoodParc into our mouths.

No ordinary joint of meat or tub of dressed noodles would do this Sunday. We needed food fit for construction workers, pyramid-builders, Michael Phelps. (Did I mention that we’re moving everything ourselves? Don’t be jealous. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.)

Strangely, I have also been craving pickled carrots – I love homemade pickles because I can control the level of tang (I like lots of bright acidity), the heat (crank it up) and the overall texture (crunchy, but not hard as a rock). I just love pickles, okay?

An open jar of pickles on the floor adds a much-needed touch of class to moving day

To silence both cravings, I made Deli Mac and Cheese and …. Pickled Carrots.

The crimes against the environment, basic tenets of Epicureanism and common human decency were committed due to the disappearance of many of my knives, my grater and my casserole dish, in addition to the time, patience and care required to gather ingredients from a market. I hit a deli next to my new job and asked them to slice up Cheddar and Mozzarella cheese, thin, and I made do with that; I bought overpriced, dodgy deli macaroni, the cheapest one they had; I shamelessly raided the coffee station in my (now former) apartment building on three separate occasions for tiny plastic, evil vats of half and half (hell’s no was I paying $3.00 for a quart of milk at the deli), and gathered the rest of the ingredients from the remnants of my pantry.

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Just Plummy: Tomato Tart & Pizza Pasta Salad & Plum Delicious Cobbler

8 Aug

Cooked in a super-hot oven, the cheese browns, the pastry cooks and the tomatoes caramelize in about 25 minutes

I forgot my phone at home on Saturday; I was rushing out the door at the butt-crack of dawn for a double-shoot at two restaurants in the East Village. As I sprinted to make the express train, I had a feeling it wasn’t in either of my bulging bags, but I just didn’t have time to launch a real search.

Friday night, I face-planted in bed around 10:00 pm, a Grandma-tastic record, even for me. Failing to perform my ritual bag check the night before an early call, my Saturday morning was a frenzied blur of notebook, key and wallet grabbing.

I got to the train station feeling under-caffeinated, ill-prepared for my video interviews, sweating and out of breath. But I couldn’t help but emit a little cackle of glee after searching my bags and confirming that my phone was at home, most likely under a groaning pile of other stuff I was supposed to bring that day. I was expecting calls from colleagues, family, friends and a real estate agent, but I couldn’t help but feel like I’d cashed in an 8-hour get out of jail free card. Freedom! The only people who could harass me were the ones who would be physically in front of me.

All of my colleagues on the shoots were equally ill-rested; two other producers, a camera guy and a sound guy and I loaded our gear into a cab and gunned it for Prince Street, only to find that the restaurant where we were supposed to hold the shoot wasn’t open. We finally found a subterranean entrance, and after picking our way through trash-strewn alleys, unlit hallways and a maze of concrete, we found a loud and clanging kitchen filled with more people hovering on the knife-edge of exhausted, hysterical delirium.

The shoots were inspiring; I’ve conducted hundreds of in-person, over the phone and email interviews over the years, but I’m just getting into the world of video interviews. Thankfully, the company I’m working for knows I’m green and they’re actually willing to spend time training me on how to light and frame shots, run a shoot from start to finish and wrap up shooting scripts, etc., until I’m up to speed, an increasingly rare occurrence in our hyper-fast-forward media world where if you ain’t got the skills right out of the gate, you’re never going to make it into the race.

The restaurateurs were amazing New York City and world citizens all around, but they also reminded me, yet again, of how easy it is to make tiny tweaks to my everyday life that have potentially global consequences. During our wide-ranging discussions about local food and community causes, they reminded me that shopping for cheap-o specials at the grocery store is fine (not everyone can afford to go to the greenmarket every day, least of all me) – as long as you do your research and leave the rabbit marked “Made in China” in the case, and put down the Mexican tomatoes in the middle of the summer. There are fresher, yummier ones from a small New Jersey farm, just a few feet down the aisle. Read the labels; it’s that simple.

After a phone-free work day on Saturday, Stephen and I spent a work and phone-free Sunday tooling around the kitchen. We made a delicious Tomato Tart, a whacky Pizza Pasta Salad and a truly toothsome Plum Cobbler. Dig in below!

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Foreign Made Familiar: Stephen’s Rice and Beans & Kathleen’s Black Bean Salad

2 May

Our new favorite recipe for Chicken Croquetas, courtesy of Tasting Table

There’s something at once heartbreaking and wonderful about a dish, steeped in a history and a culture, that is snatched away from its roots and planted in foreign soil. Whenever something leaves its home terroir, it abandons some of its essence. Deposited in a new soil, it finds new fodder on which to feed, a different quality of sunlight shining down on its leaves and new bees and birds supping on their nectar. And when it blossoms anew, we often find new colors, flavors and textures vying for our attention.

In every city we’ve lived, from every lover we’ve embraced, from the mothers and grandmothers’ hands who nourished us in our youths, we’ve borrowed, begged and stolen dishes, recipes and tastes. Some are simple and prosaic, like buttered noodles with fresh chopped parsley (my roommate Amy from our days in Providence), others are complex, unctuous and expensive (my Mom’s cassoulet that she perfected when we were in Munich), while others have to be tasted to be desired (my dad’s delicious peanut butter, bacon and mayo sandwich that he grew up on as a kid in Chicago).

Every time we recreate a dish from our past, we’re not just throwing together ingredients, we’re magicians, conjuring up fragments of memories, symphonies of senses, the warm touches of departed love ones. We’re repainting classical pieces of art, acts of innocuous transgression. Ultimately, the final dish incorporates different ingredients and techniques and is cooked at different temperatures in different equipment; it’s never the same.

Entire cuisines, most notably Italian and Chinese, went through this process of assimilation in America. Entire systems of preparation were transformed in the hands of immigrants who found totally foreign ingredients and palates stateside — but still craved the same basics they grew up on.

Julia Child, James Beard and Alice Waters paved the way for home gourmands by tweaking and reinterpreting classical cuisine, often with the use of simple, humble, seasonal ingredients. They made welling up over a saucepan of roux that reminds you of Grandma’s farm in Indiana seem vaguely less than clinically insane; they made sipping wine while vigorously whisking said roux seem de rigueur; they elevated a simply prepared macaroni dish to a transcendental experience worthy of pathos, Strauss and hours of Freudian analysis.

Below, check out Stephen’s recipe for Rice and Beans — one of our all-time Willcox-Repsher classics. The dish is inspired by his late mother, who made a ridiculously rich and delicious Chicken Divan when he was growing up. He loved it so much, it eventually supplanted even pizza on his all-time birthday dinner request list as a kid. When he went to law school and I was attempting to support us on my laughable salary, we spent a lot of our time eating this delicious, but decidedly less rich and expensive (goodbye boneless chicken breast, cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, wads of cheese, cups of mayo) but equally delicious (hello kidney beans, dark raisins, fresh dill, lime juice, mere cup or so of mayo) version. I also threw in my favorite Black Bean recipe, which reminds me of all of the church picnics I went to growing up; it’s highly tweakable depending on your mood and the season and the exact number of hours you think it’s going to spend sweating in the sun. Oh, and here’s a link to the recipe for Chicken Croquetas (it’s Joshua Whigman’s recipe).

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Road Food: Baked Macaroni and Cheese & Rice and Lentil Salad with Cherries

18 Apr

Home is where the mac & cheese is

I recently met Lisa, Ben and Tom at Sik Gaek in Queens, one of Anthony Bourdain’s faves. Long a hidden refuge from the foodie hoi palloi, Sik Gaek was finally outed as an outer-borough destination on “No Reservations” and it has been on every white-person-who’s-obsessed-with-ethnic-cuisine’s hit list ever since. Including mine.

I relished the idea of a little DIY gogi gui fun and my armchair anthropologist curiosity was piqued at the prospect of being forced to watch my snacks roast alive — I’ve always been a carnivore who tussles with the unquestionably morbid, quite possibly morally debased implications of my eating habits. I reason that if I eat fish and meat, I should be prepared to kill it, gut it, clean it, dress it and cook it — something I’ve never shied away from doing.

When I fish, and when I’ve been on hunting outings (I’ve never successfully shot anything), we don’t light incense, hold a seance or chant for the departing, honored spirits that feed us, but we do treat the fish and animals with dignity, even solemnity, and certainly a heartfelt thankfulness. We don’t casually toss them, live, onto a little fire and calmly sip fruity mixed drinks until they stop moving.

To prepare, Ben and I met at his local watering hole, right around the corner from Sik Gaek. As usual, he ordered whiskey, on the rocks, with a bit of water, which he sipped quietly. I loudly slurped my way through two vats of lemon water and a pint of Guinness.

Generally, we are hands-down the most obstreperous characters in the room, too busy curating a scene of inhospitable grumpiness with our unified stink eye to make much time for jibber-jabber. But even we couldn’t hold a candle to the middle aged pile of crazy perched rather haphazardly on a stool by the bar. Apropos of nothing, she began shrilly regaling the room with her theory on the subtle difference between empathy and sympathy — a scholarly soliloquy that rivaled Aeschines’ sober assessment of Philip II of Macedonia.

We couldn’t stay for long — we had abalones and razor clams to butcher, watermelon soju to imbibe, mussels to crack and pop — but her speech froze everyone in silence, and as we left, she was still carrying on. I was riveted by her tirade, not just because it was juvenile and obvious, and clearly the product of an addled mind, which let’s face it, is always kind of impossible to turn away from, but also because she was so taken with the notion of empathy.

The food at Sik Gaek was novel and fun, the experience definitively lacking in sympathy, or empathy.

Our meal tasted of the briney sea from which it was recently plucked, our experience felt like a gleeful, drunken spree as harmless as it is naughty. The conch was plump and vibrant, the abalone delicate and strangely buttery, the mussels as slick as pebbles and as soft as edible silk. And it was surprisingly zen to BBQ the shellfish alive; it seemed like a fitting, convivial end for a fun-loving mollusk. The one sticking point was doneness: the BBQ was small, the flame high, the ability to control the heat negligible.

The crank’s verbal diarrhea and our “Lord of the Flies” Korean adventure have stuck with me. I haven’t been able to shake the sense that the woman had more to say, or that I just failed to decode the hidden message behind her jeremiad. Both memories percolate on road trips. Stephen and I have been taking minor little jaunts since we broke down a few months ago and finally bought a Hyundai Elantra — named Lou Ellen Marmaduke Willcox-Repsher. This past weekend, we drove to Philly, to visit an old friend and make a few foodie stops.

The trip could have been a bust; it was certainly a whirlwind, rainy affair, since we could only go for six hours on the one day the skies wept buckets. We envisioned wandering around Independence Hall, Franklin Square, the Italian Market, Fairmont Park, sampling cheese at Reading (pronounced Red-ing) Terminal Market, munching on muffins / sipping lattes at sidewalk cafes, and walking down the sidewalk eating soft Philly pretzels. Or at least that’s what I pictured. Stephen probably pictured stuffing ourselves silly on a Philly cheesesteak tasting tour.

Mother nature decided to give us a giant wet willy and disrupt both of our plans.

Cowering in the wake of her wrath, we attempted to not crash Lou Ellen, shook our fists at the cloudy skies then apologized just in case, watched our umbrellas flip inside out as we dodged sidewalk puddles and other tourists, ran into a going-out-of-business sale at Borders just because, grabbed two puny, sorry cheesesteaks wit’ onions from touristy Pat’s and even more touristy Geno’s (they both lacked good, fatty meat; the bread was sub-par and dry from Pat’s and there was too little cheese at Geno’s; both were under-seasoned) and drank Yards with one of Stephen’s oldest friends at Devon’s on Rittenhouse Square. It was a perfect day.

On the traffic-clogged, rain-soaked road home, we passed beautiful, broken down, most likely on the verge of bankruptcy farms. (Though a movement to protect small New Jersey farms is gathering steam, it still has a long way to go; to date, 33 farms and thousands of acres have been preserved). I wanted to move in to the white one with the blue shutters and the barn with the collapsed roof, have babies, buy goats, make cheese. We also passed countless shabby, gray strip malls; gleaming diners with flashing, neon signs; minivans crammed with laughing children and shiny, animated accouterments; silent, frowning elderly couples; teenagers with sunglasses and cigarettes.

I wondered what the crank’s life outside the bar is like. If she, too, takes road trips to Philly and laughs with her husband. I worried that the teenagers would turn into life-long smokers and that sunglasses weren’t helping their driving skills in the rain; I wondered if Stephen and I would stop having things to talk about; I thought about those farms, and hoped that young families still lived there, and that none of them would turn into strip malls or gleaming diners.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a billboard advertising Kraft’s.

Visions of melty, rich Macaroni and Cheese and all of the childhood, teenage and adult dinners I’ve made of it, almost always with others, danced before me as we entered the home stretch on the parkway — and that’s when it hit me. The woman was craving that intangible link that binds everyone together in a protective little web of invincibility. For some reason, she lost the ability to see it, or never learned its secret rhythms and beats; she never passes ads that make her want to call her dead Grandmother and ask her to come over for dinner.

She was the one missing the code, not me; it leaks out in gruff shoulder squeezes, grins on the street between women with toddlers, little shared eyerolls at work and kind words from strangers on the subway when you spill coffee down your brand new shirt; it’s everywhere, for everyone. It’s home.

Traveling, even for a day or two, always makes me crave home. The virtual home I’ve never wanted to flee, no matter how far I go; the little place where my tumultuous thoughts and the idea of my friends and family, living and dead, live. My virtual home often requires certain treats to keep it quiet and sated. They often come in the form of cheese.

When we got to our actual home, late, tired and zonked from driving in torrential downpours, all I wanted to do was make Macaroni and Cheese, but I had to wait until Sunday, because Penelope needed to be walked, and it was more important to stuff my actual head hole with a wedge of plain ol’ Asiago than fiddle around with pleasing my virtual home with vittles requiring roux and bechamel and dicing and chopping.

Below, find a recipe for my favorite super cheesy not too adult Macaroni and Cheese. It’s classic, bad for your cholesterol, good for your soul. There is also a recipe for Lentil and Rice Salad, a staple I started making in various forms with my friend Beth, when we backpacked around Europe together in our 20’s. Enjoy!

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We Just Need To Veg: Asparagus Fried Rice, General Tso’s Tofu Sammies, Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

10 Apr

Stephen and Ben, doing important work

It’s time for a Spring cleaning: after a Winter so cold my absurdly pale skin sloughed off in dry, flakey sheets and turned as red as volcanic lava and my arm hair stood permanently on goose-pimply end, all I wanted to do for months was wrap myself in a cocoon of whale blubber and go about my day, clutching a vat of hot cocoa and cursing Zephyrus and Boreas while bargaining with Horae.

But since harvesting a cocoon’s worth of blubber is above my pay grade, I settled for wrapping myself in a cocoon of caveman eats. Generally an omnivore who leans toward vegetarianism, my inner carnivore took control of my appetite this Winter, and ruled with a bloody fist.

Stephen will generally eat what’s put in front of him, but he finally cried “Uncle” a few weeks ago on our meat-heavy fare. After requesting no more beef, I innocently prepared a Baconalia. This week, he clarified: “Please, no more meat. Let’s eat something that didn’t require a trip to the slaughterhouse.”

When I couldn’t talk him into leg of lamb, I relented. And I have to say: it felt (and tasted) good. And after a trip with Ben to the Captain Lawrence brewery and much sampling of their offerings (I highly recommend the Smoked Porter and the Espresso Stout — so much personality and flavor), we also needed a detox.

Deep-fried detox

A Willcox-Repsher detox, by definition, is still indulgent. Click on for our Asparagus Fried Rice, General Tso’s Tofu Sammies and Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies. NB: The recipes are all a bit daunting-looking, but easy to execute. If you plan ahead, they can be pulled together in about 20 minutes.

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