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Cooking for New Parents

I will never forget the meals that were delivered to our doorstep more than three years ago when our son was born. Miraculously they just kept arriving. I remember many of these meals in great detail and the joy of eating them. I particularly remember the giant box my friend Ellen brought. She had made not one, but two meals. There were warm cookies and a bouquet of daffodils. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

As you know I cook–I am a fast cook, I like to cook, I’m not daunted by cooking. However, as everyone told me, I was completely unfit and unable to cook right after Ellis was born. I don’t think I really cooked for the first six weeks. It seems so hard to imagine now but babies, and particularly first babies I imagine, are all-consuming, especially for the mother who usually is nursing what seems like all the time. I remember a day when a banana peel sat on the counter all day because I never managed to get it into the compost bucket!

One of my dearest friends just had a baby and today is my day to cook for her and her family. I’m not sure  I’m going to muster two meals but a hearty one it will be. I just made the Turnip and Turnip Greens Soup putting to use those sweet, tender, and bright white turnips that are gracing our markets at the moment. The greens are fresh and wonderful to incorporate in this soup. It is spring  in a bowl!  I add a few squeezes of lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream at the end. And I use my homemade Veggie Bouillon instead of chicken stock, but otherwise I follow this recipe from Culinate.com closely.

I am also just made a savory bread pudding with lots of herbs, carrots, onions, chard, and extra sharp cheddar. It’s good warm or room temperature. It keeps well and will be a rich and hearty accompaniment to the soup. So maybe it will turn into two meals after all.

And since I prefer meals with dessert and nursing mommies need all the calories they can get, there will also be a quick jam tart that I read about on one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, this morning.

I had intended to work today–as in plan class menus, review my marketing plan, organize finance stuff, edit my website–however, since I’ve chosen cooking as my line of work, I think I AM working today. And I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.

Rhubarb Yogurt Cake

I make this cake every spring when rhubarb starts showing up in the farmers’ markets and now also in my very own garden.

rhubarb sliced for yogurt cakeRhubarb Yogurt Cake (adapted from my cousin Mary Lane)

This cake is not very sweet so if you like sweeter desserts I would add a few tablespoons of honey or maple syrup in additional to the brown sugar.

4 cups rhubarb, sliced thinly
1/4 cup butter (softened if you have time but not necessary)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar (loosely packed)
Grated zest of 1/2 an orange or 1 lemon (skip if you don’t have on hand)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup whole wheat pastry and 1 cup all -purpose)
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole-milk yogurt

Preheat oven to 375. Butter a 9 x 13 cake pan.

Cream butter with a wooden spoon, add zest and sugar and cream together until well blended. Whisk in egg and vanilla, add flour, soda and salt and finally yogurt and then rhubarb until mixed. Do not over mix. Spread batter in prepared in pan and bake until golden around the edges and tester comes out clean about 25 minutes. It will seem a bit soft but firms up as it cools.

rhubarb yogurt cake

 

Serve as is or with lightly sweetened whipped cream if you’d like.

 

Celebrating Mothers and Daughters & Homemade Mayo

I was born on Mother’s Day. I joke with my mother that I don’t need to give her a gift as long as I’m still around. And my mother always says, “All I want is a hug and maybe a piece of chocolate cake.” I added the latter – she doesn’t actually say that but I think that’s what she would love to have, in addition to that hug.

As you might recall from previous posts, my mother is also my biggest culinary influence. She is the original “cook with what you have” cook. And she does it with style and for a dozen people on the fly practically weekly. She also lives 13 miles from the nearest grocery store. And she has the most bottomless and varied of all chest freezers (all home-grown too)– far better than most stores!

I don’t know about you, but it’s not always easy cooking with other people and in other people’s kitchens. And my mother, who is a very fast and efficient cook, does not always love sharing her kitchen with others. But whenever I’m at her house I inevitably cook and we have such a seamless rhythm together in the kitchen and she never fails to note how much she loves to have me in the kitchen. I’m sure it’s that we’ve worked side-by-side in kitchens for 30 +  years but it still seems noteworthy that it’s such fun.

We do have our culinary disagreements, particularly about what constitutes properly cooked meat and fish. She’s more of well-done type! And she doesn’t quite see the point of stocking two different kinds of olive oil: one for finishing dishes, salad dressings, etc. and one for sauteeing and such. But beyond that, we’re pretty similar. We just cooked Easter dinner together and I have to admit, even though the leg of lamb was more done that I would have chosen, it was very good.

So I think we should celebrate mothers and daughters for the whole month of May this year and I’ve scheduled a class on Sunday, May 16th for you mothers and daughters who would like to spend a few hours in my kitchen with each other and cook together. And if you’d like a private class with another mother/daughter pair or two either in my kitchen or yours we’ll schedule something!

And speaking of spring and Easter and Mother’s Day. … home-made mayonnaise season has started in my house! It is actually never really not in season, it’s just that now that my chives, oregano and parsley are prolific in the garden I love it even more. We had fried razor clams the night before Easter and dipped them in herbed mayo; last week we ate it with sweet potato fries (made with lime juice and cilantro), and this week it will go in the egg salad (using up all those easter eggs).

Homemade Mayonnaise with Fresh Herbs

2 egg yolks (organic or from a local farm if possible)

1 -2 tsps lemon juice (plus possibly a bit more to taste at the end) or white wine vinegar in a pinch

Couple of pinches of kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

3/4 – 1 cup or more of safflower oil or canola or some neutral vegetable oil

Herbs you have on hand (good with chives, parsley, basil, chervil, tarragon, etc.)

Whisk egg yolks with lemon juice and salt and pepper. Then very, very gradually start pouring in the oil in a very thin stream, whisking as you go. After you’ve incorporated about 1/4 cup of oil you can start speeding things up a bit. Continue until you have a consistency you like. It will get thicker and stiffer the more oil you add. Add chopped herbs at the end and add more salt and/or lemon juice if it needs more tang.

Aioli

To make the classic French garlicky mayonnaise (aioli), mash as many cloves of garlic as you want (you can start with as few as two and go up to about 10 for a very spicy, strong aioli) with some coarse salt with the side of a chef’s knife (or in a mortar) until you have a fairly smooth paste. Add the garlic paste to the egg yolks, lemon juice and salt and proceed as with the mayo above. Typically aioli does not have fresh herbs in it but sometimes I add some chives or parsley or basil. And traditionally you would use olive oil for this but I find that it often gets too bitter and strong if you use 100% olive oil so I suggest you use half very good-tasting extra virgin olive oil and half sunflower or some other more neutral oil.

Homemade Veggie Bouillon

Homemade Veggie Bouillon base. Dissolve 1-2 teaspoons per cup of water for a delicious instant broth for soups or with which to cook grains, etc.
Homemade Veggie Bouillon base. Dissolve 1-2 teaspoons per cup of water for a delicious instant broth for soups or with which to cook grains, etc.

One of my favorite blogs is Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks. She blogged about this basic and brilliant idea of making your own bouillon paste in a matter of minutes.  I’ve taught it in countless cooking classes and sent folks home with a jar to keep in the freezer for that last-minute risotto, soup, braise, etc. If you have a food processor, all you do is clean the appropriate veggies (carrots, onions, leeks, parsley . . . .) and process them until they are very finely chopped, add lots of salt, process again and spoon into a jar. Done! Nothing is cooked or sautéed. I do love veggie stock but this method of processing things raw gives a wonderful fresh, bright flavor and is quick to make and easy to store and use. When you need the broth, just spoon out about 2 teaspoons of bouillon per cup of water (or more or less to your taste) and use in your respective dish. I used it soups, instead of water or stock, in risotti, to cook grains, etc.

Homemade Bouillon

This recipe requires a food processor. If you don’t have all the below ingredients you can just use onions, celery, carrots and parsley and you can vary the ratios of the vegetables too. Just be sure to use about 1/3 cup salt for each 2 cups of finely blended veggies/herbs.

5 ounces leeks, sliced and well-washed 
(about 1 medium)
7 ounces carrot, well scrubbed and chopped
 (about 3-4 medium)
3.5 ounces celery
 (about 2 big stalks)
3.5 ounces celery root (celeriac), peeled and chopped (about a 3” x 3″ chunk)
1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes
 (about 6 dried tomatoes)
1 large shallot or a 1/4 of smallish onion, peeled
1 medium garlic clove
6 ounces  sea salt or kosher salt (scant 1 cup)
1.5 ounces flat-leaf parsley, loosely chopped
 (about 1/3 of a good-sized bunch)
2 ounces  cilantro (coriander), loosely chopped (about ½ bunch)

Place the first four ingredients in your food processor and pulse about twenty times. Add the next three ingredients, and pulse again. Add the salt, pulse some more. Then add the parsley and cilantro. You’ll want to stir up the mixture occasionally in order to integrate it all and create a smooth paste.

You should end up with a moist, loose paste of sorts. Put the past in a quart container or jar and freeze for use over the next few months. Because of all the salt it remains scoop-able directly from the freezer.

Start by using 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons of bouillon base per 1 cup, and adjust from there based on your personal preference.

Inspired by The River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin. The U.S. edition of the River Cottage Preserves Handbook will be available this summer.

Why I Teach & Leeks and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Class was fun this last weekend. It’s almost like the reward for all the work leading up to it. The house is clean and full of flowers; all stations are prepped, and new people walk in the door and we get to work. And then we eat! It’s really energizing and reminds me why I do this work. It helps when everyone likes the dishes and is inspired to cook them at home, vary dishes to suit their tastes, pick up new varieties of veggies, etc.

I also had a realization of sorts last week as I prepared for class. I was musing (to myself) about why I started this business and in what ways I am qualified to teach people about cooking. I concluded the following:

1) Being organized (planning, sourcing, cleaning, prepping, budgeting) is more than half the battle!

2) Having cooked most of my life and having had good culinary mentors helps.

3) But most importantly, since my whole point is to demonstrate how simple and satisfying cooking with/for your family/friends  can be, there really isn’t much pressure to be new, fancy, and trendy and that is such a blessing!

So back to the food. . . .One of my favorite dishes from Sunday’s class is a bruschetta that serves as a complete meal for our family this time of year.

Bruschetta with Stewed Leeks and Goat Cheese

This is a wonderfully hearty, one-dish dinner with the simplest of ingredients. Leeks are one of those farmers’ market mainstays that are with us from fall through spring. If you don’t have goat cheese on hand, feta would work too or cream cheese. Or you could take the hard-boiled egg yolks and mash them with a little olive oil and salt and spread it on the bread and just use the chopped whites on top. Quantities are approximate and feel free to make less or more depending on what you have on hand and/or want to use up.

2-3 leeks (cut off only the top couple of inches that are scruffy. Most of the green part is great to eat)

5 slices of rustic bread

4-5 oz soft (fresh) goat cheese

3 hard-boiled eggs (chopped)

1 tsp fresh or dry thyme (finely chopped or crumbled)

salt and pepper

1 Tbs butter

olive oil

Clean leeks well and cut in half lengthwise then cut into ½ inch half-rounds. Heat butter and a good splash of olive oil in a large sauté pan over med/high heat. Add the leeks when the butter is melted and oil is hot. Stir well to coat, salt generously with a couple of large pinches of kosher salt. Add thyme and stir well. Cook for a few minutes uncovered, then turn the heat down a bit and cover. Check occasionally to make sure the leeks aren’t browning or burning. Add a splash of water if they start to stick and turn the heat down a bit more. Cook for about 15 minutes until leeks are meltingly tender, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, toast the bread and hard-boil the eggs and peel and chop those. Spread the goat cheese on the bread, arrange stewed leeks on cheese, sprinkle with egg, sprinkle with salt and a couple of grinds of pepper and drizzle a little good olive oil over the whole thing.

Salad Rolls

I used to buy Salad Rolls for lunch when I worked downtown  from one of my favorite food carts. They were fresh and inexpensive and the peanut sauce was addictive. And I didn’t have to wait in line since they were ready-made and I always had exact change. Sounds pretty rushed for the devoted “Slow Foodie” that I am. . . . but sometimes work called!

salad rollsNow many years later, I’ve finally learned to make them. I held a private cooking class this weekend and was asked to teach an Asian-inspired menu. Salad rolls were the first thing that came to mind so that was our starter.

This dish brought with it a conversation (mostly with myself) about using local produce. My classes/menus (and my everyday cooking) are driven by the produce I buy at the farmers’ markets. All of a sudden I found myself wanting/needing basil, mint, and cilantro–none of which are at local farmers’ markets right now. I bit the bullet and bought these things at the grocery store. I actually buy cilantro at the grocery store occasionally without giving it much thought but not the basil and mint. I grow both, but the mint is barely peeking out of the ground at the moment and of course the basil is months away. Now I do buy oranges and bananas in the winter and plenty of other non-local staples but because of the plethora of wonderful veggies that do grow here year-round,  I’ve never really bought much produce out of season. I’m bemused and interested by my mental games and parameters I’ve somewhat unwittingly developed. More on this in a later post and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the subject. . . .

My conclusion, post salad roll making and eating, is that a) I’ll plant more basil this year, and add cilantro to the mix (hoping it doesn’t bolt too fast) and b) I’ll occasionally  indulge in salad rolls out-of-season too. They were just so good and so light and fresh after months of heavier winter fare.

One of my early attempts – before I wised up and skipped the lettuce and just used herbs. Much tastier and easier to roll.

So, now to the recipe. I adapted recipes from Gourmet for both the rolls and the peanut sauce. I made enough changes that I’m posting my versions here, but here’s also the original in case you’re curious.

Herb Salad Spring Rolls – adapted from Gourmet

1 ounce bean-thread (cellophane) noodles

1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar

eight 8-inch rounds rice paper plus additional in case some tear

1 green onion (scallion), cut into 2-inch julienne strips

1/4 cup finely shredded carrot

3 oz firm tofu, well-drained and cut into thin strips

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, washed well and spun dry

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, washed well and spun dry

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed well and spun dry

Soaking Rice Paper

In a bowl soak noodles in very hot water to cover 15 minutes and drain well in a colander.  With scissors cut remaining noodles into 3 to 4-inch lengths and in a small bowl toss with vinegar and salt to taste.

In a shallow baking pan or cake pan soak 2 rounds rice paper in hot water to cover until very pliable, 45 seconds to 1 minute.

Lay a dry dish towel on a large, flat dinner plate. Carefully spread 1 soaked round on it and blot top with other half of  dish towel. Peel paper off and place on plate (it will stick to the towel if you leave it on the towel). Leave remaining round in water, and blot with dish towel. Arrange several basil leaves on bottom half of sheet, leaving a 1-inch border along edge. Top basil with about one-fourth of noodles, arranging them in a line across lettuce. Top noodles with one-fourth each of scallion, carrot, tofu, and cilantro and mint. Roll up filling tightly in rice paper, folding insides after first roll to completely enclose filling, and continue rolling.

Blot remaining soaked rice paper round on dish towel and blot other side then move to the plate. Wrap rice paper around spring roll in same manner. (Double wrapping covers any tears and makes roll more stable and easier to eat.) Wrap spring roll in rinsed and squeezed dish or paper towel and put in a resealable plastic bag. Make 3 more rolls with remaining ingredients in same manner. Rolls may be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Before serving, bring rolls to room temperature.

Halve rolls diagonally and serve with spicy peanut sauce.

Spicy Peanut Sauce  – adapted from Gourmet

3 garlic cloves, minced

1-2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or 1 small Serrano chili, minced, or to taste

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste

3/4 cup water

Juice of 1 lime, more to taste

In a small saucepan cook garlic and red pepper flakes or Serrano and ginger in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until garlic is golden. Whisk in remaining ingredients (except lime) and bring to a boil, whisking. Simmer sauce, whisking, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in lime or lemon juice. Sauce may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, covered.

Serve sauce warm or at room temperature.

Weekday Breakfast and Memories of Summer

We u-picked a lot of berries last summer–strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and marionberries. For the first time, my son was old enough to toddle among the rows, eat berries and amuse himself (for the most part – I did have to cut one trip short because he was “harassing” another little boy). And I took full advantage! We picked 25 lbs of gorgeous and perfectly ripe strawberries one day. I hadn’t really thought through how I was going to process them all and didn’t have time for much. I rinsed them, hulled them and packed them in 1 quart yogurt containers and tossed them in the freezer. I thought I’d make jam or ice cream or sauce when I had more time. Well I did the same with the blueberries and the raspberries. I never made any of those other things except for a few batches of jam. So my generous stash of frozen berries has lasted me this long. I opened my last quart of blueberries and strawberries this morning for one of our favorite breakfasts.

 

Throughout the late fall and winter I’ve cooked a pot of steel-cut oats (I soak the oats over night which makes cooking them in the morning a quick affair) and topped them with frozen berries and maple syrup. It is perfect in so many ways. The berries thaw and soften in the steaming cereal and cool the oats down to a perfect temperature. The berries literally taste like they were just picked. As corny as it sounds, every bite is a vivid flashback to summer–the smells, the warmth, the dirt and berry juice under your fingernails.. .. it is lovely, warm, and nourishing. And a wonderful way to start the day.

 

This is also an incredibly inexpensive breakfast. You can’t beat the price and quality of fresh (frozen) u-picked fruit and steel-cut oats in bulk cost next to nothing. And then you can splurge on good maple syrup. All of this to say, if you have the chance to u-pick berries this summer and have a freezer, pick lots and lots and don’t feel badly about not processing them. You will enjoy the fruits of your labor (pun intended!) all winter long. I will remind you of this come June and we’re in the swing of berry season.

 

Steel Cut Oats with Berries

 

2 cups steel-cut oats

1/2 tsp of salt

water

Fresh or frozen berries

maple syrup (or brown sugar or honey)

 

The night before you’re planning on making this, put the oats in a saucepan and cover with a couple inches of water. By morning the oats will have absorbed most if not all of it. Add the salt and another 2 cups of water, cover, bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes. If you forget to soak them you’ll just have to cook them for about 30 -40 minutes with much more water in the morning.

 

Top with the fruit and maple syrup, stir well and eat!

 

Why I Cook. Part I.

I now have a professional excuse to read food blogs (more on that later). A post by Michael Ruhlman last week about why people cook, or do not cook has kept me ruminating this week. And then Culinate.com featured a piece about eating-in and solicited comments from readers about memorable experiences of staying home and cooking instead of opting for take-out or going out to eat.

I can think of dozens of reasons why I cook but I think the fundamental one is that I love preparing food for the people in my life. I started cooking at a very young age, in part because my mother suffered from severe migraines. When she was laid up, I often cooked for my siblings and father. And even though I remember those days without my mother bustling about and taking care of us, as quiet, sad, and just wrong, I also remember the joy and pride with which I served dinner. From then on, preparing food became the go-to-gift for all occasions.

And then there’s just the everyday cooking, the nightly dinners that are so part of my routine that if I don’t cook for two or three nights I start feeling a little antsy. It’s not that I don’t love to go out to eat. Eating out is in fact one of the things I miss most about my pre-child life. However, since we don’t  go out much any more, I have daily opportunities to enjoy the process. And I have a most appreciative eater in my husband, and more often that not, in my son as well. My son recently turned three, which was a great reason to bake cinnamon rolls, muffins, a chocolate birthday cake, and lots of savory snacks too.

Today, my kitchen looked like a production kitchen. I had a few hours to myself and the result was a double batch of muffins and a triple batch of granola. Now we’re stocked for after-school-snacks and breakfasts for two weeks.

The second batch of muffins was baking and the kitchen smelled of cinnamon and I was wrist-deep in granola, oily hands covered with pumpkin and sunflower seeds and oats, and loving it. I love the process. I love the smells and the toasty clumps I nibble as soon as the granola is out of the oven. I love the creativity. (I have become a bit of a pathological substituter–sometimes because I don’t have  all the ingredients, but sometimes also because I like to tinker with the original.) And I do like to eat, so the consumption part is a joy too.

Speaking of results and creativity, the granola I made today was inspired by a recipe from Lottie + Doof , one of my favorite food blogs.  I’ve been making this variation for several months now and it illustrates another reason I love to cook. I could never afford to buy this kind of granola at the store. With a few tweaks to the original recipe (I omit the pecans and use applesauce for part of the olive oil called for) I can make six pounds of granola for about $15 by buying products in bulk from Azure Standard and making it myself (active time 10 minutes!)

These are just a few of the reasons why I cook. I’d love to hear why you do or don’t!

Granola (inspired by Lottie + Doof who adapted it from Early Bird Granola)

  • 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds, hulled
  • 1 cup coconut chips
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • generous 1/2 cup apple sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 300°F.
Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Mix honey, maple syrup, olive oil and applesauce in another bowl and then stir into dry ingredients. Spread granola mixture in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to oven and bake, stirring every 10 minutes, until granola is toasted, about an hour. It should be nice and golden brown. Remove granola from oven and let cool completely before serving or storing in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Olympics, McDonald’s, Michelle Obama, and Savory Bread Pudding

The beginnings of Savory Bread Pudding -- the addition of some Winter Greens pesto makes this dish even better.

I love watching the Olympics, that is, I love the actual races, performances, personal stories and all the emotion and physical rigor and determination that culminates in these two weeks. I tend to go on longer runs myself during the games. I stay up too late watching just one more qualifying speed skating race, and I read the sports section every morning.

I do not like the staggering number of commercials (actually it’s not a staggering number, it’s the staggering frequency with which the same dozen are broadcast). And I particularly dislike the McDonald’s commercials that say things like, “Eat like an Olympian!” and have smiling, sporty children running around their swanky apartments with little red happy-meal boxes! I’m sure some Olympians do eat fast food but I would imagine that the majority of them do not.

My three-year-old has been watching the coverage with us sometimes and so he is seeing these commercials for the first time which brings me, somewhat indirectly to Michelle Obama’s recent unveiling of her fight to end childhood obesity. She has an ambitious plan and the President has pledged 1 billion dollars to get better food into schools and fund other areas of access and education that really could make a difference. These issues are close to my heart and the work I and many others have been doing through Slow Food for years and through our current Time for Lunch campaign. I am excited to see more national attention paid to this issue that affects all of us in one way or another. And this brings me back to my very own kitchen and the daily routine of cooking dinner.

I’m not surprised that parents take their children to McDonald’s. It’s cheap (in some ways), and it’s there, everywhere, in fact and children devour it. My son turns his nose up at the food I prepare all the time and I know he would devour french fries and hamburgers every night if the opportunity arose. But when he exclaims (after some perseverance on the parents’ part) “I DO like beans!” with a big smile on his face I am reminded of what constant exposure to vegetables and fruits and home-cooked food does for children, and parents. I could write a book on this but to wrap up this post and get to my final point, let’s briefly talk about a dish my son needs no encouragement to devour. Savory bread pudding! It is the answer to my 5:30pm-what’s-for-dinner? prayer when I have two hungry “men” circling the kitchen. The stale half-loaf of bread in the fridge, the carrot and onion, the remainders of a bunch of cilantro and a few cups of milk and maybe a handful of grated cheese. These humble and almost ever-present ingredients turn into a moist, savory dinner in no-time and no-one needs convincing to clean their plate!

Oh and if you want to take a cooking class on other kid-friendly meals, check out my Sunday, Feb. 28th class!

Savory Bread Pudding

Bread soaking in the custard of eggs and milk

You can use almost any vegetable you have on hand and you can add bacon or sausage if you like as well. You can make it drier with more bread or more custardy with more milk and/or eggs.The point is don’t feel you have to follow the below quantities and just use the technique to use up whatever you have or use your favorite veggies/herbs.

Serves 4-6.

5 eggs

3 cups milk

5-6 large slices bread, cubed (or varies ends for a total of about 5-6 cups of cubed bread)

½ an onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

couple of sprigs of parsley, chopped

grated cheese (cheddar, or parmesan or crumbled feta or goat cheese) (optional)

salt and pepper

I had leftover chard stems (from making Winter Greens pesto) and chopped those up with the onion and carrot to saute and add to the custard.

Preheat oven to 375 (or 400 if you’re in a hurry). Cube the bread. In a large bowl whisk the eggs and milk. Salt and pepper generously. Heat a little olive oil in a sauté pan, add onions and carrots and sauté for a about 10 minutes until golden and the carrots are cooked through—the finer you chop the carrots the faster that will be! Chop the parsley and add parsley and veggies to bread mixture. Pour into a 9 x 13 baking dish, top with grated or crumbled cheese, if using and bake for about 30 minutes, or until set and slightly browned on top. Again if you’re in a hurry turn on the broiler for the last few minutes to get the cheese and top nice and crusty.

P.S. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of the pudding right out of the oven. We must have  been in such a hurry to eat it that I forgot to take a picture. It was nice and golden-brown and bubbly!

Winter greens become pesto

I have been making this version of pesto for  a year or more now and I’ve been teaching it  in my winter cooking classes and it’s usually a favorite. I originally started making it because my then, 2 year-old loved basil pesto but once basil was out of season and he had become a pickier eater I started making this version with greens of all kinds (beet greens, chard, spinach, etc.) I made it this past weekend for my son’s birthday party. I mixed it with some fresh goat cheese and spread it on toasted bread. People were eating it by the spoonful out of the bowl in the kitchen before I could even get it on the bread.

And then when I went to the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market on Sunday, the greens were back!  The hard freeze we had in early/mid December really did in the leafy greens this winter. The last few weeks, however, have been so mild that the greens are showing up in the market again.

I loaded up on collards, lacinato and Red Russian kale, rapini, bok choy and spinach. And all were beautiful! So if you have greens in your fridge, by all means try this recipe. Use whatever nuts you have on hand. Walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts or all delicious in this and if you have pine nuts, by all means use them.

And if you’re going to mix it with goat cheese like I did you can skip the hard cheese in the pesto and reduce the oil. Buon Appetito!

This is a very adaptable recipe. I use the pesto as a sandwich spread (and on grilled cheese sandwiches), on quesadillas, as a dressing for pasta or for rice salads. You could spread it on fish or meat before grilling or baking. You can mix it with goat cheese for a lovely little crostini. You can thin it down with a little water or more oil for a salad dressing for hearty green salads for roasted vegetables.

The quantity of ingredients can be adapted to your taste and what you have on hand. This pesto keeps well in the fridge for 3-4 days and freezes well so feel free to make a bigger batch if you have everything on hand.

2 medium-sized bunches of greens (chard, kale, beet greens, spinach etc.)

1-2 cloves garlic

1- handfuls of hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts or pine nuts

2 oz of hard, aged cheese such as parmesan or Asiago stella

¼ – 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt, pepper

Wash and stem greens (if stems are tough). If using beet greens or spinach keep the stems. Bring a large pat of salted water to a boil. Add greens and cook for a 2- 3 minutes. Drain, let cool and squeeze out all the water with your hands. Place cheese and nuts in food processor and process until finely chopped, add greens and garlic and salt & pepper, process until well integrated. Drizzle in the oil and periodically check for consistency and flavor. Do not over process. If not using immediately store in a sealable container in the fridge with a little more olive oil poured over the top.

Whole wheat adaptation of no-knead bread

As requested, here’s my version of Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread. A trick I recently learned from Hank Sawtelle on Culinate.com is to lift and flip the dough once or twice during the rising, which creates a nice open crumb and bigger holes.

75% whole wheat loaf

No-Knead Bread

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

4 cups bread flour (very important to use bread flour – don’t use all-purpose it won’t rise properly), more for dusting
(I use 3 cups whole wheat bread flour – shepherd’s grain is the best but Bob’s red mill is fine too and 1 cup white bread flour but experiment with other ratios and other types of  flour—rye, fine cornmeal, etc.) you might start with more white than that as you get started with it but it’s totally up to you, your taste. . .

1 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
 (it has to be rapid rise/instant for this recipe)

1 generous Tbs salt if you’re using kosher salt which I do

extra flour, cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 2 cups luke warm water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with towel or plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, or up to 18, at room temperature.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and knead it gently for a minute. Cover loosely with towel and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 500 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Bread, bread, bread

Today's crusty loaf of whole wheat no-knead bread (Jim Lahey/Sullivan Street Bakery)

Like so many people, I’ve been making the no-knead bread made famous by Mark Bittman’s NY Times piece three or four years ago. I now regularly make this loaf with 75% whole wheat (using Shephard’s grain whole wheat flour) with magnificent results. the crumb is open and the texture chewy and the crust, crackly and toasty brown.

I’ve decided to focus one of my upcoming classes on the many uses for bread (not in a sandwich kind of way) as part of dinner.

Three hours later. . . already consumed a third of it

I tend to still have a 1/4 of a loaf leftover (for fear of running out) when I pull a new one out of the oven and then we want to eat the new one, fresh with butter or cheese as a snack or make sandwiches. Maybe that’s why I have such a repertoire of dishes that incorporate that last 1/4 to delicious effect. Many cultures/cuisines have used up bread in creative ways for hundreds of  years and it’s certainly a hearty base for many a dish, especially this time of year.

Sidewalk greens

Cress
Not a weed, a salad green!

Hello and welcome to my first blog post for Cook With What You Have!

I was playing outside with my three-year old the other day and he was digging in an empty garden bed on an unseasonably warm January day. I noticed that the raised bed’s edges were alive with the bright green little cress (actually called Hairy Bittercress and related to the commercially available watercress) that is always my first sign that winter is slowly on the wane. I’ve used this delicate, peppery green in salads for years despite its unpalatable name, which I just learned today. I think it’s mostly known to farmers and is a weedy  nuisance but to city dwellers with little else edible growing at the moment, it’s a fun treat.

So look around your house and yard and see what you find. pull up the whole plant, wash well and then add it to a salad, a sandwich or quesadilla and enjoy.