RSS Feed

Tag Archives: baking

Cook Happy Project Week 16

I am fond of the idea of sobriety tool kits: arsenals of healthy coping mechanisms, more or less, that help a woman ride the waves of life in the proverbial “middle of the boat.”

I was talking with a friend the other night about how we just do not know what the future holds. Life has thrown me unexpected blessings and devastating curve balls. And I consider myself much the wiser for it. When I pray, I physically open my palms to assume a posture of receptivity to this mysterious universe and surrender to the not-knowing. Meanwhile, I use my f-ing tools!

Here are my top 10 go-tos:

  1. Plenty of sleep, made possible by good sleep hygiene
  2. Guided meditations
  3. Daily gratitude practice
  4. 12-step meetings
  5. “Treating myself” in simple, inexpensive ways
  6. Reading as a healthy form of escape
  7. Listening to uplifting and inspirational music
  8. Yoga With Adriene on YouTube
  9. Balancing plenty of solitude with meaningful connections to others
  10. Housework/chores as a salve and mental break

There is a phrase in recovery circles, “To keep it, you have to give it away.” This idea that giving generously is its own reward is how I feel about cooking. There’s nothing more satisfying to cook and feed others with than cheese- and cream- and egg-rich comfort foods. And this week, it was mine to give away. I enjoyed dropping off a generous portion of the first dish, creamy orzo, at my brother’s house, a meal I highly recommend serving to kiddos, but that does just as well with full-fledged adults 🙂 The second recipe for herb-apple bread pudding was a hit with the crowd at the baby shower I attended on Sunday (despite quite the smorgasbord of casserole-like dishes. I attribute this to it having great fresh flavors that stand up to the starch and cream. You can really taste the herbs and apple.)

As we head into the middle of the week (I’m so off my consistent Sunday posting game!) I hope you will try one (or both!) of these recipes yourself, and maybe even consider reflecting on what the non-negotiables are in your personal toolkit for life. Meanwhile, I think I may have to add heavy cream to my list.

Until next time!
Ginger

Creamy Orzo
Adapted from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis

Ingredients
1 pound orzo
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
3/4 to 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Directions

  • Bring a large pot of generously salted water to boil over high heat.
  • Add the orzo and cook, stirring frequently, until it’s al dente, about 8 minutes. (You definitely don’t want to overcook this! Erring on the side of firm is good.) While the pasta is cooking, prepare your other ingredients. Drain the pasta in a colander sitting atop a mixing bowl so you can reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
  • Warm a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the shallot and garlic and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are tender, roughly 8 minutes. Stir in the cream and peas.
  • Combine the cooked orzo and the skillet mixture in the pot you cooked the pasta in. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss thoroughly. Add reserved pasta water as needed to thin the sauce to your liking (I didn’t end up adding any pasta water because I prefer a thicker consistency). Season to taste with salt and pepper. (This step, however, you don’t want to skip. It needs salt.)

Herb and Apple Bread Pudding
Adapted from Cooking for Jeffrey by Ina Garten

Ingredients
8 cups country bread cubes, crusts removed (use a slightly stale loaf, if possible)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 ounces good thick cut bacon, chopped
2 cups chopped yellow onions (1 1/2 to 2 onions)
1 1/2 cups medium-diced celery
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons minced rosemary or thyme, or a mixture of the two
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
7 extra-large eggs
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups freshly grated nutty, salty cheese such as Asiago, Gruyere, or Parmesan

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cube the bread. Place the cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes, tossing once, until lightly browned. While the bread is toasting, prep the onions, celery, apple, fresh herbs, parsley, chicken stock, and bacon, in that order. Set aside the toasted bread cubes.
  • Heat a large pot over medium-low heat and add the butter. Add the chopped bacon, raise the heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes, until browned. Add the onions, celery, and apple and cook over medium to medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
  • Stir in 1/2 cup chicken stock, the two tablespoons of fresh herbs, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until most of the liquid is gone. Add the parsley off the heat.
  • Whisk together the eggs, heavy cream, remaining 1 1/4 cups chicken stock, and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a very large bowl. Stir in the bread and the vegetable mixture and set aside for 30 minutes to allow the bread to soak up the custard.
  • Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 x 2-inch oven-to-table baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the top is browned and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Serve hot.

Note: You could probably use 8 large eggs as opposed to 7 extra-large eggs.


Cook Happy Project Week 15

Happy Thursday. I’m back. Life got busy for a bit there, but the blog beckons 🙂

For a little over a year now, as I’ve had to navigate the dissolution of my marriage and much of life as I once knew it, I’ve had a heightened appreciation for the power of memory, and more specifically, the power of music to evoke memory,  transporting me to times and places that are rich in positive psychological states perhaps lacking in the present moment, like joy or possibility or a sense of expansiveness.

There is a beautiful piece of choral music called “Wanting Memories” that perhaps best encapsulates this sentiment. It opens: “I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes,” and goes on, addressing a God figure, “You used to rock me in the cradle of your arms. You said you’d hold me till the pains of life were gone. You said you’d comfort me in times of need, and now I need you, and now I need you, and you are God …” 

I am fortunate to have had two powerful and extraordinary (relatively speaking, in the context of my own life) formative experiences prior to my decade-long marriage, which I associate with feelings of great joy and wonder. These are my experiences performing and interning at the St. Louis Muny Opera, and my experience studying abroad in Arles, France.

My memories from The Muny are perhaps easier to access. All I have to do is turn on one of thousands of songs associated with that time in my life, and I can immediately access a brighter, lighter place in my soul.

And musical theatre, with its penchant for bravado and drama, is quite a vehicle for stories of “rising,” the word I picked for 2022. I find myself returning to songs like “Beautiful City,” from the 2011 revival of Godspell, and “The Circle of Life,” from the Broadway Revival of The Lion King, and “I Believe,” from Spring Awakening, among a million other show tunes. How about Audra McDonald’s rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music?

I don’t care if it sounds corny. Somehow all these musical declarations of triumph and redemption seem to be speaking directly to me, to my situation, fortifying me to keep on keepin’ on.

So. Cook Happy. But also—Sing Happy. Listen for the cues that remind you of where you came from, the part of you that transcends difficult circumstances. I am so, so grateful that music provides a portal into that essential, joyful part of myself, making me more resilient.

And now, turning to what’s cooking. I’ve got four recipes to share, a bit of a hodge podge, but all variations on the theme of comfort food.

To start, the richness of roasted mushrooms served over cheesy polenta (minus the attentive stove-top stirring—the polenta cooks in the oven along with the mushrooms).

Second, browned butter banana bread, topped with an entire caramelized banana. Salty, sweet, decadent. See these helpful tips for browning the butter with finesse.

Third, gnocchi with fresh mozzarella and grape tomatoes. It didn’t matter that I rushed the process, skipping the step where you broil the cheese—the natural flavors of the core ingredients do the heavy lifting.

And finally, a first attempt at caponata, which also qualifies as rich and decadent in my book, with its meaty chunks of eggplant and sugary, vinegar-laced sauce.

Enjoy. Be strong. Sing out loud.

Ginger

Oven Polenta with Roasted Mushrooms and Thyme
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients
1 ½ lb mixed mushrooms (cremini, shiitake, oyster, and/or maitake), torn into 1-inch pieces
4 sprigs thyme, plus leaves for serving
6 garlic cloves, smashed
Kosher salt and ground pepper
ÂĽ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup polenta
4 oz. Parmesan, finely grated, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Flaky sea salt (optional)

Directions

  • Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine mushrooms, thyme sprigs, and garlic on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper; drizzle with oil. Toss to coat mushrooms, then spread out in an even layer. (Make sure not to crowd the mushrooms on the baking sheet; otherwise, they’ll steam instead of getting crispy.) Transfer to upper rack in oven and let mushrooms roast while you prepare the polenta. 
  • Bring 4 ½ cups water to simmer in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and a generous pinch of kosher salt and whisk to melt butter. Gradually add polenta, whisking constantly. (Gradually incorporating the polenta into the water is key to preventing clumps.) Return the mixture to a boil. Transfer the hot mixture to an oven-proof baking dish, cover, and place on the lower rack in the oven. Bake the polenta until it’s tender, 25-30 minutes, then remove from the oven, along with the roasted mushrooms.
  • Carefully uncover the polenta and whisk vigorously, scraping bottom of pan, until it is smooth and thick. Gradually add 4 oz. Parmesan, whisking constantly until melted and incorporated; taste and season with more kosher salt and pepper.
  • Drizzle the mushrooms with vinegar. Toss to coat; let cool slightly. 
  • Divide polenta among bowls and top with mushrooms, thyme leaves, sea salt, and more Parmesan. 

Brown-Butter Banana Bread
Adapted from TastingTable

Ingredients
Nonstick cooking spray, for greasing
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 large ripe bananas, mashed, plus 1 halved lengthwise for decoration
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, plus more for coating
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
  • In a light-colored saute pan, brown the butter and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, reserve 2 tablespoons of the browned butter for basting; let cool slightly.
  • In a medium bowl, mix the mashed bananas with the eggs until fully incorporated.
  • In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Using your hands, break apart any large clumps of sugar that remain.
  • Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients and mix together until just combined. 
  • Pour in the 8 tablespoons of melted brown butter and stir until fully incorporated. 
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. 
  • Dip the 2 banana halves in some brown sugar cut-sides down; dust off any excess sugar. 
  • Place the sugared bananas in the batter cut-sides up and bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. 
  • Optional: Once the banana bread has finished cooking, brush the top with the 2 tablespoons of reserved brown butter. Allow the banana bread to cool: serve slightly warm or completely cooled. 

Gnocchi with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Adapted from New York Times Cooking

Ingredients
2 (12- to 18-ounce) packages shelf-stable or refrigerated potato gnocchi 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed 
ÂĽ cup unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
ÂĽ teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving (if desired)
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 pints small tomatoes (such as cherry or grape)
ÂĽ cup sliced or torn basil leaves (or any dried herbs of your choosing that you have on hand)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut or torn into ½-inch pieces 

Directions

  • Cook the gnocchi in a pot of generously salted water according to package directions, or until they rise to the top of the water. Drain them right away in a colander. 
  • Place some olive oil in a large skillet, and swirl to coat the pan. Heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add half of the cooked gnocchi to the skillet, breaking up any that are stuck together. Cook for several minutes, stirring every once in a while. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add more olive oil to the skillet and repeat with the other batch of gnocchi. 
  • Add the butter to the skillet and cook over medium-high, stirring often, until it is golden brown and toasty, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic slices, red pepper flakes, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and a few sprinkles (or grinds) of pepper, reducing the heat if needed to avoid scorching. 
  • Add the tomatoes and 3 tablespoons of water and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened and the liquid has thickened slightly, 4 to 6 minutes. 
  • Add the seared gnocchi and ÂĽ cup basil (if using), stir to coat, then shake into an even layer. Top with the mozzarella and drizzle lightly with more olive oil, if desired. 
  • Optional: Stick the mixture in the oven (in an oven-proof skillet or other baking dish) and broil the cheese until it’s melted and browned in sports, 2 to 4 minutes. Depending on your tastes, top with more basil, red-pepper flakes, and black pepper. 

Simple Caponata 
Adapted from Everyday Italian

Ingredients
ÂĽ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 medium eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices
3 tablespoons raisins
ÂĽ teaspoons dried oregano leaves
ÂĽ cup apple cider vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon drained capers
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

  • In a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium flame, and swirl to coat the pan.
  • Add the celery and saute until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and saute until it begins to soften slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the red pepper and cook until it is crisp-tender, approximately 5 minutes. 
  • Add the diced tomatoes with their juices, raisins, and oregano. Simmer over medium-low heat until the flavors blend and the mixture thickens, stirring often, roughly 20 minutes. 
  • Stir in the vinegar, sugar, capers, and ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Taste, and adjust the salt and pepper as needed. Garnish with any fresh herbs you have on hand, such as basil or parsley. 

Cook Happy Project Week Twelve

Good Morning. 

Hope you are well. 

I have developed the practice of picking a word for the year every January. This year’s word is “rise,” drawing on the idea of starting anew, rebuilding, looking forward. For me, the word “rise” conjures an image of a bustling and vividly colorful market, maybe in India somewhere, rich with smells, sights, and activity. I can often be negative and pessimistic, so this word, with its upward momentum and invigorating energy, helps set me on a more positive course mentally and emotionally. I try to remember to return to this concept of “rising” when I feel discouraged, reciting the word as if it were a mantra. 

In the past few weeks I have also been contemplating the word “shed.” Shedding myself of habits, relationships, even mindsets that no longer serve me. Loss is OK when I think of it as a process of shedding, of dusting myself off to reveal the alert, bright, budding life within. Maybe loss is even a positive thing when viewed this way. 

In my kitchen, I am shedding any expectation of complex and grandiose projects (although there is a place for that, perhaps, under different circumstances. I recently learned that a co-worker and her partner attempt new and intricate dishes every weekend, with the help of spreadsheets.) For me, right now, I am keeping it simple.

The fruits of that mindset are moist and enjoyably tart lemon raspberry muffins, recipe below, requiring two large bowls and a spatula–no electric mixer. And for a lip-smacking snack, a half pound of spiced pecans. Again, keeping it simple … I invite you to try this recipe, shedding any detailed and meticulous instructions, let your hair down, smell the fresh spring air, and enjoy breakfast for dinner. 

We can find abundance in simplicity. The beauty of fresh fruit peeking through a thick batter. The zinging scent of lemon rind on a rasp grater. Watching nuts brown to a candy-like consistency in the oven. 

There’s beauty to be had in this life, even though this life is hard. I shed what no longer serves me. I invite you to do the same. Peace to you this week, and always. 

Ginger

Raspberry Lemon Muffins
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Breakfast & Brunch

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
â…” cup canola oil
1 â…“ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
ÂĽ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup raspberries (or really any berries, fresh or frozen)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners (or generously grease the cups if you don’t have liners).
  • Using a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
  • In a separate large bowl, whisk together the eggs and the milk. Add the oil, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla, and almond extract, whisking to combine.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet; mix, using a spatula, until just blended. (Be careful not to overmix.) Fold in the berries.
  • Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins.
  • Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, approximately 25 minutes. (You may need to bake a few extra minutes if using frozen berries.)
  • Transfer tin to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes or so.
  • Turn the muffins out and serve warm or at room temperature with a generous smear of butter.
  • Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Spiced Pecans
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Small Plates

Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
8 oz chopped pecans

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Line a small rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Using a medium saucepan, combine butter, curry powder, salt, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, and brown sugar over medium heat. Cook for approximately 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and the spices are fragrant.
  • Add the nuts to the saucepan and stir with a spatula until they are evenly coated.
  • Spread them on the prepared baking sheet in an even layer.
  • Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until they are a deep golden brown.
  • Slide the foil onto a wire rack and let cool completely before serving.

Cook Happy Project Week Eleven

Good Evening!

I have done absolutely no cooking this week. In fact, I count it as one of life’s simple pleasures that I can waltz into the grocery store, sans list, and simply select items off the shelf that catch my eye, because I have no one else in my household to report to.

Ah, simple, single-gal meals: A bowl of cottage cheese with fresh blueberries. A large Honeycrisp apple, slathered with peanut butter. A wedge of cheese to accompany baby carrots with store-bought dill dip and a handful of dried apricots. You get the idea. Light fare.

And yet, I find myself drawn back to this project and the accountability it gives me to keep my commitment to a regular home cooking practice, so I don’t fall too far down the well of carry out and microwave meals and snacking through dinner.

That being said, this week I have two recipes to share as a follow-up to my hurried post from two weeks ago: the aforementioned chicken salad and orange streusel cake.

Oh, and one more tool in my joy and contentment toolkit: the podcast (and blog), The Amateur Traveler. From Berlin to Israel to Joshua Tree National Park, there’s surely an episode to suit your personal travel fantasies. 

I wish you healing and happiness in your kitchen this week, mixed with a healthy dose of wanderlust.

Peace.
Ginger

Homemade Chicken Salad
Adapted from Cristina Ferrare’s Big Bowl of Love

Ingredients
2 cups diced chicken breasts 
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons finely chopped scallions
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
1-2 teaspoons finely chopped basil 
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions 
Cook two boneless, skinless chicken breasts using the “Whole 30 Perfect Chicken” method:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Generously season both sides of the breasts with salt and pepper.
  • In a large, oven-safe skillet, melt a generous scoop of Ghee over medium-high heat, swirling to coat the pan. Wait a few moments for the fat to heat up, then place the chicken in the pan, rounded-side down, and sear for approximately four minutes.
  • Use kitchen tongs to flip the chicken to the other side, then immediately place the pan in the oven to finish cooking for another 13 minutes. (If you’re using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature of the fully cooked chicken should be 160 degrees Fahrenheit.)
  • Let the meat rest for at least 5 minutes before dicing into bite-sized chunks. Meanwhile, chop and measure out the other ingredients and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the diced chicken and mix everything together. If you have extra chicken, double the other ingredients.
  • This serves beautifully on a piece of whole-grain toast with a slice of tomato and avocado. Enjoy.

Orange Streusel Cake
Adapted from The Joys of Baking

Streusel Ingredients
1/2 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Cake Ingredients
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, ideally at room temp, plus more for the pan
1 entire seedless navel orange, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup sour cream, ideally at room temp
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
2 large eggs, ideally at room temp

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Prepare the streusel: Combine the flour, brown sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Pour in the melted butter so the mixture clumps together. Add the sliced almonds.
  • Prepare the cake: Generously butter an 8-inch square baking dish. 
  • Place the orange chunks in a food processor and run the blade until they have the consistency of applesauce. You should have approximately 1 cup of orange purĂ©e. Mix with the sour cream.
  • In another medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy, approximately 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition.
  • Add half of the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Beat in the orange mixture, then incorporate the remaining half of the flour mixture.
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared dish and smooth the top. Sprinkle the streusel mixture over the cake batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes.

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
â…” cup light brown sugar
1 cup mashed banana, about 2 medium or 1 ½ large bananas 
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
â…“ cup milk or half-and-half
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour 
Âľ 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.

Cook Happy Project Week Six

Hello!

We’ve made it through another week. And sometimes that is a legitimate accomplishment, is it not? 

I join the rest of the globe in mourning the death of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk, author, and mindfulness master. A friend shared this article with me about how he continues to be a powerful teacher in modeling how to die, to let go, to relinquish the illusion of control. He continued to savor life even after he suffered a massive stroke and his health significantly declined. There is power in that. I think about how the God of my understanding intended him to live each and every one of those days with limited cognitive functioning, and how he demonstrated great humility in enduring that.

I find it takes much courage and discipline just to be present in the here and now. I catch myself exiting the present moment in a million, fidgety ways, from chewing gum to pacing to popping in earbuds … But cooking and baking in the comfort of my own kitchen centers and grounds me in a way that many other activities can’t.

This week I found my zen sweet spot grating sweet potatoes for a sweet potato pone, and pressing water out of, then cubing, a slab of tofu for “Baked Tofu With Green Beans, Shiitakes, and Peanut Sauce,” a recipe from the book School Night: Dinner Solutions for Every Day of the Week. Slicing, pressing, peeling my way to peace of mind …

Unlike last week, when I savored all things familiar, experimenting with these two dishes allows me to expand my culinary horizons. I am interested in building a bigger repertoire of healthy, high-protein vegetarian meals, as I find myself, in my newfound singledom, veering away from cooking with meat. (In the past, I have enjoyed scrambling tofu like eggs and serving it with this easy stir-fry recipe. Highly recommend!)

As for the pone, I have always been attracted to Southern cooking and would love to learn more where that came from. Despite the fact that I live in Missouri, the South seems far removed, even foreign to me, which makes whipping together a pone as novel to me as baking something markedly French, such as croissants or a quiche Lorraine. (Note: Pones are much easier!) 

I hope you find a bit of inspiration from these two easy, nutrient-dense meals. That might include the revelation that dousing roasted vegetables in a simple peanut sauce can make even shiitake mushrooms and tofu palatable to younger eaters. Or that swapping your morning bowl of cereal with a slab of sweet potato pone, topped with a dollop of homemade whipped cream, is the kind of simple pleasure that kickstarts a cold winter’s day, counteracting the daily doldrums. And of course, I hope you can find a path to stillness throughout the coming week, pausing within the busyness to ground yourself in the here and now. 

Cheers to eating mindfully and living wakefully.

Love,
Ginger 

Baked Tofu With Green Beans, Shiitakes & Peanut Sauce 
Adapted from School Night: Dinner Solutions for Every Day of the Week 

Main Ingredients
1 lb extra-firm tofu, drained
â…“ cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 heaping teaspoons freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
Âľ lb (12 oz) green beans, trimmed and washed
½ lb (8 oz) shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Peanut Sauce Ingredients
6 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
4 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
ÂĽ cup hot water

Instructions 

  1. Drain the tofu: Place 3 paper towels on a plate; top with the tofu. Place 3 additional paper towels on top of the tofu and top with something heavy, like a cast iron skillet. Let it stand for 5 minutes. Change the paper towels and repeat for 5 more minutes. (It’s important to remove extra moisture so the tofu will caramelize in the oven! And it’s definitely worth it to buy the extra-firm kind.) Cube the tofu into uniform bite-size squares. 
  2. Grate the ginger, mince the garlic, and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar, and whisk to combine. Wipe clean and slice your shiitake mushrooms. Carefully fold in the tofu pieces, green beans, and mushrooms into the bowl with the sauce. Gently toss to cover everything in the marinade. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. 
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the tofu, beans, and mushrooms in a single layer andd roast for approximately 30 minutes, until the tofu is caramelized and the vegetables are fork-tender. 
  4. Make the peanut sauce while the tofu and vegetables are roasting. Simply combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.
  5. Drizzle sauce over tofu-vegetable mixture to serve, and enjoy 🙂

Sweet Potato Pone
Adapted from the Food Network

Ingredients
Baking spray or butter for greasing the pan
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 
â…“ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
ÂĽ cup molasses
3 large eggs, beaten
½ cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
ÂĽ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated orange zest, plus 3 tablespoons juice (from about ½ orange)
6 cups peeled and grated sweet potatoes (approximately 3 medium potatoes)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish. 
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the melted butter, brown sugar, and molasses with a spatula, or better yet, a spurtle. 
  3. Add the eggs, half-and-half, and vanilla extract, and stir to combine once more.
  4. Add the cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg; stir everything once again. 
  5. Add the orange zest and juice, then fold in the grated sweet potatoes. 
  6. Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish, cover with foil, and bake for approximately 40 minutes. 
  7. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the top is caramelized and set. 
  8. Serve topped with homemade whipped cream 🙂

Homemade Whipped Cream
Adapted from the Food Network 

Ingredients 
1 cup half-and-half
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

  1. Place a super clean mixing bowl in the freezer to chill for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Beat the half-and-half and confectioners’ sugar together in the bowl for approximately 2 minutes, until stiff peaks form.

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 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 🙂

Introducing the Cook Happy Project

Well hello there, reader.

Welcome to the Cook Happy Project, housed on my original personal blog and website, swirltocoat, which first helped me build my writer’s chops and eventually saw me through a career transition into full-time writing. All that to say, this site is equal parts cringe-inducing and affection-stirring for me, but I return to it because the philosophy behind “swirl to coat”—the idea of seizing the day, finding gratitude, and coating the pan of life with something added, whether that be writing or bee-keeping or cooking or stamp collecting, is a mindset that has truly, in the most literal sense, carried me through this past year.

To be clear, I am not talking about hobbies. What I a mean is more along the lines of what I’ve heard called a “proof of life exercise”—when faced with our mortality, such as in a pandemic, or a mental health crisis, or a divorce, or an addiction, and with the daily iteration of that, which we might call drudgery, or as the French like to say, “l’ennui,” we choose to follow the scent of what is life-affirming and humane and beautiful in our world … and … we do it, and then we document the process. In this way, we claim some degree of power over our own life story, despite the zillions of things over which we are powerless.

So my goal with this project of trying a few new recipes per week and then taking some time to reflect on the process each Sunday is to counteract the grief and melancholy I feel about my life’s personal challenges and to hold fast to the simple, life-sustaining pleasure of preparing a beautiful meal from fresh, raw ingredients. Or snack. Or dessert.

I’ve dubbed this the “Cook Happy Project” not because my end goal is happiness, per se, and certainly not because I aspire to pull myself up by my bootstraps—a quite unenlightened approach to healing, in my view—but rather, because I have found that cooking consistently sparks feelings of joy in me, spontaneously and effortlessly. Cooking (and baking) spur joy because they allow me to wholly immerse myself in the present moment, achieving a state of “flow,” and giving me the opportunity to serve others in a creative way.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to embark on my new year’s blogging journey one week early, beginning with two festive dessert recipes that I enjoyed during the week leading up to Christmas. The first is stuffed, poached pears, which is truly comfort food putting on airs as something fancier. I quickly ditched the bed of arugula and enjoyed my pear solo for breakfast and dessert. I also did away with the recipe’s instructions to baste them, savoring the ever-so-slightly caramelized flesh, and played up the sweetness factor with honey goat cheese instead of bleu.

The second is a winning gingerbread-with-mascarpone-swirl recipe, from a lovely cookbook called The Joys of Baking. The recipes are organized around different emotions, accompanied by narratives from the author’s life. These are a fun alternative to more vanilla, buttery Christmas cookie mainstays like Russian tea cakes, thumbprint jelly cookies, and cutout sugar cookies—and I was told by a co-worker who doesn’t like gingerbread that they struck the right balance between spicy and sweet. I love the fact that no electric mixer is required—just two large bowls and a spatula—but beware, the “mascarpone swirl” will quickly dissolve into a sloppy mascarpone mess if the cheese isn’t thawed to room temperature. Not a problem for me—they tasted just as well—but they weren’t pretty.

The through-line here, in terms of “cook happy,” is … Eat whatever the hell you want for breakfast! That’s how most of this was consumed. That, and go ahead and be the person who drops off homemade treats to friends and leaves random baked goods in the break room. It’s fun to be that person. Oh—and cheese. Cheese, may I count the ways I love thee …

Without further ado, the recipes. Have a good week.

Ginger

Poached Pears
Adapted from Back to the Basics

Ingredients
Three firm, slightly under-ripe pears
2 lemons
4 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup walnut halves, chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup apple cider, plus 3 tablespoons
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed

Instructions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Halve the pears and remove the seeds with a knife or spoon, or better yet, a melon baller. Place in a large baking dish. Microwave lemons for 10 seconds, juice them, and immediately pour liquid over the pears.

In a medium-sized bowl, crumble the goat cheese by scoring it with a sharp knife. Chop and add the walnuts, then the cranberries. Use your hands to bring the mixture together. Divide the mixture evenly among the pears.

In the same bowl, mix the apple cider with the brown sugar. Pour the mixture over the fruit.

Bake until tender, about 30 minutes.

Mascarpone Gingerbread Bars
Adapted from The Joys of Baking

Ingredients for gingerbread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
2 large eggs

Ingredients for mascarpone swirl
1 large egg, room temperature
8 oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Generously butter a 9-inch square baking dish.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cloves.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and molasses, then whisk in the eggs.
  • Fold the wet buttery mixture into the flour mixture.
  • In another medium bowl, whisk the other egg, adding the mascarpone, sugar, and vanilla.
  • Alternately scoop the two batters into a checkerboard pattern; then use a butter knife to swirl them together. Bank until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean; 30 to 40 minutes.


2017 Recipe Scrapbook

On this frigid New Year’s Eve, I thought it would be fun to document some of the recipes and corresponding occasions that warmed my kitchen (and my belly!) throughout the year 2017.

This year has been challenging, rich, full… then again, I suppose those are some pretty accurate descriptors for LIFE in general and not specific to any calendar year. I’m grateful that cooking has made the year fuller and richer (I think there’s a double entendre in there)!

I hope that this list serves useful to you if you’re looking for some inspiration for the coming year, and please do share your favorite recipes of 2017 in the comments section!

XO,
Ginger

Celebration Meals

mom and me smitten kitchenMy mom and I both gave each other Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites this year for Xmas. (I credit my mom with teaching me how to cook, and she can thank me for introducing her to Deb Perelman 🙂 ) After driving back from Xmas celebrations in Chicago, I was eager to create a festive mood at home (and make the most of my week off from work) by trying the book’s spiced carrot and pepper soup with couscous swirl, paired with a kale caesar [salad] with broken eggs and crushed croutons:

soup and salad smitten kitchen

Go figure that in my anticipation of the cookbook, I borrowed my mom’s cast iron skillet to make Cacio e Pepe Potatoes Anna from Perelman’s site. Potatoes wrapped with a bow, in my opinion:

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 1.15.19 PM

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 1.36.44 PMIn August, my husband Padraic and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. I made a Jeffrey out of him with Ina Garten’s recipe for Real Meat Balls and and Spaghetti. (I love how Ina is always calling for food to be “real” — “real mayo,” for example. And I love her mixture of snobbery and warmth). You can read elsewhere on this blog about my first attempt with this dish.

When Padraic and I had my parents over for a celebratory dinner, I tried a recipe for sweet and spicy pineapple pork from Rachel Ray’s Book of 10: More Than 300 Recipes to Cook Every Day.

Today, on New Year’s Eve, I’m experimenting with another recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook: artichoke and parmesan galette. I tasted it for you… surprisingly lemon-y 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 1.53.01 PM

Weeknight Suppers

Quick and Easy Chinese: 70 Everyday Recipes is just plain awesome for weeknight, aka, work night, cooking, because the meals are not only quick and easy, but flavorful and special-feeling. For some reason I lean towards chicken when making chinese food. Perhaps I need to get more adventurous. For now, here are two keepers:

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Lemon Chicken

Lemon Chicken

Back in September, I tried slow cooker pesto mozzarella chicken pasta:

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 2.13.56 PM

Here’s are two more gems from Smitten Kitchen:

Tomato and Sausage Risotto

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 2.47.33 PM

Quick Pasta and Chickpeas

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 2.45.38 PM

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 2.24.30 PM

And… two recipes from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat  that make for simple, special weeknight suppers:

Lemony Arugula Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
Thai Beef Salad 

The Pioneer Woman’s Migas is filling AND cheap:

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 2.32.40 PM

I happened upon this yummy recipe for cauliflower-cheddar soup while waiting for a prescription to be filled 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 2.42.54 PM

And finally, lentils! The theme of the new chapter in my life in which I’m paying out of pocket for health insurance AND paying grad school tuition. Thank God they’re so delicious!!

Fridge-Clearing Lentil Soup
Brown Lentils and Rice with Caramelized OnionsScreen Shot 2017-12-31 at 2.56.11 PM

 

STUFF I MADE THIS SUMMER

I spent the summer querying a lot of magazines, writing a long-ass article about teaching gifted students that was finally published this month, for which I still haven’t gotten paid :/ getting accepted into an MFA program, hemming and hawing over whether to quit my teaching job and then writing what turned out to be a novella-length short story about a comically inept teacher for my workshop class, digging into my role as Aunt G, and cooking like a good ole southern Grandma for large family get-togethers…

Here is some of the STUFF I MADE:

The Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Spaghetti

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 3.05.16 PM

Orange Pound Cake

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 3.21.44 PM

Cristina Ferrare’s Strawberry Shortcake

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 3.28.47 PM

My Great-Grandmother’s Baked Beans 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 3.35.27 PM

Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 3.47.56 PM

Tomato Feta Pasta Salad

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 3.58.08 PM

Shrimp & Sausage Paleo Skillet Meal

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 3.57.41 PM

And a few more for good measure:

Mentoring on Sunday Afternoons

This last category is bittersweet… My mentee, a former resident of Epworth Children and Family Services, is currently “on run” and so we are no longer able to meet. For a few months, though, we filled our Sunday afternoons with cooking and scrapbooking about what we had cooked. When she told me that cooking — and documenting it — was how she wanted to spend our time together, I thought, girl after my own heart!

We did a bit of a tour through Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks:

Recently, when I received a one-line e-mail from her therapist saying that she was gone, I was tempted to view our time together as “a waste,” thinking back on the volunteer coordinator’s lofty words about how it “only takes one person” to make a difference in the life of a child. What difference could I possibly have made?? I lamented.

Today, and in the new year, if there are any resolutions to be made, I believe it is to withhold judgment about any of my pursuits (or relationships) and do my best to be present in them, living one day at a time. I am grateful for my brief time with a young, resilient 14-year-old young woman. It is enough for me that we had a good time together on a few Sunday afternoons in 2017. And yet… I’m glad that we documented our time together, so that some Sunday afternoon in 2018, I can return to this page, and remember her… and the food 🙂

Cheers to the New Year, to cooking, and to treating time with a little bit of reverence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: