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Eating The Veggies: Two More Recipes

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Green beans aren’t my favorite vegetable, so I’m always grateful when I find a recipe that makes them more flavorful. This Ina Garten recipe combining chunks of red onion and colored bell peppers with the beans manages that, as does the following recipe adapted from the Whole30 cookbook. In Eating The Veggies I posted a few too many potato recipes, in my opinion, so here’s some good ole green stuff:

Green Beans with Onions, Mushrooms, and Peppers

  • Heat a large pot with water and 2 tablespoons Kosher salt over high heat. Meanwhile, prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl and stick it in the fridge to keep it cool.
  • Once the water boils, blanche 1 pound green beans for 20 seconds, then immediately plunge them into the ice water bath for about 1 minute, and then drain in a colander.
  • Heat some cooking fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat — I used a combination ghee butter and olive oil (disclaimer — cooking with olive oil is technically against the Whole30. Oh well.) Fill the skillet with 1/2 to 1 onion, red or yellow, sliced into thick rings. Let the onions soften and become translucent, maybe caramelize a little.
  • Add 8 oz sliced mushrooms and start to soften them, adding more olive oil if necessary.
  • As the mushrooms continue to soften, add 1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips and let it soften with the mushrooms.
  • Add the green beans to the skillet for a few seconds and season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Oh, and this celery salad

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Chicken with Coconut Curry

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All right, food lovers… I have a confession to make… I’m on Day 12 of the Whole30 program. I’m working on a more substantive post about the documentary Fed Up which finally lit a fire under me to swap out The Things They Carried with Fast Food Nation for my American Lit II class, as well as the big ideas I gleaned in Whole30 founders Melissa and Dallas Hartwig’s manifesto of sorts, It All Starts with Food, plus the dilemma I now find myself in when it comes to Ina Garten, whom I love, adore, and cook from, butter, SUGAR, and all.

But for now… a REALLY good recipe from the cookbook The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to TOTAL HEALTH and FOOD FREEDOM. 

And I’ll say this… one benefit of taking the Whole30 challenge is learning to cook with new ingredients and discovering that you love them. I am developing quite an affection for coconut milk, which I confess I had never used before this “total health” endeavor.

I’m also finding ghee butter handy — clarified butter (milk solids, aka sugar, removed) in a jar. If you’ve ever made clarified butter you can appreciate buying it in a jar. It’s a process. Clarified, or ghee butter can be used to cook at higher temperatures, imparting delicious butter flavor to a wider variety of dishes. Ghee butter runs for about $6.99 a jar at my local grocery store, so make of that what you will. Some grocery stores don’t have it…

I’ve made this chicken recipe twice now, once on the grill and once baked in the oven. If you have the means, the texture and flavor of grilled chicken is just better, in my opinion. But the curry sauce is so decadent, baked chicken is convenient and tasty too. I’ve made it with thighs and breasts — both are good — but bone-in, skin-on is key. (And cheaper!)

Serves 4

  1. First things first: put 2 cans of coconut milk in the fridge for at least an hour. The cream will rise to the top of the can, which is what you’re using, and what makes this curry sauce so decadent.
  2. Make the curry sauce: melt some ghee butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and…swirl to coat… of course 🙂 Add diced onion (half a medium onion) and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and let the garlic cook for about 30 seconds. Throw in 1 tablespoon of curry powder and stir for a good 15 to 20 seconds, then add 1 cup of crushed tomatoes (or tomato sauce) and simmer to thicken, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, transfer to another bowl, and let everything cool. (The cookbook calls for you to blend the sauce in a blender at this point. I didn’t bother with this step and let the onions and garlic provide a little texture). Use your can opener to measure 1/2 cup of coconut cream out of your can of coconut milk. Measure out 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper  and once the mixture has cooled, stir in the coconut cream, salt, and pepper. (If don’t let the mixture cool, the coconut cream will curdle).
  3. Pour some of the curry sauce into a separate bowl and brush it on your chicken breasts or thighs. (Pat the chicken dry first). (This way if you end up with extra curry sauce, you’re not contaminating the entire bowl as you prepare the chicken. I ended up with extra curry sauce both times. You can re-use the sauce for other things… more meat, a fried egg…)
  4. Grill or bake your chicken and then serve with extra warmed curry sauce. (I baked the chicken at 375 Fahrenheit for 35-40 minutes and then cut into it to see if it needed more time).

Now, in advance — I’ll quote Kathleen O’Toole, a relative I recently met on my travels in Ireland, after she served me carrot cake and apple pie around midnight, seized my hands with a twinkle in her eye, and declared, I’m delighted you liked it!!!!

Goat Cheese and Onions Part 2

I recently read an article (in Epicurous, I think) about the oft-neglected merits of something certain foodies consider super uncool: boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Unexciting, perhaps, but I’m a firm believer that boneless, skinless chicken breasts are indispensable. See this recipe for chicken and veggie quesadillas by Ree Drummond that has sustained the two of us for at least a week’s worth of dinners… a sprinkle of taco seasoning lends the diced chicken a bit of kick, and you can prepare it ahead, along with the sautéed onions and bell peppers, and throw together a quesadilla whenever you’re feeling hungry. Then, mix the extra diced chicken with romaine lettuce, shredded Mexican cheese, tomato slices, and this rich, basil and scallion-loaded green goddess dressing, and you’ve got lunch. Or (I digress) the dressing is so rich you may just want a plateful of lettuce and tomato, like so:

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But anyway. Boneless skinless chicken breasts. Yes.

That being said, I’m also aboard the bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh trend. Which brings me to goat cheese and onions. Here’s how I adapted Ina Garten’s Chicken with Goat Cheese and Sun Dried Tomato a few weeks ago:

  • Chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts. In my experience, thigh meat tends to be fattier and more succulent than breast meat, and I feel I can justify the treat because thighs are smaller than breasts.
  • Her recipe calls for herbed goat cheese – I had plain in my fridge, from my aforementioned experiment with goat cheese caramelized onion bruschetta, so I added a fresh basil leaf under the skin instead. (If you have an herb garden, you could always mash in your own fresh herbs and an improvise your own herbed goat cheese. Right now my chives are out of control, so maybe I should have done that. Aw shucks, I suppose I’ll have to buy another log of goat cheese and start all over again… 🙂 )
  • I also did not have sun-dried tomatoes on hand, so I put a roasted red pepper (that came in a jar) under the skin. (Another reason to buy these jarred, roasted red peppers is that they layer sweetly on your standard, homemade grilled cheese sandwich and add nice, vinegary notes to salads. If you happen to have fresh bell peppers lying around, plus olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and a little fresh garlic (optional), you can make your own. See another, goat-cheese centric Ina Garten recipe (this one I haven’t made) for more specific instructions on how to pickle peppers.

Onions, you say?

I’ve made this Ina Garten recipe for herb roasted onions a few times, say, if I’m cooking meat and I have no vegetables or salad ingredients on hand to go with. It’s something of a revelation to me that onions are a vegetable that can be roasted like anything else, and stand on their own. Quarter and separate a few onions – mix them with olive oil, mustard, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper – roast them on a sheet pan, and voila: a cheap and surprisingly delicious side dish. (This time I made the recipe with yellow onions only, because that’s what I had – but I think adding a red onion to the mix is really worth it. Adds extra sweetness).

I rounded out the roasted chicken and roasted onions with some roasted carrots – really simple — olive oil, salt and pepper, and in my case, copious amounts of fresh dill.

Here’s how dinner ended up (I forgot to mention that crisp (cheap) white wine is always an important factor in the goat cheese and onion equation, but perhaps that just goes unsaid…)

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To goat cheese, to onions, to alfresco dining, to life, to life, l’chaim….

A Chance of Meatballs

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So I hadn’t cooked for a few months — dinners at the Ginger and Padraic O’Donnell house consisted of me working at my computer and snacking on Skinny Pop and Padraic, gracious and accepting of my flaws whilst being settled into more healthy routines — whipping up some scrambled eggs or roasted salmon or low key tomato sauce and pasta. But — my mother and father in law were coming for their second stay at our newish house, and gosh darn it, I was DETERMINED to make spaghetti and meatballs.

There’s a backstory here…

I like white noise when I work, so I often grade to the tune of Barefoot Contessa on YouTube, and I was smitten with the episode where she surprises her boss by making him something down-home and casual, and of course the best version of down-home and casual — a rocking plate of the best meatballs and homemade tomato sauce you’ve ever tasted, plus homemade garlic bread. (Actually, let me correct myself — I’ve probably never had a strong craving for spaghetti and meatballs, but from a cook’s perspective, I feel like meatballs combine the best of baking and cooking — instead of balls of dough, you’re crafting cute balls of, eh, ground meat, and laying them out neatly on a cookie sheet, plus the idea of spaghetti and meatballs, such a classic, stoked my enthusiasm… And, garlic bread, that I can eat for days…) I was also enamored with the idea of simply replicating an entire Barefoot Contessa episode, just following, which is a fun and delightfully brainless way of cooking that I often fail to consider.

So what started as a simple family dinner — my parents, my brothers, and my mother and father in law — quickly amassed into four pounds of ground meat and two loaves of ciabatta fit for a feast:

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I make sense of my impulse toward massive quantities of meat this way: First, and perhaps most importantly, there’s the passionate cook in me who has been lying dormant in lieu of what Padraic just today, on summer break, referred to as the “grog” — is that a word? I knew exactly what he meant — a sleepwalking state of grading, planning, waking up at 5:30 am, and then repeating that process for weeks on end. By god, I shall awake myself with copious amounts of Italian food! seemed to be the work of my unconscious. Then there’s the factor of in-laws-visiting-our-newish-home, and the internal pressure I felt to redeem myself after treating them to sloppy, mediocre Mexican delivery around a folding table when they visited in October — then, our very new house was a very slow work in progress, and my head was half in my work. Then there’s the factor of my parents coming over, as well as my brother, and this sudden feeling, “We live near my family now! By god, we should make memories! And entertain!” And finally, there’s the f— it mentality I have when called upon to make rough mathematical calculations — more is more, we have a freezer, and it’s easier to double a recipe than it is to one-and-a-half it.

The meatball event started with a trip to Bolyard’s Meat and Provisions, which I can’t help but tout since I am now a proud resident of the Maplewood corner of Saint Louis, formerly known as Maplehood and now dubbed Mapleweird. It was my first time visiting my local butcher, and look, I found this:

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And this! I envision my future nephew to be a hip little dude, if his older sister is any indication. So I figured he needs a fresh start in this world with a touch of the Mapleweird:

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Now commences the meatballing:

Ina Garten’s “Real Meatballs and Spaghetti”

Adapted & Doubled by Yours Truly

Serves a small army*

Materials

Big mix bowl
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Liquid measuring cup
Small bowl and fork for beaten eggs
Two clean hands
Large pot or dutch oven
Kitchen tongs
Several sheet pans (preferably rimmed)
Parchment paper
Paper towels
Can opener
Mixing bowls of various sizes
Two large skillets

Meatball Ingredients

3 pounds of ground beef
1 pound of ground pork
2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (I used Pepperidge Farm sandwich bread)
1/2 cup seasoned, dry bread crumbs
4 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup store bought fresh Parmesan cheese
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

Sauce Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup red wine
2 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pasta Ingredients

3 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Parmesan cheese

  • Dump the meat, bread crumbs (dry and fresh), parsley, Parm, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and 1 1/2 cups warm water in a bowl. Mix lightly with your hands.
  • Line several sheet pans with parchment paper.
  • Using your hands, lightly form 2-inch meatballs and place them on the parchment. (Don’t be afraid to form solid, cohesive, meatballs than won’t break apart in the cooking oil. I took the injunction to “lightly form” a little too seriously and some of my first meatballs fell apart in the dutch oven. A deft but firm touch when forming meatballs…)
  • Pour 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup olive oil into a liquid measuring cup. Pour the mixed oils into a large pot or dutch oven and heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. As the oil heats, cover a dinner plate in paper towels and place it next to the dutch oven on the stove.
  • To test whether the oil is hot enough, see if the oil sizzles when you add a meatball. If it sizzles, you’re good to go. Reduce the heat to medium-low and fill the pot with as many meatballs as you can, assuring that they have room to float around a bit. Let each batch of meatballs cook for 10 minutes in the oil, turning them regularly with your tongs. Drain the balls on yet another sheet pan lined with paper towels.
  • Once you have your small army of meatballs cooked, set them aside. Chop and measure out your ingredients for the sauce — chop your onions, garlic, measure out your red wine, open your cans of tomatoes, chop your parsley, and measure out your salt and pepper. Pour out the oil in your dutch oven or pot while pouring scalding hot water from the faucet down the drain at the same time. Then let the dutch oven or pot sit in the sink and soak with dish soap as you continue with the sauce.
  • Place two large skillets on two burners, side-by-side. Pour a tablespoon of olive oil into each, and heat it over a medium flame. Add half the onions in one skillet, half in the other. Sauté the onions until translucent, about 10 minutes. Divide the garlic and cook in each skillet for 1 more minute. Turn up the heat to high and split the wine between the two skillets, until almost all the liquid evaporates. Stir in the tomatoes (one can per skillet), as well as the parsley, salt, and pepper (divided into two skillets).
  • Divide the meatballs into the two skillets and let them simmer in the sauce on low heat for 25-30 minutes (or less, if you’re getting hungry).
  • Meanwhile, make 3 pounds of spaghetti according to package directions.
  • Serve, and grate a little extra Parmesan on top.

*Make this in two batches. You will not have pots and pans large enough to make it in one big batch.

While I’m at it, here’s Ina’s recipe for the garlic bread. I’m sure her recipe writing skills are better than mine. If you want to “adapt” it my way, just double it:

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This tale ends with packets of frozen meatballs doled out for days to grateful grandmothers, hungry neighbors, and one overstuffed husband. Meanwhile, I learned, a couple times, how easily frozen garlic bread thaws in the microwave, which translates to, send the garlic bread home with the fam next time. 

Despite the tight fridge space, the freezer bags, the monotony of one plate of leftovers after another, and probably a few other inconveniences, I learned that if food is love, and love and family go together, I have plenty of love to go around. Here’s to this guy, arriving soon!

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What’s Cookin’, Good Lookin’

Jake Bellucci Le Creuset CC BY-NC-ND 2.0One of the things I love about winter is that it’s a season conducive to cooking in bulk — think soups, stews, casseroles, gratins, the list goes on. I have gotten into the habit of preparing one to two soups for the week on Sunday afternoons, and boy, has it been scrumptious, not to mention economical and time-saving. I thought I’d compile a list of my recent soup pursuits, with some of my forays into baking, fish, and why not, mashed potatoes thrown in for good measure. One of the pleasures of blogging for me is documenting what I cook throughout the year, so as I give into that, I hope that you find something posted here that you might consider trying. (Also, if you don’t already have one, I hope you’ll consider busying yourself an immersion blender… the one I recently acquired has been a godsend this winter, as evidenced by the list below. If not, a regular blender works too. Just a thought 🙂 ) Bon appetit!

tracy benjamin tortilla strips CC BY-NC-ND 2.0I first tasted this chicken tortilla soup recipe from Food and Wine at the home of my friend, Allison, on a much-needed getaway trip to Nashville, Tennessee. (The trip ended with the discovery of frozen pipes in our frigid condo, due to my flakiness in leaving the heat off just as Chicago morphed into Chiberia. Even our jar of olive oil was frozen solid, but that’s another story!) This soup makes clever use of the aforementioned immersion blender, thickening up the tomato/onion/garlic/five spice/chicken broth/cilantro base with fried tortilla strips, puréed. The cubed chicken is added raw and cooked conveniently in the broth, and chunks of avocado are mixed in at the end. It’s hearty, zingy, and deeply satisfying when topped with the usual Southwestern suspects: grated cheddar, homemade fried tortilla strips, sour cream, cilantro, scallions, and lime wedges.

Steven Lilley Broccoli CC BY-SA 2.0Padraic told me he felt like he was dining at Panera after eating Ree Drummond’s broccoli cheddar soup, and I took that as effusive praise! I used 2% milk instead of whole, and things turned out quite creamy nonetheless. The recipe starts with preparations for a roasted broccoli garnish, and proceeds with sautéing onions in butter, then simmering pieces of raw broccoli in a mixture of milk, half-and-half, flour, and nutmeg. Three cups of cheddar cheese are added, with the option of puréeing the mixture or breaking up the broccoli with a potato masher. I think this might be the most indulgent broccoli dish there is, but January/February is certainly a fitting time for it.

nick mote Lentil Macro CC BY 2.0Surprise, surprise, this recipe does not use a blender — no, instead, Ina Garten’s lentil sausage soup, from her cookbook Barefoot in Paris, is richly textured with softened vegetables, lentils, and chunks of sausage. In my unsuccessful search for the recommended French green lentils, I learned that French lentils are simply smaller in size, so I just bought the most petit ones they had in the store, which worked fine. The process starts by cooking onions, leeks, and garlic flavored with cumin, thyme, salt, and pepper; then celery and carrots are added. This mixture plus pre-soaked lentils, chicken stock, and tomato paste simmers for an hour, then pre-cooked sausage is added and warmed through. You finish it off with a drizzle of red wine vinegar or red wine, take your pick.

cookbookman17 White Beans CC BY 2.0Cristina Ferrare’s minestrone soup from the cookbook, Big Bowl of Love is another hearty, one-meal wonder. It’s basically a compilation of fresh vegetables, beans, and tomatoes, puréed thick and served with freshly grated Parmesan and a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I couldn’t find an exact reproduction of the cookbook’s recipe on the inter tubes, so I’ve posted the recipe at the bottom of this entry.

PINKÉ Pyrex Casserole CC BY-NC 2.0Then, of course, there comes a time when enough soup has been had and a casserole — what else? — beckons. The notion of chicken tetrazinni was so delightfully retro to me that I felt compelled to whip up a behemoth batch of it. Who else but Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, to guide me through layers of spaghetti, mushrooms, melted cream/Monterey Jack/Parmesan cheese, bacon, peas, and toasted bread crumbs? Hers is technically a turkey tetrazinni, which sounds delicious, but the only time I have cooked turkey on hand is the day after Thanksgiving. So I turned to The Kitchn for advice on poaching chicken breasts. Ree suggests adding up to two extra cups of chicken broth to the cheese/veggie/pasta mixture before baking it, even if it’s a little soupy. I second this — I added this amount and the consistency of the finished product was just right — cheesy but not overwhelmingly so, and moist. I skipped the chopped olives, but hey, that’s just me.

essgee51 Dill and Lemon 2 (20/365) CC BY-NC 2.0 Sometimes soup and casseroles don’t carry you through the entire week, which makes room for minimalist dishes like… salmon, roasted with lemon, butter, and dill. This is my go-to recipe for salmon — it’s as easy as melting butter with lemon juice and seasoning the fish with dill, minced garlic (or garlic powder), salt, and pepper. Comes out moist and flaky every time.

Anne White Yukon Gold Potatoes CC BY-NC 2.0I made a batch of these super easy, quick, and straightforward mashed potatoes to go with the salmon. It’s another find from Cristina Ferrare’s cookbook, Big Bowl of Love. I love this recipe because it turns what you normally think of as a special occasion, holiday side into a week night staple. The most work and time intensive part is peeling, boiling, and mashing the potatoes — after that’s done, you just add butter, milk, and salt, but in proportions that consistently produce a creamy, fluffy, apporiately-salted mash. The addition of lemon zest may sound strange, but I find that it brightens and freshens the dish in a beautiful way. Then again, I’ll add lemon to anything. A handful of chopped scallions add a peppery bite to the creamy potato canvas. I find that making mashed potatoes during the week is really quite practical — the leftovers can bulk up another quick-cooking protein a few days later or be packed in a lunch.

Tom Gill Apples CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Speaking of packing lunches, the discovery of a homemade scone in my lunch bag is worth the effort, I think. Lately I’ve been on a scone kick, as mentioned here. It’s the byproduct of my newly acquired “mini scone pan,” allowing you to just drop the dough into a greased pan, and the fact that scones are so versatile — good for breakfast, lunch, dessert… These apple and cheddar scones combine roasted chunks of tart fruit with a salty, cheesy bite, and the dough is non-fussily brought together in the bowl of an electric stand mixer — no messy wielding of a pastry cutter or hauling out of a food processor. The pre-roasted apples, grated cheese, dry ingredients (flour/sugar/baking powder/salt), and wet ingredients (butter/cream/egg) are simply combined in a single bowl and mixed together on low.

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 9.01.41 PMWith regard to other baked goods, this Valentine’s Day I was in the mood to make something chocolate, but I wanted to bypass some of the more decadent, ultra-sweet chocolate desserts. I still wanted to make something special, something I don’t normally make. I landed on Love and Olive Oil’s Orange and Dark Chocolate Biscotti, featuring my favorite chocolate-fruit flavor combination. The orange notes come through strongly, and the chunks of dark chocolate impart a subtle richness and decadence of flavor. I love the hearty crunch and mild sweetness of biscotti — making it at home transports you to your favorite café and gets the coffee pot percolating.

zoyachubby Basil CC BY-ND 2.0A second Valentine’s Day experiment, this time for the main course, was seared scallops with basil olive oil pistou. Somehow seafood is romantic to me, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I imagine a Valentine’s Day dinner. I’m somewhat shy to say that this was my first time cooking scallops at home, but searing them proved quick and easy. Pistou (pronounced pee-stew) is a French term, and it’s similar to pesto: a mixture of herbs, garlic, and olive oil (in this version the herbs, parsley and basil, are blanched first. I’d never thought to blanche herbs before — aside from the nuisance of repeatedly hand wringing them dry, the blanching did make the sauce more delicate.) The pistou is spooned under each scallop and fresh herbs are sprinkled on top for a simple but slightly elevated presentation. The pistou certainly distinguishes this scallop dish and imparts lots of fresh flavor, but I have to say, it’s oily. I doubled the recipe, and even leaving out about 1/3 cup, the oil still saturated the plate. You might consider scaling back on it by paying closer attention than I did to the food processor.

John Robinson Lemon and lime CC BY 2.0Two final dinner recipes — last night I tried this fish taco recipe in lieu of Lent. It’s refreshing and light all around, a much-needed break from all these hearty, thickly puréed soups I’ve been making. You can use any white fish, I used cod — flavored with a marinade of lime juice, minced garlic, cumin, chili powder, and vegetable oil. For a healthier meal, the fish is grilled, not fried. The tacos are dressed with a cabbage slaw combining shredded cabbage, sliced red onion, cilantro, and more lime juice and veggie oil. Additional toppings include salsa, sour cream, and sliced avocado. (I opted against bottled salsa for an easy-to-make salsa fresca, containing chopped tomatoes, a squeeze of lime juice, some diced red onion, and a pinch of salt.) Last but not least, what could be easier than this lemon spaghetti recipe, authored by the one and only  Giada Di Laurentiis. You literally whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, and boil noodles, then make a few tweaks with pasta water, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and fresh basil (or in my case, dried). Couldn’t be simpler, and couldn’t be more delicious.

So there you go… a kitchen sink’s worth of good food links. Hopefully it stimulates some upcoming cooking adventures in your own kitchen. Thanks for reading, and please let me know if there’s a better recipe out there for salmon, mashed potatoes, soup, fish tacos, etc. etc. Happy hunkering down this winter!

Hearty Vegetable Minestrone Soup
From Big Bowl of Love

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, cut small
  • 1/2 small cabbage, shredded
  • 1 cup cauliflower cut into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (28-ounce) can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans white navy beans or cannellini
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked small tube, shell-shaped pasta, or orzo
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh basil
  • red pepper flakes
  • balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

Instructions

  • Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until hot. Quickly add the onion, and sauté for 5 minutes, until the onion starts to caramelize. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute; then add the water and stir. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add carrots, celery, zucchini, broccoli florets, cabbage, cauliflower, and salt. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the vegetables start to release their juices.
  • Add the canned tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a gentle boil. Add the beans and stir. Cover and gently simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.
  • In a blender, (or with an immersion blender), purée three-quarters of the soup until semi-smooth. Pour back into the stockpot and stir well. This will thicken your soup.
  • Adjust the seasoning (taste for salt; you will probably need to add more — 1/4 teaspoon at a time, so you don’t oversalt). Bring the soup back up to a gentle boil. Add the pasta and stir well so the pasta doesn’t stick. Cook the pasta for about 5 minutes or until al dente. You don’t want to overcook the pasta. Ladle into heated bowls. Garnish with 2 tablespoons freshly grated cheese per serving, fresh basil, and red pepper flakes to taste. Drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top.

Grateful Wednesdays

Kalyan Chakravarthy Half what? (CC BY 2.0)I’ve decided that hump day deserves a regular gratitude list. It’s the best way to slide into Thursday with my head screwed on straight, to pause in the middle of the week for a little putting-in of perspective. And I think there’s added value in listing nuggets of thankfulness  in order to share them — for me, that is. It feels like a subtle way of taking action on what I’ve been given, paying good things forward by making them known to you, dear reader, or by drawing attention to the less tangible things. And for me, making a personal gratitude list public helps me to
cement and augment a more general posture of thankfulness and abundance. I hope it reads less as, “good for me, now let me pat myself on the back” and more broadly as “the world is loaded with wonder.” So, thank you, and without further adieu, ten things, small and not so:

  1. Wait for it…chocolate chip and roasted pear scones, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. What a slightly unexpected, fruity, chocolatey, tart-sweet combo. While I’m at it, the entire Smitten Kitchen site — a self-contained gold mine of recipes, simple and scrumptious — and also, the mini scone pan I was gifted for Christmas. I never got around to making scones before I had this pan. It’s the little things.
  2. The people in this world who choose a hard path, knowing it’s hard, and knowing that there is no way around it. I’m thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King. I marvel at the clarity of his life’s mission, vision, and moral conscience.
  3. Winter headbands that keep things insulated on, say, an early morning/early evening commute involving lots of walking and waiting in the cold. If you’re reading, go ahead and grab yourself one! Just do it.
  4. The unique beauty of urban landscapes: the warm, orange glow of streetlights against a dark early morning sky, the steep rise of buildings, winding around the lake, the contrast between a bright train car and the sleeping wooden balconies outside. I could go on (I’ll spare you) but suffice it to say that Chicago is a looker, even in the thick of late January.
  5. A new vegetable soup recipe: Provençal Vegetable Soup, from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris. There are a couple of things about this soup that I find noteworthy: the addition of broken spaghetti noodles and halved green beans, the liberal use of chopped leeks, and last, but not least, the swirling-in-for-serving of pistou, a paste made of raw garlic, tomato paste, fresh basil, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.
  6. The practice of blogging. I think of it as a practice,  not unlike a yoga practice. It’s something I routinely turn to to clear my head, to challenge myself, to slow myself down and develop a deeper presence of mind and level of self-awareness. I’m thankful that blogging is something I can always return to when I have the time, that there’s now a foundation of entries on this here site to blossom into more entries. And more. It’s a good thing we bloggers collectively have going here, on WordPress. To think that the world of blogging didn’t exist a few years ago…
  7. New horizons/things to look forward to. For me, that includes a very hypothetical, much discussed and absolutely unprepared for trip to Ireland in the not so distant future. The longer it goes unplanned, the longer the gestation phase of my fervent anticipation — a blurry assortment of misty, rolling hills, warm pubs, and long, stretched out days of doing whatever the heck we please. One day we’ll get there.
  8. The space and time to be enjoyed by two adults who don’t have kids…yet. In other words, the absence of a heavy (yes, and beautiful) responsibility. This translates into gym time, leisurely cooking, the satisfaction of getting-stuff-done after work, whimsical and aimless conversations with my husband that have nothing to do with getting stuff done.
  9. The difference between writing for an editor and writing for myself. I say difference because I am grateful for both modes, so to speak. I find both challenging and rewarding in different ways. With writing for myself comes the joy/challenge of figuring out what I truly want to say, and also the spontaneity and lightness of having an idea strike my fancy and setting words to page. With writing for an editor comes more scrutiny, more research, a satisfying degree of clarity regarding form and style, and the meaty challenge of organizing ideas accordingly. With both comes the joy and freedom of returning, writing as much or as little as time dictates, but always knowing that writing is there.
  10. Befitting this rather nerdy post I will end with an entirely nerdy “nugget”: I am proud to say, I am very, very thankful for step aerobics. Yep, that’s right. Doing “mambo cha-cha-chas” and “corner knees” and “helicopter turns” astride a big plastic bench. At about 7:30 on a Tuesday evening when I’ve been alternately sitting and standing but not doing a whole lot of moving, it’s bliss, a way to get the blood flowing if you have an affinity for basic jazz dance moves and/or leanings toward the 1980s decade. Somehow, over the last three or four years I’ve morphed into what some would call “a stepper” — I just wish I had the wristband and the pastel-hued leg warmers to do myself justice. Oh well. When a girl’s gotta step, a girl’s gotta step. Er…woman, that is… (I have a pet peeve for grown ass women referring to themselves as girls. Oops.)

So that’s it. My list of small, and not so small points of gratitude to get me over the hump. I hope they serve you as well. As my dust-gathering Book of Common Prayer reads, “It is a good and a joyful thing, always and everywhere, to be thankful to God.” Amen.

Cookbooks Are For Collecting

recoverling footprint in flour CC BY 2.0When Padraic and I were in Santa Fe this summer, we visited the Georgia 0’Keeffe museum, featuring an exhibit of paintings by O’Keeffe and photographs by Ansel Adams, both inspired by the artists’ visits to Hawaii. One 3D image on display, however, captured my interest as much as O’Keeffe’s bold, canvas-consuming flowers and Adams’s black-and-white depictions of industry steeped in island fauna: it was Georgia O’Keeffe’s cookbook collection, arranged neatly on a wooden shelf. O’Keeffe, like George Balanchine, and scores of other celebrities, I’m sure, famous for sophisticated works of art that extend beyond the culinary realm, loved to cook. There’s something about a cookbook collection that is a remarkably intimate way to remember and pay homage to great minds — providing the viewer with a living record of meals prepared with an artist’s own two hands, a record of what they willfully crafted, off-duty, when they were taking a break from peering through a camera lens, holding a brush, or rehearsing choreography. This is what they made for themselves; this is what they made as a form of escape from the art that defined them.

As someone who owns highly impractical cookbooks — whole volumes dedicated to variations on French fries, grilled cheese, even “mini pies” — I can argue from firsthand experience and ever-dwindling shelf space that I believe cookbooks are meant to be collected, that they possess a value and a presence that goes far beyond the utilitarian. I buy cookbooks for pure reading material as much as for how-tos and display them prominently in my kitchen/living room space as an invitation to imagine future meals to be made, to spark food memories, to establish my household as unequivocally food-centric. Ina Garten likes to dress her tables with things edible — like lemons, oranges, or fig leaves — likewise, I would argue the chicness of adorning your home with pictures of food and recipes, allowing the cookbooks to stand alone as works of art in their own right, just as Ina lets the food serve as decor. I’m generally a pretty frugal and no-fuss person; too much of one thing makes me feel scattered and weighed down, so I live pretty light. I take exception with cookbooks, however — I believe that a true food-lover, even if she’s a mediocre and/or minimalist cook, even if she relies heavily on the Internet when she’s actually doing the cooking, cannot have enough of them. With that said, here are nine things to do with your cookbooks besides the obvious:

1. Tag recipes with (tiny) Post-its once you’ve made them for the first time. This way your cookbooks form an ongoing document of your kitchen, and invite you to take on the impossible, long term project of cooking your way through every volume.

2. Place a stack of cookbooks by your bed and try reading them cover to cover, for each recipe marking the ingredients that you don’t have on hand on a Post-it. This way you can more easily recall recipes that match the contents of your fridge, more quickly write up a grocery list, and even group meals together on a weekly basis that share similar ingredients.

3. Rearrange them on the shelf. Feature and/or juxtapose different covers with appealing photographs, stack them according to food category, or pepper the books creatively throughout the room. Give them a stylish display, a place of honor, let’s say, in your dining/cooking/gathering space.

4. Pick a dish and cook it from as many cookbooks as you own, recipe testing until you find your favorite. If you’re like me, you’ll also end up writing in great detail about the best lasagna or blueberry pie you discovered.

5. Once you find your favorite version of something after expending the effort to compare and contrast, stick with it. Make that dish over and over again. You will become known for your fudgy brownies or creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes and this is an honor to be coveted.

6. Resist the temptation to surf the food blogosphere and instead, select one cookbook to cook from for the week. Chances are you can reuse any ingredients that you’ll need to purchase and you won’t get overwhelmed with the prospect of planning a variety of creative meals.

7. Pick a cookbook to cook your entire way through and blog about it! Ahem, Baking Through Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.

8. Start the daunting process of crafting your own recipes by cross-referencing cookbooks and combining recipes and techniques. Write your own, personal cookbook of hybrid recipes.

9. If you don’t already own it, purchase The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook and read it at your leisure, cover to cover. It will make you a more knowledgeable, efficient, and confident cook and give you a few tricks to store in your sleeve. Things like soaking eggs in hot tap water to quickly bring them up to the suggested room temp for baking, and the difference between French and American omelettes…

Oh, and one more thing — keeping adding to the collection 🙂

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