If You Give a Kid a Cookbook

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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.

Beaten and Squashed

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You would think that by now I’d have a better-developed sense of time. As in, how much of it I really have. As in, I probably should not have bought either the beets last week, or the sunshine squash the week before that, because I got all the way to Friday I hadn’t had time to do anything with them despite my intentions. I did manage the beet salad yesterday, finally, after roasting the beets on Friday (that’s the salad in the not-so-wonderful photo above. My method, below). The squash was the real mistake, because I put off cooking it until it wasn’t going to be good to eat much longer. So I peeled and cubed and roasted the squash, too  to have with dinner. As a result, we didn’t eat until almost 8 pm. And we were hungry before then. Now, I have leftover squash, but not enough to serve as a standalone side dish again. It’s going in the freezer until I can figure out what to do with it. But at least you can roast multiple vegetables in the oven at the same time.

Tonight: My daughter is working on the Girl Scout “Simple Meals” badge with her troop, and the girls each have to plan and cook a meal at home. She wants to make something with chicken, and we have some chicken legs in the freezer. She’ll be figuring out what to do with them this afternoon.
Monday: Perch was the least expensive fish at the farmer’s market yesterday, so I bought about a pound and a half. We have some potatoes, so I’m going to play a bit with a Mark Bittman recipe for Roasted Monkfish with Crispy Potatoes, Olives and Bay Leaves. I’ve never actually made this dish with monkfish. I don’t currently have enough bay leaves. But I do have quite a lot of fresh dill that needs to be used up. I don’t think the dill would stand up to the heat in the oven, but might be good sprinkled on top at the end.
Tuesday: Might really  make calzones or pizza this time, after having them in the plan for a couple of weeks now. The first time I thought I’d make them, we had lots of leftover chili instead. And yesterday, instead of pizza, we had an onion extravaganza. My son found a recipe for some French-inspired onion soup, and he asked me to teach him how to make it. To go with the soup,  I (once again, blithe to the time constraints) decided to try pissaladiere, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is sort of like a pizza, but with an egg in the crust, topped with caramelized onions, stewed tomatoes, olives, anchovies and no cheese. It was delicious, but wasn’t done until about 20 minutes after everyone had finished the soup (there was also salad).
Wednesday: I am going out to dinner with a client. The family gets take out.
Thursday: There’s a recipe for broiled tofu with a couscous salad in my Simply Ming One Pot Meals book that looks promising, though I’m going to make the salad more of a winter salad somehow. If I freeze that leftover squash for a few days, I can use it as a substitute for the the summer squash, which isn’t in season right now.
Friday: I have a leg of lamb in the freezer that wants to be a stew. Maybe with prunes or apricots. And which I could make in the slow cooker . Although I need a recipe. And I’ll need to bone the lamb, which is one downside of the CSA—they don’t provide boneless cuts of anything very often.

Roasted Beet and Chevre Salad
Inspired by the Roasted Beet Salad in Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health. It’s designed to be flexible. I’ve written the ingredients list for a single serving* so you can make this just for yourself for lunch with a slice of crusty bread (I like rye bread with it), or multiply as needed.

2 large beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
a little salt and ground pepper
salad greens, about 2 cups per serving
1/3 cup of Chevre per serving, sliced into 3 or 4 pieces
a few pecans. If you’re not as lazy as I am,  toast them first.
some citrusy salad dressing. I whisked together 1/2 cup olive oil, 4 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 cloves of garlic chopped, 1/2 tsp of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper.

To roast the beets: Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel the beets and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss the cubes with oil and a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Spread the beets in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes. Stir the beets and roast for another 10-15 minutes. The cubes should be tender, not crunchy.

Let the beets cool, then toss them in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of salad dressing. Wash and dry the greens, and toss them separately with dressing. Arrange the greens on a plate, and top with a half cup to 1 cup of beets. Distribute the Chevre slices and pecans here and there around the plate.

*I bought two large beets at the market. If you are making this just for yourself, this amount provides enough beets for three or four servings. If you don’t want leftover beets, roast one medium-sized beet tossed with a teaspoon or so of oil and salt and pepper to taste, and when they’re cool, toss with a teaspoon or two of dressing.

Carrots, Cabbage and Kale

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IMG_0275 - Version 2By this point every winter, my cooking whipsaws between attempts to evoke summer or tropical weather (for instance, last week’s beer-battered fish) and comfort foods. Those comfort foods include ingredients such as cabbage, root vegetables and beef that were at the heart of many of the Central and Eastern European-inspired dishes I ate growing up. Yesterday’s forage at the farmers market included carrots and kale, as well as beets and potatoes (the cabbage is left over from last week’s borscht). I also picked up some cherry tomatoes, more scrod, and smelts—which the woman in line ahead of me convinced me to try (just pan fry them, she said). They’re tiny, and remind me (by their looks, anyway) of herring.

Also on today’s agenda: beef stock, and a new batch of yogurt. Our CSA, Chestnut Farms, had beef knuckles for sale, and I bought enough for several pots of stock, though I’m going to do only one today (more about making stock and yogurt at some point soon).

For dinners this week, I’m thinking:

Today: Having fresh scrod again is as good a reason as any to try Crisp Cod with Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce, which I found in my binder of magazine clippings. Will serve this with rice, and bok choy or maybe chard (but really, bok choy, probably).
Monday: Green chicken enchiladas, with rice, refried black beans and salad. To use up leftover chicken from Friday night. I’ll use jarred salsa verde this time. Can’t take the time to make it from scratch this week.
Tuesday: Spicy chickpea stew. Essentially the recipe for Tunisian Vegetable Stew from The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home book. I’ll be able to finish up that head of cabbage here.
Wednesday: Our schedule for the day leaves little margin for error, which suggests something in the slow-cooker is our best bet. Chili again, this time with ground beef. And something. Cornbread? Salad? Some veggie side?
Thursday: Another of the Moosewood Collective Books, The Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health has a recipe for Orange-Glazed Tofu on Greens, which will use the kale.
Friday: Meatballs with ground lamb, couscous and, to use the cherry tomatoes, this Shaved Fennel, Roasted Tomato and Pistachio Salad with Yogurt Dressing from TheKitchn.
Saturday: Perhaps pizza

I’m going to make the smelts for lunch today. At some point this week, when I have time, I’ll roast the beets for a salad. Otherwise, they’ll keep, as will the potatoes, for a bit. We’ll probably end up snacking on any carrots that don’t end up in the stock.

Cooking Resolutions

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IMG_0929Welcome to The Whole Kumquat! January isn’t over, and so I feel justified making some cooking resolutions for 2013:

1. Really plan ahead. We’re off to a busy year. Spontaneity is fun, but too much of it leads to frozen burritos for dinner. My goal is to post menus weekly. They may change, but at least I’ll have an answer when I’m asked what we’re eating.

2. Focus on local. We’re getting most of our meat from a CSA through Chestnut Farms in Hardwick, Mass. Now that the local farmers market is operating year round, I’m trying to build the weekly meal plan around what I find there. (Maybe this will satisfy my need for spontaneity, sort of.) Right now the market has mainly squash, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and winter greens, so I will have to supplement with some vegetables, like peppers, and all our fruit, from the supermarket. There’s a vendor at the farmers market selling locally-caught fish and shellfish as well, though I have to get there early to snag what I like. Got some lovely looking scrod yesterday and made beer-battered fish, which I served with coleslaw, the last of the buttercup squash I made last week and a lettuce/tomato/cucumber salad.

3. Get everyone involved. My husband and I have been cooking together for more than 20 years. Now that the kids are, or nearly are, teenagers, it’s time to advance their kitchen skills beyond brownies, fried eggs and toasted bagels (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those). I’d like us to do more cooking together. The other day my son asked if, instead of going to camp for the entire summer, we could spend a couple of weeks learning how to make sushi and bake things. I don’t think we necessarily need to wait.

Now, to the menu. Mainly, I’m thinking about dinners right now:

Tonight: I’m not a huge football fan. But the Patriots in the playoffs provides a good excuse to make some slow-cooked beef chili. I’m tweaking a recipe I found online and not sure of the results yet. We have some pinto beans, sour cream, cheese and onions as toppings. And some salad leftover from last night, too.
Monday: A tofu stir-fry, maybe?
Tuesday: White Bean and Chorizo Stew with Spinach  (from Bon Appetit), over rice
Wednesday: A good night for cheese quesadillas, probably. With leftover stew if there is any
Thursday: Calzones
Friday: Something with chicken

And since I found a small head of cabbage at the market, and I have a couple of beets in the fridge, I’m thinking of making some borscht that I can have  for lunch during the week.