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Monthly Archives: February 2022

Cook Happy Project Week Ten

Happy Sunday to you.

This week my musings will be short and sweet, as I am juggling some other work projects.

Even so, I made time to unwind in the kitchen yesterday, preparing a slightly tangy, herb-rich batch of chicken salad, following Cristina Ferrare’s recipe in Big Bowl of Love (and cooking the chicken using the Whole 30 “perfect chicken” method) as well as an easy orange streusel cake that uses an entire navel orange, rind and all.

I have also been enjoying a new nonfiction book called Tastemakers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America, by Mayukh Sen. Each chapter focuses on a different pioneering woman cookbook writer, charting how she exhibited resilience and strength through her love of food and the culinary arts.

I can relate to these women. I find that cooking fortifies and strengthens me, especially when the going gets tough–partly why I chose to commit to this little blog project every week.

And so I will close with these lines, from Kristene DiMarco’s sung version of “I Am No Victim”:

I am no victim.
I live with a vision.
I’m covered by the force of love, covered in my savior’s blood.
I am no orphan.
I’m not a poor man.
The Kingdom’s now become my own, and with the King I’ve found my home.
He’s not just reviving,
Not simply restoring,
Greater things have yet to come.
Greater things have yet to come.

See links below for cookbooks where you can find the recipes.

Cheers to a passion for home cooking, the cultivation of resilience and faith, and greater things yet to come.

Cook Happy Project Week Nine

Good Morning!

  • I easily find and joyously create abundance.
  • I’m all I need to get by.
  • I reach up, I feel love, I bring it to my heart.
  • I love my life.
  • Change arrives; I can flow.

These are some of my favorite mantras from an album called Mantras in Love by the group Beautiful Chorus—a succession of sung phrases that ground and energize. 

I’ve been a fan of the group and their album, Hymns of Spirit, for a while, but this disc was new to me. 

Cooking, for me, is an activity that manifests a sense of abundance arising from the everyday. This past week, for example, I spontaneously got into a festive spirit for the Super Bowl (though I am the farthest cry from a football fan) by mashing some avocados into a lime-rich guacamole and composing mini taco bites with filo shells, ground beef, shredded cheddar cheese, and homemade tomato salsa. I have to eat—so why not delight in the preparation, creating something beautiful and flavorful? This, I believe, is “easily finding and joyously creating abundance.”

Cooking with care for myself also reinforces a feeling of independence, of personal responsibility, of the notion that I am “all I need to get by.” I especially feel this when I pack a healthy homemade lunch to take to the office. 

This week, I commit to filling my head and heart with affirming, positive mantras–I have yet to figure out the week’s culinary adventures, so stay tuned until next Sunday. In the meantime, I share these bite-size recipes to accompany the nuggets of wisdom above. 

Peace.

Guacamole
Adapted from Cristina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love

Ingredients
4 ripe avocados
½ medium white onion, finely chopped
¼ to ½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions
1. Halve the avocados and scoop out the flesh into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Mash with a potato masher until you achieve your desired consistency (I like to have a few chunks).
2. Add the onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salt and continue to mash until all mixed. 
3. Place an avocado pit in the center so the dip doesn’t turn brown. Enjoy!

Tomato Salsa
Adapted from Cristina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love

Ingredients
8 Roma tomatoes 
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup cilantro, loosely packed, then finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions
1. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds; remove them with a slotted spoon. Immediately run them under cold water; then peel off the skins. (This should happen easily; if not, place back in the hot water for 15 to 20 seconds). 
2. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise, remove the core with a spoon or a mellon baller, and dice them into small pieces. 
3. Prep other ingredients and mix together in a bowl. Place in a covered, airtight container and ideally place in the refrigerator several hours before serving. This salsa will last 3 to 4 days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Taco Bites
Adapted from Cristina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love

Ingredients
Homemade tomato salsa (see above)
Guacamole (see above)
1 tablespoon canola oil
½ pound ground chuck
2 tablespoons taco seasoning
¼ cup water 
Mini filo shells (frozen section of the grocery store)
½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded small

Instructions

  1. Make salsa and guacamole.
  2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the canola oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the ground chuck, breaking the meat into fine bits with a spatula. Brown until the beef starts to form a crust and most of the juices have evaporated. 
  3. Sprinkle taco seasoning over beef. Add water and cook until all the water has evaporated and the meat starts to sizzle. Continue to break into small pieces with the spatula. 
  4. Place a bowl under a mesh strainer and pour the beef into the strainer to remove excess oil. Discard the oil. 
  5. Heat the filo cups according to package directions. Cool. 
  6. Assemble filo cups, filling with ground beef, then guacamole, salsa, and some cheddar cheese. Enjoy!

Cook Happy Project Week Eight

Good Morning and Happy Sunday! 

This week I veered from my typical M.O. and created a custom culinary concoction without using a recipe. I discovered there’s something uniquely satisfying about making something tailored to my own personal tastes. It’s a very practical mode of cooking with the end-goal of consumption top of mind, a form of authentic self-care, ensuring that I had a healthy, hearty homemade lunch to take to the office every day … and one that I knew would be a pleasure to eat.

Let’s be honest—my “concoction” was really a matter of assembling as opposed to cooking. I sought to create my own Mediterranean rice bowl based on the one I like from Panera, and the process involved little more than chopping some vegetables, cubing some feta cheese, making a pot of brown rice, and combining it all in some Tupperware with a dollop of sour cream and store-bought hummus, plus Kalamata olives and roasted red peppers out of the jar.

I also made a bowl of polenta topped with a scoop of mascarpone cheese, maple syrup, and toasted pecans, a dish I found in Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Breakfast & Brunch. Like the Mediterranean bowl, the cooking instructions for this meal are satisfyingly simple, and the result can be savored for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in-between. 

This improv process in the kitchen gets me thinking about what it would mean to toss out the rule book in other areas of my life. I am quite the planner and seem to thrive on structure, but I often catch myself getting angsty over the precise way I am to spend the next window of time. Perhaps it would behoove me to see where the day takes me and let inspiration strike, both in the kitchen and beyond. 

Then there are other areas of my life that seem to beg for more definition, for a recipe of sorts. Case in point is my discovery of a specific seven-step prayer process, outlined by the Catholic writer Matthew Kelly. I will go ahead and share it here, related in a tangential way to the notion of cooking happy–it is its own path of meaning-making in a noisy, clamoring world. So here you go. This week, a recipe for prayer, and a not-so-specific guide for two nourishing meals. Take care and talk soon. 

Love,
Ginger

Seven Step Prayer Process 
From I Heard God Laugh: A Practical Guide to Life’s Essential Daily Habit

  1. Gratitude: Begin by thanking God in a personal dialogue for whatever you are most grateful for today.
  2. Awareness: Revisit the times in the past 24 hours when you were and were not the-best-version-of yourself. Talk to God about these situations and what you learned from them. 
  3. Significant Moments: Identify something you experienced today and explore what God might be trying to say to you through that event or person. 
  4. Peace: Ask God to forgive you for any wrong you have committed against yourself, another person, or Him, and to fill you with a deep and abiding peace. 
  5. Freedom: Speak with God about how he is inviting you to change your life, so that you can experience the freedom to be the-best-version-of-yourself. 
  6. Others: Lift up to God anyone you feel called to pray for today, asking God to bless and guide them.
  7. Finish by praying the Lord’s Prayer.

Homemade Mediterranean Rice Bowl 

Ingredients
1 cup brown rice
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red onion, sliced
Any other veggies that appeal to you (e.g., cucumber, peppers)
Parsley, chopped 
Feta cheese, cubed 
Roasted red peppers from the jar
Kalamata olives, pitted
Hummus
Sour cream

Instructions

  1. Cook the rice: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil with ¼ teaspoon salt. Add 1 cup rice and bring back to a boil. Cover with a lid. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 45 to 50 minutes or until water is absorbed and rice is tender. Remove from heat and allow rice to sit (covered) for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. 
  2. While rice is cooking, prepare your veggies: halve the cherry tomatoes, slice the onion, chop peppers, cucumber, and parsley, if using, cube the feta, slice the roasted red peppers, and pit the olives, if necessary (easier to buy pitted olives). 
  3. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, using the portions you prefer!

Breakfast Polenta Bowl
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Breakfast & Brunch

Ingredients
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 cup polenta
1 cup whole milk
Mascarpone cheese
Maple syrup
Pecans, chopped and toasted

Instructions

  1. Toast some pecans by first chopping them and then warming a non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the nuts, stirring them and shaking the pan at regular intervals for a few minutes, until they are fragrant. Transfer to a bowl. 
  2. Prepare the polenta: Bring 3 cups of water and salt to a boil in a large pot. In a small bowl, stir together the polenta and the milk. Gradually stir this mixture into the boiling water. Stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil for about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until polenta is thick and creamy, approximately 25 minutes. 
  3. Assemble the bowl: top creamy cooked polenta with a dollop of mascarpone, some warmed maple syrup, and chopped pecans. 

Cook Happy Project Week Seven

Hello!

How was your week? What are you doing to cultivate joy, contentment, peace of mind?

I confess that in addition to actual cooking, reading cookbooks feels like an indulgence to me, an activity that reliably brightens and lightens my mood.

Certain cookbooks evoke strong memories for me, as if to mark the passage of time: Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook immediately takes me back to my sunny, sparkly clean Evanston, Ill. studio apartment during my senior year of college, when I tried to bake my way out of completing my honors thesis. Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Breakfast & Brunch stirs bittersweet memories of hosting regular Sunday brunches for family and friends when my ex-husband and I were first married. (Today I am making the tome’s lemon-ricotta pancakes, a recipe I previously posted to this blog. So delicious!)

I could go on … Like photo albums, cookbooks encapsulate so much beyond recipes. They contain reminders, sometimes via physical stains, of people, places, entire phases of life.

What is possibly even more enjoyable and rewarding to read than a cookbook is a cooking-related magazine or catalogue—for half, or even a third of the price, or possibly even for free, you get similar content.

This week I found myself perusing the February 2022 catalogue for the King Arthur Baking Company as I drifted to sleep, setting me up for sweet dreams of sanding sugar and vanilla extract and all manner of extraneous bakeware, like “cookie dough freezer trays” and “Irish lace shortbread pan.”

The recipe that follows is adapted from its pages. (My other culinary projects this week were more of the same … consuming last week’s peanut sauce with week four’s roasted broccoli, and lots of brown rice.) The instructions are quite simple to follow, and the result is rich with caramel flavor, a welcome variation on banana bread.

Here’s to good eating, and good reading, in the coming week.

Caramel Banana Walnut Muffins
Adapted from King Arthur Baking Company

Ingredients
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
⅔ cup light brown sugar
1 cup mashed banana, about 2 medium or 1 ½ large bananas 
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup milk or half-and-half
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour 
¾ to 1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. 
  • Whip the butter and brown sugar together until smooth, using an electric mixer. Meanwhile, mash the bananas. Add the mashed banana, mix. Then the egg, mix; vanilla, mix; and milk or half-and-half; mix.
  • Add the dry ingredients: baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour. Mix until just combined. 
  • Chop the walnuts until you have 1 cup. To toast: Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the chopped walnuts; heat several minutes, until fragrant, giving the skillet a good shake every 30 seconds so they don’t burn. 
  • Fold the walnuts and butterscotch chips into the batter with a large spatula. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. 
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the middle muffins comes out clean. 
  • Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove from the pan, using a butter knife around the edges if needed. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
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