RSS Feed

Tag Archives: cooking

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
¼ 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 
¼ cup unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving (if desired)
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 pints small tomatoes (such as cherry or grape)
¼ 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 ¼ 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
¼ 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
¼ teaspoons dried oregano leaves
¼ 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 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 purée. 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 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 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
⅓ cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 heaping teaspoons freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ 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
¼ 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 
⅓ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
¼ 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
¼ 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.

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.


Easy Recipe for Baking Any White Fish

Chef Caroline

Wait… what’s that about fish? Just getting your attention real quick with a picture of my niece Caroline playing in her miniature kitchen 🙂

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m trying my hand at the pescatarian life. This recipe for baked salmon never fails, but I tend to fall in a major rut with it… fish at my house means salmon all the time, baked with lemon and butter and dill. I did attempt to liven things up this week with a recipe for roasted salmon with miso rice and ginger scallion vinaigrette, but by the time dinner rolled around I needed something quick and easy and chucked my plans for the no-fail mainstay.

That’s OK, because I have landed on another very simple way to cook white fish — of any kind. The recipe that follows is a dumbed-down, cheaper version of Ina Garten’s mustard-roasted fish, and it’s based on what I had in my fridge and a big filet of fresh snapper that my husband picked up at the store yesterday.

Easy Baked White Fish

Ingredients

  • Any kind of white fish, cut into one big piece or smaller filets
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 small onion, diced (or better yet, minced)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place fish in a baking dish, pat dry, and season generously with salt and pepper.
  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients + 1 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
  • Pour the sauce over the fish!
  • Bake, uncovered, between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on how your fish is cut. Will be nice and flaky when done.

Heave a beautiful evening.

Ginger

Week’s Worth of Summer Suppers

Summer Suppers Pic

Shelter in place has its challenges, but I’ve got it pretty good. Finding the silver lining: I’ve been eating a lot healthier because… I’ve been cooking a lot more! Go figure.

How has the pandemic shifted things for you?

Here is what I’m eating for dinner this week:

(It’s not entirely pescatarian, contrary to a goal I shared in a recent post.)

Here’s everything you need:

Pantry Items

  • Long grain rice (1 1/2 cups)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Low-sodium soy sauce
  • White vinegar
  • Sesame oil
  • Onions (1 small white, 1/2 small red)
  • Fresh garlic
  • Black beans
  • Vegetable oil or Ghee
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Dijon mustard
  • Mayonnaise
  • Worcestershire sauce

Shopping List

  • Frozen salmon fillets
  • Chicken thighs (bone in preferably)
  • Lots of eggs
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Lots of kale
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 large tomato
  • Cilantro
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 2 limes
  • Scallions (¼ cup)
  • Head of cabbage
  • Fresh ginger
  • Lemons
  • Flour tortillas
  • Miso

Enjoy! Hope you find some time between meals to sit under a tree.

%d bloggers like this: