Joel’s Moderately Fancy Meal: Pasta Kinda Carbonara*  »

Inspiration always seems to strike when fresh vegetables are low, the stakes are high, time is short, and various other nouns have various other quantitative adjectives applied to them. At least, that’s how it works at my house. At yours it doesn’t have to, because should you find yourself in similar straits, you can use this recipe instead of thinking for yourself.
Here’s the situation: I found myself with some sad root vegetables (a couple beets, a couple carrots, what I thought was a turnip but really it’s hard to say) and the usual dry and frozen goods. WHAT TO DO. Well, I got dried pasta, canned tomatoes, and frozen fake bacon; sounds like carbonara! But I should eat a vegetable that has seen dirt within the last year. Let’s toss a beet in there! Don’t like beets? Prepare to be surprised. The sweetness goes perfectly with the bacon, and the texture adds the body that, in the traditional recipe, the egg would provide.

1/4 lb. fake bacon
5 cloves garlic or to taste (what, you got a date to kiss the queen or something? Pile it on!)
1 carrot
1 golden beet (different colors are fine, they all taste the same, but it might not look as pretty)
1/2 tsp herbes de provence
1 lb. pasta of your choice (I use mafaldine because it picks up sauce really well and is adorable)
1 28-oz. can tomatoes (don’t use fresh tomatoes this time of year, you’re asking for disappointment)
3/4 cup non-dairy milk (use a sweetened, thickened milk like plain Silk)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Heat oil in a wide, deep skillet or pan on medium heat. Coarsely chop the bacon and add to the pan. If it’s frozen, hack off your 1/4 lb. hunk and toss it in whole; rotate it so all the faces crisp while the inside thaws, then chop and proceed.

Salt the bacon heavily, and add the herbs. Coarsely chop the garlic and toss it in. Stir occasionally to keep the garlic from burning, but it’s good if some of it browns a bit. Cut the carrot into coins and throw it in. Peel and grate the beet, then clear out the center of the pan and dump the beet in. Give it a few minutes to dry, then stir just the beet, so all of it is exposed to the cooking surface. When it’s fairly dry and has gotten some color, pour in the tomatoes, and break them up with your stirring implement.

At this time, start a large pot of water boiling for the pasta. Add the milk and yeast to the sauce, stir to combine, and lower the heat to a simmer. Ignore the sauce, except for a stir every once in a while, as you tend to the pasta. When the pasta is done, the sauce will be too. Taste the sauce for seasoning, add black pepper, and toss with the pasta to serve. Delicious!

I didn’t even have a freaking onion in the house! That’s how desperately low on foodstuffs I was. You may certainly add an onion; in fact, I encourage it. Aside from that, I don’t really understand why this recipe works (although I assure you it does), so go nuts and see what happens! Post your results in the comments!

* I know this is not a real carbonara for any number of reasons.  Listen, bitches!  We’re in America now, we don’t have to do things by the rules, or produce food that Italian people would recognize!  Freedom of expression, OK??

This has been an installment of Joel’s Moderately Fancy Meal, brought to you by Joel, of Joel and Nibbler. Photo by Joel.


Joel’s Moderately Fancy Meal: Sourdough Pumpkin Quick Bread! (Sourdough Optional!)  »

So you roasted a pumpkin according to Megan’s directions? Nicely done! But don’t stop now, spanky. You’re just a few simple steps away from a finished product that you can bring in to work to cultivate your persona as the person who knows how to make stuff. You can also use it to curry favor, make friends, or start intra-office rivalries! Granted, a borrowed pen can do all that but it doesn’t taste half so good. Wait, what am I talking about? Pumpkin bread! A dessert-y, cake-y breakfast bread that’s probably good for you! Why not, it’s got pumpkin!

For those of you who are scared by the sourdough, DON’T WORRY. You don’t have to use it. Any time you see a recipe call for sourdough starter that doesn’t depend on it for rise—like this recipe, which uses chemical leavening, i.e., baking powder—you can substitute equal parts flour and water. So easy! Seriously though you should start baking with sourdough, it’s delicious.

(Sourdough) Pumpkin Quick Bread (makes 1 loaf)


  • 1/3 cup Earth Balance
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg’s worth egg replacer of your choice (I use Bob’s Red Mill for this recipe but follow your bliss, you crazy hippie!)
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 1 cup sourdough starter (OR one scant cup each water and flour, mixed thoroughly)
  • 1 tsp vanilla spices (pumpkin pie mix, or cinnamon, allspice, clove, nutmeg, powdered ginger, and so on!)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

First off: roast that pumpkin. A very small one will give you exactly the right amount of flesh. Once it’s cooled, scoop out the flesh and either puree it, if you want a smooth bread, or mash it with a potato masher or fork, if you like chunks. I mashed mine but you do what you want, I’m not here to judge.

Start your oven preheating at 350°. Cream together the Earth Balance and sugar (try doing it by hand for an awesome forearm workout that totally will not make you angry). Add the “egg” and mix. Dump in the pumpkin and starter or flour slurry, along with the vanilla and whatever spices you feel are appropriate. Mix again. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and stir until just integrated but not too much or it’ll end up chewy. Pro tip: if you feel like maybe you did stir too much, I don’t know maybe you were reading some steamy internet slash fiction with Harry and Snape and you got distracted, look I am not here to judge, let the batter sit for 15 minutes. Pour it into a lightly greased loaf pan, and bake for about 70 minutes, or until a toothpick, thin-bladed knife, or very small child’s finger comes out clean*. Let it cool for a while before you slice it, lest it crumble.


Chop up some candied ginger and toss it in! Use other fruits or vegetables—this could be your new favorite zucchini bread recipe just as easily! Toss in a handful of chocolate chips with the pumpkin! If you’re making a slurry rather than using starter, make it with soy milk (or pumpkin nog?????) rather than water! Of course the best variation is to use the damn starter, seriously people, sourdough is where it’s at! Hello?

Whatever! Enjoy it!

* Joke! Small children’s fingers are NEVER clean!

This has been an installment of Joel’s Moderately Fancy Meal, brought to you by Joel, of Joel and Nibbler.


Joel’s Moderately Fancy Meal: Savory Bacon-Cheddar Waffles and Another Waffle That Will Not Get as Many Hits as One with Bacon!  »

A couple days after the family vacation that gave rise to that freaking awesome black bean and peach soup HAVE YOU TRIED IT YET I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT, I found myself trapped in the limbo between CSA deliveries. Not a lot of fresh veggies in the house, but the bread I was getting ready to bake wouldn’t be done until the next day*, and a man’s gotta eat. One thing I always have is various forms of carbohydrates—flour, rice, big spoonfuls of sugar in a pinch—so carbs it would be. I took stock of what little I had in my fridge, took a look out the window at my planter garden, and made today’s recipes based on two principles: (1) breakfast for dinner is perfectly acceptable, and (2) why settle for “perfectly acceptable” when you can fancy shit up, Moderately Fancy Style.

Please to note, you don’t have to be some kind of crazy sourdough-bakin’ fool to follow these recipes!** I made them by modifying my stock sourdough waffle recipe, but you can just as easily add the extra ingredients to a plain old baking powder waffle recipe and it will be almost exactly as delicious. You won’t have that tang of sourdough, so you may want to add a little vinegar (which will also help your waffles get big and fluffy), but that’s up to you and the flavor you’re looking for!

Savory Waffles Two Ways (serves 4)
Waffle batter
1 cup unfed sourdough starter
2 cups soy milk (you can sub any other non-dairy milk or even water, in which case omit the vinegar)
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt

Savory additions
2 large onions
1/2 cup shredded bacon-cheddar Cheezly
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp. sea salt

As with everything sourdough, the waffle batter is a long process (though nearly all of it is waiting). The morning of the day you’d like this for dinner, combine the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and let sit for a few minutes to form an ersatz buttermilk. Then add the starter and sugar, stir well, and stir in the flour. Loosely cover the bowl (I use a kitchen towel), and let rise until bubbly. This should take about eight hours.

When the batter is ready, add the oil and salt. Stir to combine. Then heat a little olive oil in a pan on low. While it warms, dice the onions. Add them to the pan and cook until the onions are translucent and starting to brown. Add them to the waffle batter and stir again.

Now we’re in the final steps. Begin to heat your waffle iron. (What? You don’t have one? That’s ok, this can also be pancakes!) Divide the batter into two equal portions (or more, if you’re making more varieties. Don’t divide more than four ways without increasing the recipe, or you won’t have enough of each). Add the Cheezly, the spices, and the Tabasco to one, and the basil, nutritional yeast, and sea salt to the other. Stir them both to combine (but not with each other). Then make waffles as usual.

To serve, dress the basil waffles with flavorful olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The cheddar waffles are flavorful enough that they should be eaten on their own, hot off the iron.

The largest omission in this recipe is that the basil waffles should clearly have a fresh tomato diced and tossed into the batter. I didn’t have one on hand, but if you do, go for it. If you don’t, add some tomato paste to the onions shortly before they’re done, and sauté it all together for a few minutes. Also, consider using balsamic instead of apple cider vinegar when making the batter.

I hope it’s clear that this is more a template with two examples than it is a set-in-stone recipe. There are hundreds of delicious variations on the savory waffle theme; I hope you’ll come up with some of your own. Here are some more suggestions:

mozzarella and marinara
sautéed wild mushroom
corn and jalapeño
black bean and peach (what, it is a very good flavor combination!!)
pepperoni and green olives
feta and thyme


* Sourdough takes a long time, but you can’t rush perfection!
** Although if you want to be and don’t know how, leave a comment! More sourdough recipes could be arranged!

This has been an installment of Joel’s Moderately Fancy Meal, brought to you by Joel, of Joel and Nibbler.


Joel’s moderately fancy meal: Chilled Black Bean and Peach Soup with a Caramelized Peach-Onion Relish!  »

I spent this past week on vacation with my family. We ended up in a little vacation-centric town by the side of Lake Michigan, where fresh fruit is plentiful (tis the season to u-pick blueberries!) but most everything else is in short supply.

Being the tight-knit clan of epicures that we are, and perhaps also because after some 30 years my mom has gotten tired of cooking for the entire family, we agreed beforehand to split up the meals: some made by my parents, some by my brother and sister-in-law, and some by little ol’ me. The catch: while everyone else was driving, and so brought all the kitchen staples they’d want, I was flying, and was therefore severely limited re: the explosive liquids, suspicious powders, and extremely sharp implements that mark my usual cooking experience.

In the end I used some of that lovely fresh Michigan fruit, in combination with the kitchen staples of others, to whip up (and please excuse me as I lapse into the vaguely smarmy language of Top Chef) a play on a black bean and citrus soup. The days were hot, so the soup was cold; and the oranges weren’t biting, so I went with peaches. Here is what I did.

Chilled Black Bean and Peach Soup with a Caramelized Peach-Onion Relish
Serves 5

Ingredients for the soup
1 pound dried black beans (about 6 cups cooked) or equivalent canned
2 quarts bean cooking liquid or stock (or tap water if using canned beans)
2 large onions, chopped
2 medium fresh tomatoes (or equivalent canned), chopped (skins are fine)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 large peaches, coarsely chopped
red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (or to taste)
salt, black pepper, and cayenne to taste

Ingredients for the relish
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 large onions, sliiced into 1/2 inch thick rounds
3 large peaches, quartered
2 tsp red wine vinegar
salt and plenty of black pepper

Cook the black beans your favorite way. Reserve the cooking water. If you’re using canned beans instead, you can use the time you’re saving to feel bad about yourself for using canned beans.

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, add a couple tablespoons olive oil at medium heat. Cook the onions until translucent, then add the garlic, tomatoes, and a little cayenne. When the tomatoes start to wilt, add the beans and your chosen liquid. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, it’s relish time. In a small pan, heat 1/2 cup olive oil on high heat until it’s shimmering, just short of smoking. Carefully drop in the onion slices, spacing them out so that each makes maximum contact with the pan. Cook for a few minutes, until the bottom surface of the onion is deeply colored, verging on blackened.  Flip the slices and repeat. Ideally, the outer surfaces of the onion are deeply caramelized but the inside is still raw. Take the onion out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat the same procedure with the quartered peaches. Finally, mince the onion and peach, and toss with the oil and fond from the pan.  Season generously with salt and especially black pepper, and toss in the vinegar and remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil. Refrigerate.

At this point you should have a few minutes left before the 20 minutes for the soup are up. Add a little more oil to the pan, and caramelize the chopped peaches for the soup in the same way. When the 20 minutes end, add the peaches and cilantro to the soup, along with salt, pepper, and a little more cayenne. If your peaches are not particularly sour, add a little vinegar to bring out the rest of the flavors. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

If you have an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. If not (and I didn’t, and it sucked; every kitchen should have an immersion blender), either plunge the soup pot into an ice bath for 10 minutes, or wait several hours for it to cool. Then transfer to a blender and puree. Now that it’s room-temperature, taste for seasoning again. It may need more salt, but don’t add too much; remember that much of the flavor will come from the relish. Refrigerate.

Take the soup and relish out of the refrigerator at least 10 minutes before serving (or longer; a room-temperature service is fine). To serve, ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls. Either add a few tablespoons of relish to each bowl yourself, or pass the relish at the table. Finito!

Use red onions instead of white in the relish. Or use sweet onions, but don’t bother caramelizing them. Replace half the peaches (in both the soup and the relish) with uncooked cucumbers. Try it; you’ll be pleased. Replace half the black beans with small white beans, and use smoked paprika rather than cayenne.

This has been an installment of Joel’s Moderately Fancy Meal, brought to you by Joel, of Joel and Nibbler.

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