How to Deal with Random Root Vegetables, method 2

March 11, 2010 § 3 Comments

This post is in honor of my dear, dear friend Marit who is currently working in Cameroon where, apparently, they have a lot of root vegetables to eat.

Method 2??!!  You exclaim.  But, there was never a method 1!  True, but only sort of.  I consider my soup strategy to be a method of dealing with random root vegetables and therefore have moved to regard it as such and make this into method 2.  All in favor?…  Motion sustained.  Now, moving on.  The gradual appearance of buds on the pussy willows tells me that spring is tiptoeing in.  However, at least in the Boston area any new little vegetable shoots know enough to keep their heads down for a while longer, and we’re not getting spring vegetables unless they’re shipped in from a distance. (Anyone noticed yet that I’m quite obsessed with the weather and the seasons?  I think it’s a northerner thing – all the Norwegians and Minnesotans I know are similarly obsessed.)  I imagine that when people grew most of their own food, and local food was simply the way of life, rather than an environmental/foodie movement, this time of year in Northern climates offered some of the most frustrating eating.  The days are growing longer and warmer; the hope of new growth is in the air; but nothing is growing yet so we’re scraping the bottoms of our barrels and grubbing the root cellars to find the last of the storage vegetables to cook up.

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Kitchen Sink Soup (Basic soup steps)

March 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

“If you cannot think of anything appropriate to say you will please restrict your remarks to the weather.”

Sage advice from Mrs. Dashwood (in the movie version of Sense and Sensibility).  But what if I can’t think of anything appropriate to say about the weather?  And I can’t really think about anything else because the weather is so ridiculously godawful it’s like it’s jumping up and down yelling “look at me, I’m gross and depressing!  Hey, you, yeah you, look at me, I’m gross and depressing!”  We haven’t even been getting the snow that the rest of the East coast has been blessed with (I’m Minnesotan, I luuuuuv snow).  Nope, we’re getting this very slightly frozen version of rain.  It’s raining unflavored slushies!  I’m considering investing in an ark.

There’s really nothing for it in this sort of weather.  The only thing to do is to bake bread (mmm, challah – I think Joel may have decided he wants it to keep raining) and eat soup.  Maybe the weather has actually been sending me a sign because it’s soup making time anyway.  Whenever I find myself with a backlog of root vegetables – which tends to happen at this time of year because I can’t seem to eat them at the same pace that my farm share sends them to me – I go on a peeling, chopping, simmering, soup making rampage!  It’s one of the very most efficient ways to use up ginormous quantities of random vegetables.  I’m willing to throw pretty much anything but the kitchen sink into a pot of soup and see how it’ll come out. « Read the rest of this entry »

When life gives you bruised, mushy apples…

February 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

It is not apple season in these parts.  During the crystalline fall days in New England, when the sky is the blue of the eponymous Crayola crayon (sorry, I just really wanted to use the word eponymous) and the leaves are so colorful it seems like they’re just showing off, then there is quite possibly no better place in the world to get apples.  At that time of year I gorge myself on dozens of varieties from farmer’s market stalls and local orchards.  I just can’t get enough.  I have kind of a thing for apples.  Especially cut into exactly four pieces.  Don’t ask.  One of the best days of my life was when I visited a variety grove for one of my agriculture classes – hundreds of obscure varieties of apples, and we were allowed to taste as many as we liked.  I almost missed the bus back home, I wandered so deeply into the expanse of the orchard.

Anyway, this is all getting back to the fact that, right now it is not apple season, unless you are in the southern hemisphere.  I generally feel guilty about buying apples shipped from New Zealand, so I try to do the seasonal thing, but sometimes I succumb to the desire for an apple (I identify with Eve in the garden of Eden, but more for wanting to eat the fruit, less for wanting the knowledge) and I buy some local storage apples, that have been waiting out the winter in dark crates.  They’re almost always bruised and kind of mealy.  The ones I just got certainly were.  But even if your apples are mealy, all is not lost.  It makes for a perfect excuse to make applesauce! « Read the rest of this entry »

Om – a cooking mantra

February 20, 2010 § 2 Comments

Today I bring you a cooking mantra.  Repeat it to yourself over and over (in a chanting, sing song voice) until:  a) you attain some state of enlightenment, b) you get really really bored and forget what the heck you’re doing anyway, or c) dinner is done.

“When in doubt, heat olive oil/butter, add chopped garlic/onion, add chopped ingredient you want to cook.  Cook. Salt and pepper to taste.”

(You could also add a splash of wine/(chicken or veggie) stock/vinegar/lemon juice and/or a combination of herbs and spices, but if I say that this mantra is getting waaay too long to say in one breath.)

Roasted Butternut Squash and Apples

December 8, 2009 § 1 Comment

The universe seems to have some sort of rule that I am not allowed to be productive for two days in a row.  Yesterday was fabulous!  I was completely focused and plowed through my work, which never happens on a Monday.  Today…oi!  It’s nearing lunch time and I have yet to accomplish anything beyond standing up to stretch every 5 minutes and then sitting down in front of my computer and finding myself checking the weather online for the 976th time (it’s cold and sunny, by the way).  Somehow I think it may not have been in my best interest to decide to work from a café instead of my office today (Beyonce serenading me is somehow not helping with the process of curriculum editing, who’d’ve known?!).  So, in the hope of doing something at least very slightly productive, I have decided to stop trying altogether and instead think about butternut squash.

Why butternut squash?  Well, a) because I’ve been cooking a lot of it and b) because it is such a low maintenance vegetable I feel like I might be able to muster enough concentration to deal with the thought of one right now.  Butternut is one of those great vegetables to stock up on because if you keep them somewhere cool and dry, they’ll keep for a good long time without any extra attention and you can pull one out whenever you’re looking for something to cook.  My friends Griff and Liz bought a bunch of squash in bulk last year in the fall and stashed them all over their apartment – we kept discovering them peeking out from under the couches, behind the doors, on bookshelves (everywhere except the pantry!).  The squash lasted them right through until early summer, not once complaining of neglect. « Read the rest of this entry »

Root Vegetables Au Gratin (and cream sauce basics)

November 21, 2009 § 3 Comments

You’d think at this point in my life, having gone through a number of years, I’d be used to the way the seasons change. But somehow it surprises and delights me every year to see the leaves change and watch the first snow fall. I’m also shocked every single autumn by how short the days suddenly become. It gets dark so early now! Holy-moly! Nowadays, even though it’s easy to buy any food you want at any time of the year, I think it’s important and pleasurable to mark the shift in the seasons by changing cooking styles and ingredients. As the nights get darker and colder, I feel like it becomes imperative to make heartier, creamier dishes (I justify this (as if it needs justification) because I still bike commute everywhere in the cold and sleet!), which you don’t really feel like eating on warm summer evenings. In chatting about the quintessentially fall foods we eat on Thanksgiving, a friend told me that his mother had recently started making a gratin of mixed sweet and regular potatoes that was amazing. Now, I don’t think I’m going to add this to my Thanksgiving meal this year because I’m just too fond of having my sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes separately. But, I thought, it sounded too good not to try at least something of the sort for a regular supper.

I had never actually made a gratin before. But, having eaten them, I felt I had a pretty good guess as to what the necessary components are. That being: vegetables, a white sauce, and cheese. And given how the dish turned out, I’m inclined to believe that my guess was correct. Anyone who thinks it requires anything more is making it more complicated than necessary (sure this may take it to the next level, but I was quite happy with the level I achieved). So, the key to making a gratin is knowing how to make a white sauce. Once you can do that you can au gratin-ate just about anything you please (as long as you also know how to grate cheese, which doesn’t usually take any advanced training, unless you want to be able to grate without scraping your knuckles, which I think might be virtually impossible). « Read the rest of this entry »

Why I will never be on the Food Network – or, if I can cook, anyone can

November 18, 2009 § 3 Comments

Okay, so that’s a pretty silly title for this blog post, considering that there are about half a kajillion reasons why I won’t be on the Food Network. But, in this case, I’m thinking about something specific. Television shows and magazine articles make cooking look like it is a production, a carnival of ingredients where everything has to laboriously be chopped precisely into uniform pieces or flavored with a foam of expensive seafood and some spice you’ve never heard of, and if you don’t create something perfect you’re sent home packing with your knives. But the truth of cooking is that it is much more approachable. You can make an extremely respectable, downright delectable meal with only ingredients and cooking techniques that a food snob might consider boring, but that a truly good cook would just consider practical. One of the very greatest things about cooking is how much wiggle room there is to fix mistakes or make something work. There is very rarely a disaster in the kitchen so serious that it can’t be salvaged. And if you really create a disgusting Franken-dish, you can always fry a couple of eggs and serve them on toast with a slice of tomato and dinner is saved!

When I first began cooking for myself and others, I used to be in a nervous fluster the entire time. I would whirl around the kitchen worrying that I wouldn’t add ingredients at the proper moment, or that I would stir at a rate of 1.7 rotations per second instead of 1.5, or that my vegetable cubes weren’t geometrically exact. Okay, maybe not quite that ridiculous, but my hands would literally be shaking while I tried to cook, and I would end up dropping pots or pulling a Jackson Pollock with the sauce I was making. Bit by bit, I discovered that all my fretting didn’t help anything. That as long as I followed the general spirit of the guidelines set forth in recipes I was reading for inspiration, things would generally be okay. Now, I’ve gotten so that much of the time I don’t measure or time things or follow recipes; instead I eyeball, and guestimate, and imagine what things might taste like if I put them together. And miraculously it works! « Read the rest of this entry »

How to cook random greens: method 3

November 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’m lucky in my living situation, in that my roommates have similarly wonky tendencies to my own, most especially the tendency to cook up a storm in the morning at the same time as making and eating breakfast, in order to have food ready to go later on.  It’s not a bad approach, all things considered, and can have the added benefit (if one feels like it’s a benefit) of making the house smell like Thanksgiving…at 7 am.  For my own part, I do this most often when I’m wishing I had leftovers to bring to the office for lunch, but I don’t have any and I’m certainly not willing to spend an exorbitant sum of $8 or more to get a fancy sandwich from a café.  The thinking goes like this: “Oh gosh.  What am I going to bring for lunch today?  I suppose I could have bread and cheese again. But what am I going to do for a vegetable?  (yes, I think lunch should contain vegetables)  Ooh, I have some beets!  And some chard!  What an abundance of goodness!  I know, I’ll sautee the greens while I fry myself an egg and roast the beets in slices while I eat, then I can toss them together with herbs into a Tupperware and have them for lunch.  Brilliant!”

This particular morning, fabulous smells of frying onion wafted under my nose while I was washing my face.  I padded out of the bathroom and into the kitchen to see what my roommate, Andi, was up to.  She was monitoring a large frying pan of the most gorgeous, Technicolor, rainbow Swiss chard  I have, perhaps, ever seen.  And I’ve seen a lot of chard in my day!  When she tossed in a handful of golden raisins, I couldn’t take it any more.  “Andi!”  I cried out, “can you hold on a second and let me take a photo of what you’re cooking?  It’s too beautiful not to!”  Before she had really had the chance to answer I had grabbed my camera and started in on a full-blown photo shoot, starring the chard.  Unfortunately, photography is not one of my gifts.  But, hey, I’m trying.  And more importantly, it got me thinking about another method of dealing with your random greens, and other barely identifiable vegetables (or fully identifiable vegetables, come to think of it).  Think salad! « Read the rest of this entry »

What’s for supper? Chicken-spinach quesadilla

October 21, 2009 § 1 Comment

The last couple of weeks have been exhausting.  Big, stressful deadlines, extra meetings, doctor’s appointments and other events to go to.  Oh wait, that’s normal life.  (I claim the right to be a little extra exhausted however, because I just passed an exam that my career was basically riding on)  At any rate, I shlocked my way through it, only once turning to a frozen pizza for help – though I’ll admit that I also ate spaghetti at practically every meal for several days in a row.  Actually during stressful weeks, I often find it a relief to cook in the evening.  You get to take out your aggression by taking a knife to the vegetables.  You get to prove to yourself that you really are productive by taking a handful of ingredients and transforming them into something tasty.  And then, no matter how stressful the day was, you can take some time to sit and eat, just concentrating on the meal and your dining companions, letting other things slip away for the moment.

But, that brings me to today.  Today I finally had nothing major going on.  I got enough sleep last night.  I went for a bike ride through the beautiful fall weather.  I had the time to roll up my sleeves, reach for my cutting board, and whip up something absolutely fabulous in the kitchen.  And I really, really, really didn’t feel like it.  I had no desire to cook.  Whatsoever.  However, a nagging voice in my mind reminded me that I also didn’t really want to spend the money to go out to eat, now did I, and that I had perfectly good food in the fridge I should use up so as not to be wasteful, and that I would feel much better about myself if I didn’t give in to the corporate food system, blahblahblah… « Read the rest of this entry »

How to cook random greens: method 2

October 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

spices

Indian food (more specifically Punjabi, I suppose, since that is what is usually served in restaurants around here) is one of my absolute favorite styles of cuisine.  The complex flavors and creamy sauces always seem festive and special to me.  I actually remember the first time I came to the realization that, for many years there have been people in India who eat this food every day, not just as a special treat!  That definitely took some time for me to wrap my brain around.  (I suppose they, in turn, may be amazed to learn that some people grow up eating fish and potatoes and meat and gravy every day)

Now, I think cooking Indian food well may require having at least some genetic ties to South Asia.  Even if you follow a recipe to the letter, the curries and tikka masalas and kormas just never seem to come out the way they do in a good Indian restaurant.  I think I’ve only ever made two curries that turned out to my liking (on the other hand, I perennially add a tsp. of curry powder to the mayonnaise that I put in tuna or chicken salad, and that turns out well every time! Though, it turns out curry powder isn’t even really technically Indian.)

Probably the secrets of true Indian cooking have to be learned in person from your grandmother, or determined through lots of trial and error – which, if nothing else, is usually/hopefully pretty tasty error.  However, whether or not I ever master the art of Indian cooking, I have found some of the techniques and spicing extremely useful in everyday cooking.  For example, Indian dishes frequently call for you to add the spices to the pan early with the onions and garlic, to toast them and release extra depth of flavor before you add any other ingredients.  This technique can work wonders with all the typically South Asian, and Middle Eastern, spices.  The “c” spices: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne (ground red pepper), curry powder; and also turmeric, mustard seeds, and Indian spice blends like garam masala.  Which brings me to another quick and simple method of cooking random greens.  My friend Erik told me recently that this is the way he almost always prepares his leafies; it sounds like he and his fiancée Hillary have been making their way through bushels of kale this summer and have yet to get sick of it. « Read the rest of this entry »

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