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I Stared Down the Fridge and I Won!

I picked up this phrase from a dear friend and tonight was my night and I did win! I rarely write two blog posts in one week but this one couldn’t wait. And believe it or not, it all starts with Swiss Chard stems.  I have used a lot of chard lately, the leafy part that is, which meant I had collected a good pile of stems in the fridge. They keep well and I just kept adding to the bag. So tonight, in need of dinner, what did I find in the fridge? Chard stems (and not much else)! I usually either dice them and add them to soups or sauces but have also made a gratin in the past, so that’s what I set out to do. It really needed to serve as the main dish tonight so here’s how it turned into something blogworthy.

I roughly chopped half an onion and the chard stems and sautéed those in olive oil for a few minutes. Then I added 1/2 cup of water and covered the pan and braised them for about 10 minutes until the stems were tender.

Then I made a quick bechamel, but for the first time ever used half milk and half veggie bouillon (yes, I know you’re probably tired of hearing about the stuff but it is transformative). Then I remembered that I had a bag of leftover, sliced baguette in the freezer. So out came that and I nearly killed my food processor but I processed those into uneven, biggish, bread crumbs. Then I toasted those with just a little olive oil over high heat to thaw and crisp up just a bit.

Then I added about 1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg to the bechamel and grated some sharp cheddar. Oh and I added the liquid left in the chard pan to the bechamel.

Then I put the chard stems in a casserole dish, covered them with bechamel, then bread crumbs, then cheese. In the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes until nice and bubbly, finish under the broiler and voila! Dinner! It was so much more than the sum of its parts. It was delicious–savory, creamy, crunchy, earthy! We did have an arugula salad (thanks Elizabeth – my super gardener friend/neighbor) too.

Oh and since I’m not writing the recipe out in a formal manner, the bechamel was made as follows: Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, add 4 tablespoons of flour, whisk and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of veggie  bouillon, first heated up together in a separate  saucepan or microwave. Whisk in the hot liquid and cook over medium heat until thickened, about 7-10 minutes. Add nutmeg.

Buon Appetito!

Radishes, Rain & Summer Classes

It’s wet. It’s so wet here we’re back to wearing rubber boots at the park. My tomato plants look as cranky as I am about this though my potato plants seem to be growing 2 inches per day and the chard and salad greens are thriving.  And I’m doing my best to disregard that thermometer and rain gauge, knowing summer is just around the corner. . . . A soba noodle salad I taught in class this last weekend is also helping counter the gloomy weather. And it’s the perfect foil for all those veggies that are thriving in these conditions–radishes, tender young greens, and peas. And I think it will take well to other veggies as the season progresses, like zucchini, green beans, etc. A friend also just sent me a recipe for Braised Radishes which I haven’t made yet but will this week. It sounds intriguing and like a great way to use those lovely red roots (as my son calls them)

And speaking of the season progressing, I’ve had lots of fun planning my classes for the summer. They are posted at CookWithWhatYouHave.com. So if you’d like  new ideas for peas, favas (a simple, kind-of-life-changing method in which you don’t have to peel each bean!), new potatoes, berries, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, sweet onions, . . . come take a class.  I’ve also left enough times open this summer in case you’d like to schedule a private class/party with a specific menu. Finally, I’ve recently had some requests for a pie-baking class, and gluten-free classes. Let me know if you’re interested in either!

Asian Noodle Salad with Toasted Sesame Dressing

— Adapted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair

1 (8-ounce) package soba noodles (or whole wheat spaghetti – Barilla is a good brand for these)

¼ cup sesame seeds

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 large or two small heads of bok choy, (or 1 bunch beat greens, young mustard greens, chard or most any other green) washed and cut into ½ inch ribbons

6 radishes, scrubbed and cut in half and then thinly sliced

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

3 tablespoons tamari (or regular soy sauce)

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey

couple of pinches of chili flakes (or more depending on your taste) or 1/2 tsp chili oil

Cook soba noodles according to package directions. About 3 minutes before the noodles are done add the chopped greens to the noodles, bring back to a boil and cook for a few more minutes. Drain and rinse noodles and greens in colander.

Toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat. Keep seeds moving until they give off aroma, pop, and begin to brown. Remove and set aside. They burn easily so watch carefully.

Mix dressing ingredients in large bowl, add noodles, greens, radishes and cilantro. Mix well.

You can also add grated carrot, scallions, or choose to cook a different vegetable with the noodles such as broccoli, green beans, peas, etc.

Improvisation

Sunday was beautiful. The weather has finally turned warm here and we were all hanging out on a neighbor’s stoop Sunday evening. I had planned to make Barley Risotto with Asparagus (still trying to make that Barley Asparagus combo work!) and had actually measured out the broth, cleaned and sliced the asparagus and measured out the barley earlier in the day. Well now I found myself on said stoop with a beer in hand and children happily playing and just couldn’t tear myself away and head inside. So I stayed on the stoop, sampling said neighbor’s fresh bread with butter.

My son "Improvising" . . . since I don't have a photo of the improvised dinner I figured this would have to do!

When I finally tore myself away from the convivial, summer neighborhood fun I knew that the three-year-old, now over-hungry, was not going to wait for risotto. And I had a pastry-chef friend coming over to sample/critique a sample wedding cake after dinner so . . .What is the quickest cooking grain? I think it’s quinoa so that’s what was made. I basically treated it like I would have the rice (sans slowly adding broth and stirring) and we had ourselves the most delicious quick quinoa/risotto. I’m definitely going to repeat this technique and try other veggies as well.

Needless to say I did not remember to take a photo of the prep or the finished dish, so my son doing his version of improv it is!

Quick Quinoa “Risotto” with Asparagus

This technique is actually more like Spanish Rice than Risotto but whatever you want to call it, it’s worth trying.

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 slice of bacon, diced (optional)

1 bunch of asparagus, tough ends snapped off, and cut diagonally into 1-2 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained

handful of grated parmesan or other hard cheese

3 cups veggies broth or stock (I used my homemade Veggie Bouillon)

olive oil

Heat broth in a small pan. Saute onion and bacon in large saute pan with 2 Tbs of olive oil until onion is translucent and soft. Rinse quinoa well and strain thoroughly. Add quinoa to onions and bacon and saute for a few minutes until dried out and slightly toasty over high heat. Add broth all at once. Bring to a boil, turn down to simmer and cover. After about 10 minutes spread asparagus over quinoa and cover again. Cook until quinoa and asparagus are done–about 3-4 minutes. Add parmesan and some more good olive oil and mix well. Voila!

P.S. I still have a few spots in this Saturday’s Cooking Class on Hearty One-Dish Salads and meal with Grains and Beans and lots of Veggies. It’s a fabulous class! Check it out and sign up if you’re interested.

Garden vs. Computer

I’ve been trying my best to write a blog post this morning. It is Tuesday which means blog post day. But then I remembered that I needed to check the planting calendar in my go-to gardening book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon and then I thought I’d better see if the spot I had in mind for summer squash was actually big enough. . . I get carried away in my little garden and tend to plant things too close together, forgetting year after year how gigantic squash plants get.  And then I saw some weeds that needed pulling, flowers that needed dead-heading, flowers that would make a lovely bouquet, arugula that needed thinning. . . . An hour later I’m back.

Typing away I notice that my hands are starting to look like my mothers’–a little cracked, with dirt embedded in them that no amount of washing will quite remove.  As I child I was often given the choice between “indoor chores” and “outdoor chores”. For  years I chose indoor, exclusively! I hated the feeling of dirt on my hands, especially as it dried and cracked. I hated pulling weeds. My mother lived in her garden and I just didn’t get it. Now I get it! I just want to be out there, pulling those weeds, sowing beans, digging in the compost, watching the volunteer sunflowers pop up everywhere. I love it!

Arugula and Mache Thinnings

Reflecting on this progression in my life is liberating as a parent when my son shows no interest in things I love or excessive interest in things I don’t. When I asked him  yesterday what I should write my blog post about today ( he’s 3), he said: “Chainsaw movies!”. He likes to watch logging videos on youtube (his uncle owns a sawmill, hence the obsession), which is what he means by chainsaw videos. Not that I don’t like chainsaws but they don’t inspire me.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap this up so I can get back outside. However, I’ll share a recipe for a crisp that I cobbled together (inspired by Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks yet again) on the fly a few nights ago.

Strawberries for a future crisp!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Note: If you don’t have any port don’t worry, but it does add a lovely dimension.

Preheat oven to 375.

2-3 cups rhubarb, sliced in 1/2 inch chunks

1 1/2 – 2 cups whole strawberries, cut in half

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons Port (or 2 teaspoons good balsamic vinegar if you don’t have port)

For Topping:

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

2/3 cup ground almonds (I use my little Zyliss cheese grater for this or you can pulse them in the food processor)

2/3 cup of rolled oats

scant 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp kosher salt

6 Tbs butter, melted

Mix sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl, sprinkle over fruit and mix well. Add port, mix again and place in 9 x 12 baking dish.

Mix dry ingredients well in medium bowl. Stir melted butter into the dry ingredients and combine well with a spoon or with your fingers. Some dry spots will remain which is fine. Cover fruit with topping and bake until the fruit is bubbling and topping starting to brown, about 45 minutes.

Serve warm with whipped cream.

The Comfort of Good Food – Lentil Soup and Carrot Cake

After a recent weekend of teaching classes and non-stop planning, cooking, and shopping in preparation therefor, I found myself completely uninspired on the cooking front. Maybe it was the let down of completing a big project and the need for my mind to take a break. . . luckily it only lasted a few days. And luckily a neighbor stopped by with Madhur Jaffrey’s tome World Vegetarian during the middle of my slump.

A quick side note about neighbors. As I have always found, people like to talk about cooking and food and eating.  We all eat and we all feel strongly about some aspect of that piece of our lives and whether it’s my neighbors or new facebook friends or folks commenting on my blog or my relatives or long-lost high-school friends, everybody has something to say about food. Every walk through the neighborhood ends up in conversations about a new discovery of how to make nut-butters; whether a focaccia recipe will turn out well as a regular loaf and if yeast quantities should be adjusted; a discussion about whether one prefers thick or thin asparagus; or about why children eat three servings of lentil soup one day and refuse it the next. Such walks and conversations pull me right out of any, temporary funk!

Now back to cookbooks and recipes. Just browsing Jaffrey’s enormous book made me smile and want to spend all day cooking again. I have not managed to make anything out of  it yet  but did order it and look forward to incorporating her recipes in many of  my classes. Now to the things that I did make and that were immensely satisfying:

I made both of these dishes this week (an unseasonably cold-week!)  for the first time and both have been added to the favorite/go-to list. And they are both from the same book Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair, though I made some changes to both.

French Lentil and Potato Stew

–Adapted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair

1 Tbs olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 tsp ground cumin

t tsp ground coriander

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1/8 tsp cayenne (or more if you like spice)

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 tsp salt (omit if you’re using salted stock or bouillon)

black pepper

3 medium potatoes, cubed

1 stalk celery, diced

1 carrot, chopped

1 1/4 cups French green lentils (or regular brown ones if that’s what you have)

5 cups water or veggie or chicken stock (use homemade veggie bouillon if you have it)

1 bunch chard or spinach (collards, kale, beet greens. .. ) washed and chopped

squeeze or two of lemon juice

Heat olive oil in a 4-quart pot on medium to medium-high  heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and saute until softened. Add all spices and saute a few more minutes.

Add potatoes, lentils and water (or stock/bouillon). Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 45 – 55 minutes until the lentils are almost creamy. About 10 minutes (or less for spinach) before the lentils are done add the greens. Taste for salt and adjust to your taste. Finish with a squeeze or two of lemon juice. If you have Greek yogurt or sour cream on hand, garnish each bowl with a dollop.

Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

–Adapted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair

I turned to this book for dessert ideas that are on the healthier side of things. I bake so much and love sweets and I figure I should temper all the sweet stuff with this kind of cake that uses honey and whole wheat flour. I expected it to be much less decadent than it was. I just ate twice as much of it, knowing how healthy it was. Oh the mind games!

Cake:

1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves (optional)

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup honey

2 eggs

1 generous cup grated carrot (I grated half the carrots on the biggest holes on my box grater and half on the smaller ones – liked the combo)

1 Tablespoon lemon zest

1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

1/3 cup currants

1/3 cup golden raisins, roughly chopped (regular raisins would be fine too) and if you like nuts in your carrot cake, by all means add some chopped walnuts or whatever you have

Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly oil and dust with flour a 9-inch cake pan. Mix flour, salt, baking soda and spices in a mixing bowl; set aside.

Melt butter and honey over low heat. add eggs and lemon juice and whisk together. Add wet ingredients to dry mixture and mix well.

Fold carrots, zest, currants, and raisins. Pour batter in pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. be careful not to over bake.

Frosting:

6 oz cream cheeses

1/4 cup (4 Tbs) of butter, room temperature

2-3 Tbs maple syrup

1/2 tsp lemon juice

Cream the butter and cream cheese together with a wooden spoon. Add maple syrup and lemon juice. Add more of either to taste. The frosting will firm up in the fridge if it gets to soft to spread but mine worked just fine.

Frost top and sides of cake!

Food & Community

Chard and garlic in my back yard garden

I tend to mention farmers’ markets in every other blog- or facebook post. Now it’s time to talk about CSA’s – Community Supported Agriculture. My CSA share will be starting in a few weeks and some in the area are already up and running and a few even go year-round. I can’t wait for mine to start. It’s like Christmas every week.

CSA is a farming operation which gives the farmer much needed cash at the beginning of the season when folks sign up and pay for a share of the harvest (produce, herbs, eggs, flowers, etc.) throughout the growing season, and subscribers get a box of whatever is at its peak every week. For all the details on CSAs and a comprehensive list of all the choices check out the Portland Area CSA Coaltion (PACSAC).

I love CSAs for a variety of reasons (in random order): 1) I love the surprise and beauty of opening that box every week and seeing my “treasure.” 2) I love not thinking about what to buy. 3) The CSA model fits perfectly with my cook-with-what-you-have strategy and in fact helped inspire this way of cooking. 4) The quality is unsurpassed since it is always the freshest most perfectly ripe items. 5) I actually spend less on produce when I have my CSA since I go to the farmers’ markets just to supplement with berries, etc. (since I can’t stay away from the markets even if I have plenty of produce at home!). 6) I feel connected to that farm, the crops/varieties,  people, weather challenges, etc. in a more intimate way.

Ornamental strawberries in my back yard

If not knowing what produce you’re going to get every week makes you nervous instead of happy then farmers’ markets might be a good bet. However, there are also good ways to slowly work your way into CSAs if the model, convenience, price point, idea, etc. appeals to you. It’s easier to pick up a box or have it delivered than make your way to a market sometimes (although there are so many markets now that it’s awfully convenient too). You can begin by splitting a share with a neighbor or friend. That way you won’t be overwhelmed with produce and can get in the swing of things and build your confidence and skills in cooking that way (by taking classes from me, among other things:) and eventually graduate to a full share (or keep sharing with your neighbor or plant your own little veggie garden).

Chives, oregano, and alpine strawberries in my garden

A friend of mine and extraordinary farmer Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm offers very small shares. This is the  perfect “gateway” CSA. And the produce is so delicious that the simplest of preparations are the best. Josh details the crops and amounts of each item you’ll receive in your share in great detail on his site. Just spending a few minutes on Slow Hand Farm’s website I learned so much about what’s growing and why, what we can look forward to, and what this erratic-but-fairly-typical-weather means to someone who isn’t just worried about getting wet walking from the office to the bus stop.

So I invite you to explore some of these farms and their offerings (if you aren’t already a CSA subscriber) and see what you find.

Forgive the lack of recipes in this post. I will post again tomorrow with a recipe!

Note: Since I don’t have any photos of local CSA farms I’m including photos from my own little garden in this post. And I currently have enough parsley, thyme, oregano, winter savory, and sage for the whole neighborhood so if you’re in need of any of those stop by and I’ll happily share!