Whole30 Week 3: Vegan and Not-So Vegan

Asparagus & Fennel Soup by Amy Roth Photo

This week’s post is dedicated to Kenji Lopez-Alt, that test kitchen god (and managing culinary director at Serious Eats) whose recipes formed the backbone of the best meals I made this week. Only minor tweaks were necessary to make them Whole30-compliant; though I’m really starting to hate the word compliant, the adjustments seem to be coming to me naturally now. I’m still constantly hungry despite eating all the time and adding even more fat to my diet, but the cheese cravings aren’t constant, so I’m headed in the right direction. No tiger blood, either, but I always thought that was a long shot, anyway.

Lunch today was a fan-freaking-tastic soup of asparagus and fennel, found on Lopez-Alt’s Instagram feed. I took the basics and tweaked them a bit with what I had in the house and fell head over heels. I sautéed 1/2 large chopped onion with a small thinly sliced bulb of fennel and a finely chopped stalk of celery in olive oil until they were soft, then added one bunch of chopped asparagus (minus the tips, which I steamed) and half of a sliced russet potato and cooked them together for a few minutes. One quart of chicken stock, salt to taste and some simmering later, I blitzed the soup in my Vitamix and lunch was served. I love simple, seasonal recipes, don’t you? I may try to accentuate the fennel flavor next time with a splash of Herbsaint, but honestly found the soup to be perfectly balanced this way. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Cast Iron Steak & Vegan Creamed Spinach by Amy Roth Photo

A more substantial meal came in the form of a stovetop-cooked ribeye and vegan creamed spinach, which may sound like an odd combination, but hear me out. When you’re eating so much meat in one sitting (though not that much — Gil and I split the steak), there’s no need to go overboard with real creamed spinach. It’s just too much. And honestly, I found the flavors of this vegan dish much more pleasing and less muted than I do with the standard recipe. Blended cauliflower and almond milk form the base of the “cream” and are just brilliant at that job. I did add a little nutritional yeast for a cheesy tang, but otherwise cooked it according to the recipe.

The steak followed the Serious Eats recipe I use exclusively during winter, when the thought of standing at my grill would be enough to keep me from eating steak at all if not for this method of indoor cooking. I did use ghee instead of butter and could definitely taste a difference, but the steak was excellent anyway, so no complaints there.

I did have a couple of small cheats this week. When I couldn’t stand the thought of preparing one more meal, Gil whisked me away to a BBQ joint where I had smoked beef with a side of mashed potatoes that might have (probably) had milk and/or butter in them. I felt fine after, so no worries for me! Then, at a meeting I attended Tuesday, I had one Terra Chip which was The Best Thing I’ve Ever Tasted In My Life. I can’t even lie. Fried potatoes (though this was taro, I believe) are absolutely my trigger food and that chip was like a drug that left me wanting more. I don’t know where I got this self-control, but am very happy for it, because otherwise I’d be sitting on my living room floor covered in grease and crumbs.

Then again, Benny would probably take care of the crumbs situation. I haven’t really shared about it here, but we lost both Ru and Otis over the last two years, which was just heartbreaking. Ru left us only in December of last year, so we waited as long as we could, but finally adopted another greyhound just three weeks ago! He’s the sweetest little guy with a funny bark and a much bigger brain than Ru and Otis put together — it’s a little scary to watch him figuring things out. He’s still a little camera-shy, so no decent photos yet, but if you’d like to follow him on Instagram, he’s precocious and has his own account. And while you’re there, follow me, too! I try to post everyday, so there’s always something delicious to see.

I’m planning to end Whole30 a few days early next Thursday, when I’m going out to lunch with friends. We’re planning for dim sum and I don’t want to miss out on everything but steamed vegetables. But I’ll behave. Mostly. See you next week!

A GOOP apologist

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In the late 90s, when the first anti-Gwyneth Paltrow backlash was in the news gossip pages, one of my contrarian friends made the conscious decision to become a Paltrow supporter. If something negative came up (and working at a sports magazine with grizzled black-hearted former newspapermen, it did), he’d extol her virtues, her beauty, her cerebral screen presence — basically, anything he could do to get under a detractor’s skin.

Now that the second wave of backlash has come around, I think I might just find myself taking on his old role. Like many people, I signed up for the GOOP newsletter looking for a laugh, but something odd happened — I didn’t always delete them. In fact, I’ve kept nearly every recipe sent from the beginning. (I make no such claim about the lifestyle or shopping tips, but this is a food blog after all.) And let’s be honest — who among us wouldn’t want to be in her position, culinarily speaking? She’s buds with Batali hisownself and probably picked up a thing or two traveling through Spain with him. So when she speaks (and mentions him in the newsletter), I listen.

Last week’s menu featured a few dishes from a meal she had at his home — a meal to which Emeril was invited, btw. Yes, the eyes do roll, but damn, this meal sounded pretty fabulous. And it didn’t disappoint, even with a few changes made to the menu. The chicken dish pictured above is a Spanish affair, complete with thinly sliced onions, lemons and fennel sautéed together with white wine and pimenton, then roasted in the oven. As if all of that weren’t enough, the whole cloves of garlic that baked and softened in the broth were absolute heaven and force me to apologize here and now to anyone who happened to be next to me at the gym yesterday. (I confess to being agnostic about preserved lemons, so when I ran out a few months ago, I didn’t bother restocking. The pomegranate pips were another story. There were none to be found in the few markets I visited, so they were a necessary deletion, but sorely missed.)

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Blood oranges. Mmmm. They’re one of my favorite things about this time of year. We’re all just barely hanging in there, waiting for a Spring that seems to retreat the closer we march to it, but at least these beauties bring a dash of color and verve to the last gray days of winter.

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The fennel and blood orange salad recipe offered with the chicken was incredibly simple to make and tasted fresh, light and healthy. Because the oranges aren’t terribly acidic, I added a splash of white balsamic to the mix to brighten up the flavors a bit. I’d imagine some thinly sliced red onion would be very good in here, too.

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The flatbreads were a bit problematic. My kitchen was a little too cold, so the dough didn’t rise in time to have them with our meal. That’s ok, though. I made them later, and we snacked on them with agave nectar all afternoon; they worked just as well for dessert.

So I don’t know where you stand on GOOP, but I’d heartily recommend the newsletter if you’re looking for a few (mostly healthy) ideas for dinner. And if you don’t enjoy that, you can join in the schadenfreude, I suppose.

Back in the kitchen

Having cooked only one meal — braised short ribs with pasta — during Christmas vacation with my parents, I was itching to get back into my kitchen to prepare some decidedly non-processed fare. I wanted to keep it fairly light for our first meal back, which I did with caramelized fennel topped with garlic and anchovy bread crumbs.

When I’ve caramelized fennel before, I’ve always grilled it, but that wasn’t an option with the cold and the wind and general winteriness outdoors, so I marinated the fennel slices in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt & pepper, and some whole grain Dijon mustard before caramelizing it in a pan with a touch of olive oil. Once the fennel had some good color and had just started to soften, I added a little water and covered the pan tightly so it would finish cooking through.

While the fennel was steaming, I tore the crust from four pieces of whole wheat bread and whirred the soft insides in a food processor to make fresh breadcrumbs. I stirred about a half tablespoon of olive oil, a small clove of minced garlic, and an anchovy filet in a skillet over medium heat until the anchovy had dissolved and the garlic was just starting to turn golden. At that point, I added the breadcrumbs and a little salt & pepper and tossed the mixture over medium-high heat until the breadcrumbs were toasty and so fragrant I couldn’t help but sample a pinch straight from the pan.

I do think it’ll be better in the summer, when the fennel is even more aggressively caramelized from the grill, but this was quite tasty for a thrown-together dinner. It’d make a nice side dish or even as a topping for pasta if you reduced the marinade into a sauce. Yum.

Today, I thought I’d make something a little more substantial, so I turned to my bookmarks folder to dig up Jennifer’s deep dish pizza recipe. I added my own spin, using what we had in the house — a tiny bit of salami for flavor, Trader Joe’s fire roasted red and yellow peppers (which I find completely addictive), oil marinated sun-dried tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, and a healthy topping of mozzarella.

We spent the morning at the new Corrado’s Family Affair in Wayne, NJ; while I oohed and aahhed over the gorgeous produce, Gil dutifully followed me with the cart. I used Corrado’s brand San Marzano tomatoes for the sauce and was really surprised by how delicious this pizza was, given how tinny the tomatoes tasted straight from the can. I doctored the sauce pretty heavily with extra everything and some sugar and red wine vinegar, though.

But the real reason to try this recipe is for the heavenly crust, which was just perfect, in my decidedly non-authoritative opinion — the crisp base supported a soft, chewy layer and ultimately all of the toppings I piled on. Next time, I’ll probably add even more, now that I know there’s some serious structural integrity to this pie.

P.S. Peter — thank you for the book! I plan to dive in this weekend. Love it. 🙂