Category Archives: I cook

Wednesday morning decadence


My office is opening at noon today to give us all time to deal with any snow-related delays. The late start has an additional benefit though: time to enjoy a leisurely, weekend-style breakfast: steel-cut oats cooked with a chopped apple and topped with brown sugar and buttermilk, eaten while reading and watching other people shovel.

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

Considering that I’m technically a WASP (though I would think that the high concentration of peasant blood running through my veins would disqualify me in any real way) and didn’t have anything other than jarred sauce until I was in my 20s, I make a mean pot of tomato sauce and meatballs. No tricks or fanciness here, just straightforward, substantial, winter-friendly, delicious food, perfect for eating while a big snowstorm rolls in. I like my meatballs very small — I got six dozen out of a pound of meat — so that you can get pasta and a whole meatball on your fork at once. I sometimes use a combination of beef and lamb, but the butcher I go to keeps a blend of ground beef and pork ready to go, so I’ve switched over to that for now.

Meatballs and Sauce

1 lb. ground meat, any combination of beef, lamb, and pork
1 egg
1/2 c. grated parmesan
salt and spices (I used about a teaspoon of something called Happy Salt that my mother found who-knows-where and decanted into a ziploc for me. It seems to be a mixture of salt, garlic powder and pepper, but would have used oregano and parsley otherwise)
bread crumbs
olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 large can whole tomatoes in juice
1/2 c. red wine

Mix the meat, egg, spices, and cheese with a fork or your hands. Mix in bread crumbs until mixture holds together and isn’t sticky. Roll into marble-sized balls. Heat a little olive oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven or other large saucepan. Working in batches, brown all of the meatballs on all sides and set aside.

In the same pan, add the onions and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook until golden. Put the meatballs back in the pot, add the crushed tomatoes and the juice from the whole tomatoes. Chop the whole tomatoes or squeeze them through your fingers into the pot. Stir in the wine. Let simmer for two hours or until sauce is thickened.

In which I bastardize a recipe and then complain about it

This recipe initially caught my eye because Japanese pumpkins, aka kabocha squash, are my current favorite kind of winter squash. They’re really dense and flavorful and rich tasting. I always have barley around and I’ve been wanting to experiment with cooking with miso.

Ways in which I deviated from the recipe:

  • I didn’t use the dashi or sake, subbing chicken broth and lemon juice respectively, because I didn’t want to buy groceries I wasn’t sure I’d use again. I like sake okay, but if I’m drinking at home, that’s not what I want.
  • I used firm tofu because I thought silken might dissolve into the broth in the leftovers.
  • I made the dish a week or so after The Blizzard That Ate New York, and the kabocha bin at the coop was empty, save for one with a rotten spot, so I made it with what I think was a buttercup squash.
  • I peeled the squash and cut it into chunks instead of enormous wedges. (do people really eat unpeeled winter squash? I’m genuinely curious.)

The mystery squash was a little stringy and the chicken broth reduced down to be a little salty for my taste, so the dish was not a wild success, but I have higher hopes for making it again and hewing a little more closely to the recipe, dashi powder and all. I will say that soaking the barley worked a treat; I’d never done that before, but definitely will adopt it for any non-soup barley applications in the future.

Odds and ends

1. I finished this sweater over the weekend. Still need to give it a final blocking and get a photo of it on me though.

2. I started writing a column for Serious Eats NY. Each week, I’ll be profiling a local food artisan and reviewing one or more of their products. I’m really excited about the gig; it should be a lot of fun.

3. I made a long list of New Year’s resolutions. I *love* making resolutions. For me, they’re not at all about focusing on negative things that I want to stop and more about adding positive stuff. 2011’s include writing here on a more organized schedule (I’m thinking MWF, but haven’t decided for sure), trying one new recipe a week, which will surely help with the first one, and reading literary mystery authors I’ve either missed entirely or not read much of: P.D. James, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ian Rankin, Patricia Highsmith…

4. I finally got around to watching all of Party Down over the holidays. Holy cats, that was an awesome show! Too bad it was canceled before I even knew it existed.

5. And I did a fair bit of work on my ripple blanket over the holidays. I had to add a few colors, since I’m not going to get as many stripes out of each skein as I expected, but I think it’s working out fine.

Spiced Cranberry Applesauce

This happened because one of my last CSA distributions included four pounds of Golden Delicious apples, which are pretty much my least favorite kind of apples, so they’ve been lurking in my fridge, bland and mealy, for more than a month. And because it’s fresh cranberry season and I still had a couple of bags in the freezer from last year to use up. I used whole spices for this batch, but they were kind of a pain to fish out (cranberry skin, cranberry skin, whole clove? no, cranberry skin), so I’ve written the recipe below for ground spices. I was very happy with how it turned out, tart and sweet and gently spiced. I just had some for breakfast this morning, layered with plain yogurt, and am looking forward to trying it out in this recipe. There’s more liquid in here than I’d usually use when making applesauce, but I wasn’t sure the apples would generate enough juice to cook the cranberries and the texture was pretty much ideal in the end.Spiced Cranberry Applesauce

4 lbs. apples, peeled, cored and chopped into 1″chunks
1 bag cranberries, fresh or frozen, rinsed and picked over
3 c. cider, apple juice, or water
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. cardamom
1 t. allspice
1/2 t. ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a stockpot and cook over medium heat until cranberries have popped and apples can be easily mashed with a fork. Use a potato masher or immersion blender to puree.

Heathful by default

One of my general lifestyle goals (do I actually have such a thing? I hadn’t really thought about it until I typed out the words. I …guess?) is to make eating in a healthful manner my normal. There’s nothing wrong with some Annie’s mac and cheese with some frozen peas added — until you realize that that’s the thing you’re reaching for automatically when you don’t have anything in particular planned for dinner and that you’re going through an embarrassing number of boxes each week. So I’m talking about dishes that are genuinely good for me, really easy, and appeal to my occasionally idiosyncratic palate.

I mean, duh, who goes out and decides to pursue foods that are bad for you, difficult to make or procure, and that you don’t like? Nobody. What I’m aiming for here is a repertoire of things that are ACTIVELY good for me (like, very strict nutritionists would approve) and RIDICULOUSLY easy and VERY delicious, with bonus points given for using only ingredients that I always have around. I’m particularly interested in food that is quick to eat, as well as to prepare, since I often have things planned for the evening (knitting, typing, shaking my fists at the people outside) for which I want the use of my hands. This recipe from my previous blog for caramelized tofu fits the bill. And so does what I made for dinner last night.One thing that makes this dish as quick and easy as it is is the fact that I keep a large container of cleaned, chopped leafy greens in my fridge. It would be hard to exaggerate how much this particular action changed the way I cook and eat. If I come home late and starving (after, say, seeing the delightful smartypants Ben Goldacre talk about the placebo effect, AIDS activism in South Africa, vaccine-danger hoaxes, Tony Blair’s sex life, and other matters of scientific importance), I can be eating sauteed greens with an egg on top ten minutes after walking in the door. There are always at least two kinds in the mix — right now it’s kale and tatsoi and some dandelion greens from my dandelion houseplant experiment; I dug up a healthy plant in the park, replanted it at home and rip the leaves off every other week  — so I never feel all ‘what am I going to do with this chard?’ It’s just ‘greens,’ and they’re a constant presence.

I do all the prep work as soon as I bring the vegetables home, with the happy results that I always have greens available for a quick stir-fry or to add to soup. It helps me keep an eye on my greens consumption too; if the level in the container isn’t going down, I know I need to eat more. Which is, as a matter of fact, one reason I threw this together last night. I used walnut oil at the end just because I had bought a bottle at some point for all the good omega whatnots it has, but olive oil would work just as well. Halloumi is a magical Mediterranean cheese that you can brown without it melting, but a bit of feta or parmesan would add a similar sharp, salty richness. When I’ve seen it for sale, it’s been in shrink-wrapped blocks that are roughly 5″ x 7″. I cut two slices about 1/2″ thick off the short end and broke them into pieces about an inch big. Sometime soon, I want to cook several large batches of beans and freeze them in can-size portions to cut down further on the amount of packaging I bring into the house and BPA that I consume and increase my sense of smug self-satisfaction, but for now I’m still buying cans.

Chickpeas and Greens with Halloumi
makes 2 servings

olive oil
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 c. cleaned, chopped dark leafy greens
juice of one lemon
2 t walnut oil
2 slices halloumi, broken into pieces

Heat the olive oil in a skillet in with high sides and add chickpeas to the pan. Stir occasionally for five minutes, or until heated through. Add greens and toss or stir constantly until greens are as cooked as you prefer them. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and walnut oil. In a small frying pan, cook the halloumi until browned on both sides. Divide chickpeas and greens between two bowls and top with cheese.

Squash and Apple Muffins

These muffins were an exercise in using up some stuff in my kitchen that happily turned out to be delicious. The original recipe is in the very nice Hometown Cooking in New England, but the muffins I ended up making bore little resemblance to the recipe. Instead of canned pumpkin, I used roasted delicata squash, dried cranberries instead of raisins, chopped apple instead of walnuts, yogurt instead of buttermilk, a mix of whole wheat and unbleached flours, plus some wheat bran and ground flax instead of straight flour. They were wholesome and tasty and made the apartment smell fantastic for a solid 24 hours. Good stuff.

Squash and Apple Muffins
makes 12

1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. unbleached flour
2 T wheat bran
2 T ground flaxseed
1 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground cardamom
1 t ground allspice
1/4 t ground cloves
a few scrapes of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c butter, melted
1 c roasted squash
1/2 c yogurt or buttermilk
1/2 c dried cranberries
one large apple, chopped finely

Preheat over to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, wheat bran, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. In a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar, eggs, and butter until light and frothy. Blend in the squash and buttermilk or yogurt. Add the dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Fold in the cranberries and apple, but do not overmix. Spoon into greased muffin cups and back for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly brown.

Apple Pie Oatmeal

This was a happy experiment over the weekend. I like adding dried fruit to oatmeal, but had never thought to add fresh until I was facing a fridge full of apples and a looming CSA pickup this weekend. Cooking the apples with the oats gave it a creaminess that meant that I didn’t need (or even want, really) to add butter.

4 c. water
1/2 c. steel-cut oats
pinch of salt
1 smallish apple, chopped
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cardamom
1/4 t. allspice
brown sugar

Bring water to a boil, then add oats and salt. Add apple and spices after 10 minutes. Cook for 30 minutes total, stirring occasionally. Serve with brown sugar and milk.

Makes one (sizable) serving.

Potato-Leek Soup with Kale and Sausage

This was more of a clean-out-the-fridge-and-freezer effort than anything else, but it turned out pretty well. I had gotten some leeks in my CSA share that I wanted to use up and had three potatoes I’d bought to make gnocchi that I was happy to surrender to the cause. The potatoes got me thinking about colcannon, the hearty, filling Irish dish of potatoes and cabbage. I didn’t have any cabbage on hand, but did have some kale that was starting to go brown around the edges. When I opened the freezer to take out my last quart of chicken stock, I noticed three links of hot Italian sausage that had been in there probably longer than was ideal and pulled them out too. I didn’t have any soup-friendly cheese, but since I was using the sausage, I didn’t think it would need it anyway.

Once everything had defrosted, I browned the sausages in a little olive oil while I chopped the leeks. Sausages out, leeks, salt, and another drizzle of olive oil in while I peeled and chopped the potatoes. They went in the pot to cook a little on their own with some more salt before the stock went in, though I don’t know that that step really added much. I had enough stock to cover it all by an inch or two, so didn’t need to top it off with water or milk, though that had been the plan, more or less. When the potatoes were tender, I gave everything a rough mash with a potato masher and added the chopped kale and the sausages, which I’d halved lengthwise and then sliced.

All said, a perfectly tasty and serviceable dish. It’s pretty soupy in the photo, but it thickened and turned into more of a stew after a night in the fridge. The Italian sausage was a little weird, flavor-wise (would have preferred kielbasa) and there was too much of it. The next batch of potato-leek soup I make — and there will be more; got another bundle of leeks in this week’s CSA share — I’ll leave out the meat and add a little cheese and some more veg.