Seven Years of Learning and Cooking with You All!

Seven years ago this week I taught two classes in my home kitchen to a handful of you. Then I taught a series of classes at Zenger Farm to a dozen of you. And I bought the url cookwithwhatyouhave.com and the rest is history, I suppose.

I set out to spread the joy and deliciousness of simple, everyday cooking with in-season vegetables and whatever your pantry had to offer. I still believe that cooking can simplify and improve our lives. And I believe that knowing farmers/farmworkers, far from a cliche, is one of the best and most important things we can do.

tomatoes roasting in cast iron pan
Roasting tomatoes to freeze for gloomier months. . . one the treasures in my “prepared pantry” that adds so much flavor with no effort in the moment.

 

Some things happened along this cook-with-what-you-have journey:

I credit Carol and Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm for my love of beans which has fundamentally changed the way I eat and teach.

47th Ave Farm and Sun Gold Farm  and Sauvie Island Organics started me down the path of writing customized recipes for CSA farms and eventually launching the Seasonal Recipe Collection.

Leslie Cole, then at the Oregonian (now at Grand Central Bakery) wrote this piece about one of my students and my Eat Better class series which solidified Cook With What You Have’s place in this wonderful community of food/farm-related businesses.

Photographer Andrea Lonas brought Cook With What You Have to life visually with beautiful photography on and offline.

Culinate asked me to write a monthly column which became an avenue to celebrate seed breedersCSAs, Slow Food, parsley and homemade veggie bouillon!

The Portland Farmers Market tirelessly promoted my cooking classes and its many neighborhood markets are the source of most of of the fresh produce for classes, testing, etc., as is the fabulous Hillsdale Farmers’ Market.

Clackamas County and Columbia Sportswear’s wellness departments hired me to teach Cooking & Eating Classes with employees. We do just that and it’s wonderful!

Betty Izumi, PSU Public Health professor and genius behind Harvest For Healthy Kids (a program created within Head Start) brought me on to work with them to bring cooking to Head Start families. Never have I learned more!

FoodCorps lets me cook for and participate in their extraordinary retreats.

And hundreds of you stuck with me, reading and commenting on this blog, attending classes, eating your way through my experiments, sending messages that you “cooked-with-what-you-had,” giving me new ideas, hiring me to teach all over the place, sharing excess produce and much more!

This list is far from complete but thank you to all of you, you know who you are, who have grown Cook With What You Have with me for all these years. I look forward to many more years with you all!

And I made this dish from my very first cooking class menu for lunch today:

Kale Bruschetta

Sauté chopped kale in olive oil with a clove or two of chopped garlic and a pinch of salt. Add water to keep things moist. When tender pile it on toasted bread that you’ve rubbed with a garlic clove and top with plenty of good olive oil and salt.

braised kale bruschetta

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.