Category Archives: Food

Kitchen Cookbooks

It would be nice to have a full wall of shelves near the kitchen table, filled with cookbooks ready to be perused – and returned – right in the room in which they are used. I don’t have that. I do have a library, and there are several shelves full of cookbooks, but it’s nice to have a spot, even if it’s counter space, for currently used books.

When we were designing this kitchen and filling a secondary wall with cabinets, I traded a wider bank of drawers for a turned base. Easier with a picture:

Accessible to the working area of the kitchen and hidden from the table and guest area, it’s never neat and tends to gather dust as a busy corner, but it’s great to have. The top is stuffed with planning papers, the occasional cooking magazine, appliance manual, and recipes I’ve printed. The shelves are not, by any means, favorite cookbooks, but a mix of currently used, new-to-be-read, or simply resting.

Cool Waters is kind of fun for jazzing up water or plain soda. Marcella Hazan for many reasons but recently her pasta gorgonzola, and Tender is a gigantic, beautiful combination of gardening and recipes. The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper is a fun read, and I hear there’s a new one, must look into it. Do you know Super Natural Cooking and its sister on the shelf below, of 101 Cookbooks?  La Tartine Gourmande, also new and a nice blog. Mark Bittman. Of course, Mark Bittman.

There are two tiny paperbacks I bought in Italy, which I never use but love to see there on the shelf. Over the winter I made a delicious chickpea stew from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and a cake from Martha. More Mark Bittman. Between him and the slow cooker book is my recipe journal, where I try very hard to record recipes I want to make again so they won’t be lost forever in the flurry of sticky notes marking pages. Love Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven.

I don’t dislike the cookbooks I haven’t mentioned – I would give them away if that was the case – I just haven’t used them recently, or perhaps enough. Now, it’s nearly 9 a.m., and it is time to figure out what’s for dinner!

Favas; Spring in a Bean

 Fava beans, artichokes, nettles, tiny peas, garlic scapes.  Spring! All favorites, but, oh, fava beans.  Hard to find, in the market or CSA box for a very short time,  worth seeking out and preparing. Yes, there are two steps to getting at the brilliantly green bean, but you still need to try them fresh. The  fava/ricotta toast I made for dinner, above,  was perfect with a salad of fresh greens and walnuts.

Call around, see which market has fava beans this week, then come back when you find them. This pile below, about two handfuls, was little more than a pound, and produced just under a cup, shelled. These look blotchy but are fine. Select firm pods, disregard any that are rubbery or have soft spots. If in doubt, find your way inside and take a peek. The beans,  covered in a pale green waxy shell, should be unblemished. You’re good to go.

Start a large pot of water boiling, turn on some music or an audio book and start shelling. This is relaxing work, good for many (multi-age) hands or just your own, as you wish. People have been shelling these beans for thousands of years; think about that as you work!

Snap one end of the pod and pull the resulting “string” down as far as you can, then split the pod open.Gorgeous, no? Big beans. Pop them all out and you have a nice pile of pods for the compost bin, and this:Give them a boil for just a minute or two, then drain and cool them down with water. The shell needs to be split at this point; just tear a small piece of one end and gently squeeze the other. Voila! A vibrantly green fava emerges, just looking like spring in a bean.For starters, you can simmer them lightly in olive oil and garlic, toss them with pasta, top grilled polenta, smash them into a hummus, or use them as a topping for grilled bread and ricotta, as I did.

The recipe

I tossed my little cup of beans with a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, a splash of olive oil, salt,  and two finely minced cloves of garlic. A bit of plain ricotta spread over a slices of good bread, broiled, made a fine base. I topped the whole thing with slivers of Gruyère (because that’s what I had), torn pieces of parsley, and a fresh grind of pepper.

I cannot recommend this enough; a simple bite, fresh and healthful. I also can’t wait to find more fava beans!

Chickpea Deliciousness

This dish, from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, ranks as one of the most delicious stews I’ve ever made. Every bit of it disappeared from our bowls with unanimous approval. It was involved, but not difficult, and while I made my chickpeas from dried, canned may be used. I made a big pot of chickpeas and divided them between this recipe and a Mark Bittman bowl of chickpeas, their broth, homemade bread crumbs, garlic, and toasted almonds. Also delicious.

I didn’t stray far from the original recipe so I could get a feel for the dish, and I won’t next time, either. There are three parts to this dish: the stew, the Romesco sauce, and the picada. No major orchestration required as far as timing, just the usual organized prep, then proceed. 

The recipe is written to serve four. I thought I’d make it into five servings and send someone off with lunch the next day, but it turns out it really is four. At least, if it is a main dish for hungry vegetarians!

Potato and Chickpea Stew
1 pound waxy-fleshed potatoes*
3 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 generous pinches saffron
2 large red bell peppers, diced
1 large yellow or red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch wide strips
1 heaping tsp sweet paprika
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup medium-dry sherry
2 cups crushed tomatoes with juice
2 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or two 15-oz cans, rinsed)
3 cups chickpea broth, stock, or water
1 1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
chopped parsley for garnish

*If using fingerling potatoes, halve them lengthwise. Large round potatoes can be cut into thick rounds or quartered.

Warm the oil in a wide pot with the onion, garlic, saffron, peppers, and potatoes. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring gently every now and then, until the potatoes are tender-firm, about 25 min. Add the paprika, parsley, and red pepper flakes, and cook 3-4 minutes. Add the sherry and cook until the juices are thick and syrupy, about 12 minuntes.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and broth, stock or water to cover. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper; cover and cook over low heat until the potatoes are completely tender, about 20 min. If the stew is soupy and you plan to serve it right away, stir in 1/4 cup picada (or more if necessary) to thicken it. If you don’t plan to serve the stew for 1 hour or more, it may not need the bread crumbs since it will thicken as it stands. Serve in soup plates with any additional picada sprinkled over the top along with the extra parsley. Add a spoonful of the Romesco sauce to each bowl and pass the rest.

Soaked and cooked chickpeas; I also spent a quick minute rolling them between a towel to remove the skins. 

Romesco Sauce

2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded
1/4 cup almonds, roasted
1/4 cup hazelnuts, roasted and peeled
1 slice country-style white bread
olive oil for frying
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp ground red chile or red pepper flakes
4 small plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
This Catalan sauce is utterly delicious served with chickpeas, roasted potatoes, or grilled vegetables.
To roast the peppers, place them under a broiler or over a gas flame until the skins are charred. Put them in a bowl, cover with a plate, and set aside for 15 min. Peel and seed the peppers.
Roast the nuts in a 350°F oven for 7 to 10 min., or until they smell toasty. Let them cool slightly, and then rub the hazelnuts between the folds of a towel to remove loose skins. (The almonds don’t need peeling.)
Fry the bread in a little olive oil until golden and crisp. When the bread is cool, grind it with the nuts and garlic in a food processor or a mortar until fairly fine. Add everything else but the vinegar and oil and process or work with the pestle until smooth. With the machine running, or your arm working if you’re using a mortar and pestle, gradually pour in the vinegar, then the oil. Taste to make sure the sauce has enough salt and plenty of piquancy

The excitement of roasting a pepper over the stove’s flame!

Deborah’s picada, which I didn’t use because the stew looked just the way we’d like it, is as follows:

Toast 1/4 cup peeled almonds until pale gold. Slowly fry one slice of white country-style bread in 2T olive oil until golden on both sides. Grind bread, almonds, 2 cloves of garlic, and a pinch of salt in a food processor to a crumbly paste.

Spice Cake

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are lovely, but why aren’t there songs about spices?

With or without frosting, this is my go-to recipe for spice cake. It’s quite nice to bake it in two 8 inch square pans and freeze one while the other is served simply with a powdered sugar sprinkle.  

For my husband, who loves spice cake, there must be cream cheese frosting. I bake it in a 9×13 then, as the frosting will not support a double layer.

Quite a treat!

Last CSA Day

Yesterday was the last CSA pickup of the season, and it was quite a box. This is the end of the summer growing season, the weekly boxes of awesomeness, and an end to reverse meal planning. It’s fun to pick up a box of vegetables and figure out what to do with them, instead of planning recipes and going out to find the ingredients.
Cauliflower, onions, mizuna, tiny bok choy, leek, cabbage, red lettuce, tatsoi, scallions, romaine, cilantro, bell peppers, collards, radicchio, and broccoli.
The box reflects a seasonal return to lettuces, and has enough for a week of gorgeous salads. I have a pile of squash, white potatoes, and yams from recent weeks as well but they’ll be gone in a few weeks. I froze a bag or two of blanched greens when I couldn’t use all of them, but everything else was used in our weekly meals. 
This was the first year we were members of the Lancaster Farm Fresh Coop and I’m quite happy we made the change from our old CSA. While I do miss the experience of going to the farm and wandering through the barn and gardens, the variety available from a coop is attractive. This list, while long, isn’t complete (edamame, for one) and doesn’t indicate the variety of items included. For example, “herbs” makes one think of basil and not sorrel (delicious).  We liked knowing which farms our food came from, and which items were certified organic or grown with sustainable/IPM methods. 
For those of you thinking about joining, this is a wholehearted recommendation. There is much more to the organization, including a buying club, fruit shares, flower shares, and a CSM (Community Sponsored Medicine) share. (We had a CSM share this summer and loved it. More on that another day.) Next year I plan to include both fruit and flower shares, since I peeked at them all summer and liked what I saw. If you are interested but don’t see a location near you, contact them about becoming a site yourself. Our pickup location was arranged a few years ago by a woman who wanted to be able to participate, so she worked to get enough people committed to the coop and offered her garage as the site. 
This week’s menu, from that last box? So far it’s looking like this:
Broccoli soup with added greens
Pepper, onion, and bok choy, and mizuna saute
Millet mash (cauliflower and millet “mashed potatoes”)
White beans and collards
A poached leek, somewhere
Dinner salads
I look forward to sharing next year’s first pickup!

Other posts about cooking with this year’s harvest from LFFC can be found here,  here, and here.

Drying Herbs in the Microwave

A few days ago the weather service was warning us of a freeze here in southeastern Pennsylvania, so I cut the last of the marjoram and thyme and brought the big pot of rosemary indoors. (That was optimistic, since the rosemary will simply die a slow death in the house instead of a fast one on the deck, but one of these days I may succeed in overwintering one.) It’s a very good thing I cut then, since this is what my herb pots look like this morning:

I didn’t cut the parsley because dried parsley is, well, dried parsley. It’s easy enough to buy a bunch at the market and leave it in a glass on the sink, like a vase of flowers. The basil, chives, sage, mint, and cilantro are long gone but I had a huge amount of marjoram, and while the thyme will hang on, it was time. Sorry.

Sometimes I hang lovely bunches of herbs in the window of the laundry room, where they dry in days and look good while doing so. These jars are full of herbs that I dried that way, that we’ll use for teas over the winter.

This time, however, I didn’t have carefully cut and arranged bunches of herbs tied with twine. I had three large tangles of herbs, sopping wet from the rain.

I read about flash-drying herbs in the microwave in the September issue of Cook’s Illustrated. A few weeks ago I tested the method on a few sprigs of marjoram, rosemary, sage, basil, and thyme. The kitchen smelled amazing but the only herbs that retained their scent and flavor were marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. Using their method, then, I wrapped a “single layer” (messy tangle) of herbs in a layer of paper towels and microwaved on high for 90 seconds (thyme) and 120 seconds (marjoram).

Marjoram, looking cozy.
Marjoram, looking crumbly.

The herbs cool quickly and are then easily removed from the stems, although I am careful not to crush them. This is easier with the larger leaves of marjoram than with thyme, of course. I had to remove a few stems that were still a little damp after microwaving simply because of how wet they were going in, and gave them another 30 seconds. That step was unnecessary when I first tested this method.

In the end it’s a few minutes, a great smelling kitchen, and a few more herb jars for the cupboard. Quite nice.
Even though I welcome all the seasonal changes, even this unusual early snow, I always miss having a huge variety of culinary herbs just a few steps away from the kitchen. There is rarely a day of cooking that doesn’t include something from the herb pots, and my cooking changes without them during the winter. I have, however, just planted herb pods in my Aerogarden, which was a new process for me last winter. Progress reports to come!

How to Eat Supper

Do you know NPR’s The Splendid Table? If yes, then you must know about the How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions from Public Radio’s Award-Winning Food Show cookbook. If no, then go find a copy. It has all the qualities a cookbook, or any book, should have: nice binding, great pictures, solid writing and strong opinions, and a pretty cover. Then there are the recipes, which haven’t let me down yet.

I took their recipe for Sweet Roasted Butternut Squash and Greens over Bow Tie Pasta and turned it into Here’s What I had in the Fridge Instead Pasta, and it was delicious. Instead of greens I used brocolinii, a delicious cross between broccoli and Asian broccoli, and substituted a different pasta and cheese.
Following their recipe I tossed butternut squash, broccolini, onion, basil, sage, and garlic with olive oil and a bit of brown sugar. 

Everything was roasted for about 25 minutes and then the whole sheet had a quick broil to caramelize the squash a bit.
Meanwhile, since my husband really thinks every meal and snack should include bread and I have him convinced that polenta is the very same thing, I started some spears crisping on the stovetop.
I had some really nice pappardelle left from a whole package. My ratio of pasta to vegetables is usually quite heavy on the vegetable side, much to my husband’s dismay, but gives me less of a twinge nutritionally and financially when I buy a fabulous imported pasta. 

Finally, the drained pappardelle went back into the pot where it was tossed with the vegetables, a little half and half, and Parmigiano-Reggiano (another substitution). 

It’s going into the recipe journal, by unanimous decision. The crisped polenta was a nice accompaniment, as would be some white beans with sage. Next time. 

Breakfast Failure

Minnie pretty much sums it all up this morning.
After cooking a dinner that was heavy on prep (white bean cassoulet) and then cooking and packaging a week’s worth of dog food (!) my final act was to set up breakfast. I don’t do this all the time, since everyone here is quite capable of making their own damn breakfast, but it’s lovely when I do. I put a mix of barley, wheat berries, and cracked whole grain cereal into the rice cooker and set the timer for 6:00 a.m. I set everything out…
Pumpkin seeds, honey, agave nectar, Vietnamese cinnamon, cinnamon & white sugar, dried cherries, brown sugar, and slivered almonds. A perfect topping bar.
Picture it: Wake up early (blame the moon?) and feed the dog his freshly made and balanced meal, complete with a powdered vitamin/mineral supplement. Make a latte with skim milk and a bit of powdered cocoa (flavanoids, anyone?), turn on the laptop and go check on the … uncooked grains. Open the lid. Peer inside. Check timer and discover that the time is now 19:05.
Apparently while I was away this summer I lost the ability to correctly program the timer on the super-smart fancypants rice cooker. It was 9:00 p.m when I set it, I asked it to be ready at 6:00 a.m., and I absolutely pushed the start button and hummed along to the little tune that plays. (Those crazy guys at Zojirushi and their tunes.)
Push start again, and make a small pot of steel cut oats for the next person awake, who is expecting a healthy bowl of grains this morning. 

Make another latte.

Butternut & Pecans; Potatoes & Onions

Last night’s dinner was a combination of a favorite potato and onion tart and a box of organic frozen butternut squash ravioli. Not sure of the squash ravioli’s reception, I planned to plate a piece of the sure-to-be-devoured tart with a few of the ravioli topped with a pecan sauce and a side of fresh green bean gremolata. I killed the green beans – the pan is still soaking – but our vegetable-less meal was still delicious. After facebooking the menu and lamenting the loss of the green beans, the recipes are now in order for a few friends. 

No pictures, but trust me. That picnic tart has been served for friends at home, carried to potlucks, and eaten as leftovers for breakfast. 

French Picnic Tart with New Potatoes, Red Peppers, Sage, and Gruyere
Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven

1 10-inch unbaked tart crust (easy recipe below or buy one!)
1 lb small red potatoes
1-2 T olive oil
1 large onion thinly sliced (2 cups)
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 C grated gruyere or emmenthaler cheese (1/4 lb) shredded
2 T minced fresh sage (or 2 tsp dried)
1/2 medium red bell pepper, finely sliced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place potatoes in saucepan, cover with water, and boil for 10 to 15 minutes until tender but still intact. Drain. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel if desired, and slice thinly. 
Heat oil in a skillet for the onions, add onion and salt, cook on low heat until tender (10-15 minutes)
or continue and caramelize.  Remove from heat, sprinkle with pepper, and set aside.
Assemble the tart:

  • Spread one cup of cheese into bottom of unbaked crust. 
  • Spoon onion over the cheese, and sprinkle with sage.
  • Arrange slices in overlapping concentric circles over cheese.
  • Arrange bell pepper slices over potatoes in ring. 
  • Sprinkle with remaining cheese and black pepper to taste.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, on a tray unless you really trust your springform pan, or until crust is golden around edges. Move to lowest rack for last 5 minutes to ensure the bottom is cooked and crisp. Remove tart from oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve sliced into large wedges either hot, warm, or at room temperature. 

My additions/changes: 
I don’t use the red pepper, but I have inserted a layer of cooked spinach under the potatoes.
I sometimes splash a bit of balsamic vinegar into the onions.
I use more potatoes and more onions, since this is often the main dish and I want everyone to have one hearty piece on their plate, surrounded by vegetables.
Last night while preparing this I thought about a layer of pureed white beans, which I think I will try next time.

PERFECT 10 TART CRUST: A great 10-inch crust in 10 minutes
Also from Vegetable Heaven
(Can be used for a savory or a sweet tart. Super easy.)

1.5 C unbleached flour
pinch of salt 
1 stick of cold butter
1-3 T cold water

Place flour and salt in food processor, buzz once or twice, slice the butter into the bowl and pulse to crumbs. Continue to pulse as water is added one tablespoon at a time. As soon as the dough adheres when pinched stop adding water, turn it out, and push into a ball.

Roll into an 11 inch circle and lift into a 10 inch pan. Form an even edge all around. Wrap tightly and store in the fridge or freezer until ready to use.

Note: I always double this recipe. I use one in the tart pan for the recipe and flatten the other into a small disc and hold it in the fridge. When the pan is free I roll out the extra disc and place it in the pan, then freeze the whole pan. The frozen dough can be removed and frozen separately. No need to defrost when using. 

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Pecans and Sage

Pecans and sage are a classic combination with butternut squash, for good reason. Look for a quality brand of frozen ravioli, or be my hero and make some from scratch, and top the cooked ravioli with this:

Brown Butter, Pecans, and Sage

3-4 T butter (yes, you can use a lot more butter and get a more “saucey” product, but let’s not!)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 T chopped fresh sage
2-3 T chopped fresh parsley
2 -3 tsp chopped fresh thyme, or less, dried
1/2 C pecans, toasted, chopped coarsely
sea salt

Melt the butter in a small nonstick skillet and add the garlic and herbs. Cook over low heat until the butter begins to brown; remove from heat and stir in pecans. The lower amount of butter will disappear leaving you with a lovely topping to spoon over the ravioli, and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt. Delicious, and not just on ravioli!

Got Tomatoes?

What do you do when you return from a long midsummer in Colorado to find a lot of tomatoes from your CSA? Marinate them, and eat them as many times a day as possible!

Beyond tomatoes drizzled with oil and vinegar and spiked with salt and pepper, which is also delicious, marinating produces a dish with a little more complexity and possibilities, as well as something that will hold for a few days in the fridge. A search will provide several good jumping-off recipes; I prefer one that doesn’t use olive oil or garlic and includes fresh basil, red wine vinegar, a bland oil, and parsley. 
A variety of cherry, heirloom, and red tomatoes with diced onions, basil, and parsley.
My dressing based on red zinfandel wine vinegar and canola oil.
  • Have it as a salad with fresh bread on the first day, or as a topping on grilled slices of bread. 
  • Spoon it on your baked tofu, or broiled chicken.
  • Remove some of the liquid (there will be a lot of it by the next morning) and marinate cooked beans (white? fava?) in it. Top penne pasta with tomatoes and beans for dinner. 
  • Sticking with the penne idea, top a healthy serving (which means not a lot of pasta!) with a saute of fresh green beans, garlic, and matchstick zucchini, adding tomatoes at the end just to heat through. Parmesan and olive oil required.
  • Add a spoonful of tomatoes off to the side of the pan in which you are cooking breakfast eggs. Really.

I store mine in a glass container in the refrigerator, and they last two days. They might be able to store longer, but we’ll never know.