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2017 Recipe Scrapbook

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

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

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


Celebration Meals

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

soup and salad smitten kitchen

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

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

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

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

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Weeknight Suppers

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

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Lemon Chicken

Lemon Chicken

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

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Here’s are two more gems from Smitten Kitchen:

Tomato and Sausage Risotto

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Quick Pasta and Chickpeas

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

Lemony Arugula Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
Thai Beef Salad 

The Pioneer Woman’s Migas is filling AND cheap:

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

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

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



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

Here is some of the STUFF I MADE:

The Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Spaghetti

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Orange Pound Cake

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Cristina Ferrare’s Strawberry Shortcake

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My Great-Grandmother’s Baked Beans 🙂

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Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Tomato Feta Pasta Salad

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Shrimp & Sausage Paleo Skillet Meal

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And a few more for good measure:

Mentoring on Sunday Afternoons

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

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

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

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

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







Ringing in the New Year with “Quick and Easy Chinese”

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 6.44.22 PMAs of Thursday, February 19th, Happy Year of the Goat. In case you haven’t experienced it, the Chinese New Year is a two-week event rich both in celebration — fireworks, lanterns, red clothes — as well as clean-slate-wiping — house cleaning, bill paying, lucky money giving. But for me, it’s mostly an excuse to share one of my favorite, recently dusted off cookbooks, perfect for efficient, manageable weeknight cooking: Quick and Easy Chinese. Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 6.41.53 PMThe author is Nancy McDermott, whose love of cooking began, where else, at her grandmother’s side. Her passion for Asian flavors began, where else, during her Peace Corps term in Thailand. She went on to write Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking, Quick and Easy Thai, Quick and Easy Vietnamese, Quick and Easy Chinese, and a host of other Southeast asian cookbooks. As a matter of fact, here she is right here. Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 6.49.31 PMI really appreciate her general philosophy of home cooked Asian food. In the introduction to Quick and Easy Chinese, she points out how enamored we Westerners are with Chinese food, in which “meat and veggies are napped in delightfully flavorful sauces, creating delicious hybrids that we mall rats love.” (See cheerful couple dressed as carry out!) We seem to think that these clever, slightly foreign flavor combinations equal a cooking process that is beyond us, but in truth, it couldn’t be more familiar. This cookbook won’t have you making dim sum or fancy seafood or some of the other restaurant level dishes that some folks have come to associate with Chinese; rather, the recipes reflect the kind of simple, home cooking that is as manageable in the average American kitchen as it is in the everyday Chinese household. In other words, we’re talking a skillet, a chef’s knife, and knife skills.

Mise En Place

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 6.55.22 PM This is the first element of Chinese cooking that I’m a sucker for: mise en place is French for “put in place,” in other words, chopping and measuring all of your ingredients on the front end of the cooking process. It sounds a lot like the French phrase, “mise en scène,” referring to the scenic design of a play or film. And in its own, quotidian sort of way, it’s the culinary equivalent of setting the stage. In general, it’s an organized and foolproof way of cooking, but Chinese food requires this step since everything is eventually cooked so quickly and at such a high temperature.

Fry it in a Pan

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 7.01.00 PMFrom there, the basic process is delightfully repetitive, whether you’re improvising a vegetable stir-fry or crafting your own, homemade version of Kung Pao Chicken. Start cooking your rice. Heat oil in a pan. Add vegetables, meats, herbs and flavorings, and watch everything sizzle until the consistency is right. Swirl in a sauce, usually containing soy sauce, cornstarch, oil, vinegar, and a few other, more specific, signature flavors. Watch the sauce thicken and turn off the heat. Voilà.

Specialty Ingredients

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 7.03.12 PMAnother happy discovery is that no, you truly don’t need specialty ingredients to make Chinese food at home. If you currently use red pepper flakes, soy sauce, garlic, scallions, cilantro, ginger, peanuts, or black beans, then you’re mostly covered. I purchased a bottle of Asian Sesame oil, rice vinegar, and Hoisin Sauce and they’ve carried me through numerous incarnations of “Almond Chicken,” “Kung Pao Chicken,” and “Salmon with Ginger and Onions,” just 3 of the 70 recipes McDermott serves up. I’m eager to try her recipe for “Spicy Beef in Lettuce Cups” and “green onion pancakes,” which are street-food flatbreads inspired by the author’s annual trips to Taiwan. Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 7.08.06 PMTo tout my enthusiasm just a few words longer, this recipe for Eggplant Szechwan (Szechwan being a Southwestern province known for its sophisticated, spicy cuisine) is currently the easiest way I know to use up those suspiciously giant eggplants you often find in the grocery store. Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 7.12.19 PMWhat the heck — as long as we’re celebrating the Chinese new year, why not make room for another quick and easy recipe that hails from…Japan. (The more the merrier?) I recently tried this chilled soba noodles recipe, adapted from Stonewall Kitchen Favorites. Lest anyone should be offended by my brazen intermingling of culinary traditions under the “Asian” umbrella, let me add that I used whole wheat spaghetti instead of Japanese buckwheat pasta, so technically, my version is a hopeless mutt, infused with commonly used Italian, Chinese and Japanese ingredients: garlic, ginger, scallions, peanut butter, Chinese chile paste, soy sauce, cilantro… It sounds like summer picnic fare, but I find that cold, peanut noodles with a side of cucumber/nut slaw makes for a refreshingly hearty lunch in the dead of winter.

Ingredients, Cold Peanut Noodles

Salt 3 garlic cloves, minced 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced 4 scallions, chopped 3/4 cup peanut butter* Hot sauce* 1/4 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro 8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti* *The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup peanut butter + 1/4 cup tahini, or sesame paste. If you have tahini, I’m sure it’s even better that way. I didn’t, so I used extra peanut butter. The original recipe calls for crunchy peanut butter but I was satisfied with my choice of creamy. *The original recipe calls for 2 teaspoons Chinese chili paste. Again, I made a convenient substitution. *Or one 8.8 oz package soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat pasta)

Boil Pasta Water, Mix Pasta Sauce

Boil lightly salted water for the pasta. Mix together the garlic, ginger, scallions, peanut butter, hot sauce and soy sauce. Add 1/2 cup of the hot water for the pasta to thin out the sauce. Stir in the cilantro.

Bring it Together

Cook the noodles in the boiling pasta water according to the package directions. Drain them in a colander and place under cold running water to chill them. Toss them with tongs and drain again. Mix the cold noodles with the sauce. If desired, make them ahead of time and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours. Serve with lightly pickled cucumber and almonds.

Cucumber Almond Salad, Ingredients

1 large cucumber, cubed 3/4 cup coarsely chopped lightly roasted salted almonds* 2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil 2 tablespoons rice vinegar Freshly ground black pepper, to taste *The original recipe calls for cashews. If you don’t have roasted/salted nuts, place whatever nuts you have in a dry skillet over medium-low heat and toast until crisp and fragrant. Season to taste with coarse sea salt or kosher salt.

Mix it in a Bowl

That’s it. Fini. All this talk of peanut butter, Szechwan style eggplant and stir-fry has left me in a dreamy state. I think I’ll just float away on one of these lanterns and leave you to your wok. Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 6.09.23 PM

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