Change

A quintessential last minute dinner: Quinoa with bacon, peas, and hardboiled egg.

I’ve been thinking about change a lot as I develop and gear up for my new cooking class series entitled Eat Better: Kitchen Fundamentals, Pantry Stocking and 30-Minute Dinners.  It seems that in the world of cooking, foods and methods of preparation have changed as our lives have changed. We’re busier, we work outside of the home for longer hours, we have other priorities. So I devise a series on how to make cooking real meals with whole ingredients possible in this kind of a world. But even 30 minutes of solid cooking in the evening plus the time it takes to keep that pantry stocked and a few things prepped here and there is a big shift for many of us.

So the question I keep asking myself is how to find that balance between offering lots of creative short-cuts and menus that fit into our busy lives and helping people want to spend a little more time in the kitchen because the pay-offs can be so, so great. So maybe having our lives change just a bit to enable real, good food to hit our table more often, means that instead of needing the cooking to be crammed into our crazy lives we decide to make our lives a little less crazy in order to fit in some real cooking.

Even though I work from home and my work is food, I still often don’t know what I’m going to make for dinner when 5:30pm rolls around. I do have a very well-stocked pantry and several decades of cooking under my belt so the task is not so daunting and often a nice break from the computer. But even with my time at home and years of experience, I chuckle when I read cookbooks  that say things in the head notes of a recipe like this: Serve this ____ main dish with ___ salad with ___ dressing and ___ vegetable dish for a simple satisfying supper. What?!  I can’t count on 2 hands the times my regular week night dinners have included the above components in the last six months. Maybe I’m unorthodox in my focus one one-dish dinners or one dish plus fried egg or one dish plus slice of bread or one-dish plus something I had in the freezer or made extra of the day before, but that is my reality and I find truly simple meals like this very satisfying. And I don’t think I’m feeding my family nutritionally unbalanced meals. This way of cooking certainly is informed by growing up in a household with three brothers and usually an exchange student or two and two parents who liked to eat. My mother just made quantities of one or two dishes and that was that. It was always delicious. And, I should add, she always made some kind of dessert because my father mandated it!:) But I digress.

What I think I’m trying to say is that real, good food can be made fairly quickly and regularly and the investment in time it takes to build that skill and confidence level is worth it.

The first time Ellis actually saved me time in the kitchen. He perfectly hollowed out both halves of this squash–no stray strings or seeds! So, if you have kids, put 'em to work!:)

So I’ve tried to tackle a big subject in these few muddled paragraphs and I would love to hear your thoughts on how you find a balance between cooking and all your other interests, demands, needs, etc. And I’m curious whether you would like to spend more time cooking, less time, would like to cook differently, more simply, more creatively. . .

Happy New Year and happy cooking and thanks for reading.

Katherine

P.S. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m a guest blogger at Culinate these days and if I’ve missed a blog post or two of my own lately it’s because I’ve been posting there as well and there are only so many hours in the day. . . So if you’re curious, there’s this recent one and this one. Enjoy.

Stuffed and Roasted Pumpkin

This is the most delicious, beautiful fall dish. It’s perfect for a regular old dinner (though it does take almost 2 hours to bake so maybe a weekend dinner) or a Thanksgiving treat. But it’s so easy and so adaptable that you should add it to your regular repertoire. It’s wonderful with cooked rice instead of bread, additions of cooked spinach or chard, cooked sausage . . .

Serves 6

 

Pumpkin Stuffed and Roasted
–adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table

 

1 pie pumpkin, about 4 – 5 lbs (just adjust the amount of filling if your pumpkin is smaller or larger – though you don’t want to go too much larger as it takes awfully long to cook)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 lb (or slightly more) stale bread, sliced and cut into ½-inch chunks
1/3 lb cheese, such as sharp cheddar, Gruyère, Emmenthal or a combination, cut into ½ chunks or grated
2-4 garlic cloves (to taste), finely chopped
2-4 slices bacon, diced and cooked until just crisp
¼ cup chives or sliced scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
½ cup of cream or half and  half
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

 

Preheat oven to 350F.

 

You can using a baking sheet, a pie pan (as seen above), or a dutch oven with a diameter that’s just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin. If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but might stick to the casserole, so you’ll have to serve it from the pot which is fine too.

 

Using a sturdy knife, cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin. Cut a big enough cap that it’s easy to hollow out the inside. Scrape out the seeds and strings from the cap and the inside of the pumpkin. Rub the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper and put it on the baking sheet, pie pan or in a pot.

 

In a large bowl toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together. Season with pepper and salt and pack the filling into the cavity. The pumpkin should be well filled—you might have a little too much filling, or you might  need to add to it. Stir the cream, milk and nutmeg with a bit of salt and pepper and pour it into the filled pumpkin. You want the liquid to come about half-way up the cavity. It’s hard to go wrong though. Better a little wetter than too dry.

 

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours—check after 90 minutes—or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove the cap for the last 20  minutes or so of baking to brown the top and let any extra liquid evaporate. Transfer carefully to a serving platter if you baked it on a sheet. Serve, scooping out plenty of pumpkin with each serving or serve it in slices.

 

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.