Inspiration From the Pantry

Standard

I recently finished reading My Pantry by Alice Waters. I picked it up because I was curious about what she keeps on hand. It gives me a little thrill that we stock some of the same things—beans, tahini, yogurt, spice mixes (including za’atar, which I love sprinkled on fried eggs and greens).

It’s unlikely that I’ll start saving apple cores as she does to make my own apple cider vinegar. But after my first season having a vegetable CSA last year, I’ve been collecting ideas for preserving, as well as for using stems and peels and scraps. I made pickles (cucumbers, using Bon Appetit’s brine recipe, and watermelon rind, which is surprisingly good with cheese on whole-grain crackers, and daikon radish). Also sauerkraut. There’s a gallon bag of carrot peels, leek greens, mushroom stems, and those leafy celery tops in my freezer that I’ve been using for stock. I owe it to myself to try Waters’ recipe for salt-preserved kumquats.

The book, along with a comment from a friend about cooking through the odd jars in her pantry, sent me to take inventory. For a week, I based dinner on at least one pantry (or freezer) ingredient. Here’s a list, and the dishes that included them:

  • Panko crumbs: Pan-fried chicken cutlets breaded with panko crumbs. It occurred to me after I made this that it is similar to the chicken schnitzel my mother used to make. Make cutlets from two large chicken breasts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Beat an egg. Dip each cutlet into the egg, then dredge with panko crumbs. Fry in a neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola, turning once. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.
  • Potato rolls, chiles: Lucky Peach Lamb Burgers. In the fall, the CSA put out the last of the chile harvest in a “take all you want” bin. So I did. After a few months in a vacuum-sealed bag in the freezer, they’re too fragile to use raw, but they’re still perfect for cooking. I had the ground lamb in the freezer, too.
  • Red lentils: Masoor Dal with rice. Half the recipe feeds 4-6. It’s less complicated than it looks. And it goes pretty quickly once you’ve made it a couple of times. I served it this time with the pickled watermelon rind in place of chutney.
  • Pesto: Pesto Orechiette with Chicken Sausage. I can never find orechiette, but this recipe is good with any short pasta, (medium shells work well). Also with any Italian-style sausage. I used bulk turkey sausage. The ground meat isn’t pre-cooked, so I sauté it in step 2. This dish nearly finished off the stash of pesto that I made and froze back in September with basil from the CSA.

If you have some extra red lentils, they’re great over a baked potato for lunch. (In fact, the first time I had Masoor Dal, before I knew what it was called, may have been at SpudULike, the British potato restaurant, when I was in college). If you have pesto leftover, spread some on top of a slice of cheese pizza.

 

 

 

 

It’s 7 pm. What’s For Dinner?

Standard

If we lived somewhere like Spain, 7 pm would roll around, and we would have some tapas and not worry about a meal until, oh, 10. And I would have an out when I haven’t exactly planned dinner, or the day hasn’t gone as planned. Instead, I have quesadillas.

I consider quesadillas among the ultimate convenience foods, not just because they’re fast, but also because they’re a great excuse for using up little bits of leftovers; the hamburger no one ate, the deli meat that’s about to spoil, bits of vegetables, whatever. I made one of my favorite versions with left-over pulled pork mixed with a little barbecue sauce, some chopped apple and smoked gouda cheese. Really, they’re open for experiment. But if you plan to have these, as opposed to throwing them together in a starving panic, make a filling out of strips of roasted poblano peppers mixed with sauteed sliced onions.

No quesadilla of mine will ever, apparently, measure up to the ones that our afterschool babysitter used to make. This recipe, for frying them on the stove, uses her method, though. Depending on what else you’re eating with them, and how hungry you are plan on 1-2 quesadillas per person . I usually serve rice  (preferably brown) and a vegetable (something dark and leafy, like broccoli rabe, Swiss chard or kale is nice) as side dishes.

7 O’Clock Quesadillas

Ingredients

Fajita-sized flour tortillas
Shredded cheese. A melty variety, that complements any other fillings you have. I often default to Monterey Jack.
Other fillings if you want
Grapeseed, canola or another relatively flavorless oil
Sour cream, salsa, chopped avocado or guacamole as condiments

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet that’s big enough to fit a tortilla laid flat. When the oil is hot, lay one tortilla flat in the pan (you’ll know the pan is hot enough because the tortilla will sizzle, but it shouldn’t be so hot that the oil pops). Sprinkle about 1/3 cup of cheese on the tortilla, and top with about 1/4 cup of any additional filling on one half of the tortilla. When the cheese has started to melt and the bottom of the tortilla is starting to turn brown and crisp, use a pair of tongs to grab one edge of the tortilla and fold it in half. Remove the folded quesadilla from the pan with the tongs and put it on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.

Repeat until you have enough quesadillas for everyone. Watch the pan as you go, adding more oil if necessary and lowering the heat if the tortillas start to burn.

Put bowls of sour cream, salsa and chopped avocado or guacamole for people to use as condiments. If you have good tomatoes, and a little more time, you can whip up a batch of fresh salsa instead of opening a jar.

If you want to grill the quesadillas instead, use indirect heat, and make a sandwich out of two tortillas: put one on the grill, quickly top it with your fillings and put a second tortilla on top. When the bottom tortilla starts to get crisp (this happens quickly, so don’t leave it alone), flip it carefully with a spatula and tongs, and lightly crisp the other side. Slice it into wedges before serving.

Good Meals in Small Packages

Standard

I have a thing for fillings in dough. Turnovers. Empanadas. Burritos. Cornish pasties (these a traditional lunch of Scandinavian immigrants like my great-grandfather-in law, who mined iron ore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula). But calzones are my current favorite. As easy to make as pizza, but better: every bite is surrounded by crunchy-chewy crust. Also, unlike individual pizzas, I can fit four calzones in my oven, so if I want Swiss chard and roasted peppers in mine, or some cheese other than mozzarella, well, I don’t have to negotiate with anyone about it (the one in the photo is chard and ricotta). It’s also a good way to use up small quantities of leftover vegetables, meat or cold cuts.

Calzones for Everyone

Make some pizza dough. I like Mark Bittman’s (a version here). One recipe makes enough dough for 4 large or 5 medium calzones. You can mix it up in about 5 minutes in a food processor in the morning and let it rise in the refrigerator all day, and bring it to to room temperature before proceeding. (OK, use store-bought dough if you must. But try making it. You won’t be sorry.)

Preheat your oven to 475 F.

Get the fillings ready. Almost any toppings that you like to put on pizza work inside a calzone. It’s best to use cooked vegetables rather than raw, however, or crust can get soggy. We like carmelized onions, strips of roasted red pepper, greens (such as chard or spinach) sauteed with garlic, broccoli, ham, pepperoni, salami, crumbled sausage. Cut any large pieces into bite-sized chunks. If you cook the vegetables in advance, or if they’re left over from another meal, this step takes no time.

Shred, or crumble, your cheese. You can use any cheese you would like on a pizza, but I like ricotta (although it can be runny when baked), chevre or feta more than the usual mozarella.

Tear off some dough and form into a ball slightly bigger than a fist, and shape it into a circle as you would a pizza.

Place the circle on a lightly floured (and clean) counter, cutting board, or your baking pan and push the dough around to fill any holes or very thin spots.

Mound the cheese and other fillings on the bottom half of the circle, leaving some room at the edges (as you would for a pizza). The cheese and fillings blend together nicely if you mix them together first. Use about 3/4 cup filling, or as much as you can fit and still be able to close up the edges. Stretch the top half over the bottom and press the edges together to seal.

Put the calzone carefully on a baking sheet or pizza pan and continue making the remaining calzones

Place the baking pan with the calzones on a rack in the center of the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the pan around and bake for another 5-6 minutes, until the crust is golden. (Note: You can also bake these on a pizza stone, if you have one, or on the grill. If you use a pizza stone, preheat it  when you start preheating the oven, and sprinkle some cornmeal on the stone before you put the calzones on it to prevent sticking. Use tongs to rotate the calzones on the stone halfway through cooking. In the summer, I make calzones on the gas grill. Set the grill on medium–475-500 degrees. Place the calzones directly on the grill and cook for about 4 minutes, rotate with tongs and cook for another 4-5 minutes, until the crust is golden. But pay close attention the first few times you do this, because not all grills are alike. If the calzones start to burn, they’ll burn quickly.).

Serve topped with tomato sauce (or not) and a green salad.

Corn in My Freezer Equals Chili

Standard

Toward the end of October last year, I started to think about how much I’d miss corn on the cob. Nearly every Saturday morning, I’d hover over the ears splayed on a white folding table at the farmer’s market. Usually, they went straight on the grill, wrapped in foil, then rolled on a slab of butter, with a generous shake of salt and pepper.

I didn’t think of hoarding them over the winter until I overheard Darcy, at the farmer’s market, talking with another customer about freezing the cobs: Leave the husk on, she said, pack them into a freezer bag and push the air out. Instead of defrosting them first, remove the husks and drop them directly into a pot of boiling water. And, voila, corn on the cob in January.

My skill at freezing things leaves something to be desired, or else it was in the freezer too long;  the corn straight up didn’t taste that great. It works just fine, however, in a vegetarian chili recipe that I’ve been making, and tweaking, for years.

We had it tonight. Not  just because it’s quick (one of the kids was in a play; I didn’t get home to make dinner until after 6 pm). Also because it’s time to clear the bits of summer and fall produce out the freezer. In addition to the corn, I still have some basil and mint,  a few Habanero peppers, a couple of pounds of cranberries (not sure what I was thinking), half a cup of pesto, as well as some grapefruit I froze before we went away over the holidays because I didn’t want to throw it away. I’ll probably use the basil to enhance a jar of tomato sauce. I can spread the pesto on a sandwich. Some of the cranberries can go into muffins. Habaneros into salsa, or maybe chopped up on pizza. Maybe I can use the mint to flavor tea? Or make a sauce for lamb. Not sure what to do about the grapefruit yet.

Foolproof Veggie Chili (Serves 4-6)
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites. The original calls for cooking the onions and garlic in 1/2 cup water for 5 mins, instead of using oil, which makes the recipe low-fat. And also does not lard it up at the end with cheese and sour cream. But this is what I like.

1 tbl canola or grapeseed oil
2  large yellow onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbl ground cumin
1 tbl ground coriander
1 cup jarred salsa. The spiciness of the salsa will determine the spiciness of the chili
2 green bell peppers
2 15-oz cans beans, drained and rinsed. I use black, pinto, kidney or a mix of them. Really depends on what’s in the pantry.
1 28 oz can tomatoes, with juice. I’ve used whole plum tomatoes, chopped up, diced tomatoes or crushed. Any of these work, though the texture of the final dish will be different. Crushed tomatoes make it thicker than either the whole, chopped, or the diced tomatoes.
2 cups corn (frozen kernels, or 3-4 ears, shucked)
2 medium zucchini or summer squash. Or one of each. (optional)
1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional).
salt & pepper to taste
hot sauce, sour cream, chopped onions, shredded cheese (cheddar or Monterey Jack are good), chopped scallions and/or chopped cilantro for toppings

Heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the onions and garlic, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened. Add the cumin and coriander and stir until the onions and garlic are coated, about 1 minute. Add the green bell peppers and salsa. Stir, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the beans and tomatoes with juices, and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the corn and zucchini, summer squash and/or green beans, if using. Simmer, uncovered, for another 10 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender.

This chili is good served over rice or pasta—especially if you have some left over from another meal. Also, tortilla chips. Leftovers make a great topping for nachos, with some cheese melted on top.

Scavenging

Standard

We did not get a regular grocery shopping trip in last weekend. Our refrigerator is smallish, and our daughter had a seven girls sleeping over on Saturday night. Only enough room in the fridge for party food. We never got back to the store once the party was over, so this week has been a bit of a scavenger hunt: what do I already have, and what on earth can I do with it?

Fortunately, along with the chips, three kinds of salsa, five kinds of ice cream and three kinds of sundae toppings that my husband came home with, he also bought salmon. So we had Salmon Roasted in Butter on Sunday night, with sides of steamed green beans and some broccoli left over from a couple of days earlier, when I made quesadillas.

Monday night, I made penne with meatballs. Had a box of penne. Had the ground beef, because we’d picked up our month’s meat share on Thursday. And had a can of crushed tomatoes that I’d opened by mistake a couple of days earlier. Plus most of a carton of fresh basil, which I bought too much of, because it seemed like a good deal (the recipe, as I made it, is below)

Since it’s a school vacation week here, we took the kids out for dinner on Tuesday. Last night (Wednesday), I fried some tofu slices seasoned with salt, pepper and a little cayenne pepper, and served with brown rice and kale (what I didn’t use in last week’s sweet potato and kale stew). I  sautéed the kale with some chopped garlic and a very imprecise splash of soy sauce. And threw the whole thing together in a bit of a rush, because we were trying to get out to Les Miserables. You can cook the tofu as is in grapeseed oil, heated on high in a wok, or dredge it in some rice flour, or arrowroot powder, to give it a crust. I usually have some arrowroot powder around for this purpose, but I was out of it. Tried cornstarch instead, but it took on a flavor that masked the seasonings. I don’t think I’ll do that again.

Tonight, veggie chili from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites. Tomorrow, I’m going to roast a chicken, potatoes and carrots.

 Scavenger Meatballs, Pasta and Tomato Sauce (serves 4)

I know some people have a real recipe for meatballs. Alice Waters has a great one in The Art of Simple Food which I follow sometimes (hers uses fresh bread crumbs soaked in milk, and some grated Parmesan cheese in the mix). But in fact, pasta and meatballs is a sort of perfect meal to make when you’re in a hurry and you need to make something that’s forgiving of ingredients.

 1 box penne, or some other pasta, cooked al dente

Sauce
1 tbl olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, or, to taste, finely chopped
1/2 a green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp oregano or, to taste
some chopped basil leaves (about 1/4 cup. Parsley is good, too)

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the bell pepper and saute until it starts to soften. Stir in the can of tomatoes and oregano, and simmer until the meatballs are done. Add the fresh basil right before serving.

Meatballs

1 lb or so ground beef
1 small onion, grated
1 egg
1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs (homemade, from stale bread. I keep a container in the freezer)
1 tsp dried oregano
some chopped fresh basil (about 2 tbl)
salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Put the meatball ingredients together in a bowl and mix well with your hands. Shape into meatballs of a size that appeals to you. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, using tongs to turn them halfway through so they brown sort of evenly (we’re getting dinner on the table quickly here).

I know many people cook their meatballs at least partially in sauce, but I’ve got into the habit of serving them separately because different family members have different sauce preferences. I do, however, stir the sauce into the pasta before serving. Top it all with Parmesan cheese.

Complete the meal with a salad and/or a green vegetable. I like green beans. But then again, I’ll eat green beans with nearly anything.

If You Give a Kid a Cookbook

Standard

When we renovated our kitchen a few years ago, one critical question was where to store the cookbooks. We ended up building a shelf into the island, where we do most of our prep when we cook. In practice, this means there are always cookbooks (and also cooking magazines) on the counter. This morning, when my daughter came downstairs for breakfast, the binder where I keep magazine clippings was there, open to the recipe for the sweet potato and kale stew we had last night.

She doesn’t like kale. Her brother doesn’t like sweet potatoes. But my husband and I do, and so sometimes, they have to eat what we like, even if it comes with a side of complaining. Especially when it’s food that we think they should love. It’s not so important to me that they like the turkey liver mousse I make on Thanksgiving.

She started flipping pages. Pointed to a recipe for cucumber soup. “How come you’ve never made this?”  A couple of pages later: “Can you make orange chicken? How come there are all these things here you’ve never made?”

This is a change, from asking for what’s familiar. Better run with it.

What we’re eating this week:

Sunday night we broiled some steaks rubbed with salt and pepper, which we served with skin-on mashed potatoes. I also tried a saute of chickpeas and spinach, tweaking the seasonings in a recipe I have. I’d never made it the prescribed way, though, so didn’t really know exactly what I was doing to it. You know how some experiments go. On Monday we went out for Greek food. And last night, I made the sweet potato and kale stew, but with mixed olives and served over brown rice and topped with feta.

For tonight, to thread the needle between late afternoon and early evening lessons, appointments and sports practice, I’m defrosting some chili left over from a couple of weeks ago (recipe soon, I promise) and will serve that with a green salad and some bread.

On Thursday, it’ll be cheese quesadillas with refried beans, rice and, I’m thinking, steamed broccoli. ‘Cause we like broccoli. And it’s easy. And I need easy right now.

Friday, we’ll have chicken soup. Last weekend my daughter had to cook a meal to earn a Girl Scout badge. She chose sweet and sour chicken. The CSA packages chicken legs whole, and we only used the thighs, so I had six drumsticks and nothing to do with them. I baked them and put them in the freezer. There may not be quite enough meat for four servings, though, so I think soup is the best option. I’m having a sudden craving for Thai, but I would need to get lemongrass and some other ingredients.

Saturday we’re hosting a sleepover. Stay tuned.

What to Eat in a Blizzard

Standard

A meaty stew, because it’s cold outside. And hot dogs. Because you wish it wasn’t. And in between, French toast, because you want to indulge before you grab the shovel.

For Friday night, the stew: lamb, carrots, prunes and pearl onions seasoned with ginger, cinnamon, garlic and cumin (see the photo). A Moroccan tagine of sorts, served with a loaf of whole-grain sourdough, which filled us as we watched the Blizzard of 2013 fill up the driveway.

On Saturday, French toast for breakfast. And hot dogs for dinner: A brainstorm, inspired by cold fingers and sore shoulders. A meal that reminds us of summer and being outdoors. Our first idea was to roast the hot dogs in our wood-burning fireplace, but the fireplace is small and we didn’t want to risk a grease fire. Instead, we broiled the hot dogs and ate them with steamed green beans, baked beans from a can and tater tots. Afterwards, we roasted marshmallows in the fireplace and made s’mores while we streamed episodes of Fawlty Towers.

I’d planned the lamb stew, sort of, earlier in the week, roughly following the method, and some of the suggested ingredients, in a master stew recipe by Molly Stevens in the February/March 2013 issue of Fine Cooking. I already had the leg of lamb, as well as the carrots, prunes, spices, chickpeas, wine and chicken stock. We did not have hot dogs, buns, green beans, or, for that matter, marshmallows. But the small grocery store/farmstand about a mile and a half from us was open, and they did.

Lamb Stew with Carrots, Pearl Onions and Prunes

I made this stew for the first time on Friday, and so some of the measurements may need a little adjusting. But it’s stew, so if you use a little more of this or a little less of that, it will probably be just as good. I might pick up the seasonings a bit next time, and try a dry wine to counteract the sweetness of the prunes. It takes about an hour to prepare before putting it in the oven, then about 2 hours to braise while you go do something else. Originally, I was going to try this in the slow cooker but since I knew I would be home all day, and I had a lot of work to do in the morning, I opted to wait until late afternoon to start it and cooked it in the oven. Serves 4-5

1 leg of lamb, about 2.5 lbs, boned and cut into 1.5-inch chunks and trimmed of fat (or approximately 2 lbs lamb stew meat).
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3  slices of ginger root, about 1/8-inch thick, peeled (I had a wide knob of it, at least 2 inches in diameter. If yours is narrower, you might want to try 4-6 slices)
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 c white wine (I had an open bottle of Gewürztraminer, which is somewhat sweet. But dry would be better.)
2 c chicken stock
1 c water
2 c pearl onions, peeled
2 c carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 c whole prunes
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas
Juice from one lemon
Some chopped parsley (about 1/3 c) to sprinkle on top
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Use a dutch oven, or another heavy bottomed, ovenproof pan with high sides and a lid (I used a 2-quart size). Put a rack in the bottom 1/3 of your oven and preheat the oven to 325 F.

Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in the pan over medium high heat. Dry the lamb pieces, season with salt and brown them in batches, a third at a time, adding up to 1 tbsp of oil and adjusting the heat if necessary so the meat and drippings don’t burn. Transfer the browned meat to a plate.

Pour off all but 1 tbsp of oil from the pan and add the chopped onion and celery. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the onions and celery soften. Add the sliced ginger, cumin, cinnamon, garlic and a few grinds of pepper, and stir for a minute or two until you can smell the spices.

Add wine to the pan and bring to a boil, until it is reduced by half. Add the stock and water, and bring to a boil, then add the meat and any juices back into the pan. At this point, you’re going to put it in the oven for a while. Molly Stevens suggests covering the surface of the stew with a large piece of parchment that you crumple up and then flatten out again (it should be big enough to come up the sides of the pan. I did this, and it does keep the stew moist. Cover the pan and cook for an hour.

Add the carrots, peeled onions and prunes. If too much liquid has evaporated, despite the parchment, add a little more stock or water (I forgot the water initially and added it when I added it during this step. You want enough liquid in the pan to almost cover the meat and vegetables). Cover the surface again with parchment and cook for another hour.

At this point, the meat should be easy to cut with a fork. Add the chickpeas and return the pan to the oven to heat through, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Stir in the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle parsley on top.

French Toast

Almost everyone has a recipe for this. But here’s mine. Challah, a traditional Jewish bread made with eggs, is my favorite.

A few 1-inch thick slices of challah bread (2-3 per person)
Some eggs (2 large for every 4-5 slices)
1/4 cup milk per 2 eggs
a dash of vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 tsp grated orange zest (optional)
unsalted butter

Beat the eggs, milk, vanilla an optional orange zest in a medium bowl. Melt the butter over medium heat in a skillet large enough to hold a couple of slices of bread at a time. Dip each slice of bread in the egg mixture so it soaks through, and put it in the pan. Adjust the heat so that the surface of the bread toasts slowly and doesn’t burn. When the first side is golden brown, turn it over and toast the other side. The egg mixture should cook enough so that the inside of the bread isn’t soggy.

Serve with maple syrup, or topped with confectioners sugar, with some fruit on the side.