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!

Steak, Spinach and Another Cookbook Giveaway

Cast Iron Ribeye Steak | Amy Roth Photo

UPDATE: Congratulations to Sarah Cordes, winner of the cookbook Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan! 

To say I’ve been in a cooking rut would give the wrong impression entirely; it isn’t so much a little ennui-filled rut as it is the Grand Canyon. Gil doesn’t cook and doesn’t much care if I do, so we’ve been eating out a lot and I’ve been making little things here and there, uninspiring things that are fine (she said with a sigh), but not new and certainly not blog-worthy. Getting through the slump has taken a while, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve made it out just yet, but time will tell. I’ve had my periods of kitchen disinterest, but this was another thing entirely and I didn’t quite know how to deal with it, to be honest. So I just started reading again, reading without an agenda or in service to dinner, just for the sheer enjoyment of experiencing food on the page again. And when I happened across an article in last week’s New York Times outlining a different way of preparing a steak on the stovetop, something just clicked.

See, I’m a sucker for technique-refinement and experimentation. If there’s a new way to do something, an avenue that promises better results than the tried and true, I am there, my friend. It’s why I trust America’s Test Kitchen implicitly and why Kenji Lopez-Alt’s version of the pan-seared steak at Serious Eats became my go-to method for cooking steaks indoors during the long winter. I might’ve considered breaking out my grill for a steak now that Spring has arrived, but for the Times’ refinement of his method, which calls for salting the pan rather than the steak to form a nice crust.

Cast Iron Steak Close-Up | Amy Roth Photo

And what a crust it was! I salted my cast iron pan and put it over high heat to prepare it for the steak. And this is where my amazing American Range comes in handy. 23,000 BTUs got the pan smoking in no time at all, and it only took about six minutes of frequent flipping to reach an internal temperature of 120°F, though I should’ve pulled it off the heat just a little bit sooner because I prefer my beef somewhat bloodier than this. But that’s a minor thing and easily rectified the next time I try it. Because you know what? I like a grilled steak, but I don’t always want that smoky flavor. (I also promise to sharpen my knives this very weekend.)

Dorie Greenspan's Steamed Spinach | Amy Roth Photo

Part of my intensive reading plan involved going back through my cookbook collection to see what I could glean from the masters. I always learn something useful and eye-opening from Dorie Greenspan, so I pulled out her cookbook Around My French Table to see what she had to say on the subject of spinach — because you can’t have steak without spinach, at least not in this house. And once again, she blew my mind with a technique for STEAMED SPINACH that guarantees flavor rather than flaccid, bland leaves. I won’t give away the recipe here, but she simply turns the dish on its head and dresses the spinach BEFORE cooking it so the flavor (in this case, lemon rind) penetrates the spinach as it steams. It’s brilliant.

No, SHE’S brilliant. I’ve been a big fan for a long time and can’t gush enough about her conversational tone and spot-on recipes. I suppose what I appreciate most about the recipes is the thought she puts into each one. Just as in the steamed spinach recipe, her technique takes an ordinary dish to something extraordinary by tweaking it with just a little extra care. From whirring a pudding in your food processor to aerate and lend a silky texture to the detailed instructions for turning out the perfect chocolate chunkers, her advice always yields stellar results.

And I want you to experience it, too. I have an extra copy of Around My French Table, which I’d love to give away to one lucky reader. I can’t guarantee it’ll pull you out of a cooking funk, but I suspect it might just. At the very least, it’ll elevate your cooking by several degrees, which will benefit you greatly. To enter, fill out the form below and I’ll post the winner here next Saturday! Good luck!

Food, glorious food

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The Ringwood Farmers’ Market has opened for the season, and I rejoice. Don’t ask me how, but I managed to restrain myself and only had to make two trips back to the car during shopping on opening weekend. It’s so wonderful to have gorgeous produce at my disposal again; it was an obscenely long winter.

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I’ve been cooking (mostly grilling) quite a bit, just not posting here. Over Memorial Day, we were housebound with our boy (who is doing very well these days — for the lot of updates, visit Gil at VM), so cooking outdoors was a way to alleviate boredom and still feel like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. From the bottom of the image: grilled porterhouse steak with red chimichurri sauce (which is possibly the most delicious thing I’ve put in my mouth in a long time), grilled sardines, and fiddlehead ferns and asparagus sautéed in a white wine and Dijon sauce. I loved the way the strong flavors all collided with each other, but don’t think I’ll be doing the sardines again. I don’t recall them being so very bony when I’ve had them in the past; was it just that the fishmonger didn’t clean them well enough or is it always the case?

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Porterhouse is a LOT of meat, so we had tacos with our very generous leftovers. Nothing fancy, just leftover steak and fish, romaine lettuce, thinly sliced radishes and more of that divine chimichurri. (Recipe will follow, just as soon as Gourmet gets around to posting it online.)

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’tis the season for morel mushrooms. Here, we had asparagus, shallots and morels sautéed in butter and hit with a touch of half and half. Most exciting about this omelette, though, is the fact that I tried Julia Child’s method of basically manhandling the eggs and it really worked for me!

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And because no Memorial Day weekend would be complete without a load of berries, we had raspberry, blueberry and rhubarb cobbler for dessert.

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Our friends Ian and Jess paid us a visit a couple of weekends ago. Luckily for us, Jess is a spectacular baker and thoughtful friend who brought plenty of treats to keep us happy over the weekend. Here you see my new favorite cake — banana chiffon (did you know such a thing was possible?) — topped with Greek yogurt and more of those juicysweet strawberries. (No picture of the rocky road brownies or chocolate biscotti, sorry. But I can vouch for them.)

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I also didn’t take pictures of the kofta kebabs we had for lunch Saturday because I took pictures last time and it’s so not an appetizing-looking dish. No need to put myself (or you) through it again. Of course, this photo of grilled hanger steak, asparagus and oven fries won’t be featured in a retrospective anytime soon, but boy, were they good.

Your obligatory Rufus photo:

sweet dreams