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Monthly Archives: January 2022

Cook Happy Project Week Four

Hello there. How was your week?

I came home Wednesday night from a week’s vacation in Fort Lauderdale with a good friend. It was my first trip as a single woman in 11 years, a bold act of self-love, if I may say so.

During my time on the beach and resting in the Airbnb I revisited the book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, a beautiful explanation of Buddhist principles by Pema Chodron. I typically resist rereading books (there’s so many books out there to be read!) but I found it richly rewarding and tremendously worthwhile to review teachings that, as they say in the rooms of recovery, are “simple but not easy.”

It was gratifying to realize that what were once abstract concepts to me, like grasping at straws, are now a tangible part of my daily life. Because they have to be. Sitting with uncomfortable feelings, acknowledging painful emotions and  thoughts as a natural part of the human experience. Practicing self-compassion, which then extends outward into gentleness with others. Breathing suffering in, mine and others’, breathing out love and positivity (a technique called “Tonglen”).

Now that I’ve returned to my home kitchen, I am motivated to load up on the veggies and start my day with yet another sweet bread, this time filled with cranberries, pecans, and orange zest and juice. It amazes me that I could easily consume two entire heads of broccoli when it’s roasted at a high temperature with olive oil, salt, pepper, a little lemon juice, minced garlic, and topped with a light drizzle of Tahini paste. (Note: the Tahini adds quite a nutty flavor, and the broccoli is just as good without it. It’s a nice variation, though, worth giving a try.) 

I return to Ina Garten’s roasted onion recipe again and again—a tasty (and cheap) way to use up the onion stragglers in your fridge drawer and a rather elegant side dish in its simplicity.

I snagged a Food Network magazine at the airport and found a recipe for maple-braised carrots, another simple side that involves plenty of cathartic chopping. 

And finally, my trip included a tasty Cuban meal filled with garlic-roasted shrimp, buttery toast and mango butter, as well as lip-smacking roasted sweet plantains from an empanada stand, followed up by Jamaican patties filled with spicy beef. But it is January after all. So I’m keeping it festive (and easy!) with the aforementioned cranberry bread, which comes together with a spatula in one large mixing bowl.

Thank you for following my ramblings. Read on for my version of the recipes.

With Love,
Ginger

Roasted Broccoli with Tahini Paste
Adapted from the Food Network

Ingredients
Two small heads broccoli
Extra-virgin olive oil
Three garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and pepper
Lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
Tahini sauce

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Stem broccoli; cut into small florets. Mince garlic. Spread on the prepared baking sheet.
  • Toss the broccoli and garlic with several generous glugs of olive oil, a few pinches of kosher salt, black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. (Feel free to add a pinch of red pepper flakes if the spirit moves you.)
  • Roast in the oven for approximately 20 minutes, allowing broccoli to caramelize. Don’t worry if the garlic turns brown.
  • Coat a metal spoon with Tahini and drizzle (or “flick”) over the roasted broccoli.

Roasted Onions
Adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients
6 small-ish yellow onions
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon whatever fresh or dried herbs you have on hand (I used sage)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Peel and quarter each onion, slicing the quarters in half and then separating the layers into a large bowl. Mince the garlic.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, mustard, minced garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper. Pour the extra-virgin olive oil into a one-cup glass liquid measuring cup and slowly whisk into the other ingredients.
  • Pour the dressing over the onions and toss well to coat.
  • Dump the onions onto a large sheet pan lined with foil and roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender and caramelized. Sprinkle with any remaining fresh herbs you’d like to use. Enjoy!

Maple-Braised Carrots
Adapted from the Food Network

Ingredients
1 1/2 lbs carrots (Approximately 8 large carrots)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger root
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Zest of half a lemon
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water
Any fresh herbs you want to top with (such as parsley or chives)

Instructions

  • Trim and peel all the carrots. Slice lengthwise, then halve the lengths and cut into large chunks.
  • Peel and grate a 2-3 inch piece of ginger root on a microplane, until you have about 2 teaspoons.
  • Zest the lemon and measure out your other ingredients.
  • Melt the unsalted butter over medium-high heat on a large cast iron skillet and add the grated ginger for 30 seconds. Add the carrots, maple syrup, lemon zest, salt, pepper, pinch of cayenne, and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, then cover (with a large tray if nothing else) and simmer, covered, for approximately 15 minutes.
  • Top with extra salt, if needed, and any fresh herbs you’d like.

Cranberry-Orange Pecan Bread
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3/4 cup pecan pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
2 medium-to-large oranges
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 to 2/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups frozen cranberries
2 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F. and grease a standard 6-cup loaf pan.
  • Toast the pecan pieces in a dry skillet over medium heat, approximately 4-5 minutes, until warm and fragrant. Microwave the butter in a glass bowl and allow it to cool.
  • Dump the cup of granulated sugar into a large mixing bowl. Zest both oranges using a microplane and rub zest into sugar with your fingers to allow the flavors to release.
  • Juice the two oranges into a 1-cup liquid measuring cup; add as much sour cream as needed to allow the contents to reach the 1-cup line.
  • Stir the cooled melted butter into the sugar-zest mixture, as well as the egg.
  • Add the orange juice/sour cream mixture.
  • Sprinkle the salt, baking powder, and baking soda into the bowl; stir to combine.
  • Fold in the nuts and cranberries.
  • Add the 2 cups flour and stir until just mixed.
  • Transfer batter into the loaf pan and bake for approximately one hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cook Happy Project Week Three

Hello, reader. I come to you today, midweek, because I will be out of town this Sunday and wanted to stay on track with regular posts.

Sondra Primeaux and Tammi Salas, formerly the hosts of The Unruffled Podcast about creativity in sobriety, introduced me to the concept of a “sober lush.” The sober lush may not drink, but she certainly knows how to indulge. Give her a soft cheese. A fig with a drizzle of fine honey. A facial. A massage. A nice candle. A stroll through the grocery store without a list, selecting items that call her name. A meander through a bookstore. Permission to lie in bed and listen to music. Permission to cancel plans. A cake pop for breakfast. (Can you tell this is familiar territory for me?)

Indulging in ways that don’t damage my health (or my wallet) has been a key part of my healing process through a difficult year 2021, and I plan to continue a smattering of these simple self-care practices into my next trip around the sun.

And so the “sober lush” persona is one I channeled this week in the kitchen, in my own way, buying myself a bouquet of fresh flowers, pumping jams from Spotify’s “Strong Independent Woman” playlist, and whipping up two hearty potato recipes to fill me up in this chilly, drizzly start to 2022.

The first for “roasted potato leek soup” is another sampling from Ina Garten’s Back to Basics cookbook. Indeed, this is a luscious sober lush’s brew, incorporating crème fraiche, heavy cream, and freshly grated Parmesan in addition to the heavily caramelized vegetables, but not without nutritional content in a generous heaping three cups of arugula. The process is made ever-so-much simpler if you have an immersion blender on hand. 

Peeling and chopping potatoes for the soup, the bag of leftover Yukon golds I had bought beckoned, as of to say, “Use me up sooner rather than later!” And how satisfying it was to extend the reach of this main ingredient with homemade latkes, using little more than a few tablespoons of flour, a whisked egg, and some salt and pepper. I believe it’s worth it to cook them in clarified butter versus vegetable oil, but if you don’t have the patience to make your own, consider keeping a pre-made jar of it in your fridge—also known as Ghee. It’s highly versatile and offers great flavor when sautéing vegetables. Oh. And spurtles. A Xmas gift from my mom, I used these to flip and stir the latkes. They are fun and handy silicone tools for all the moving-s*%# around that is part of cooking.

With that, I hope you enjoy the rest of the week and the coming weekend. Indulge in some starch, and treat yo self!

Ginger 

Roasted Potato and Leek Soup
Adapted from Back to the Basics

Ingredients
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed into 3/4-inch chunks
4 leeks, white and green parts, sliced and chopped, rinsed of all sand 
Olive oil 
Kosher salt
Black pepper
3 cups baby arugula, lightly packed
6 to 7 cups chicken stock 
3/4 cup heavy cream 
8 oz creme fraiche 
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese 

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Line two large baking sheets with aluminum foil. Chop and wash the leeks. (I used a salad spinner to clear them of all sand. You want to do this thoroughly!) Place leeks on one baking sheet; peel and chop potatoes and place on the other sheet.
  • Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper over chopped leeks; repeat for the chopped potatoes. Roast for approximately 40 minutes until tender and caramelized. During this time, prepare a bowl of chicken stock (I used 7 cups water + 7 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon). Remove the leeks and add the arugula leaves over the potatoes, roasting for about 5 more minutes until the arugula has wilted. 
  • Dump the contents of both sheet pans into a large stock pot and add in a bit of the chicken stock. Use an immersion blender to puree everything. Keep adding stock and blending until you get a thick soup consistency. (You can also use a blender if necessary.) Add the heavy cream, crème fraiche, approximately 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Finish off with Parmesan cheese. 

Potato Latkes
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Food Network recipe

Ingredients
4 Yukon Gold potatoes
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 large egg, whisked
Several heaping spoonfuls, Ghee

Directions

  • Rinse and peel the potatoes. Grate them on a box cheese grater and place the contents in a medium bowl. Wrap handfuls of the potato shreds in paper towels and wring out as much water as possible (wringing each handful twice if you can muster the patience).
  • Wipe out bowl and return potato shreds, adding the remaining ingredients and stirring together (how about with a spurtle?)
  • Heat the Ghee over medium heat. Add clumps of latke batter, big or small, whatever your prefer. Cook a few minutes on each side, paying close attention to the pan.

Oops, I lied—not done with you yet! So I was reminded this week of why I chose the “cook happy” moniker. I was feeling kind of down in the dumps—a combination of hard life stuff, gloomy January weather, a bit of boredom, perhaps— and I was able to restore my equilibrium by cranking up the aforementioned playlist and throwing together a little lemon pound cake, then working up a sweat to the tune of this silly Zumba workout. I typically have the cake ingredients on hand (and you could really sub out any citrus fruit), so it’s nice to have this recipe in my back pocket when I need to cook (or bake) myself back to happy. In all seriousness, it’s empowering to recognize that healthy and harmless mood-altering activities abound—“move a muscle, change a mood.” (A caveat: I did not make the sugar glaze. Not necessary, in my humble opinion!)

Easy Lemon Pound Cake
Adapted from the Food Network

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature if possible (or microwaved for 10 seconds)
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon juice (approximately 2 lemons’ worth, especially if you microwave them for 10 seconds first)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Generously butter a standard loaf pan.
  • Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  • Cream the butter for several minutes using an electric mixer, if possible. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. (Be patient with this step. Whipping lots of air into the butter pays off!)
  • Add the sugar and cream for a few more minutes.
  • Add one egg at a time, mixing on a low speed to incorporate it in the batter.
  • Mix in the vanilla extract.
  • Add some of the lemon juice, alternating with the dry ingredients, until you achieve a nice thick batter.
  • Fold into the pan and bake for approximately one hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cook Happy Project Week Two

In my pursuit of peace and healing this past year, I’ve taken steps toward financial freedom that include using this free budgeting app. Planning and tracking my spending has offered me a greater sense of abundance, actually, reducing my guilt over small indulgences like Starbucks or lunch delivery, as long as I stay within the limits of my financial plan.

All this to say, I found myself scrounging to meet my grocery budget during the last week of December. The recipes that follow represent my attempt to enjoy good home cooking without draining my wallet. 

First, I made a big pot of lentils pulling from the recipe for “Roast Salmon with Warm Lentils” in the cookbook, Williams-Sonoma French. I had recently made them with baked salmon and decided the lentils were good enough to stand on their own. The process is simple enough—some cathartic vegetable chopping, a douse of olive oil, a few squeezes of lemon, several teaspoons of Better Than Bouillon … And voilà. You’re good to go.

The second recipe I’d like to share is another from The Joys of Baking. I prefer to eat bananas when they’re underripe and I can never eat my way through the bunch before they turn brown, so I’m always on the lookout for banana-filled baked goods. I’m a bit burned out on my go-to banana bread recipe, so I was pleased to discover “Banana Date Bread with Lime.” (Geez. How many times can I say banana?) This quick bread has a gentle and mild sweetness to it that I find quite refreshing. The dates are delicious, but in the spirit of frugality, I chose to replace them with dried cranberries I already had on hand. I suppose any dried fruit would do the trick.

Here’s to simple, satisfying, no-fuss cooking in the new year. See you next week.

Ginger

French Lentils 
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma French

Ingredients 
3/4 cup French green lentils, rinsed and drained 
4 cups water + 4 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon
4 tablespoons olive oil 
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley 
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil 

Instructions
Whisk together the water and Better Than Bouillon in a large liquid measuring cup (or mixing bowl). Chop all your veggies and herbs and juice your lemons (microwaving them for 10 seconds beforehand to get the most bang for your buck). 

Combine 3 1/4 cups of broth and lentils in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cover, simmering until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over a medium flame, adding 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then diced red onion. Sauté until softened, a good 7 minutes or so. Add the celery and carrot and cook until slightly softened, approximately 2 minutes. Add bell pepper and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.

Add the cooked lentils to the skillet and sauté over medium heat, stirring often to combine the flavors, about 2 minutes. Pour in the lemon juice, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, chopped herbs, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

It’s that simple. Enjoy! Or serve with the baked salmon if you’re looking to prepare something a little more dressed up.

Tangy Banana Bread 
Adapted from The Joys of Baking 

Ingredients
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
2/3 cup granulated sugar 
4 teaspoons finely grated lime zest (approximately 4 small limes)
2 large eggs, room temperature 
11/4 cup mashed bananas (2-3 large bananas)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
6 oz dried fruit, such as chopped dates, cranberries, or raisins

Directions 
Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Generously butter a standard loaf pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium to large mixing bowl.

Beat butter, sugar, and lime zest with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, 3 to 5 minutes.

Best in the eggs one at a time, then banana, then vanilla. (I recommend measuring the mashed banana to ensure proper proportions of the main ingredient.) 

Fold in the dried fruit, then manually fold in dry ingredients with a large spatula. 

Transfer batter to a loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes (I believe mine was good to go at the 55-minute mark).

Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then flip out and cool completely. Or follow my lead, and eat directly out of the pan for the next week 🙂

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