Tag Archives: Recipes

Taking Stock

We did a freezer inventory on the morning after we got home. (Also one of the pantry, and of the shelves in the garage. We’d made a quick stop at the market on the way home from the airport, but planned no shopping until we cleared the 14-day better-safe-than-sorry-since-we’ve-been-out-of-the-country hermitage. We were in good shape, and would continue to be so, but it’s always good to know what’s where.

I found two bags of chicken bones I was saving for stock. Now is the time. They went straight into the Instant Pot along with some celery, onion, and carrot. I covered it all with water, sealed it up, and let pressure do its thing for an hour. I removed the bits and pieces, turned on the slow-cooker setting, and left it ‘til the next morning. A little straining and a little skimming later, and I had two quarts of really good chicken stock. It felt like insurance against hunger—or, at least, against bland food.

I’ve been using it a bit at a time—for rice, gravy, and whatnot—but there was a quart left. “How about chicken and dumplings?” I asked. “Would it be more like stew than soup?” she replied. I confirmed that it would. She was in. I took out a pair of chicken breasts, crossed them off the inventory, and set them to defrost. I knew I’d have to look up the dumplings recipe to get the proportions right, but the rest would be easy.


Chicken and Herbed Dumplings

Set a quart of chicken stock to warm in a big pot. Check the fridge.

  • The last carrot. Okay, then, one carrot it is. (I added carrots to the grocery list.)
  • A couple ribs of celery. (Plenty of that left; I crossed it off the list.)
  • Half a package of mushrooms that need to be used. Yup.
  • A big, fat onion. Check.
  • A little jar of gravy made from the same stock. Definitely; it’s already got some thickening power. (Barring this, you might want to add a little cornstarch slurry to the stew before the dumplings go in.)
  • A third of a tub of store-bought pesto (divided). This is your time, my friend. A fat tablespoon of it went into the pot—hey, I would have used fresh herbs, but it’s been two weeks since we’ve been to the market!
  • Salt and pepper to taste, and a bit of Worcestershire sauce to bolster the umami.

Simmer until the carrots are not quite tender, then add the chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces, and simmer until the chicken is poached (another 10 minutes or so).

At this point I fed the cats, who had been very patient during all this peeling and chopping and stirring.

I prepped the dumplings, mostly according to The Joy of Cooking, stirring together in a big bowl:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • A good grind of pepper (hey, I said mostly according)

And bringing to a low simmer in a small saucepan:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • The rest of the pesto (definitely not part of the original recipe, but what fun to have herbed dumplings!) if you don[t have leftover pesto but like this idea, add some chopped herbs and grated Parmesan cheese to the dumpling dough.

Pour the wet into the dry, stir just to combine, turn out onto a board and knead very slightly. Working quickly and lightly, form into 18 or so balls. Don’t compress the dough.

Lay the dumplings atop the stew, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve in warmed bowls, topped with the last bit of parsley in the fridge.


Would I have thought of chicken and dumplings if I didn’t have a quart of really good stock? Probably not. I was kind of in the mood for pizza, but that for another day. Same with the pesto. Resources are not scarce, but it would have been a terrible shame to let that stock go sour, or the pesto spoil. What could have been clean-out-the-fridge night turned into a rich, comforting meal.

I look forward to our next market trip; I really look forward to a day when we can go back to feeling like we can go to the market whenever we please; but, meanwhile, cooking with what’s at hand is pretty much what I do. Knowing that I can might be the biggest comfort of all.

Not-Waffles

Even those of who enjoy cooking at home regularly are trying to have a little more fun with it these days. Sometimes this means comfort food. Sometimes this means gourmet dinner preparations. Sometimes it’s a cross between Survivor and Chopped. And since we can’t invite each other over for dinner, the next best thing is sharing photos of our kitchen accomplishments. And, often, trying to make each other laugh.

And sometimes it’s all of these things at once.

Witness the story of Tot-waffles.

I don’t know the creator of the Tot-waffle, but I do know that our friend V heard about this culinary innovation and went straight to hi freezer. And became the envy of all the others, as the Coolest Dad Ever. To be sure, this is a guy whose waffle-iron game is strong: at every community-theatre potluck his Broffles (brownie batter baked in a waffle iron) are the dessert descended upon with the greatest delight. To be further sure, this is a guy whose engineering skills are unparalleled among our friends. He’s the one who hacked his espresso maker with a water supply hose so he’d never have to refill the reservoir, and who 3D-printed a larger hopper for his coffee grinder so he wouldn’t run out of beans in the morning.

So of course he made Tot-waffles. And Sriracha-maple ketchup to go with them.

I don’t like Tater Tots all that much and even I wanted one of those waffles.

But we have no Tots. They’re not something we buy.

But we have science. And potatoes. And a subscription to The New York Times. And wouldn’t you know, there was a recipe for Tots.

Simple enough, really. Parboil potatoes; shred them on a box grater or food processor; add some salt, garlic powder, and cornstarch and mix gently (you don’t want mashed potatoes); form into little nuggets; fry very briefly; cool, then bake to finish.

Mark Bittman’s recipe said to leave the skins on; I didn’t, because I was working with some older potatoes that were pretty wrinkly. I added a little paprika, too.

She proclaimed the Tots the Best Thing in the History of Ever. I’ll take that with a grain of salt; she had worked late and hunger is, I know, the best sauce. But I liked them, too. In fact, if this is what Tots taste like, then I like Tots. No waffling about it.

Does Not Follow Directions Well

Painted in Waterlogue

I was a pretty good student. I don’t ever remember seeing “Does Not Follow Directions Well” written on my report card. Of course, I was also not the kind of kid who waited until the night before the book report was due to start writing, but I most certainly have become that sort of writer now.

Nonetheless, if the instruction is “Stay away from other people for 14 days after returning from a foreign country,” or “Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching anything someone else may have touched,” I will get at least an A-minus. I mean, I’m gonna go out for a run every day the weather permits, and I’ll take a route that is not crowded with other pedestrians, but I won’t get closer than 6 feet to anyone I do encounter.

While we were on vacation recently She said often, “I miss your cooking.” I guess that’s gonna work out well for her, now that we’re home (and staying home) and getting groceries is going to be a challenge. She scheduled a delivery from our favorite market, but several things in the order didn’t show up.

I looked at the lovely piece of salmon that arrived, thought long and hard about it, and realized we hadn’t had Thai food for quite a while. There had been “Pan-Asian” night at the resort we visited; I think in that particular case “pan” was meant as the opposite of “rave.” (I didn’t miss my cooking generally, but that meal was a pretty big disappointment.)

I Googled “Thai salmon.” I scanned the first page of hits. I Googled “Thai Salmon Peanut Sauce.” I saw a pretty promising title. I clicked through and, while the page loaded, headed to the kitchen.

Oh. I’m gonna need coconut milk. And chili paste. Maybe I’d better do something else.

Nah. What I read was enough to get started. Bakers need recipes. Cooks need ideas.

Not At All the Recipe I Looked for Salmon with Peanut Sauce and Coconut Cilantro Rice
Serves 2, with some leftovers to repurpose for lunch

Salmon filet, about 1/3 lb. per serving
1 cup rice
2 cups water (or 1 cup water, 1 cup fish stock)
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup flaked coconut (unsweetened if possible)
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp peanut butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp soy sauce (more to taste)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped roughly
1/2 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp each curry powder and paprika
Juice and zest of one lime

Cut the salmon into serving pieces.  Pat dry and set aside.

Toast 1 cup of rice in a little butter. Add 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt (or, if you have it as I did, 1 cup water, 1 cup stock), reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, still covered.

While the rice cooks, in a dry skillet, toast the coconut and remove; then toast the sesame seeds and remove. (Take care—neither one takes very long to toast!)

Make the sauce:
Warm the peanut butter in the microwave to make it easier to stir. Add the soy sauce, hot sauce, garlic, and lime juice.
Add a little oil to the hot skillet; add the peanuts, paprika, and curry powder and stir. When they’re hot and fragrant, add the spice/oil mixture and sesame seeds to the sauce, along with another 1 tbsp of oil. Stir until well combined and set aside.

Put 1 tbsp of oil in the skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the salmon, skin side down.   Cook for 2 minutes without touching, then top with a little of the peanut sauce. Place skillet in a 350F oven for 5 minutes.

Use a fork to fluff the rice. Stir in the lime zest, toasted coconut, and cilantro. Put the lid back on.

Remove the salmon from the oven and turn the filets over, now sauce-side down. Return to the oven for 5 minutes more.

In serving bowls, place the salmon over the rice, topped with a little more sauce. Serve with sautéed spinach (or whatever green thing you like).

Feel free to read this recipe and riff off it any way you want to–as I did with the ones I saw to come up with our dinner. Just wash your hands first, and afterward.

I hope whoever got the pastrami we ordered enjoys it.

Thai Salmo

 

How To Make The Most Delicious Summer Pasta

I don’t have a photo of the finished plate, because I do not have that much willpower.

I love watching food game shows; when people who have staked their reputation on cooking well are challenged to up their game in a public setting, they layer ingredients and flavors and techniques in ways I can’t even imagine. One of the specific things I’ve noticed lately is the tendency to layer sauces: one to dress the bottom of the plate, a second atop the entrée, and a third on the accompaniment. And that new way of thinking inspired the most amazing pasta dish I’ve eaten this year.

First, grill some vegetables.

Sift your CSA share or home garden harvest and pull out three summer onions, a head of new garlic, and six gorgeous peppers. Wrap the garlic in a foil packet, and toss all of the veggies onto the grill. Turn as needed, and when the peppers are cooked through and the onions have some char marks, remove them all to a bowl and head inside to your range. (Unless you have a fabulous outdoor cooktop, in which case you can just move along your gorgeous outdoor kitchen and keep working. But don’t tell me; I’m working to curb my envy.)

Second, make the pasta and a lemon butter sauce.

Throw the fettuccine in a pot of salted boiling water, and toss four tablespoons of butter into a skillet over medium heat. When the butter melts, add a peeled, whole clove of garlic, three gluts of chicken stock or white wine, and the zest and juice of a large, ripe lemon. Simmer, whisking regularly, for 7 to 10 minutes until the sauce thickens, beautifully emulsified and fragrant. Discard the garlic, then toss your drained pasta into the sauce, turning it to coat. Your pasta will be glossy and beautiful, and you will want to dive into it with your bare hands. Resist temptation!

Turn those grilled vegetables into a sauce of their very own.

Cut away the blackened edges of garlic, and squeeze four of the paste-consistency garlic cloves into another skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. Peel and seed two fist-sized peppers, and dice them and one of the onions, and add them to the skillet. Roughly chop three beautifully ripe tomatoes into the skillet; season liberally with salt, pepper, and herbs like basil, oregano, and marjoram. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, just until the vegetable juices come together and bubble.

Prepare your plates.

Pull warm plates from your oven, and divide the lemony fettuccine between them. Spoon the vegetable sauce over the top liberally – you simply can’t be too heavy handed. If you can’t live without cheese on your pasta add a little freshly grated Parmesan – but keep it light so you don’t miss out on the silky texture of the buttered pasta.

Enjoy.

Sit at the table with your napkin readily at hand, and twirl the lemon-butter-soaked pasta through the glorious vegetables. Every bite tastes like a languid summer afternoon, bursting with the richness of fresh-from-the garden veggies and the velvety, sunshine-brightness of lemon.

Reserve the remaining grilled vegetables so you can make this again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after. Sun-warmed tomatoes were made for this!

Odd Little Heirlooms

“I bought some salmon,” she said, as we were talking about meals for this busy week. “And feta.” I didn’t realize at first that she was talking about smoked salmon, so I didn’t make the connection right away; I didn’t realize she was talking about a salad she makes from salmon, feta, and soba noodles. Having caught on, I was completely in favor. It’s not something I’d ever had before we met, but I like it a lot; Neither one of us, in fact, could remember making it since we’d moved into the Country House. So it was very definitely time.

When we started our life together, we brought lots of things from our pasts. We spent a fair amount of time comparing and deciding which to keep—or sometimes both, and occasionally neither. There are some things that each of us brought that delight the other. How I ever lived without a wide-mouthed funnel is a great mystery to me. She used to hate driving, but loves being behind the wheel of the Prius.

We both brought recipes, too. Some from our families—her aunt Donna’s Lemon Squares are not to be trifled with!—and some we’d collected ourselves. And some from—well, where did they come from?

Salmon-Feta-Soba Salad

Cook the soba noodles according to package directions—usually about 7 minutes. That’s planty of time flake the 6-oz package of smoked salmon and to crumble the feta if it didn’t come that way already, and to chop a bunch of parsley. If it’s been an especially rough July and the parsley in the kitchen garden has wilted from too much sun and too little care, don’t beat yourself up; seven minutes is still plenty of time to see what you can use instead. One of you can harvest some chives from the pot on the porch while the other chops a cucumber, a couple of carrots, some tomatoes, a rib of celery, and, what the heck, a fat handful of kale that you chop and put into a steamer over the pot of noodles.

Then, not at all long after, when the noodles have been drained, combine everything in a big salad bowl; add a pepper to taste—you won’t need salt, since the salmon and feta bring plenty. Squeeze some lemon juice overtop if you feel like it. Maybe drizzle a little olive oil, too—but, really, no dressing is required.

At some length, we figured it out: this is a recipe she’d been introduced to by somebody she once thought she’d marry. That relationship didn’t work out—and much to our eventual and current happiness. But it’s the only recipe she could think of that she kept from that relationship—an unusual keepsake. An odd little heirloom.

This salad can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature. It’s hearty without being heavy; it’s nothing like any mayo-glopped pasta salad you’ve ever encountered. The bunch of parsley originally called for brings plenty of brightness; the assortment of vegetables I substituted were chosen for convenience and availability and because of the moisture they’d bring to balance the salty, fishy, buckwheat-y goodness brought by the original ingredients. But, really, use whatever you’ve got. If the tomatoes at hand are odd little heirlooms, they’ll be wonderful. But a handful of slightly-withered grape tomatoes from the supermarket will work, too.

Honor the past, be grateful for the present, look forward to the future.

No-fault Pasta

Painted in Waterlogue

A friend of ours got married on Sunday.

Another friend didn’t.

You get the idea, I think: those two friends once expected to be married to each other, and that marriage did not come to pass. Their relationship is not the point of this story; what is the point is that the friend who wasn’t putting on a tux this weekend wanted to have other things to think about than the friend who was putting on a pretty dress. We picked him up near relatives we were visiting and brought him home with us.

It was a perfect Sunday for a road trip: not too hot, not too humid, and lots of traffic. That might not seem like a good thing, but it gave my navigator an excuse to show her skills. We spent most of the day on back roads and small state routes that avoided the blockages and gave us much prettier scenery.

We stopped for lunch at a terrific—and uncrowded—place in a town I didn’t know anything about, and enjoyed grinders, salads, fish and chips and clam chowder, with a little Food Network in the background on the bar TV. We stopped at an outlet mall and did a little shopping, amusing ourselves greatly at the gender-stereotype-busting of the girl buying far less than the guys. Unfortunately, the stereo speakers I’d been looking for were out of stock. (Side note: Honey, I just ordered them from Amazon.)

By the time we got home and met the hungry cats, we were hungry, too, but not for anything big and heavy. And, remember, it was Sunday night—a veg box will arrive Tuesday morning, and there were still plenty of things in the crisper. While she made up the guest room, I chatted with our guest and made dinner. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but there was no question that it would contain plenty of vegetables. Sometimes you just have to start cooking and figure it out along the way.

No-Fault Pasta

Clearing out the crisper, discover:
1/2 lb. green beans
1/3 lb. asparagus
4 small cucumbers
half a bag of baby carrots brought home from someone’s lunch
4 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms
half a bunch of celery
1 celtuce
1 or 2 garlic scapes (Note that there are more, but that common decency suggests their judicious use–and that they still look plenty sturdy. Plan to regret this decision if next week’s box contains more.)

Elsewhere in the fridge, find:
A jar of chive vinegar
4 oz. chive-and-spinach pesto
a big hunk of parmesan cheese
a container of bite-sized mozzarella balls.

From the freezer, retrieve
4 oz. bulk Italian sausage

On the counter, catch sight of:
half a tub of week-old grape tomatoes, their skin just starting to wrinkle
the bottle of rosemary simple syrup used to sweeten the iced tea you took upstairs to the room-straightener.

From the pantry, retrieve:
A box of fettuccini

Note also the bounty of dill and oregano in the herb-garden-basket hung by the kitchen window.

Set a pot of salted water to boil.

Slice the cucumbers into a bowl, tossing with a couple teaspoons of the vinegar, a splash of rosemary simple syrup, and a couple of sprigs of dill from the kitchen garden.

Open a bottle of red wine; pour each of you a glass. Toast to friends, and to happiness. 

Rinse and trim the asparagus and green beans; cut them into bite-size pieces and toss in a big bowl. Don’t bother to dry them; instead, put a paper towel over the bowl; microwave 90 seconds to just-barely-steam the vegetables. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage; drain and remove.

Peel the celtuce as you would a broccoli stem; slice into coins about 1/4 inch thick. Taste raw, noting that it really does have a little celery flavor, but is much denser–almost like a water chestnut. Set aside.

When the water boils, add the fettuccini, stirring occasionally. (The clock is now ticking: finish everything else by the time the pasta cooks).

Dice an onion, which you’ve dispatched your guest to retrieve from the pantry-in-the-garage. Sauté it and a couple stalks of celery in a little olive oil until the onion is barely translucent. Finely slice the garlic scape and add it, along with the beans and asparagus; since they’re mostly cooked, the point is just to get everything combined without browning too much. Slice the baby carrots and add them; they’ll still be mostly crunchy when you’re done. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the wine. Clean and slice the mushrooms, but if your guest isn’t a fan of them, sauté them alone in a small skillet. (This is why stoves have several heating elements.)

Hand a hunk of cheese, the grater, and a collecting bowl to your guest.

Halve the grape tomatoes. When the sautéed vegetables are almost tender, add them to the skillet, along with the celtuce coins and the sausage. Toss to combine, then reduce the heat to low. Add 3 or 4 tbsp of the pesto to the center of the pan, but just let it sit on top to warm gently.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and divide into serving bowls.

Add a splash of the pasta water to the skillet; give everything a gentle toss to combine; taste and adjust seasoning, then spoon the seriously veggie sauce over the pasta. Add mushrooms or not. Sprinkle some fresh oregano on top, then let each diner add cheese to taste. Serve with the quick-pickled cucumbers.

Serves 3, who will be happy enough that everyone will forget about dessert.

If you’ve read more than one Dinner at the Country House post, you know perfectly well that this is not so much a recipe as a story about an adventure shared with others. If there had been chicken instead of sausage, I would have happily used that; if there had been no pesto, I might have used soy sauce and made rice instead of noodles. If any of a great many things had been different, I might have written about a wedding feast a couple years ago, rather than a not-wedding dinner last night, or served four instead of three, or gone to the movies by myself. It’s nobody’s fault. This is what happened. This is how we made the best of it. This is how we spent the day. This is how life goes on.

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Adaptation

Painted in WaterlogueAdaptation is a tricky business. What you change, or omit, when going from one medium to another may be the very thing that someone else loved about the original. What you add may be the ingredient that spoils the stew. Ask her sometime about the film versions of the Harry Potter stories. (But don’t do it if you don’t have time for a lengthy and passionate response.) Sometimes, though, the adaptation can surpass the original. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a campy, silly film; the TV series of the same name is delightfully fun but deepens the metaphor of adolescence-is-like-living-on-the-mouth-of-hell. Sometimes both can co-exist admirably: Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories aren’t diminished by the existence of the musical Fiddler on the Roof—and although the stage version by necessity leaves out many details from the original and alters others, the result is a coherent and highly satisfying work of dramatic and musical literature.

She loves muffins. Well, not all muffins; she’s not indiscriminate. Her favorite is an orange-cranberry muffin from our local market. Muffin is perhaps the wrong word; they’re shaped like small loaves, and come in a package of six. I like them, too, but find them a little too sweet, and a little too moist. I don’t mean to say that they’re not properly baked, but that they almost fall apart when you slice them. And toasting? Don’t turn your back on the skillet; they’ll burn in a heartbeat. But she likes them a lot, so as the weekend approached I planned to pick up a package.

And then it was Saturday morning, and I hadn’t. And she wanted to get started right away making applesauce from the half-bushel we’d bought at an orchard last weekend.

I made us coffee and tea, and helped with the peeling and coring—and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to make orange-cranberry muffins, if only because we don’t have muffin tins. But we do have a loaf pan, and I know that it isn’t far from muffin to quick bread. So I compared a few recipes, thought about what I found lacking in the market’s cranberry-orange muffins, and set to work.

I used dried cranberries soaked in orange juice; substituted whole-wheat flour for a quarter of the usual all-purpose; added a quarter-cup each of old-fashioned oats and walnuts; and increased the liquid by a third and the leaveners by half. And, at risk of making anyone think I was trying to turn muffins into health food, I made a glaze of orange juice and confectioner’s sugar.

Cranberry-Orange Loaf

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Zest
1 orange

In a measuring cup or small bowl, soak for about half an hour
1-1/2 cups dried cranberries
in
1 cup orange juice (start with the orange you just tested, and go from there).

Sift together:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

In another bowl, whisk together until light:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
Then add to that same bowl
1 egg
Mix until smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry; stir just to combine. Add the cranberries, zest, along with
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake about 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for about 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack. 

If you want to gild the lily, mix together
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp orange juice (add more, a few drops at a time, until just spreadable)

Spread the cooled loaf with the glaze. Or don’t, if you’re feeling noble.

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This bread is heartier than the muffins—denser, but not heavy, just not as light as boxed-mix cake. It’s not a replacement, not a home-cook’s duplication of a store-bought item; it’s an adaptation.

I prefer Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady to Shaw’s Pygmalion, but that’s just me; if you like your Eliza Doolittle without songs, I won’t complain. If you want to debate with her the canon of Arthurian legend from Le Morte d’Arthur to Camelot, I won’t have much to add to the discussion, but I’ll happily serve coffee and tea while you do. And maybe muffins. Or perhaps an adaptation.