Intro to Terrible Cook

I grew up on Manwich, Spam, and Hamburger Helper.

When I got old enough to make stuff on my own, I cooked to make my dad happy, so that meant lots of Southern-friend whatever with a heaping side of gravy. Then I moved to San Diego, where I learned new and exciting spices, passionate and contradictory flavors with lots of cilantro and limon. As much as I loved it, though, it still wasn't what I was looking for. I still wasn't cooking for myself.

If I could discover a staple of recipes that I could cook easily and comfortably without the worry of "am I spending all this time and effort on something I'm not even going to want to eat," what would I want it to be? Vegetarian. Healthy, rich, flavorful vegetarian that feels like a treat to prepare and eat. And that would be to please me and my precious little tiny taste buds alone, with no one else in mind.

Of course, if you'd like to join me, you're always welcome!

That being said, I can't even boil water these days. In the last year I've mainly made lots of salads, hot sandwiches and simple pasta-with-veggies dishes. With nothing more than my trusty steed (counter-top hotplate) (yes, seriously) and my Lariat of Truth (Moosewood Cookbook), I will venture into the wild unknown of vegetarian cooking. Think "Lost" without the weird smoke monster or plot twists. But this is still going to be some trip.

So the goal is this: find and cook at least 1 vegetarian dish per month. That's reasonable. I can muster the time and energy (after each pay check) to try one new veggie dish just for little ol' me.

What bliss.

Wish me luck! This could turn out to be "Epic Fail" blog. :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Green Beans and Fennel Ragout

Ok, first of all, what the hell is fennel?

Good thing the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home Cookbook has a reference section, which explains that "The nutty, sweet, anise flavor of fennel seeds nicely complements breads, cookies, Italian biscuits (etc., etc.)... soups, marinades and tomato sauces. " So, hmm. Still no idea what fennel is, (or anise, for that matter), but I'm definitely not picturing the plant (above) when that pops up from a Google search. Ok, well, whatever.

I picked this as my first recipe to try because green beans are a familiar veggie, and why not start out with that's not so foreign and intimidating? I don't really know what ragout is, but for some reason I'm thinking goulash. Then again there's a faint idea that maybe this will be like spaghetti sauce. :)

The recipe calls for:
-3 garlic cloves
-1 and 1/2 c chopped onions
-3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 large potatoes
-3 c undrained fresh or canned tomatoes
-1 tsp thyme
-1 c water
-1 lb green beans
-2 c sliced fennel bulb
-2 pinches saffron threads
-1 and 1/2 tsp orange peel
- juice of 1/2 lemon
-salt and ground black pepper to taste

I've got everything around the house except onions, fennel, saffron (I know it's yellow but that's about it) and thyme. Off to the store on my first quest for weird new items. I decided to try the local farmer's market as opposed to Whole Foods for obvious reasons, plus I thought I could try them as a last resort if the small market didn't carry everything.

I was a little surprised at how easy it was to find the stuff. Although the fennel wasn't labeled, I asked someone where it was and it was pretty easy to identify after seeing it online. It does have a weird, nutty smell, but it's nice. It's Thanksgiving, so the dried thyme was sold out. Saffron was $15 for a bottle, which melted my brain a little, so I stood there appalled for at least 3 minutes (I am a school teacher, after all) before I decided to let it go. I happened upon the Mexican spice rack (El Guapo, no less) on the way out which had dried thyme, as well as Safflower (which Wikipedia said is "occasionally used in cooking as a cheaper substitute for saffron, and [is] thus sometimes referred to as "bastard saffron.") Both were only 75 cents a bag! Score. Hell yeah. And the grand total was only $6.08. I am shocked at cheap vegetarian cooking so far. So delightfully surprised (and hungry) that I stopped at McDonald's on the way home. Oops!

So yeah, I live in a warehouse and we made a make-shift kitchen in one little corner. You can see that I, literally, have a hotplate, a microwave/convection oven, and a set of knives from Ikea. If I can learn to cook vegetarian cuisine, anyone can.

Thoughts while cooking:
* Sliced fennel really just seems like a funny-looking onion.
* All of these flavors in one pot. Hmmm. I'm hoping (hesitantly) for deliciousness.
* This would make a great crock pot recipe. Now there's some white trash thinking for you.
* This recipe would, and I'm not kidding, feed a vegetarian army.

What I think once it's done:
* As an amateur vegetarian, I would cut the fennel into smaller pieces.
* My boyfriend, who considers potatoes and corn the only veggies he'll eat, said that it smelled like a really good soup. He even tasted the broth and said it's "pretty good." I don't think you realize what a big deal this is.
* Fennel kind of tastes like a milder squash.
* True to Moosewood's word, I would consider this a fairly fast & easy recipe.
* I like it! It's like beef stew with no beef, but plenty of flavor and textures. Nice for winter months.
* I think next time I'll cook rice, too, and serve the ragout like gumbo. Or with cornbread. Sweet!

Until next time, America,


  1. Delicious I must say. And yes, I'm a meat and potatoes only kind of guy.

  2. Hi Miss M,

    followed you from your other blog.

    I also cook, at a Zen retreat centre.

    Want some recipes?


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