Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kitchen snapshot

I love taking the macro lens, close-in shots. Not only because you can see every drop of sauce and bit of garlic.

But also because, when you zoom out a bit, you can see that I cook in the middle of this kind of chaos.

Toddler special-treat lunch of ravioli, garlic, butter, and zucchini. Homemade playdough smashed in the pestle with fennel seeds. Leftover banana in a little bowl. Crumbs. Life.

It ain't pretty, but it is beautiful.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Angst with a side of cake

I used to write a lot. A lot. All the time.

It's so hard now, thinking while a little voice upstairs calls out regularly, "Quiet time over, mama? quiet time over mama?" The 50th time, my head explodes and all my words disappear.


I had one of those "wait a second, these aren't my people" flashes this weekend. We went to a party swarming with kids and pumpkins. I made a Deborah Madison cake with pears we scrounged freegan-style from the unoccupied rental next door.

And we took most of the cake home. I guess it looked weird next to the grocery store carrot cake. I was all, "who are these people, forsaking my monochrome lump of homeliness?"

I know I sound like a bitch no one would want to invite over to dinner.

But like everyone, I suppose, I walk around feeling like an alien. Sometimes it's lonely being so different.

I mean, seriously, this cake was nothing but fucking awesome. No one got it.

And on some level I really believe that if I can find the ones who will devour a pear-almond upside down cake—not Himalayan sea salt fussy, not ultra-sweet Costco cake—I will have finally found my tribe. And we'll sit around and drink cocktails and talk dirty and knit, and I'll feel like I've come home.

Then W. and I came home, tumbled the limp sleepy kid into bed, sat in a living room heavy with the scent of white lilies left on the doorstep by a good friend, and ate cake. And rued the frugal decision not to pick up a bottle of Black Label.

And realized that I have come home.

(My tribe is small. But I really did sit around and drink wine and knit and talk occasionally dirty with a few good girlfriends last night. So I'm counting my blessings and trying to enjoy the spark of being just a tad off typical.)

Pear-Almond Upside-Down Cake
(adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison)

3 T. butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 medium-sized pears
1/4 cup almond paste

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. almond extract
3 eggs at room temp.
2/3 cup almond meal (they sell this at Trader Joe's, or you can grind blanched almonds yourself)
1 cup flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put the butter and brown sugar in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and heat on medium until the sugar is melted. Remove from heat. Peel, core, and slice the pears about 1/4 inch thick. Overlap the slices in concentric circles on top of the melty sugar/butter. Break the almond paste into pea-sized pieces and sprinkle over pears.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts, then the eggs, one at a time.

Stir in nuts and other dry ingredients. Spoon over the fruit and smooth out gently.

Bake in the center of oven until golden and springy, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in pan a few minutes.

Now the tricky part. Put a big round cake plate upside down over the skillet. With potholders protecting your hands, grab the plate and the skillet firmly and flip over with authority. (This is easy for me to say. W. always does this for me. I'm chicken.)

If any pears are left in the skillet, just transfer them to the top of the cake and pretend the whole thing came out perfect.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Summer's last gasp

We've managed to save most of our garden from the six bucks roaming the neighborhood, and we're greedily harvesting the last of the cherry tomatoes now. After the glut of tomato flesh, they still seem so valuable in their fleetingness.

This is what I'm doing to savor bites of summer in the depths of winter.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

sweet cherry tomatoes
olive oil

Cut your cherry tomatoes in half, and crowd cut side up on sheet trays. Drizzle with a mixture of olive oil, crushed garlic, and kosher salt. Roast in a 200 degree oven until wrinkled, but not completely dried out, a couple hours.

Cool on trays, snacking obsessively on the sweet coins of tomato goodness. Put the trays into the freezer until the tomatoes are frozen. Scrape into Mason jars with a spatula, cap, and put back in the freezer.

Sprinkle straight onto salads--they will defrost quickly.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Roasted cherry tomatoes

I know I probably sound like a real asshole complaining about so many tomatoes. In a year of tomato blight.

Sorry. California is rocking the tomatoes this year.

I've got cherry tomatoes in my ears, as the 2-year-old likes to say.

I used to say up the wazoo, but I don't that that would play well in preschool.

Here's a slightly fussy, but utterly delicious way to use up surplus Sweet 100s. It's based on a recipe from Amanda Hesser and her Cooking for Mr. Latte.

I know everyone loves to hate on this book--I do too. But seriously, bitch though she may be (or not), her recipes WORK. And I'm easy. That's all I ask of a girl, that her recipes work.

I'm tempted to try this one with whole cherry tomatoes, to save myself the fiddle-y cutting. But it's so good as is, I haven't been brave enough to risk failure.

Pasta with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Corn

cherry tomatoes (a lot, or a couple baskets)
olive oil
a handful of bread crumbs
a handful of Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper
2-4 ears of corn
1 pound pasta (Ms. Hesser recommends penne)

Preheat oven to 425. Heat a pot of salted water for boiling corn and pasta.

Halve your cherry tomatoes and set them, cut side up, in a rimmed sheet pan or roasting pan. I drop them in the pan as I go, and stop when I've packed it full. Really jammed in there full.

Dump a lot of olive oil on top of tomatoes. More than you think. The recipe calls for 1/2 cup for 1-1/2 pounds tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Evenly sprinkle breadcrumbs and grated Pecorino Romano on top.

Roast in the oven until tomatoes soften and ones near the edges of the pan turn dark brown, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, husk your corn. Submerge it in your boiling water, turn the heat under the pot off, and let sit about 3 minutes.

Remove corn from water and shave kernels off the cobs into a large serving bowl using a knife. Scrape the denuded cobs again with the back of your knife blade to get the milky goodness that remained behind.

Boil your pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving some pasta water.

Mix pasta and roasted tomatoes with corn, adding reserved pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce, if needed. (I toss some of the water into my roasting pan and scrape up the browned tomato bits with a spoon. Then I loosen the pasta sauce with that. It's one more step, but I hate to let any caramelized deliciousness go to waste.) Add more salt, if necessary.

Serve with more grated cheese at the table.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Freezing herbs

I always do a basil pesto (without the cheese) to freeze in ice cube trays. I then transfer to freezer bags for winter storage. I add the Parmesan after defrosting. It just doesn't freeze well.

The cubes are the perfect size for dropping in minestrone or flavoring a tomato pasta sauce.

I also freeze small glass jars of pesto with more olive oil floating on top--enough pesto for a pound of pasta. These jars keep better than the cubes, but you have to use the whole bit at once.

I coarsely chop/puree Thai basil in the food processor and freeze in ice cube trays topped off with a bit of water to protect from freezer burn. Then store in freezer bags the same way as pesto. I was planning to do the same with oregano and cilantro this year.

Rosemary and sage, in our climate, are pretty much always on tap.

So I thought I had the preserving herbs thing down--without resorting to drying.

But this blew my mind.

Parsley logs.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Preserving tomatoes

11 hours and 12 quarts later...

Plus some sauce, but not as much as you'd think.

I guess there's a reason plum tomatoes are recommended--we had about 10 times as much juice and seeds as finished product. My compost pile is soaked through with tomato gore.

I know we could have canned the juice too, but it was just. too. much.

We ended up with large jars packed full of tomatoes and not too much juice. It took careful peeling and seeding, a thorough squeezing, and a hot pack. We absolutely did not need to add additional water or juice. After a little pressing, our tomatoes were completely covered in their own juice.

I've made some decisions about how to best deal with the summer surplus of tomatoes.

This is it:

If you have a chest freezer, freezing, hands down. You can put your tomatoes whole on a cookie sheet in the freezer. When they're hard, transfer to plastic bags.

In the winter, when you pull them out to defrost, their skins slip right off and cores are easily cut off. You have to deal with a bit of hassle later down the line, but you skip the days and days of canning in the summer. The texture isn't as wonderful as canned whole tomatoes, but whatevs. Throw those suckers in a soup or chili, and no one will know the difference.

Unfortunately, I don't have a chest freezer.

But those glass jars of tomatoes look lovely on my cupboard shelves. And a day and late night of progressively more delirious tomato-spattered hilarity with a couple good girlfriends is never a bad thing.

I am still freezing the sauces: lazy tomato sauce, enchilada sauce, tomato puree.

If they are packed as above, they stack neatly and keep well.

Don't be tempted, as I always am, to fill the freezer bags too full. If they are thin, you can break off a sliver of sauce and close up the bag again. (Then use up in the next couple weeks—freezer burn sets in fast once you open a bag.) If you overfill, you have to defrost an entire bag to get a bit of enchilada sauce for a wet burrito.

I'm also planning on sundried tomatoes and my mom's sundried tomato paste, which goes a long way in a winter stew.

Friday, July 24, 2009

It's a little overwhelming...

...and this is only a portion of what we are dealing with tomorrow. Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce for three families.

Our veggie CSA let us scrounge their rows for tomatoes this morning--they have so many that it's "all you can carry" organic tomatoes on pickup day. What they charged us to pick about 6 huge boxes was so embarrassingly little that I won't even say.

I've heard canning is big right now. It's good to know that the stars have aligned—as they do periodically—such that my routines have coincided with what's cool.

I've canned since I was a kid. This year, I'm teaching my friends to do it too. There's something about the steam, the sweat, the chatter, the kids and families running through the house, the finished jars cooling in neat lines. It's lovely.

But I do have to say that canning is not a good way to save money if you have to buy your produce full price or if you just hop on what's trendy for one year. We get our jars at WinCo (a discount grocery store) for about $7.50 a dozen, with lids and rings. Cheap, but that's still an investment up front, especially compared to freezer bags.

We get our pickling vegetables from our own gardens. We get peaches and tomatoes from friends and in bulk. We pick blackberries for free down the road.

Giving away those precious jars of jam for Christmas makes it even more cost-effective.

But it's work. If you factor in your labor costs, forget it.

For us, it's a lifestyle. We'd rather stand over a hot stove or pick a hundred pounds of tomatoes before work on a Friday morning than work overtime in an office. We like turning excess into a stocked pantry. We like convincing our friends that the intimate connection with our farmers and the soil our food grows in will enrich their lives.

(Bonus: Our farmers are cute. Agricultural eye candy.)

* * *
Our peaches were no gold-medal winners. We had jars of syrup with peaches floating at the top, exposed the air. Not so pretty.

Still delicious, so the agony of defeat is not so bitter.

But we're trying to figure out how to pack those tomatoes in more tightly. Wish us luck.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Somehow, I thought 75 pounds of peaches would be manageable. There were five of us after all, crammed into a gallery kitchen while the rest of the families watched the Tour de France and ate pizza.

I didn't factor in the endless runs to the store for more ice, sugar, lemons, jars, whatever. I didn't factor in the time it would take for 50 pounds of chopped peaches to simmer themselves into jam without pectin.

That classic advice not to double canning recipes? I laughed in the face of expertise and timed the recipes by 10. No mere doubling here.

Holy 9 hours in the kitchen, Batman!

I did discover that I suck at the whole check-your-jam's-jelling-point-with-a-plate-in-the-freezer thing. You know how this jam has reached it's jelling point? It spits.

The simmering bubbles get slower and bigger, and when you stir the jam, scraping the spoon along the bottom of the pan, you see pan for a split second. The liquid doesn't rush back around the spoon like water--it slides back, thicker.

And then it hisses spits little bits of hot jam, angrily. I have a collection of little round burns on my hands to prove it.

The jam was ready. And awesome.

Also on the the agenda were pickles and canned peaches in ginger syrup (above). Next round? Tomatoes and tomato sauce and salsa.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dutch baby

When the toddler gets a little out of hand, I can growl, "We're eating babies for breakfast. That's right. BABIES!"

Delicious with lemon juice squeezed over the top and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Washed down with coffee.

We make a little sidecar for the kid:

We use a recipe for Big Apple Pancake from an old Gourmet magazine as a guide, but add all kinds of fruit. Strawberry isn't actually my favorite. I think apricot and blueberries might be. The original is awesome in winter.


And before I jump into the recipe, let me just clarify my stance on unsalted vs. salted butter.

I don't give a fuck.

Seriously, I don't know why so many cooks get so worked up about salted butter.

I like salty butter on my toast, so it's what I have in the fridge.

I keep track of work schedules and the daycare center closures and doctor's appointments and when the dog next gets her heartworm meds and a complicated orchid fertilization schedule and on and on and on.

I don't need to regulate butter usage on top of it all: "No, no, that butter's for baking. Use THIS one." I think my husband's head would explode. He still hasn't recovered from that time he snacked on the crust of bread that I was saving for that night's onion soup dinner.

And I cried.

Because holy crap, I was looking forward to that soup with the toasty bread.

Poor guy.

Anyway, back to babies.

Dutch Baby with Fruit
--based on recipe from Gourmet, Nov. 2004
--serves 2

1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour (white or whole wheat pastry)
4 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
sliced peaches or apricots, halved strawberries, frozen blueberries (about a cup of fruit)
lemon wedges and powdered sugar

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F. Put butter into 10-inch cast iron skillet and put in oven to melt.

While butter is melting, dump milk, flour, eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt into a blender. Swirl butter around skillet to coat sides and bottom. Add about 2 T. melted butter to blender, leaving the rest in the skillet. Blend batter until smooth.

Place fruit in one layer in hot buttered skillet. It won't cover the bottom completely--if it does, you have too much fruit and will end up with a juicy mess of breakfast.

Pour batter over fruit.

Put skillet in oven. Bake until pancake is puffed and golden, about 18 minutes (depending on amount of fruit).

Serve immediately with lemon wedges and powered sugar.

Friday, July 3, 2009

When left to my own devices

It's rare that I get a meal alone. A real meal at home, not leftovers packed into a Mason jar and eaten on the bench outside my office.

When I do eat alone, it's simple and utterly personal. For dinner, spaghetti with butter and garlic.

For lunch, like today, a fried in butter grilled Swiss cheese sandwich. Dipped in "rooster sauce." With a heaping mass of homemade sauerkraut on the side.

I scarfed it down so fast I didn't take a picture.

I agree, you don't need a picture. It's obscene enough already that I shared. But dude, look at this. I'm not alone.

For dessert? Coffee and back to work from home via laptop.

Friday, June 19, 2009

BLT pasta, with avocados

I'm cheating a bit on this one, I know, opening a can of tomatoes from Costco instead of waiting for the organic goodness of fresh summer fruit. But good lord, this is delicious.

I couldn't wait.

This is one of those things we make a lot, without measuring and with constant variation. In fact, there is really only one rule:

Use more olive oil, salt, and bacon than you think you need. A lot more.

BLT Pasta

Mix the following into a large bowl (big enough for pasta too):

about 4 large tomatoes, chopped
2 avocados, chopped
a handful of basil leaves, roughly torn
a couple handfuls of arugula, roughly torn (or skip it)
a half a sweet onion, slivered ultra-thin (or thin slices of green onion)
2 pressed garlic cloves (or chopped green garlic or garlic scapes)
a couple good glugs olive oil
juice of half a lemon

Cook 1 pound pasta until al dente. While pasta is cooking, fry up some bacon. For this recipe, I avoid the bacon flipping altogether—I cut it up into strips with kitchen shears and then saute in a cast iron pan.

Drain pasta and mix with sauce. Toss and serve topped with bacon strips and crumbled blue cheese.

*Make-ahead note: This sauce is none the worse for wear after having sat on the counter all afternoon while you played in the sprinklers.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Quinoa child

One of the hardest parts of parenting for me is letting the 2-year-old DO, not jumping in and fussing over how she does it.

Flour all over the floor, pants on backwards, bubble wands held sideways, balancing acts gone wrong--every bit of my parenting being strains towards jumping in and fixing. I manage to restrain myself most of the time.

Because look what she does when we give her the chance.

She asks for a bowl, a wooden spoon, some playdough. For pinto beans, garbanzos, orange lentils, then quinoa. All by name. She makes pretend dinner alongside papa, who is making actual dinner.

She hardly spills at all. Then she climbs down from her stool and asks for the vacuum to clean up stray beans.

After she's in bed, papa and I actually clean up the stray beans.

It's worth it.


Other nights, she winds around our legs screaming "HOOOOLLLLD YOUUUUU" while we try to saute. Ahhh, two!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Local love

We eat seasonally and locally. We are not one of those trendy restaurants* with the "we buy local and organic produce whenever possible" tagline on their menus. I've worked at some of those, and found that cost or inconvenience too often override the declared intent.

But at home, we are authentic**, and pretty quiet about it. We try to honor our bodies, our community, our soil, our beliefs, and our neighbors--and we try to shut up about that with our friends.

Instead of the evangelism, we dish out food.

We try to hook the devoted grocery store shoppers on green garlic, local lamb, fresh tomatoes. We try to make them part of the loop--to make explicit that connection: soil, water, seeds, spirit, farmer, food, table...

And if they want a little of the joy in their own lives, well, we've done something right.

I imagine, those of you out there with more traditional faiths than mine, that this is a familiar feeling.

This recipe--another version of the classic asparagus/egg combo--is spring. Easy and epic. Try it now, before summer is in full swing and asparagus is a memory.

Don't you dare use grocery store asparagus in November or jumbo-pack eggs for this one. It is largely unadorned and depends on freshness.

*Ah, restaurants. Oven-branded forearms, coke and testosterone, bands of misfits united against the unsuspecting customer. I get nostalgic every once in a while.

**Authentic, not perfect. We all snack on bananas from Trader Joe's. We buy potatoes and onions and garlic and citrus all year. Other than that, each season brings a new, eagerly awaited treat: Asparagus and favas and onion scapes. Peaches and tomatoes. Hot chilies and tomatillos. Winter squash and escarole.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Holy crap CSAs, with the sugar snaps and snows and shellings! We've done salads (potato and green) and stirfries and snacks and shelling-to-freeze. We've done pasta with ricotta and bacon and carmelized onions and sugar snaps.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Self, with gin

Almost summer here, and hot hot. So...

...naked baby hammock swinging.
...gin and tonics.

...lounge pants the color of a cold cold Southside.
...barbecues of lamb kabobs and flatbread and tzatziki that I enjoyed without the camera.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Baked eggs

In the past week, I have
  • hit two major deadlines at work, barely
  • finished a final project for my graphic design class
  • had our childcare provider in the hospital
  • seen my checking account hit $9
  • called the pediatrician on an early weekend morning about a scary vaccination reaction
  • experienced our first two-year-old public meltdown while in line with a cart of fabric cut to order (stranger reaction was equal parts cold, cold judgement and the kind of sympathy that brings me to tears)
  • had three diapers fail to contain my child's monster pees, each one while she was sleeping on MY bed
  • caught puke in my hands
Yes, a shitload of screw you from the universe.

At least there were eggs. Baked with radish leaves and onion scapes and Parmesan and lots of butter and cream. With home-baked bread (yes, like the famous no-knead--with a more whole-grain modification of dough stored in the fridge). And potatoes fried in duck fat.

And we count our blessings.

It's hard to see when you're covered in puke or are trying to hold on to 27 pounds of screaming, scratching, squirming child while pulling out your debit card. Or when you are crossing $2 items off your grocery list. Or when you have heard "NOOO!!! Papa do it!" for the 200th time by 9 am. Gratitude can be slow in coming.

But our stuff, so far, has been nothing.


We realize how extraordinarily lucky we are right now. We consider it an obligation to appreciate the fresh eggs a coworker brings, the downy hair of a feverish toddler, the smell of jasmine on our patio. Beauty can be so fleeting.

And ohh, those eggs.

Baked eggs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Set your ramekins on a cookie sheet--one for each egg, so do as many as you think you'll eat. (I eat one and the baby's leftovers; W. likes two.) Put a thin pat of butter and a splash of cream into each.

Add a bit of thinly sliced radish leaves. Break one egg into each dish. Sprinkle with thinly sliced onion or garlic scapes, grated Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

Bake until whites are set and yolks are still runny, 10-15 minutes.

You will have to figure out the timing particular to your oven and your egg preferences. I'm a bit fussy about this. I hate runny whites and hard yolks. W. has been very patient with me and has found a sweet spot at about 13 minutes.

This is one of those recipes that can be endlessly varied. Just an egg and some butter and whatever bits of deliciousness you have lying around: spinach, proscuitto, tomatoes, feta...

Monday, May 4, 2009

When I'm not in the kitchen...

I used to spend my time reading, but now I’m teaching myself to sew—a process my mom started oh, about 30 years ago, when I was too much a perfectionist to deal. Crooked seams didn’t seem far off from end of world back then.

In fact, it took having a child to realize that the process is the point. And that I’ll never, ever be perfect.

Nothing like a colicky infant to hammer that home.

So lately, the 1943 Singer and I have been collaborating on outdoor curtains with buttons along the hems, a reupholstered chair rescued on the San Clemente trash day a decade ago, the famous Amy Butler lounge pants

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The vegetarian side of things

I know it seems like it's all meat all the time around here. It's not.

I get these fabulous whole chickens and ducks or a pound of ground pork or goat steaks or other meat once a week from our half share in a meat CSA, but that's pretty much it. With the exception of a bit of salami or bacon.

We choose to go for the high-quality meat—and happily pay extra for it—and eat less of it overall. Cheaper, healthier, faster.

But the meat gets a lot of play on the blog. It just seems more exciting. These are the meals I have to plan for, look up recipes for. The bean/tofu/veggie stuff? Easy. Comfortable. Delicious.


Can anyone benefit from knowing that we ate cheese and crackers for dinner the other night? On the patio, without plates?

Even a salad seemed too labor intensive. I brought out the salad spinner and a bowl of olive oil, vinegar, and salt and we dipped our token greens. (This is actually a fantastic way to get a two year old to eat salad. Try it. You can thank me later.)

And a lot of our meals are based on a giant pot of beans. Mary Beth of Salt and Chocolate found making a pot of beans and mess of grain each weekend too labor intensive. I agree, if you're doing this for lunches only. Around here, work lunches are leftovers or peanut butter sandwiches. Period.

But I make this pot of beans for three meals and subsequent lunches. Streamlined indeed.

A chickpea week could look like this.
Sunday night: Dump a lot of beans in Crockpot with water to cover generously. Soak.

Monday morning: Drain beans. Rinse. Put back in Crockpot with bay leaf, dried red chile pepper, smashed garlic clove, a halved onion, plenty salt and pepper. (The picture above shows sliced onion. That's just because we had leftover sliced onion from making pizza the night before.) Turn on low and cook until someone gets home.

Monday night: Salad and bread dinner with lettuce and whatever CSA vegetables/cheese/nuts are in the fridge. This week was blue cheese, radishes, onion scapes, and edible flower mix. Past combos have included black beans, avocados, and Swiss cheese or white beans, marinated artichokes, boiled potatoes, canned tuna, and onion.

Tuesday lunch: Another salad with leftovers from Monday dinner. Olive oil and vinegar dressing carried separately in a small Mason jar to avoid sog.

Tuesday night: My fast, off-the-cuff pasta with chickpeas and greens.

Wednesday lunch: Leftover pasta.

Thursday night: Channa masala (chickpeas warmed again with onion, water, and a spice powder I get from our farmer's market). Bottled chutney and Trader Joe's naan. Raita made with yogurt, cucumber, salt, pepper, and a bit of crushed garlic.
If there are any beans left, they go into the freezer in plastic freezer bags. I don't overfill the bags, just put in enough beans for one meal and some cooking liquid. I tip the bags over slowly while still open to release any air and seal the zip locks when the bags are flat on the counter and empty of air. Then I put the bags on cookie sheets in the freezer to make flat, easy-to-stack rectangles. Does this make any sense? I don't have a photo, but it's such a great way to store liquids in the freezer...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sausage carbonara

Homemade sausage from CSA ground pork. Braising greens. A dozen eggs fresh from the neighbors' hens. An insatiable craving for pasta. A drizzly spring evening. Perfect.

Sausage Carbonara

1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
1 half large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
dried red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1 bundle mustard greens, sliced into ribbons (or braising mix or chard or any dark green leafy)
1/2 c. white wine
4 eggs, lightly beaten
a couple sprigs Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 c. grated Parmesean
1 pound pasta (we used farfalle)

Throw butter, olive oil, onion, garlic, bay leaves, and red pepper into large saute pan over medium-low heat. Cook until onion has softened, about 10 minutes.

Raise heat to medium and add sausage. Cook until no longer pink, breaking into pieces.

Add greens and cook until wilted.

Add wine and simmer until thickened a bit, about 15 minutes.

While the sauce thickens, stir eggs, cheese, and parsley together in a bowl with a bit of salt and pepper. Put pasta on to boil.

When pasta is done, drain and add to saute pan with onion mixture. Remove from heat and quickly add eggs, stirring to coat pasta with a creamy sauce. If it looks too raw, pop back over the flame for a second, but don't dry your meal out. Then you'll have scrambled eggs with pasta--ick!

Serve right away with more cheese on top.

Note: For this meal, I sauteed our mustard greens separately in a little olive oil and salt and used them to top the grownups' pasta. The bitter taste contrasts amazingly with the creamy carbonara, if you like that kind of thing. The two-year-old doesn't. She got to try a bit of bitter greens, but ate her pasta without them. Spinach, chard, or a braising mix is more kid-friendly.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mustard pork chops

This kind of creamy, saucy meal seems like it belongs to late fall.

But a quickly fried pork chop in a rich pan sauce is perfect at the end of a cold spring day spent flying kites and picnicking in the thin sunshine.

Especially accompanied by a salad of thinly sliced fennel and tender greens dressed in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

I used a recipe from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express. It's a book I love to read but don't cook from that often. Although the recipes are fabulously quick, they are expensive to make--calling for things like garlic-infused oil and mixed bean salad and red current jelly and boneless cuts of meat.

This stuff always requires a special trip to the store.

But this recipe is totally worth the purchase of a bottle of hard cider.

It calls for whole-grain mustard. We only had a German yellow. Nigella says to bash boneless chops thinner. We used thick bone-in chops. It was still awesome.

Mustard Pork Chops (adapted from Nigella Lawson)

3 pork chops
2 teaspoons garlic oil
1/2 cup hard apple cider
1 T. Dijon, whole-grain, German, or other mustard (not American yellow)
1/3 cup heavy cream

Dry chops. Sprinkle on both sides with salt and pepper. Set your dinner plates on the stove to warm up next to you while you cook.

Heat oil in saute pan over medium high heat. Cook the pork chops until just done through, flipping once, about 6-7 minutes a side for thickish chops. Put on plate to rest.

Pour cider in pan and stir over heat, scraping up browned bits for a minute or two. Stir in mustard and cream. Add any juices that have leaked from your chops onto the plate.

Cook sauce a few minutes to thicken slightly. Plate chops and pour sauce over.

Serve with gnocchi or rice or something starchy to sop up sauce.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Operation Homemade Yogurt: Failure

I like making things from scratch. Fussy, involved things that most people buy from the store: sauerkraut, salt-cured olives, sun-dried tomatoes, jam...

Things that require weeks of fermentation or hours of simmering make me very, very happy. Long rising, curing, drying— the words give me a thrill.

(I'm actually shocked--SHOCKED--that everyone doesn't get off on this kind of thing. This may explain why, when I get out in the world, I feel so freakish. That or my inability to make small talk.)

But as much as I love large-scale culinary projects, I hate fiddly baking that requires any amount of precision. Candy thermometers, sifting, and weighing are deal breakers, as are pastry bags and parchment-lined pans. And it turns out that yogurt belongs in that category. Finer brush required.

This is how I made clumps of sour milk floating in a clear liquid:

Bring milk to near boil, cool to the required 110-115 degrees by guessing. Why buy a candy thermometer when you have your fingers, right?

Bring milk/yogurt mixture over to W., tell him to stick his finger in it, ask "Do you think this is about 5 degrees hotter than that time your parents overheated their Jacuzzi?"

Scoff at the doubters. Put mixture in oven to keep warm by pilot light overnight.

Sleep in. Uncover mess of nastiness at 8 am. Make husband use it instead of buttermilk to make awesome pancakes.

Scoff at the doubters. "See, I told you this would be great!"

Budget for yogurt maker.


The complex math of household finance:

The organic yogurt we buy is about twice the price of milk by ounce. We eat about a quart of yogurt a week. So our savings would be about $12/month, minus occasional starter.

Yes, this is significant.

Yogurt maker bought off Amazon would pay for itself in 2.5 months if I slip in a sewing pattern book to get free shipping. The book would pay itself off in money saved by making awesome homemade Christmas presents for family and friends.

Bonus savings from buying Organic Valley milk in bulk at Costco. Membership paid for by savings on gin, contact solution, and contact lenses alone.

And this is how we subsidize a life with one student, one part-timer in a creative profession, and one child. We co-parent, we eat largely locally, we have cocktails, we carve out leisure time, we pay our mortgage. It can be done.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kitchen window

Orchids, my coddled flowers.

Rose starts, an experiment in free flowers.

Spring sunshine on a wide windowsill.

White and green and white again. Suddenly, I don't miss winter quite so much.

Friday, March 20, 2009

More fat, please: homemade sausage

I can't stop trying to jam more healthy goodness into everything we eat. It's becoming pathological--some primal desire to maintain the health of my offspring. Or a response to the "holy crap, an infant is no longer draining a zillion calories a day from my boobs so mainlining butter just not OK" belly.

Whichever the case, I'm becoming uncomfortably like my mother in this way, who is a fantastic cook but also regularly made these rock-like clusters she called "nutty nuggets." Pretty much muesli moistened with nonfat milk, formed into lumps, and baked until solid.

(My sister and I also got kefir as our "junk food" treat and swallowed fish oil nightly. My parents were decades ahead of the times on the the functional foods thing.*

Anyway, I made oatmeal carrot cookies with walnuts and dried blueberries the other day. And then tried to sell them to the toddler as COOKIES! FOR BREAKFAST! She didn't buy it. Then she asked for some plain yogurt with cinnamon, which I have managed to convince her is more awesome than sugar.

I am a mean, mean mother who destroys dreams and puts kale in the macaroni and cheese.

So I thought some breakfast sausage would cheer everyone up—and to be honest, decrease the glycemic index of our starchy breakfast.

They tasted great, but lacked that certain something that I've since discovered comes with the generous addition of pork fatback. They didn't have that greasy, crispy goodness, but a denser, herbal goodness. They were OK, not pork-ishly delicious. Our pork is especially lean because it's from healthy pigs who forage and eat mushrooms and tofu. Really.

What is pork-ishly delicious is this same mixture crumbled and fried in olive oil and sprinkled on top of pizza.

Homemade Sausage (adapted from Alice Waters)

1 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 garlic clove, pressed
a sprig of fresh sage, chopped (enough to make a couple teaspoons)
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of cayenne
a generous grind fresh black pepper

Gently mix all the ingredients. Form into patties (don't press) for breakfast and fry in skillet with a bit of olive oil, turning once. I think it took us about four minutes a side in a medium-high skillet.

Alternatively, form into meatballs or fry loose in skillet for a pizza topping or to start a pasta sauce.

*Hi Mom! I still love kefir, really. And I wouldn't trade the taste of a sun-warmed tomato for all the Cocoa Puffs in the world, no matter what I said when I was 16.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Grilled lamb chops

After a day of this:

Then this:

Lamb loin chops on the grill. Fresh whole wheat penne from the farmer's market with pesto* made months ago and tossed in the freezer for safekeeping. Sweet lettuces with a sharp olive oil. Red wine.

The lamb chops were easy--our nearly-2-year-old made the marinade pretty much herself. It's not really a recipe, more like a method for letting good lamb showcase itself. This is how she did it.

Grilled Lamb Loin Chops

fresh or dried rosemary
fresh sage
olive oil

lamb loin chops

In the morning, break up a couple springs of each herb in a container big enough for your chops. We think a wide bowl works well. Smoosh around with chubby baby fingers to bruise the flavor out of the leaves. Add a large splash of olive oil, a couple grinds of black pepper, and a generous couple pinches of salt.

Add your chops. Use tongs to turn lamb and coat with marinade. Let sit in fridge all day (or as long as you have before dinner).

Grill over hot coals to desired doneness, about three minutes a side, depending on thickness of chops. We like them medium rare-ish, and honestly, we always butcher the poor things checking for the perfect level of doneness. They still taste good.

*FYI frozen pesto: I freeze my pesto both in ice cube trays (then remove the cubes and store in freezer bags) and in small mason jars (freeze with lid off, then screw on later and store in freezer door). The smaller amounts are good dropped in vegetable soups; the larger amounts defrost on the counter for pasta dinners.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


February was stark, in the best way. Simple meals—stir fry, burritos, pizza, salad, in rotation. Not much writing, not much doing, but lots of waiting, thinking, becoming...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Persimmon bread

I read a lot of food blogs, and in nearly every one, every winter, there is the rainy/snowy day, curl up on the couch under hand-knitted/quilted blankets with ridiculously cute dog/cat while drinking a mug of hot coffee/tea/hand-harvested stone-ground chocolate and eating assorted sweet breads/muffins/cookies/feats of sculptural bakery. And they claim to stay there all afternoon.

I'll admit it, I'm jealous. An entire afternoon! Time to layer mini cakes with home-canned jam. To knit scarfs that will be ready to sling around cold necks this winter, not next. To watch my children frolic in an adorably artistic pile on the vintage hardwood.

My afternoons are much more of the rush home from work and prevent the child from licking electrical cords variety. And if they weren't, I'd probably still skip the baking and head for the couch and the latest Michael Connelly mystery. (Which is where I've been the last week, for those who wondered.)

As for winter baking, I make endless versions of the following persimmon bread, break out the cream cheese, and call it good. Because this is one of those rare sweet baked things that can be totally over-stirred, it's easy to make with an enthusiastic toddler.

I pick persimmons from my parents' house at Christmastime, let them ripen into mush, whiz in the food processor, and freeze flat in Ziploc freezer bags. For this bread, pumpkin puree works great too, even better if that slightly astringent, squeaky persimmon flavor turns you off.

Persimmon Bread with Walnuts and Cranberries

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 t. baking soda
3/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
1/4 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. salt

2 eggs
1/3 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup persimmon (or pumpkin) puree
1/2 canola oil
1 t. vanilla

1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup frozen cranberries (not defrosted)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together dry ingredients in one bowl. Whisk wet ingredients together in another, add to dry, and whisk until blended. Stir in walnuts and cranberries. Pour dough into prepared pan.

Bake in the middle of oven about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until it feels firm when you poke at the top with your finger and a toothpick or wooden skewer jabbed through the middle comes out clean. Cool completely.

Instead of walnuts and cranberries, try chocolate chips, pumpkin seeds, coconut, whatever you've got on hand. It's all tasty. The recipe also doubles easily, so you can snack on one loaf all week and freeze the other for later.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Not-so-solitary spaghetti

Now that the baby has morphed into a toddler, my secret single spaghetti has become pasta with a side of potty talk. There's not really much you can do to put a positive hipster spin on that one, but I have taught the child to spin and slurp spaghetti, which delights me and horrifies my husband. (EDITED TO ADD: At lunch today, he taught her to drape spaghetti over her forearm and then nibble it off, so I've got nothing.)

When W. is at class late, the baby and I put together a quick pasta, as a team. She cuts the butter with a butter knife, then picks it up and gnaws on the stick when she thinks I'm not looking. I heat the water and chop garlic, herbs, and whatever veggie we have on hand. She tosses ingredients into the pan, we stir together.

And in the rush to prep quickly with a not-so-helpful helper, I've hit on a formula for awfully good pasta that uses what you've got:

Fast anything-goes pasta

Put a pot of water on to boil for pasta. Don't forget to salt it, liberally. Prep your ingredients while you wait for it to boil. When the water is ready, dump in a half pound of pasta and begin to make your sauce.

Put the following in a large saucepan and heat on medium low:

a couple cloves garlic, minced
a couple tablespoons parsley (or other herbs)
a small shake red chili flakes
a couple glugs olive oil (or a mixture of olive oil and butter to equal a couple tablespoons)

When the garlic is sizzling, add about a 1/4 cup of chicken broth. (I freeze my homemade stock in ice cube trays, and just throw in three cubes.) Turn up heat to medium, bring to a simmer, and add some sort of protein.

I like to do one of the following:
garbanzo beans
white beans
slivered almonds
slivered salami
pine nuts

A couple minutes before the pasta is done, toss a vegetable in the boiling water (broccoli florets; chicory, spinach, kale, or chard ribbons; small potato cubes; whatever). Or you can roast a vegetable in the oven by tossing with olive oil and salt and blasting it at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes. Obviously, if you do this, you need to start the roasting process at the beginning of your prep.

Drain pasta when it's very very al dente, toss with sauce (and roasted veggies if you are going that route). Continue to simmer a minute or so, until pasta is done and sauce is largely absorbed. I like mine a little juicy.

Top with cheese. Finely grated parm or pecorino romano are good, as are aged cheddar, blue cheese, feta...
The photos show a broccoli/almond spaghetti and a roasted cauliflower/garbanzo fusilli, but this is one of those recipes that are born of that delicate balance between what sounds good and what is in the fridge. It is often delicious, but I've had my failures--frozen stir fry mix plus blue cheese anyone?

Monday, January 26, 2009


Nope, we don't eat them.

A friend emailed me the following: "...I have to admit that I am very impressed at your courage to cook entire animals such as lambs and goats. Do you try to use everything, or do you draw the line at, for example: brains? Does it come with its pelt? Do you try to tan it? Does the dog get to chew the feet and ears? These are pressing issues about whole-animal preparation!"

And I realized, I have been misrepresenting the size of my balls. In a parallel universe in which I am totally hard core, when faced with brains, fur, and feet, I'm all "bring it ON!" In reality, our "whole" lamb goes from the farm straight to a local butcher, who packages it up neatly and without offal. Our freezer is less random bits and more $7/pound rack of lamb.

Poor dog.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Spontaneity? Overrated

One of the first scenes in the movie Flirting with Disaster has a character played by Tea Leoni writing off her former marriage as one of those sad relationships where you have to make an appointment to have sex. She's totally oblivious to the fact that she's interrupted the couple she's talking to on the night they were supposed to be getting it on. Planned in advance, of course. Hilarity ensues.

Five, ten years ago, I thought this scene was awfully funny, partly because I couldn't imagine living such as pre-scripted life. Now, it's still funny, but in a hits awfully close to home kinda way.

(If you have a kid like ours, you've got to carve. out. time. for your fun. That's all I'm saying.)

Anyway, I felt the same way about food. Menu planning was for the boring who walk among us, not for creative free spirits like me. I liked to flit through the grocery store, picking out anything that might work for this, or that. I had three menu options for every main ingredient, and spices for everything. It was fun.

But I've got less time and less money now, more of a commitment to eat carefully, intentionally, without throwing a crisper full of uneaten veggies into the compost regularly. I starting planning menus and coordinating them with our shopping list. Planning ahead makes those nights when we have 15 minutes to get food into the kid easier. It keeps us on track with healthy meals and local foods. We don't come home after a long day fantasizing about wheat berries with fall vegetables, but if it's on the menu, we'll make it and eat it and be glad we did. And it's surprising how much money you save when you aren't tempted to buy mascarpone cheese just in case you decide to make tiramisu at some point.

Here's how I do it:

When I read food magazines, I tab recipes I want to make with mini stickies. Food blogs, I clip and add to Google Notebook (or did, RIP).

On Friday evening (ideally), I make a list of the perishables that we must eat and random freezer/pantry items that are languishing and brainstorm some menu ideas based on those, writing additional necessary ingredients on a separate list. If I am in the mood, I check the magazine/blog/cookbook ideas I've tabbed and add some of those recipes to the mix. If not, whatever. I plan six meals, leaving one night open for laziness or a night out or just so I don't start to feel trapped.

On Saturday, we go to the farmer's market. I buy whatever I can on my list there and allow myself to buy some spontaneous chicory or cabbage or Chinese broccoli or whatever. Then we go to Trader Joe's, where we buy staples like yogurt and butter and wine and cheese.

Bulk food like oats and beans we buy from the health food store during the week.

Back at home, I do a final menu--easy meals for late work nights, long-cooking meats on weekends, pizza on Friday. I add notes about prep ahead like when to defrost meat or soak beans. I put snack, breakfast, dessert ideas in the margin.

It looks like this:

Sat: (defrost goat)
roast chicken with root veggies
arugula salad

Sun: (defrost lamb kabobs)
braised goat shoulder steaks

Mon: lunch with friends (make lamb kabobs, chopped salad with radishes/carrots/parm)

Tues: (soak pinto beans)
pad Thai w/ tofu

Wed: (morning-beans in Crockpot) (cook wheat berries, chop fall veggies)
burritos with leftover chicken & fried potatoes, pintos
brown rice

wheat berry stew with fall veggies
feta cheese


Other to-make items were pureed persimmons to freeze, chicken broth from the roast bones, and kale chips (just for fun).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to make sugar syrup, redux

You know how you do something over and over and over again and then one day, all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, you realize there's a much easier way to do it? And then you're all "Why the hell didn't I think of this before?"

Case in point? Sugar syrup. After all these years of lighting the stove, stirring and simmering, it hit me: the microwave.

Equal parts sugar and water in a Mason jar. Microwave until hot. Stir to dissolve sugar. Cool on counter. Slap a lid on the jar. Refrigerate. Make cocktails for weeks. Decide the cocktail hour is making you fat and vow to contain the cocktailing to weekends. Decide nothing goes with Jane Eyre, or with learning to knit, or with 8 PM like a little gin. Repeat.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Slow cooking Sunday: lamb neck bones

I skipped the requisite holiday blogging, I know. Travel to Internet-free zone, sleeping on floors, catching up with family, demanding in-laws, 9-hour drive, virulent stomach flu, blah, blah, blah... I have excuses in spades.

But it was lovely, when I wasn't being puked on: home-candied lemon peel, a stollen fail, thoughtful presents, a trip to the aquarium, baby's first cookie decorating, our traditional Christmas Eve mac and cheese (made proper-like, with b├ęchamel, and then utterly desecrated by ketchup), running in the sand, croissants and Vietnamese coffee in Little Saigon.

And now we're back home, sorting and discarding and organizing and improving like crazy after two weeks of suitcase living. It feels good.

So does my weekly (if I feel like it) ritual of Sunday cooking: slow-cooked meat dinner, prep for meals throughout the week, a batch of bread dough to refrigerate and pull out in chunks for fresh bread all week, the transformation my farmers' market picks into deliciousness. Well, often something resembling good, at least.

But this Sunday's beans and lamb were delicious, even if the picture looks like sludge.

This may be the best use for lamb neck bones, if you hesitate to use the little suckers for broth and waste those tiny, tiny pockets of meat. If you don't happen to have a whole lamb in the freezer (did I mention we bought a lamb?), this is a great economical use for kabob or stew meat or other cuts because it uses meat as a condiment more than anything, a way to make your beans taste fantastic. This is based on a Turkish recipe from The Sultan's Kitchen, by Ozcan Ozan, but reminded me of the ribollita W. and I ate in Italy ages and ages ago.

This is an easy recipe, but don't forget to soak your beans the night before.

Lamb with white beans

2 c. great northern beans, soaked overnight & drained

2 T. butter
1-1/2 pounds lamb neck bones (or meat in 1-inch cubes)

1/2 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 T. tomato paste
1 can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/2 t. dried red pepper flakes (add more if you don't have a toddler joining you for dinner)
2 c. water
salt & pepper
a small handful of dried mushrooms, optional

1 red bell pepper, chopped

Melt the butter, over med-high heat, in a Dutch oven or cast-iron casserole or other dish with a lid that can go in the oven. Brown lamb in the butter--don't worry about it foaming. Getting it brown on all sides will take 5-10 minutes. Add onion and garlic and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the next chunk of ingredients--tomato paste through salt and pepper--plus the beans.

(Note: I tossed in a couple dried oyster mushrooms here because we get them from our CSA. They made dish even better, although I'll admit to pulling them out of my serving at dinner because the texture of mushrooms is one of my residual childhood hatreds. I'll bet some chopped kale added at this point would be good too.)

Cover, turn heat to maintain a simmer, and cook 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add bell peppers to the lamb and beans and stir. Cover and cook in oven 1 hour, or until tender. Check beans, adding a bit more water if they look dried out. The final dish will be like a thick stew, with some beans falling apart to make a creamy sauce.

You could gild the lily with some sausages and toasted bread crumbs, but we just had a green salad on the side and called it good.