Category Archives: Cooking

A little love for the rutabaga

 

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There are a lot of recipes out there to try. Most of the time, I’m thrilled that I can type ingredients into a search box–almost any combination of ingredients–and come up with a recipe that someone has made. Chili, butternut squash, and lime? Here’s your recipe. Thyme, carrots, and lemon? The web pulls up a bajillion options.

With all of this food creativity at my fingertips, it’s not often that something gets made more than once. If it does, it has to be mighty tasty AND have ingredients I’m likely to have around. I have a well-stocked pantry, but there are limits to what I’ll add to it (mainly because it’s full…). One recipe that is on the yearly rotation, in mass quantities when tomatoes are ripe, is a simple Tomato Mozzarella Pie (par-baked pie crust, a bed of mozzarella, a sprinkling of fresh slivered basil, a layer of thickly cut tomatoes, salt, pepper, olive oil. Bake at 400 for 35 minutes, let cool for 15). By July, I’m dreaming of it.  Another is Spaghetti Squash Carbonara–or it will be a yearly thing, now that I know about it. I’ve already made it twice, and it’s on deck for our dinner Sunday night.

Recipes that use vegetables I’ve grown are a huge plus, obviously, so I’m always looking for new things to do with root vegetables other than simply roasting them. Last year, Eating Well had a goat cheese and rutabaga puree in one of it’s holiday issues. I made it–Thanksgiving, I think–and really liked it. I liked it so much that fast-forward to today and my last two pounds of rutabagas, I remembered it. We had it with roasted chicken and this recipe for dinner.

The rutabaga doesn’t get a lot of love. It looks complicated to break down, it has a pungent smell–it’s kind of horseradishy-cabbagey to me, though I don’t know if that’s how others read it, and it’s not the blank slate of a potato. The breaking-it-down issue is easily dealt with: cut the long root off at the base of the bulb, cut the stem off where it starts to spread out at the top of the bulb, and peel it. I use a regular peeler, but a Y-shaped peeler also works. Cut it up (use a sharp knife and lay a flat end on the cutting board to keep it stable–it’s harder than a potato) according to your recipe and you’re ready for good eating. A cooked rutabaga is mild, with buttery, cabbagey, earthy tastes. Roast it, boil it, mash it, cook it low-and-slow in a stew, but make sure you give it a shot. If you like all the other flavors included, I recommend starting with this recipe.

This is where I got the picture:https://klamathlakefoodexplorer.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/rutabaga-goes-to-aerie-acre/  Oddly enough, even with all of my veggie pics, I don’t have one of my rutabagas. I’ll have to fix that next fall.

Today, or bust

Last week, with a fridge full of vegetables staring at me and saying, “Today, or bust,” I decided I wanted Indian food. I don’t know much–if anything–about the regional cooking of the country, and there is nothing particularly authentic about what I made, but riffing on things I love at our local Indian restaurant (where I had just eaten two days prior), I came up with this.

I added about half a pound of roasted shrimp, but it didn’t need it {shelled and deveined, rinsed, patted dry, sprinkled with salt and pepper, plopped (separated) on a foil-lined baking sheet, and into a 350 oven for about five minutes}. That said, if you want the protein, chickpeas (rinsed and drained) and pre-cooked chunks of chicken (hello, grocery store rotisserie chicken that makes life easier) would be great. I had it with the leftover rice and naan from the restaurant. What do they do that makes their basmati rice a thousand times better than mine…? I need to ask.

I’m writing it up here because I just finished the leftovers, and want to remember what I did. There are no pictures, because I scarfed it down.  Maybe next time. There will definitely be a next time.

Vegetable Curry

1 tbsp oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)

½ cup chopped onion

1 ½ jalapenos, (seeded if desired) and chopped small

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ head of cauliflower, florets separated and halved (about 3- 4 cups)

2-3 cups chopped frozen kale, defrosted (I had it in the freezer from last year’s gardening season; you could definitely use fresh, but boil or steam it first so that it’s already tender)

¼- ¾ cup water

1-15 oz can coconut milk

½ of a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (more, if desired)

1 ½ tsp curry powder (I love Penzey’s and Simply Organic.)

¼- ½ tsp cumin seed (I didn’t toast it, because I forgot, and it was still great)

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup dried currants (golden or regular raisins would also be great here)

 

  1. Warm the oil in a large skillet with a lid (could also use a Dutch oven) over medium heat, and add the onion and jalapeno. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
  2. Add the cauliflower, kale, ¼ tsp salt, a pinch of black pepper, and ¼ cup of water. Stir, cover with a lid, and cook until cauliflower starts to soften, about 8-10 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure the pan doesn’t dry out. You don’t want the cooked vegetables swimming in liquid, just a little lingering in the pan.
  3. Once the cauliflower is softened, add the coconut milk, tomatoes, curry powder, and cumin seed. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir until the coconut milk is fully incorporated. Don’t let the mixture boil at any point.
  4. Let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes and stir in the currants. Taste for seasoning at this point, and add additional salt and pepper, if desired. Simmer another 5 minutes, or until the cauliflower is completely soft but not falling apart. Serve.

Getting out of my own way

I made bread this morning. It is absolutely delicious, and I think it’s going to be the “house sandwich bread” recipe*.

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I’m going to have to work on the whole “getting it out of the pan” thing, though.

No matter. I’ve already eaten three slices…or whatever you want to call the pieces I’m cutting off. Is there a word for a slice of bread that isn’t fully attached to itself?

It’s funny; I’m a pretty confident cook, and that includes most baking. But bread-baking, the kind with yeast, is something with which I haven’t become quite comfortable. Most of the breads I’ve made have been edible. Heck, sometimes they’re wonderful. And when they aren’t edible as toast or for sandwiches, I use them as breadcrumbs or in a strata, so they aren’t a waste. But I don’t often rush to make a yeast bread recipe like I might with another recipe that has caught my attention.

I’m pretty sure this is psychological. The whole “bread is the staff of life” thing is pretty engraved on my psyche, and the thought that every week people have been making bread at home, by the dozens of loaves if the family is large, since time immemorial should be a comforting one. Instead, it turns me into this timid mouse. I tend to mentally over-complicate the whole thing, building up the time required into this mountain I can’t possibly cross in a day, never mind a morning of baking. Ridiculous, but there we have it.

I think people do this with tasks/plans/dreams a lot (or maybe I’m hoping it’s not just me…). We build them up in our heads until they become these insurmountable, unattainable things (that’s the technical term). I did it with starting a business. I assumed that getting a business certificate that would allow me to open a business in my county would be a months-long, millions of papers to fill out odyssey.

It took ten minutes.

I was so tickled, I went and got one in the neighboring county, too. (Okay, I had to have it because my business will operate there, as well. But really, it was so easy. In both counties.) I’m embarrassed to admit that I put it off for a few months because I couldn’t mentally deal with what I had built it up to be in my imagination.

It was a good lesson.  Unfortunately, it was not the first time I learned it. And it won’t be the last. Sometimes, getting out of my own way is the most important thing I can do. And the hardest.

*This is the recipe, if you’re interested: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/classic-100-whole-wheat-bread-recipe  I used the maple syrup option. It really is delicious. But use a well-oiled pan.

Pockets of home

I’m re-reading Georgia Heard’s book Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way, to try and jump-start my writing each morning. Her first chapter is about querencia, which is the Spanish idea of “a place where one feels safe, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home.” It took some thought to land where I did, drifting first over the places where I’ve lived with my parents and other family, through bookstores, and around the house in New York, but none of them felt quite right.

I realized that’s because I feel most at home in the kitchen and the garden and the classroom. I am in control—though I know that to some extent, that control is an illusion—in those spaces. A cutting board of ingredients, a tangle of weeds , a group of young faces—I know what to do with all of these. I relish the challenge and the familiarity they simultaneously provide. My sense of querencia is directly affected by how capable I feel in these spaces. Any kitchen, any garden, any classroom can make me feel like I am in my safe space.

While I love trying new recipes, and my wall of cookbooks can attest to that, my favorite cooking is intuitive. What do I have in the refrigerator? A small cabbage, parmesan cheese, some corn, a pound of ground beef? In the pantry I have canned tomatoes, garlic, onions, and elbow pasta. I pile them all on the counter in front of me and begin the chopping: halve the cabbage through its core, insert the knife point into the top of the cabbage’s core and cut down to the base, enjoying the cool slice-and-crunch sound it makes. Repeat on the other side of the core, and then repeat with the other half of the cabbage. Pop out the core and begin the rhythmic slicing into thin ribbons, the clack of the knife on the cutting board making a soothing pattern of sound.

By the time I have made the ingredients their appropriate sizes, I know I’m going to make a soup. There’s no broth, but that doesn’t matter. Water will pull the flavor it needs from the vegetables, and dried herbs– bay, thyme, peppercorns—will help tie things together.

In the garden, the smell of the soil under my hands is a subtle scent on a dry day and more pungent after a rain. I set out with a list of chores, but once I run my hands over the sage and dust my shirt with yellow pollen as I walk through the tomatoes that list becomes a vague sense of, “I should…”. The smells of the garden addle my brain. I stop where I am and attend to what needs doing right there and then. This tomato needs tying up, that section needs weeding, those beans need picking. Hours later, I mentally surface and find that I’ve completed most of the things I planned to do and have forgotten some. I have also forgotten to stop for lunch. I achieve total focus—in a strangely unfocused way–in a garden in a way I seem unable to find in other places.

The classroom is a different kind of home, though there is some overlap. I always had a list of things to do, but when dealing with adolescent humans that list could be side-tracked easily. Sometimes, we had to deal with misconceptions that arose, and other times, we had to follow where a student’s connecting idea led. Sometimes, we stuck to the list. Regardless of what happened, the interplay of words and laughter and furrowed brows as we all puzzled through and thought about new things gave me a sense of contentment. Watching the unfolding of learning on student faces—it could show up in a face that went suddenly, completely still with wonder; in the quirk of an eyebrow; in an actual shout of, “Oh my god, I get it!”—was the reason I knew no other job on the planet could be as important.

Leaving that last home has been hard, and perhaps its absence is why there have been many days since last June that I felt adrift. There have been many spaces in my new life where I haven’t felt skilled, and at 43, feeling unskilled leaves me less comfortable than it did at 23 or 33. It has been more challenging since winter began, which means the garden ended. To an extent, we carry home within us, but when we are disconnected from the actual place of home, calling it up inside of us is sometimes a poor substitute. I am learning that I have to make new pockets of home, teach myself new capabilities, so that on the unsettled days I can reach a hand into a pocket and wrap my fingers around its comforts, like a smooth, rounded stone that fits just so in the palm.

Events conspiring

One of the (very few) downsides to my current living arrangement is that I miss my husband. He’s four and a half hours and three states away, which means that visits can sometimes be widely spaced. We had a great run between Christmas and the last week of February, with events conspiring so that we had no more than five days passing between times together. That’s at an end now, and it will have been a week and a half since I’ve seen him when he arrives for the weekend. It will be another week and a half before I see him after that. (But then we’re going to London(!) together for ten days, which seems to make the time seem more bearable.) I have a deep respect for couples that do this separation thing for much longer than we do; it’s not easy.

There is, however, an upside to our separation. I can sum it up in one word.

Cilantro.

My husband is one of those people who absolutely loathe the stuff. If it’s hidden by garlic and hot peppers and salt in a guacamole or salsa, he can handle it, but otherwise he scrapes it off whatever he’s eating and puts it on my plate. If it’s a garnish, that is–he just won’t eat anything, other than the aforementioned Mexican dishes, if it has cilantro within the recipe. (He does the same with mass-produced pickles, though we’ve found a few recipes that I make that he likes.)

I, of course, love the stuff.

But marriage is often about compromise, right? So I don’t use cilantro in many recipes, substituting mint and/or parsley and/or basil, depending on what I’m making. And it turns out that I miss it (kind of like my husband, funnily enough). It adds a brightness (Larry would say “soapiness”) to dishes that no other herb can truly approximate. I’ve watched bunch after bunch turn to green slime in the refrigerator when I’ve bought it thinking, “Well, I’ll just use it on a lot of what I eat, and leave it out of his portion,” but wind up just not being able to use it fast enough.

That is all at an end right now! I can add it to whatever I want, because I’m only cooking for myself these days. This week, it will be showing up a lot.

I was not…shall we say…especially healthy this winter. It has been so cold for so long, and the snow so oddly heaped and mounded and wind-blown, that being outside walking has been downright unpleasant. Instead, I’ve been inside pretending that cheese is a balanced diet. The end result: it’s a good thing I own a lot of sweatpants. I need to get back on track, and at the same time, I’m using this opportunity to test recipes for the personal chef business I’m working on setting up. More about that later, hopefully. This week, I’m testing vegetarian menus, and most of what I’ve chosen comes from Ottolenghi’s book Plenty.

I think I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: the man is a genius.

His ingredient lists are often long, but they’re usually made up of dried spices that simply need to be measured out. The Spicy Moroccan Carrot Salad and the Freekeh Pilaf that I had tonight only took about 45 minutes, because some of the chopping was duplicated in both recipes, and while things were working on the stove, I could be moving ahead elsewhere. Read through the recipes before you make them, so you can figure out whether or not you need to have all of your slicing and dicing done in advance, or if there’s “down-time” in the recipe when you can be working on that while the stove or oven does its thing.

Here’s what is so brilliant about both of these recipes: there’s no meat at all, but these two dishes are so deeply savory that it didn’t matter. The grains in the pilaf are chewy, so you have to work your jaw like you would with meat, and the allspice and cinnamon are nothing like pumpkin pie spice. The jalapeno-heat from the carrot salad blended beautifully with the garlicky yogurt topping on the pilaf, and every bite of each just kind of jumped (flavor-wise–no moving parts in the recipes!) in my mouth. The leftovers are for lunch tomorrow, and I’m very much looking forward to them!
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Freekeh Pilaf
from Yottam Ottolenghi’s Plenty (with a few slight variations)
serves 2-4 (I halved the recipe, and it made what I think are two healthy portions, but what you see here makes the full amount)

2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil, plus more to finish
1 cup freekeh (or bulgur wheat–reduce cooking time to 10 minutes)–here’s where I varied, and used a Freekeh blend that has Freekeh, emmer, basmati rice, and rye from our local mill, Champlain Valley Milling
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 1/4 c good-quality reduced vegetable stock (He suggests starting with 2 1/2 cups and reducing–make sure you love the stock, because it will be intensified.)
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 c Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 garlic clove, crushed (I minced mine)
1/8 c finely chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
1/8 c finely chopped mint
2/3 c finely chopped cilantro
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted and roughly chopped

Place onions, butter, and olive oil in a large heavy pot and saute on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, or until the onion is soft and brown.

Meanwhile, soak the freekeh in cold water for 5 minutes. Drain in a sieve, rinse well under cold water, and rain well.

Add the freekeh and spices to the onions, followed by the stock and some salt and pepper. Stir well. Bring to the boil, then cover, reduce the heat to a bare minimum, and leave to simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it covered for five minutes. Finally, remove the lid and leave the pilaf to cool down a little, another five minutes.

While you wait, mix the yogurt with the lemon juice, garlic, and some salt. (This is also where I did my chopping of the herbs.)

Stir the herbs into the warm pilaf. Taste and adjust seasoning. Spoon onto serving dishes and top each portion with a generous dollop of the yogurt mixture. Sprinkle with the pine nuts (I jumped the gun and mixed them into the pilaf–no damage done.) and parsley and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Sitting on the counter, calling my name

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If my husband was forced to choose between maple syrup and bacon, he would probably choose to lie down on the floor and quietly, sadly expire. Beer should probably also be included. While I wouldn’t miss beer quite as much as he would, I can say that the maple and bacon conundrum would be an issue for me, too.

The combination of maple, bacon, and pecans is one that I try to work into our meals as often as is reasonably possible, though the three don’t always show up in the same recipe. One favorite is blueberry-pecan pancakes with maple syrup and bacon on the side for breakfast. You can imagine how intrigued I was when I read in the March issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray about their maple bacon muffin idea.

Unfortunately, the basic muffin mix in the magazine called for vegetable oil, and I don’t love vegetable oil in baked goods. Olive oil is the one exception, and then only in very particular applications (like a citrus loaf cake in Melissa Clark’s book In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite–in that application, it’s absolutely wonderful…or in Clothilde Dusoliers’ olive oil tart crust, also wonderful). But the idea of the muffins wouldn’t go away, so I looked online for a basic muffin recipe, and found it at King Arthur Flour. It’s very simple, with all-purpose flour, sugar, eggs, leavening, milk, and oil or butter–dealer’s choice.

To make myself feel less guilty about the maple and bacon, I decided to do some swapping on the flour front. I used a mix of white whole wheat and whole wheat pastry flour, swapped some of the granulated sugar out for maple sugar, and used buttermilk instead of milk. I also upped the buttermilk and butter some, to add a little more moisture for the whole wheat flours. The resulting muffins didn’t dome much, but they’re moist, savory-sweet, and sitting on the counter calling my name. Two of them have mysteriously disappeared already.
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Maple-Bacon Muffins with Pecans
adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray and the King Arthur Flour website

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
6 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp maple sugar, plus more for topping
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp table salt
1 c + 2 tbsp buttermilk
1/4 c + 1/2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
1 tbsp maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
3 or 4 slices chopped cooked bacon

1. Preheat oven to 500. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with liners, or spray with cooking spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, measure out the flours, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.

3. In a medium bowl (or 4 cup liquid measure, which makes one less dirty dish) measure out the buttermilk and then whisk in the butter, eggs, and maple syrup. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture, and stir one or two times around the bowl.

4. Add the pecans and bacon and stir into the batter, stirring only until just combined. It’s okay to have some small streaks of flour still showing. You don’t want to over-stir, or the muffins can become tough.

5. Scoop batter into muffin tin, filling just below the rim of the liner or tin. Sprinkle maple sugar on the top of each muffin. Place in oven and reduce heat to 400 (the initial blast of heat helps give them some lift, according to the King Arthur Flour recipe). Bake 15-20 minutes, or until a tester inserted into a muffin comes out clean. These took 16 minutes in my gas oven.

One of those people…

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True Confession: I’m one of those people who get really excited about holidays and birthdays. I know every day is beautiful blah, blah, blah…but holidays and birthdays are legit reasons to celebrate and be excessive and not have people look at you funny. Unfortunately, I’m also one of those people who get so excited about holidays and birthdays that I have a movie in my head for how I want them to go, and I work really hard to make sure that the decorations and food and…well, everything in my control…are wonderful.
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Only…I never share that movie in my head. Because really, who needs to ‘fess up to that kind of crazy, right? But what it means is that I put all this pressure on myself, and then the day inevitably winds up not matching my movie. And then I’m sad and irritated that it didn’t.

How many of you are collecting sympathy donations for my husband right now? Don’t feel too badly for him…he eats well. And I’m never annoyed at HIM (well, about that stuff, anyway) but I imagine that my end-of-the-day blues are not easy to ignore.

It happened again for Valentine’s Day. The morning started off well, with cards and silly gifts and breakfast, and then we walked the dogs and had lunch (I couldn’t help the cute–the beet soup and sandwich were our lunch). After lunch, we were invited to a 50th birthday celebration for a lovely woman we’ve met since moving to the North Country, and then we got home and snacked on melty brie with cranberry chutney…and here’s where my movie went awry.

I had planned a delicious, simple dinner (An awesome chicken ragu with bacon from The Kitchn, a salad, and a DIVINE Salted Caramel Creme Brulee from Fine Cooking. I’d even made the ragu and the custard in advance, so we could enjoy dinner without any pressure.
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But we weren’t hungry. Because we ate so much cheese.

And I was sad and annoyed. And then I was annoyed that I was sad and annoyed. So I decided enough, already. When I woke up on Sunday, I mentally hit the reset button and we went and had a Valentine’s Day Redux. We had a leisurely morning with breakfast and while Larry did a quick snow-plow of the drifting snow from the driveway, I packed us a light lunch to bring over to Vermont. We went to the Shelburne Museum to see the Kodachrome and jewelry exhibits, ran some quick errands, stopped into a bar for a beer and a snack, and headed home to finally have that dinner. Which was lovely.
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The moral of the story: I’m going to work on the whole birthday/holiday-movie-in-my-head thing. And I’ll be making that creme brulee a lot. I mean, A LOT, a lot. You should, too.
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