Make Your Own Rules! Aka You’re the Boss & Cooking is More Fun that Way

I just returned from a 4-day camping trip/music festival. First day back was busy and hot. No time for a trip to the store and there was a hungry family to feed & we spent too much money on food at the festival:

 

What did I have on hand?

1 giant zucchini that I should have picked before I left. 1 slightly shriveled peach, 1 quart of cooked rice in the freezer as well as a loaf of bread, a head of lettuce that still had a decently fresh core, plenty of herbs in the garden, red lentils in the pantry, plus 1 onion and a few cloves of garlic, a bit of butter, spices and a can of coconut milk. And a handful of roasted, salted cashews.

 

The Menu:

Zucchini & Herb “Butter” + Toasted Bread

Red Lentil Dhal & Rice w/ Plenty of Mint

Green Salad w/ Peaches, Mint & Cashews

 

The Verdict:

Delicious + enough for lunch the next day + cooking without spending an (extra) dime makes me very happy

 

My “Rules” (for this meal):

  • Don’t hesitate to serve an Indian-inspired dish next to a French-inspired one next to an undefinable salad
  • Rich nuts like cashews can stand in for cheese in salad
  • Nuts are critical pantry staples
  • Grating the zucchini and squeezing out some of the liquid before sauteeing it makes it cook more quickly and have a better consistency
  • A zucchini that looks too big to be good can be delicious sauteed with plenty of butter & herbs
  • Grating vegetables is easy and often leads to creative uses
  • Growing a few herbs pays off big time
  • Fruit is wonderful in green salads
  • Butter & salt make everything better

What are you cooking on the fly these days?

 

Happy summer!

 

P.S. Need more regular tips and inspiration to eat well and spend less? Use discount code SUMMER for 20% of a subscription to the Seasonal Recipe Collection. 

 

Summer Squash Herb “Butter”

–inspired by Food52.com

 

Whenever you have a lot of squash this is the prefect thing to do. Grated, it cooks down quickly, turning into a sweet and savory side dish or spread. Spread it on toast in place of actual butter or add a thick layer in a sandwich with  tomatoes and/or soft cheese. You can use it as a pizza topping or a pasta sauce too.

 

Serves 4 as a side, 2 as more of main with an egg or a hearty salad, etc.

 

About 4-5 medium zucchini or any kind of summer squash (feel free to use less or add extra — cooking times will vary)

1/4 cup olive oil or butter (I prefer butter in this one)

½ a medium onion, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, mint, basil or parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Squeeze of lemon juice or drizzle of vinegar

 

Coarsely grate the squash on the large holes of a box grater. Squash is really the easiest thing to grate so it won’t take much time at all. If you feel like it you can sprinkle the pile of grated squash with a little salt and let it sit while you sauté the onions. Even in just a couple of minutes it will release a bit of liquid. Before adding the grated squash to the pan you can then squeeze handfuls of the squash over a sink to release some extra liquid which will speed up the cooking a bit. But don’t worry if you don’t–it will be just fine.

 

In a deep skillet, heat the olive oil/butter. Sauté the onion for about 3 minutes on medium heat. Add the squash and a few generous pinches of salt and toss and cook and stir over medium to medium-high heat until the squash is nice and soft and almost spreadable, about 15 minutes. If you scorch the bottom, turn the burner down a bit but don’t worry about the browned areas. They will add flavor and be sure to scrape them up and reincorporate. Just before the end of the cooking time add the herbs and incorporate well. Cook another minute or two, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and a little lemon juice—you don’t need much but just a little brightens it up nicely.

 

 

Possibility

Some family and friends spent the morning of New Years Eve making these delicate, shape-shifting, ephemeral bubbles in the brisk, breezy, sunny air. We exclaimed and laughed and shouted, bubble after bubble, as they drifted or popped immediately or divided and continued on their short path to the pavement or a tree branch. There’s something about the joy and unpredictability of these spheres that seems worth pondering as we head into another year.

 

A few conversations, articles and books are also shaping my thoughts for this new year. A friend shared her thoughts about simplifying her pantry staples, I mean really simplifying, beyond what I can yet properly imagine, and challenged me to ponder the same and create food, delicious, nourishing food, everyday, with less.

 

I just read this piece about Tanya Berry, Wendell Berry’s wife, editor, soulmate which gave me much to ponder including this quote of hers: “You have to quit being so picky, and so fault-finding, and so snotty about it. You take people and their gifts, and you enjoy them and honor them.” 

 

And finally this, hope-giving story about a man who plants trees.

 

Happy New Year all you wonderful people!

 

P.S. Heres’s one of my favorite things to eat at the moment:

 

Carrot and Seed Salad with Herbs
–inspired by Breakfast Lunch Tea by Rose Carrarini

 

3/4 cup sunflower seeds (or pumpkin seeds)

2 teaspoons oil & few pinches salt (to toast the seeds)

6-7 medium carrots, grated

1/2 cup (or more) chopped fresh herbs like chives, parsley, mint, cilantro etc.

Dressing:

3 tablespoons lemon juice, more to taste

scant 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350.

 

Toss the sunflower seeds with the a little oil and several pinches of salt and toast on a baking sheet for about 12 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are crisp and golden. Set aside to cool.

 

Place the grated carrots in a serving bowl with the herbs and the dressing ingredients. Toss well and add toasted seeds and taste adjust seasoning with more lemon and/or salt, if needed.

Summer at the Beach and a new Technique

Try as I might, I did not manage to write a post last week. We had our annual family beach week and though I took my laptop, not much work transpired. But I did cook and bake–cherry pie, soba noodles with a cilantro and ginger dressing, pancakes with raspberry syrup . . . and these fabulous scalloped potatoes!

Scalloped potatoes are kind of an old-school dish I think. My grandmother made them all the time (she topped hers with a layer of little pork, breakfast sausages:) and I grew up making them-sans sausages-with my mother. In fact they were one of the first dishes I made for my family for dinner all by myself when I was about 10. I remember it distinctly because I was in a bit of a black pepper phase. I ground so much pepper on each layer of potatoes that it verged on inedible. My family was gracious about it but that pepper phase lasted a couple of years.

So, I’ve always layered potatoes with whatever herbs, cheese, veggies, or spices I was using at the time. However this last week at the beach, wanting to spend more time  reading in the hammock, I scrapped the layering and just tossed everything in a big bowl, put the mixture in the baking dish, added milk half way up the potatoes and baked it. Voila! Don’t know why this just occurred to me! It was just as delicious as always and much faster–actually better I think because the flavors were more evenly blended. Now I’m going to use this technique for other gratins, using summer squash and I don’t know yet what else, but I’m excited to experiment.

A friend recently lent me Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express. It’s a wonderful book of quick meals and what I like most is that his recipes are written in a paragraph or two with no long lists of ingredients and detailed instructions. The subject of recipe writing and how much detail to give warrants a whole post but in short, I would like to think that with some dishes, describing the process with approximate quantities give the cook more freedom and license to use whatever he/she has on hand and to taste and experiment along the way.  Cooking can be very fun this way and in my quest to get people cooking more often, it’s an important part of demystifying the process and getting people to think about what they really like and how they might turn that into dinner every night. It really can be simple, fast, delicious and fun.

Scalloped Potatoes

Scrub and thinly slice (by hand, slicer on a box grater, or food processor) about 2 1/2 – 3  lbs of waxy potatoes (not Russets, all other kinds work well) and put in a large bowl. In a small bowl mix about 1/4 cup of flour, 2 + teaspoons of kosher salt, a few grinds of black pepper and whatever other seasonings you like. I used 2 1/2 teaspoons each ground cumin and pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika) and 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes. Grate some sharp cheddar, gruyere or other cheese of your choice. Finely dice a small onion.

Mix the flour spice mixture with the potato slices and toss well with your hands. Add the grated cheese and onions, toss again. Spread mixture in a 9 x 13 baking dish, pat down a bit with a spatula. Pour milk (or broth/stock of some kind) about half way up the potatoes. Sprinkle the top with a bit more grated cheese and bake at 400 degrees until potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork about 45 minutes. Finish under the broiler for a minute or two if the top isn’t well-browned.

Variations include lots of chopped herbs like parsley, marjoram, chives or oregano, diced bacon or slices of sausage, minced garlic, finely chopped greens or peppers, etc.

And on a completely different note, I have to include this photo of the blissful, beach week! Happy cooking and eating and reading everyone!

Cook With What You Have


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