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Posts tagged ‘quick dinners’


A quintessential last minute dinner: Quinoa with bacon, peas, and hardboiled egg.

I’ve been thinking about change a lot as I develop and gear up for my new cooking class series entitled Eat Better: Kitchen Fundamentals, Pantry Stocking and 30-Minute Dinners.  It seems that in the world of cooking, foods and methods of preparation have changed as our lives have changed. We’re busier, we work outside of the home for longer hours, we have other priorities. So I devise a series on how to make cooking real meals with whole ingredients possible in this kind of a world. But even 30 minutes of solid cooking in the evening plus the time it takes to keep that pantry stocked and a few things prepped here and there is a big shift for many of us.

So the question I keep asking myself is how to find that balance between offering lots of creative short-cuts and menus that fit into our busy lives and helping people want to spend a little more time in the kitchen because the pay-offs can be so, so great. So maybe having our lives change just a bit to enable real, good food to hit our table more often, means that instead of needing the cooking to be crammed into our crazy lives we decide to make our lives a little less crazy in order to fit in some real cooking.

Even though I work from home and my work is food, I still often don’t know what I’m going to make for dinner when 5:30pm rolls around. I do have a very well-stocked pantry and several decades of cooking under my belt so the task is not so daunting and often a nice break from the computer. But even with my time at home and years of experience, I chuckle when I read cookbooks  that say things in the head notes of a recipe like this: Serve this ____ main dish with ___ salad with ___ dressing and ___ vegetable dish for a simple satisfying supper. What?!  I can’t count on 2 hands the times my regular week night dinners have included the above components in the last six months. Maybe I’m unorthodox in my focus one one-dish dinners or one dish plus fried egg or one dish plus slice of bread or one-dish plus something I had in the freezer or made extra of the day before, but that is my reality and I find truly simple meals like this very satisfying. And I don’t think I’m feeding my family nutritionally unbalanced meals. This way of cooking certainly is informed by growing up in a household with three brothers and usually an exchange student or two and two parents who liked to eat. My mother just made quantities of one or two dishes and that was that. It was always delicious. And, I should add, she always made some kind of dessert because my father mandated it!:) But I digress.

What I think I’m trying to say is that real, good food can be made fairly quickly and regularly and the investment in time it takes to build that skill and confidence level is worth it.

The first time Ellis actually saved me time in the kitchen. He perfectly hollowed out both halves of this squash--no stray strings or seeds! So, if you have kids, put 'em to work!:)

So I’ve tried to tackle a big subject in these few muddled paragraphs and I would love to hear your thoughts on how you find a balance between cooking and all your other interests, demands, needs, etc. And I’m curious whether you would like to spend more time cooking, less time, would like to cook differently, more simply, more creatively. . .

Happy New Year and happy cooking and thanks for reading.


P.S. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m a guest blogger at Culinate these days and if I’ve missed a blog post or two of my own lately it’s because I’ve been posting there as well and there are only so many hours in the day. . . So if you’re curious, there’s this recent one and this one. Enjoy.

Cook With What You Have, Year One


Stuffed Pumpkin - recipe below!


It’s been one year, pretty much to the day, since I launched Cook With What You Have out of my kitchen. It’s fun to reflect on this time–the 40 classes and events, the new friends, quantities of olive oil I’ve gone through, recipes tested, fliers posted, emails sent, dishes washed, blog posts written, farmers markets frequented, onions chopped. . .

Thank you all for enabling this little endeavor to grow and evolve! I get a big smile on my face as I think of the ups and downs and how much I’ve learned over the last twelve months. The interest in cooking and doing so more regularly with the bounty we have all around us is alive and well and looking ahead to the next year, I can hardly contain the number of ideas and plans I have–thanks to you all!


A recent class about to dig into that pumpkin


Many of you have requested a series of classes on how to stock and source your pantry/kitchen and how to turn all those ingredients into quick dinners, regularly. So that’s what we’re going to do in January. It seems like a good time of year to take stock (pun intended) of your cabinets, fridge, and freezer and get the year off to a fresh start. So I’m going back to the original Cook With What You Have motto and turning it into something a bit more manageable and tangible with materials and suggestions (and three classes!) for how to have enough on hand and keep yourself stocked so that weeknight dinners do not involve last-minute trips to the grocery store or grilled-cheese sandwiches three nights in a row.


My pantry


You don’t need a pantry this large or that many  kinds of beans and rice but if you want to be better equipped for healthy, delicious meals and saving money while you’re at it, you might want to sign up. Or you could ask for the series (or any one of the classes) for a gift this year. . . .I have also decided to make the materials available for a modest sum so if you can’t make any of the dates you can contact me for more information on the materials too.

And if you happen to have a pie (sugar) pumpkin sitting around your house at the moment, you might even be able to make that beautiful and delicious stuffed pumpkin right away. If not, then pick up one up at the store or the farmers market and make it for Thanksgiving. It’s so, so good.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone and thanks again for a wonderful first year!


Pumpkin Stuffed and Roasted

–adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table

This is the most delicious, beautiful fall dish. It’s perfect for a regular old dinner (though it does take almost 2 hours to bake so maybe a weekend dinner) or a Thanksgiving treat. But it’s so easy and so adaptable that you should add it to your regular repertoire. It’s wonderful with cooked rice instead of bread (gets almost a risotto-like texture), additions of cooked spinach or chard, cooked sausage or ham chunks, with peas (straight from the freezer),. . .

1 pie pumpkin, about 4 – 5 lbs (just adjust the amount of filling if your pumpkin is smaller or larger – though you don’t want to go too much larger as it takes awfully long to cook)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 lb (or slightly more) stale bread, sliced and cut into ½-inch chunks

1/3 lb cheese, such as sharp cheddar, Gruyère, Emmenthal or a combination, cut into ½ chunks or grated

2-4 garlic cloves (to taste), finely chopped

2-4 strips bacon, booked until crisp, and chopped

¼ cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions (green onions)

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

½ cup of cream or half and  half

½ cup milk

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F. You can using a baking sheet, a pie pan (as seen above), or a dutch oven with a diameter that’s just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin. If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but might stick to the casserole, so you’ll have to serve it from the pot which is fine too.

Using a sturdy knife, cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin. Cut a big enough cap that it’s easy to hollow out the inside. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and the inside of the pumpkin. Rub the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper and put it on the baking sheet, pie pan or in a pot.

In a large bowl toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together. Season with pepper—you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese but  taste to be sure—and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well filled—you might have a little too much filling, or you might  need to add to it. Stir the cream, milk and nutmeg with a bit of salt and pepper and pour it into the filled pumpkin. You don’t want the ingredients to swim in the liquid, but you do want them nicely moistened with liquid about half-way up the cavity. It’s hard to go wrong though. Better a little wetter than too dry.

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours—check after 90 minutes—or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove the cap for the last 20  minutes or so of baking to brown the top and let any extra liquid evaporate. Transfer very carefully to a serving platter if you baked it on a sheet. Serve, scooping out plenty of pumpkin with each serving or serve it in slices.


Homemade Veggie Bouillon & New Classes

I’ve posted April classes – quick dinners and hearty salads! We’ll use all the wonderful spring produce to make quick dishes using eggs and we’ll make creative salads with beans, grains and savory dressings for delicious one-dish dinners. Thanks to many of you for sending me feedback about what you’d most like to learn about. I hope to see you here in my kitchen the last weekend of April for one (or both!) of the classes.

I have a cheap, old digital camera and I have no photography training. And the subject of today’s post–veggie bouillon–is not photogenic. So, forgive the ugly shots and make the bouillon anyway. It’s worth it!

Homemade veggie bouillon paste. Add 1 - 2 teaspoons of the paste to 1 cup of water for fresh, instant broth to use in soups or cook grains, etc.

One of my favorite blogs is Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks. She blogged about this basic and brilliant idea of making your own bouillon paste in a matter of minutes. (And she’s an excellent photographer so look at her photos.) I taught it in a recent cooking class and sent everyone home with a jar to keep in the freezer for that last-minute risotto, soup, braise, etc. If you have a food processor, all you do is clean the appropriate veggies (carrots, onions, leeks, tomatoes, parsley . . . .) and process them until they are very finely chopped, add lots of salt, process again and spoon into a jar. Done! Nothing is cooked, sautéed, anything. I do love veggie stock but this method of processing things raw gives a wonderful fresh, bright flavor and is quick to make and easy to store and use. When you need the broth, just spoon out 2 teaspoons of bouillon per cup of water (or more or less to your taste) and use in your respective dish. I used it in a spinach and bacon risotto this weekend and it was wonderful. I’ve also been using it instead of water in soups and stews.

I adapted Heidi’s recipe which she adapted from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook.

Homemade Bouillon

This recipe requires a food processor. As Heidi notes you can also just make this with what you have. Onions, celery, carrots and parsley are enough. Use the proportions that make sense to you. Use 1/3 cup salt for each 2 cups of finely blended veggies/herbs.

5 ounces / 150 g leeks, sliced and well-washed 
(about 1 medium)

7 ounces / 200g carrot, well scrubbed and chopped
 (about 3-4 medium)

3.5 ounces / 100 g celery
 (about 2 big stalks)

3.5 ounces / 100g celery root (celeriac), peeled and chopped (about a 3” x 3″ chunk)

1 ounce / 30g sun-dried tomatoes
 (about 6 dried tomatoes)

3.5 ounces / 100g onion or shallots, peeled

1 medium garlic clove

6 ounces / 180g kosher salt (scant 1 cup)

1.5 ounces / 40 g flat-leaf parsley, loosely chopped
 (about 1/3 of a bunch)

2 ounces / 60g cilantro (coriander), loosely chopped (about ½ bunch)

Place the first four ingredients in your food processor and pulse about twenty times. Add the next three ingredients, and pulse again. Add the salt, pulse some more. Then add the parsley and cilantro. You may need to scoop some of the chopped vegetables on top of the herbs, so they get chopped. Mine tended to want to stay on top of everything else, initially escaping the blades.

You should end up with a moist, loose paste of sorts. Keep 1/4th of it in a jar in the refrigerator for easy access in the coming days, and freeze the remaining 3/4 for use in the next month. Because of all the salt it barely solidifies making it easy to spoon directly from the freezer into the pot before boiling.

Start by using 2 teaspoons of bouillon per 1 cup (250 ml), and adjust from there based on your personal preference.

Inspired by The River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin. The U.S. edition of the River Cottage Preserves Handbook will be available this summer.