Gastrobreweries and Cooking Classes

IMG_20170731_175104_544A few things of note.

I wrote my first feature for the current issue of Yankee Brew News on gastrobreweries! You can read it and check out the awesome art paired with the piece here, or, even better, you can stop by your local brewery (if you live in anywhere in New England or New York) and read a copy while you drink a pint.

Do you want to cook vegetables with me?! I’m leading a series of adult cooking classes through the Grafton Recreation Department at the shiny new Grafton High School (this is in Central MA, Exit 11 off the pike). The classes will highlight local produce (surprise!!!!!). These are all listed with their full descriptions on my newly created Facebook events page. Sign up is by class, and each class costs $45/person. Cost includes recipes to bring home and a meal we will cook and share.

October, 3rd, 2017 (6:30-8:30pm): Fall Salads with Seasonal Vegetables
November 7th, 2017 (6:30-8:30pm): Thanksgiving Sides with Local Produce
December 5th, 2017 (6:30-8:30pm): Holiday Appetizers
January 9th, 2018 (6:30-8:30pm): Reset Soups
February 6th, 2018 (6:30-8:30pm): Winter Salads

 

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2017 Food Resolutions

20160730_164413The tradition continues! Here are my 2015 and 2016 food resolutions. But first, how did I fare on my 2016 resolutions?

Cook better with others. This may be a lifelong resolution, but I did make a concerted effort to just let things happen in the kitchen with others (though I maybe didn’t seek out as many of those situations as I could have). The biggest way I improved here was when cooking with kids. They learn so much more experimenting themselves, so I did my best to give them the basics and step back to see what happened.

No longer be afraid of fermenting – I’m not! I made a lot of sourdough bread, and tried my hand at sourdough cornmeal and waffles. I attempted kimchi twice, and full lacto pickles once. My bread ferments were far more successful than my veg ferments. The first kimchi was too salty, and the second too mushy because I left the veg in the brine too long. The pickles were indeed pickles, but I should have tested them sooner and they got softer than I would have liked. So I think it is fair to say I’m no longer afraid, but now I really need to work on being better.

Wasting less in the kitchen. Figuring out how to roll leftovers from one meal into another has become one of my favorite cooking challenges. I’ve been better at checking the fridge to see what should be used up before I plan my meals for the week, and leaving a night unplanned as an opportunity to use up extra leftovers. It has also helped to be less obsessed with everyone having a complete planned lunch (and all three of us eating the same thing). There is always enough for everyone to eat, even if things might be a bit more haphazard than my usual leftovers. I did fall victim to the times something would be pushed to the depths of the fridge and were forgotten about. The next level of this goal is having a fridge that looks like Heidi Swanson’s.

On to 2017 resolutions!

Take on long-term projects. This starts in the kitchen, but translates also to the blog and the rest of my life. It is so easy to focus on short term projects that are quick and satisfying. I want to take more time to do things that can’t be done in a day or a week, whether than involves cooking, writing, or something even bigger.

Read and cook from more diverse books. 2016 put an especially bright spotlight on the need to interact more with people unlike ourselves. The day after the election I was at a loss of what to do with myself, but craved tangible, achievable projects. I made a simple salad with dressing, and then gave my cookbooks a new home (we had moved weeks before and they were all sitting in boxes). I realized I have cookbooks from an incredible variety of cuisines, but the majority of them are by American or British authors writing about another cuisine (such as Julia Child, David Leibovitz, Fuschia Dunlop, Andy Ricker). These voices are still incredibly important, and in many cases brought cuisines and recipes that had never been translated for an English audience. But now the availability of books being translated from other languages is only getting better. Food is a great uniting force, and learning about other cultures through food can only help to lessen our cultural misunderstandings.

Books!

I somehow still keep pushing off The End of Food….but 2017 will be the year! I also didn’t tackle more of The Art of Eating but I have it at the ready.

New this year, it is time for a reread of The Third Plate, plus Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, and Free for All: Fixing School Food in America

Any resolutions in your kitchen? Awesome books from interesting cuisines I should cook from? Books to add to the reading list?

Snow Day White Bean and Tuna Salad

20170108_122648This weekend was very white for much of the east coast. My apartment is perched in the middle of one of Worcester’s seven hills, looking west. Normally I can see across the entire city, but on Saturday the visible world was reduced to one street. On a day when all your cross-state travel plans are cancelled, you might as well embrace being homebound. I hung up the gallery wall of food art in the kitchen, learned how to play Risk (not my best game), and read on the couch. When it came to eating, it was time to turn to the pantry. This salad entered my brain from something I had pinned ages ago, but when I clicked on the recipe the page was dead.  Going off of that single picture I created what I hoped it would have been like, and was so happy with the results I made it again for lunch on Sunday.

This is more a bean salad than a tuna salad, with a big hit of lemon. I can see it being just as great for a picnic as it is for a day inside, and the flavors improve with a couple hours in the fridge. Eating it by the spoonful is perfectly acceptable, but it is also great on crackers or bread, or on top of a salad (may I suggest this one?).

20170108_123319White Bean and Tuna Salad

Serves 3 as a meal, 6 as a side.

  • 1/2 cup minced red onion
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 28-oz can white beans (or 2 15.5-oz cans), rinsed and drained
  • 1 4-oz can tuna, flaked with a fork
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Pinch of flaky sea salt
  • A few big grinds of black pepper

Add the minced onion to a medium bowl (large enough to fit the beans in) and pour the lemon juice over. Stir to coat and let sit while you get everything else ready. Add the beans, tuna, olive oil, parsley, salt, and pepper to the bowl and stir to combine. Taste, and adjust for seasoning.

 

Last Week I Cooked….Happy New Year!

Oh hey….happy new year! I decided to take a break from taking photos of food during the Christmas cooking flurry, but a lot of it happened. A few especially notable dishes: the braised beef short ribs from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook are divine, Julia Child can always be counted on for an excellent roasted chicken, this dill pesto makes for much more exciting roasted carrots (though I used almonds once and pine nuts once instead of pepitas). Returning to my own kitchen paired up with the usual January desire to consume healthier fare, which I am now realizing is exclusively orange/red and green foods (at least in photos).

20170102_182822Tortilla soup (from Thug Kitchen). Vegan and ridiculously fast. Easy enough to put together after a love drive home from a week away. (Though full disclaimer, mine was not vegan because of the dollop on sour cream on top.)

20170103_190308Burrito bowls with roasted sweet potatoes, green sauce, cumin cabbage (cabbage from The Homemade Kitchen), yogurt, and hot sauce. While all manner of vegetables will work in this, I especially love the pairing of sweet potatoes and black beans with an aggressively herbal sauce.

20170104_190740Buffalo cauliflower pizza with bleu cheese and kale. This pizza is still an absolute winner. Great balance of vegetables with a bit of indulgence.

20170105_193811Indian-spiced cauliflower soup. This soup had such potential and smelled amazing, but the flavor ended up a bit weak. I added in a few tablespoons of tomato paste at the end to try to bump the flavor up, and once it had the rice, yogurt, and some bread alongside it things were better.

15 minute creamy tomato soup and grilled cheese. This tomato soup is GENIUS. It truly does take 15 minutes, and since it is entirely tomatoes (no broth or water) it tastes intensly tomato-y. The grilled cheeses alongside were wheat bread with a swipe of Dijon and a mix of grated gruyere and smoked gouda.

Last Week I Cooked

Turkey gumbo (from Thanksgiving). This was my first attempt at gumbo, and it did take some effort. I loved that my roux progressed just as Sam said it would, and really looked like shiny chocolate once I added in the onions. I made this roasted turkey stock to use, and though I did appreciate the extra fat that rendered out since I forgot to save any at Thanksgiving, I’m not sure if it was worth the extra effort. I also did not take the time to chill the stock and skim it before using it, so I think that contributed a bit too much fat to the finished dish. It was delicious in the end, and a great way to use up a ton of ingredients that you might have lying around after Thanksgiving without at all tasting like the same turkey meal. It makes a lot, so if your holiday crowd is still around you can feed the whole bunch.

Tofu bowls with miso tahini sauce, cabbage, carrots, and radishes. After all the turkey I needed an overly wholesome meal. Tofu bowls never disappoint for this purpose. I quickly sauteed the cabbage, but left the carrot and radish raw (a quick pickling would have been nice if I thought of it).

20161201_19221820161201_192507Skillet pasta with five cheeses. I fudged the cheeses here a bit….preferring to save my cup of bleu cheese for the next night’s meal. While I may have missed the additional complexity the bleu cheese would have added it would be hard not to like this molten and cheesy dish that took no time to put together. To make this a full meal I made a salad with shaved cabbage and Brussels sprouts and a honey Dijon dressing.

20161202_200506Pork chops with mustardy apples and onions, baked cauliflower with bleu cheese, and a mustard slaw. Will requested the cauliflower dish (which is from How to Cook Everything: The Basics) and is essentially baked cauliflower with bleu cheese and breadcrumbs on top. That gave me an excuse to cook up some pork chops from our pork share, and then I made a slaw with the same honey Dijon dressing from yesterday’s dinner. To be honest, pork chops are not my favorite cut of meat, but with a big pile of mustardy onions and apples on top I was able to forgive them for not being bacon.

Cranberry pie with pecan crumble. What business do I have making a pie the week after Thanksgiving? Well I made a pecan pie and a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but even the best version of each of them would not be my preferred dessert option. Those pies just made me crave a pie I really love, this vividly red and tart pie with a wonderful oat and pecan topping. The tart and sweet balance is just right, and the jammy texture of the cranberries is stellar. I especially like pies that are pretty on their own, with no fancy dough work required. Next year I will probably just bake this for Thanksgiving too, even if no one else wants to eat it with me.

 

Last Week I Cooked….

20161121_191802Red lentil soup with north African spices. My friend Tim hosted for lunch and whipped this up in about half an hour along with some cornbread. It was so simple, but so good! Especially finishing with the paprika butter. The next day I had a long one at work and didn’t really have a dinner plan…so quick, and comforting soup again! I know it is a tease that you can’t see the recipe at that link, but it is worth signing up for Cooks Illustrated trial to get it (or, drop me a line on the contact page and I’ll see what I can do).

Broccoli cheddar soup. A quick, vegetarian dinner completed in the midst of Thanksgiving prep.

20161124_145229Thanksgiving! I stuck to the menu I laid out last week and it all went off smoothly. My personal favorite was the Brussels sprouts with bacon that were finished with cider vinegar from Thanksgiving. Next time I would crisp the bacon, remove it from the pan, then cook the Brussels in the fat, and return the bacon at the very end. The bread crumbs were superfluous to me, but if you like bread crumbs then they were good ones.

20161125_104847Mashed potato cakes with Brussels sprouts and a fried egg. I’ve yet to perfect the mashed potato cake….but as long as they get hot its all fine. I mixed and egg into these to try to firm them up, but should have let them crisp for longer. Flaws were irrelevant once leftover Brussels and a gooey egg went on top.

20161120_084122Pecan pie. My grandma LOVES pecan pie, so I made her this one. I forgot to add the eggs into the filling after it cooled, half poured it into the crust, then remembered and had to pour it all our to rectify the situation. I am honestly not a pecan pie lover, but this one is not nearly as saccharin as others and was happily accepted by the other dessert eaters around the table. The dough is easy as pie, and I doubled it and froze the other half for my Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Though it is sticky and I wish the weight for the golden syrup was included so I didn’t have to measure it in cups, the filling comes together easily (just don’t forget the eggs!). Oh and I did not parbake my crust, which I think would be nice but I didn’t have the time.

 

Last Week I Cooked….

20161107_195132Pasta with caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and parmesan cheese. While the pasta water boiled, I caramelized the onions, chopped up about 1/2 a cup of sun-dried tomatoes, and shredded the Brussels (maybe 10?). When the onions were cooked I added the sun-dried tomatoes and Brussels sprouts and tossed so the sprouts wilted. In a small pan I poured a few tablespoons of the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes, and added in 4 cloves of garlic that I minced. That mingled over medium low heat until fragrant. When the pasta was cooked I drained it, then tossed with the vegetables, sun-dried tomato and garlic oil, and a bunch of black pepper. Served with parm on top.

20161109_192108Twice baked potatoes with buffalo chickpeas and cauliflower. I can’t quite put my finger on what I didn’t like about this recipe. It may have been that you don’t roast the cauliflower so the flavor wasn’t as concentrated, or the tomato sauce added to the hot sauce which wasn’t exactly right. All in all it was a wholesome, vegetable heavy meal, but I think I will stick to my own buffalo cauliflower method next time. (I did also add some bleu cheese on top, making it not vegan.)

20161110_190207Israeli couscous, roasted cauliflower, radish, feta, and dill. I had half a head of cauliflower already prepped, only two people to feed and no leftovers needed. I raided the pantry for a quick grain and found Israeli couscous. I popped the cauliflower in the oven at 425F (oil, salt, pepper), cooked the couscous, and got out some lemon, more olive oil, feta, dill, and watermelon radish. Once the couscous and cauliflower were done I drizzled them with olive oil and lemon juice, then added the salad toppings.

20161111_081641Crisped potatoes with fried eggs and chard. This was yet another iteration of my most favorite breakfast. This time I used leftover baked potatoes (from the twice baked potatoes), which I cubed and fried.

20161112_194141Smoked chili and pumpkin sausage, squash polenta, and sauteed radish greens. This meal was entirely build around the sausage. I had a vision of it on a bed of squashy, cheesy polenta. I made polenta as usual, then stirred in about 3/4 of a cup of cooked squash and 1/2 a cup of shredded parm. I cooked the sausage, then took them out of the pan and sauteed the greens in the sausage fat. It was a great balance of smokey spice, creamy polenta, and slightly bitter greens.

Whole Wheat Apple Buttermilk Pancakes with Maple Sugar

20161029_113500Dating a Vermonter has opened up a world of maple products to me. Maple syrup is just the beginning, and then there is maple sugar, a delightful spread called maple cream, maple cotton candy, and solid maple candies. Will’s mom gave us a jar of maple sugar I have been savoring and trying to find the best possible uses for. Over the weekend I took my favorite buttermilk pancakes, swapped in whole wheat flour, maple sugar, and added a grated apple. Paired with maple breakfast sausage and topped with maple syrup, it was a breakfast to make a Vermonter proud. If you were really tempted you could add some cinnamon to the batter, but I like letting the maple flavor shine through.

Whole Wheat Apple Buttermilk Pancakes with Maple Sugar

Serves 2-3. Adapted from Cup of Jo.

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons maple sugar (or granulated sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ¼ cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled (plus additional butter for cooking)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 apple (leave it unpeeled)
  • Maple syrup for serving

Combine the whole wheat flour, maple sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl (make sure it is a bowl large enough to accommodate the wet ingredients as well).

Whisk the buttermilk, egg, butter, and vanilla extract. Grate the apple on the largest side of a box grater. Pick out the seeds and stem and discard.

Add the wet ingredients and the grated apple to the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Stir up from the bottom and it is ready when there are no more dry pockets of flour.

Preheat your oven to 200F with a baking sheet placed on the middle rack.  Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Melt a bit of butter around the skillet and dollop the batter into four inch circles. The pan should be hot enough so that the batter does not spread much after it is added, so adjust accordingly. Cook the pancakes 4-5 minutes, until the edges are set and you can see bubbles on the top. Flip, cook for another 3-4 minutes, and then move to the baking sheet in the oven. Repeat until all batter is used. Serve with maple syrup (and maple sausage, if you eat meat and want to go all out).

 

Last Week I Cooked….

It was my first week cooking in our new apartment! Though half of the kitchen was in boxes, things slowly found there homes. As of this hour the only box in the kitchen in a box full of empty boxes, and its beginning to feel more like I actually live here. Now, to find a new shelf for that ever expanding cookbook collection….

20161023_202327Curried roasted eggplant with coconut milk and black rice. It was only fitting to cook eggplant in my first apartment meal. I have had this pinned for far too long, and it took a night at home when we were tired of takeout and in great need of vegetables to get me to cook it. There are a lot of spices, but it smells heavenly. I didn’t have full cardamom pods so I used some ground. The eggplant soaks up all of the fragrant, coconut milk sauce. I certainly won’t wait years before making this again. I used black rice because I didn’t want to go to the store, but it turned out very dramatic and Halloween appropriate!

Burmese-Inspired chicken braised in coconut milk & turmeric with sweet potato. Apparently turmeric was the spice of the week here (but now I’m all out, so a trip to the spice market is in order). This soup was a huge hit. The coconut broth is loaded with herbs and spices, and the squash (I used butternut instead of sweet potato) soaks up all the flavors. My one change would be to double (or maybe triple) the squash/sweet potato to make for a more even chicken to veg ratio.

20161028_201904Eggplant parm. This was the last eggplant of the season here, and only eggplant parm would do it justice. I ran out of breadcrumbs before breading all the eggplant, but I just fried up the naked pieces and layered them between breaded slices and everything was just fine (and slightly easier!).

20161028_082812Roasted butternut with za’atar, yogurt, and fried bread. I adapted Molly’s recipe a bit because I already had butternut and za’atar. The fried bread coated in olive oil with yogurt was my favorite part, but I would be open to this whole combination for future savory yogurt breakfasts.

Scrambled eggs with goat cheese, sauteed collards, and toast. At the end of the season most of our garden collards were decimated by some caterpillars (I think), but after the cold weather kicked in some of the plants bounced back. I was able to harvest a last big bunch before we moved, and of course it found its way into breakfast.

Last Week I Cooked…

20161002_192936Lamb and eggplant moussaka. This was a big hit in the house with roommates, who it should be noted, are not quite as eggplant obsessed as me. There are a few steps here to make multiple parts, but the results are the perfect seasonal crossover dish.

Sweet cherry tomato and sausage bake. Why did I wait so long into tomato season to make this?! I even wrote about how excited I was to make it in August. It is dead simple, perfectly balanced sweet from the tomatoes, tart from the balsamic, and fat from the sausage.

Leek potato soup. An old favorite that is delightfully leeky.

20161004_192022-2Spaghetti squash noodle bowl with lime peanut sauce. I also made some brown rice to make these a little heftier. Tofu, veg (I used collards instead of broccoli), a zingy sauce, and herbs are always a win on this dinner table.

20161007_201554Two pizzas and a salad: butternut squash with goat cheese, red onion, and bacon; pepperoni and hamburg; greens with cucumber, pepper, and a champagne vinegar dressing.

Breakfast tostadas with egg, cheese, spaghetti squash, and black beans. I follow the basic method here, but topped with extra spaghetti squash (from the bowls earlier in the week), black beans, and hot sauce.

 

 

Last Week I Cooked…

In the last days of summer I’ve been focusing on just letting the vegetables around and my pantry dictate my cooking (especially things that need to be cleaned out of the freezer).

20160912_182927Pasta with pesto, goat cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes and summer squash. This was a meal of found fridge and pantry things. I had some pesto, but not quite enough for a full pound of pasta (at least to achieve what I consider an appropriate pesto:pasta ratio). I slow roasted the cherry tomatoes at 350F for about an hour, and roasted the summer squash at 425F for 30 minutes. When the pasta was cooked, I reserved a bit of the cooking liquid, then added in about 1/2 cup of pesto, 1/4 cup of goat cheese, and about a 1/4 cup of cooking water. Then I stirred to combine everything and added in the vegetables. Easy, summery.

Quesadillas with pinto beans, sauteed peppers and onions, and a quick tomato salsa. These were basic, but such a satisfying quick dinner.

Rice noodles with roasted tofu, roasted eggplant, sauteed collards, and peanut sauce. I marinated and roasted the tofu and eggplant a la Thug Kitchen, chopped up a huge bunch of collards and quickly sauteed them, and defrosted the peanut sauce from the last time I made a batch.

Composed salad with lemon caper dressing. The most work here was thinly slicing and roasting potatoes (425F, about 30 minutes). While that happened I hard boiled a few eggs (1 per person), made the dressing, sliced up a couple smaller tomatoes, and grabbed some dilly beans and a can of tuna.

Cast iron crisped potatoes with collard greens and fried eggs. This was a camping meal! I did all the potatoes, chopped small, on medium in some olive oil. When they were cooked I added in the collard greens and tossed them to wilt. Then I transferred the potatoes and collards to a plate while I fried up eggs. 1 pan!

A question of taste

20160913_080501I hear the summer blockbusters were disappointing, but the new non-fiction at my local library has been jumping into my book bag every week. Not every book gets read, but I prefer to have options so I can pick the book I most prefer in the moment. A great recent find was You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice about the psychology of taste. Not so much why we all have different tastes, but how we decide what we like, how other people’s decisions affect our taste, and even how presentation and order can determine our preferences (if you are being judged in a competition, do your best to go last).

Our tastes define who we are, and it is disheartening to think that what we like is so easily changed by what is around us and how often we are bombarded with something (for instance that pop song you hated at first but starts to grow on you after the umpteenth play…) (102). But it happens. When presented with foods conventionally or with a bit of flair, we like the foods better with the extra flourishes (23). Or when tasting/judging many things in succession, we prefer the things presented to us later because we have all the previous experiences to judge it against (the “direction of comparison effect” 189). This psychology stems from our origins as humans surviving in a dangerous and often unfamiliar world. New things (especially foods) could often be deadly. So it was supremely to our benefit to remember and recognize foods that were safe, which maybe you wouldn’t have seen since it was last in season a year ago (or maybe longer).

That risk has almost entirely dissipated. Only the extreme minority are foraging their every meal, and an even smaller portion are trying something for the first time to determine that it is food. In fact humans are hard core generalists, and able to survive on an incredible variety of diets (Unlike, say…pandas. Bamboo or bust!) (18). Most of what we eat has been specifically cultivated for human consumption (often over many, many generations). Yes, there are new ways of preparing foods influenced by new technologies and all the foods that were prepared before them. But we have a basic understanding of what keeps food safe: not cross contaminating, keeping foods stored at certain temperatures, how light damages food, what temperature foods need to be cooked to to make them safe, etc, etc, etc.  So must things that are “new” are created within these constraints of safety and availability. They are all things we could put the USDA GRAS (generally recognized as safe) stamp on, even if they haven’t been specifically tested.

So why are so many people neophobic (afraid of new foods)? Convinced that they have a concrete definition of what they like, and anything outside of the lines isn’t welcome in their mouth? Presenting people with foods they’ve never had or previously declared not to like is a regular part of my job. I most often work with kids who one would expect a certain amount of reluctance with, but I’m still surprised by the number of adults that declare hatred of something or refuse to try it. Sometimes this is in adult classes, which is mostly to their own detriment (but can also unfortunately influences the other adults), but dishearteningly it also often happens with teachers or parent chaperones with kids. “Do as I say, but not as I do” is far, far less effective in these situations (and, well, most of the time).

Vanderbilt points out that the single factor most likely to predict whether or not someone will like something is the fact that they’ve had it before (24). Our psyches are constantly working counter to our tongues. But no one comes into the world with a defined palate. Yes, we are born with certain general affinities like those for sugar, salt, and fat (19), but we all develop unique preferences based on the things we’ve tried. Every food that we love, we had to try for the first time. Our tastes change over time as we try more and more new things, have foods prepared in different ways, we develop or lose tolerances to certain flavors, or our bodies fluctuate along with our physical and psychological health, major happenings like pregnancy or menopause, or just simple aging. Do you like all the same foods you did 2 years ago? 10 years ago? 20?

Our tastes should be like our personalities: constantly changing as we experience more and try to define ourselves and our place in the world. None of us will ever like all foods, we naturally have preferences for some over others. Since I first tasted them, I’ve had an aversion to caraway in just about any quantity and strong instances of fennel. But…while they are not my favorite flavors, I still try foods containing them and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some.

The list of foods I used to not eat is embarrassing for a food blogger. Pasta with tomato sauce (though I would eat meatballs with sauce….). Lobster. Coffee. Beets, summer and winter squash, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, cauliflower, EGGPLANT. Tofu. Eggs in any form (WHO WAS I??).The list of foods I used to eat is probably even more embarrassing. Taco Lunchables with meat you squeezed out of a tube. Smore’s Pop Tarts. Cheese steak Hot Pockets. Snackwells cookies (Thanks, low-fat craze of the 90’s!). Over time I’ve become much more conscious of my health and experienced so many more foods that my palate has broadened and evolved for the better.

As some of my favorite childhood foods illustrate, this willingness to try is only as good as the foods one samples. It doesn’t benefit our bodies to be constantly trying all sorts of processed, sugary, salty, fatty foods. As long as you eat primarily fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains (real food), you are likely on the path to health. Even within the limits of real food, there are almost infinite flavors and food combinations. Encouraging variety also increases the likelihood that you will get all the vitamins and minerals you need from foods.

I’m working on my methods for making new foods less scary. I’m getting better at pairing new things with familiar things, so they are less of a shock to people. Presenting items with flair. Giving people more choices.  Introducing them to something new that they will love and incorporate into a healthier diet. But also accepting that sometimes I’m just one step in a long path of learning to like something.

Don’t let neophobia win. Fully embrace your generalist nature. Try foods you thought you hated. And not just once, or always prepared in the same way. You might be surprised. And liking more things means there are more delicious things in the world to eat. No matter how old you are, there are still new foods to try and ways your taste can change. As Vanderbilt describes again and again, our tastes are in constant flux and being aware of how they can be influenced and changed can be to our benefit. Know your mind is working against your mouth, but that it doesn’t have to win. The world would be a boring place if we all liked everything, but each of us could benefit from liking a few more things. Explore tongue first.

 

 

 

Last Week I Cooked….

After a month of busy work and vacation, I felt like I was finally back in the kitchen again. I had barely cooked any eggplant this season, so this week I piled on the eggplant recipes; mostly old favorites, but a few new as well. Even though the month has changed, it is still very much summer at the farmer’s markets!

Eggplant parm. This is a many step dish…but it is ALWAYS worth it. Helpful if you have another set of hands (or 2) to help with the breading and frying portion. Reward yourself partway by eating some pieces of fried eggplant. And maybe with a glass of red wine.

Chana dal with collards and tomatoes (from Vegetarian India). The original recipe called for spinach, but the collards leaping out of my garden right now called for a substitution. The chana dal does take over an hour to cook, but requires no soaking. I loved the starchy, spiced sauce it created that coated the greens. This was a good seasonal transition meal; full of summer produce, but a bit more warming for slightly cooler nights.

dsc01882Gratin of tomatoes, eggplant, and collards and kale (from Vegetable Literacy, photo taken before baking). I made this with collard and kale instead of chard (Do you need any greens? I have extra!). There is some work upfront to prep the eggplant and greens for the gratin, but the assembly is as easy as layering. I used feta instead of mozzarella, and served it with my friend Zach’s roasted garlic sourdough….both excellent choices.

dsc01884Eggplant parmesan pizza with crispy capers. I constantly post this recipe because it is my go-to pizza dough…but now was finally the time to make it in full! The eggplant melts into the pizza crust, and the crispy capers are brilliant bits of salty goodness on top.

20160909_191621dsc01890Sichuanese “send-the-rice-down” chopped celery with ground pork and Hangzhou eggplant (from Every Grain of Rice). The original send-the-rice-down recipe calls for ground beef, but it works just as well with pork (and I’ve also made it with chopped turkey thighs). Spicy sauce, crunchy celery, and fatty meat make for a winning dish. I went for the Hangzhou eggplant instead of the usual fish fragrant eggplant so the meal wouldn’t be overwhelmingly spicy. Though they are similar preparations and it was certainly delicious, the sweet did not overtake my favorite spicy version.

20160907_083655Leftover rice, sauteed collards with garlic and ginger, a fried egg and chili garlic sauce. Why have I never thought to make this for breakfast before?!? I never seem to make exactly the right amount of rice, and often have an awkward extra amount leftover that isn’t enough for a full meal. Now it will always have a purpose.

 

Last Week I Cooked….

There wasn’t a ton of cooking last week as I spent a large part of it out of town and at the beach. Even though I had a full kitchen at my disposal, it felt great just to eat fruit for breakfast, and leave lunch and dinner in someone else’s hands (thanks, Mom!!!).

20160831_190204BLTs with melon. This meal came almost entirely from the farmer’s market and my laziness. The BLTs I made a few weeks ago were just so delightful, they begged to be made again this summer. We went a step further though, and at Will’s suggestion grilled the bread in the pan in some bacon fat. Maybe there’s time to fit these in once more before tomato season ends…. Just BLTs didn’t seem like a complete dinner, so I also cut up a tiny, sweet sugar cube melon to go alongside.

20160901_185636Burrito bowls. This was a meal to use up as many things in the fridge as possible. I had leftover beans from last week’s stuffed peppers plus pork loin that came home from the Cape with us, rice (made with chicken stock that needed to vacate the freezer), roasted corn, shredded summer squash, and topped fresh tomato salsa (tomatoes, hot peppers, salt, pepper, lime).

On Friday I brought a simple appetizer of melon wrapped in prosciutto to a family dinner. simple is best right now!

 

Last Week I Cooked….

This was our third week of farm camp, which is a wonderful but exhausting experience. I left most of the meals this week unplanned, and just allowed the wealth of produce guide them. Not planning led to much simpler endeavors, and just about every dinner this week was made in under an hour (who am I?!?!). It was great to let the veg do most of the work, and spend the rest of my evenings recuperating and preparing for another day of excited campers.

Roasted corn, zucchini, and black bean enchiladas. It was in the 90s when I turned on the oven to make these. During the cooking process I questioned my sanity multiple times. But once they were on the table, all the sweaty cooking was forgotten. Still one of my favorite zucchini dishes.

20160815_193045Pesto pasta with green beans and tomato salad. I followed the pesto recipe from The Art of Simple Food, threw on some pasta, and in the last minute of cooking added in a pound of halved green beans. The tomato salad was a simple affair of basil, olive oil, mozzarella, salt, and pepper. This whole meal felt like summer done right.

20160816_183244Frittata with sauteed collards, roasted cherry tomatoes, and feta with buttermilk biscuits. This was a develop “dinner idea that requires no shopping on the 3-minute drive home and execute in an hour” situation. I halved the cherry tomatoes and roasted them at 400F for about 30 minutes (basically as long as it took me to pull the biscuits together and harvest, wash, and chop the collards). The collards went into the bottom of a cast iron pan, were covered, and sauteed for about 5 minutes until wilted. Then I scattered the tomatoes on top, covered that with 1/2 cup crumbled feta, and then poured 6 eggs that had been beaten with a dash of milk, salt, and pepper over everything. That went into the oven (still at 400F) for 10 minutes.

20160818_183010Tacos with black beans, corn, zucchini and feta. This was yet another dinner made without shopping. I simmered a large can of black beans with onion and garlic which the corn broiled. Then I used this taco seasoning to coat the corn once I cut it off the cob. Inspired by this other corn taco recipe I made a quick slaw with zucchini and lime, then topped the whole bit with feta and hot sauce.

Grilled chorizo verde with grilled zucchini, summer squash, and peppers, and cilantro slaw. The real star of this meal was the sausage (as usual). I made a quick green sauce with chopped cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to brush over the veg before they went on the grill (and saved more for after too). The slaw was red and green cabbage, sliced tomatoes, a handful of cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper. As was the surprising trend this week, this was all pulled together within an hour (with a little chopping help).

Last Week I Cooked….

20160807_17482320160807_172954Spicy tomato and pepper dip (ezme), yogurt with cucumber, dill, and garlic (cacik), Eastern-style focaccia, and stuffed eggplants with lamb, garlic, and tomatoes (karniyarik). All from Persiana. Each of these items was fairly simple to put together, and collectively made for a lovely summer meal. I love just about any version of a yogurt dip, and this one went nicely with the bread. I forgot I only had wheat flour on hand, which made for a heavier focaccia but it was still warmly spiced and a good vehicle for for salads. I should have left the eggplant in the over for longer, because even with the frying they weren’t fully cooked through. This made for even better leftovers once the eggplant was reheated.

20160808_195005BLTs. With Short Creek 7-spice bacon, Potter Hill tomatoes and lettuce, and my sourdough, this was everything I dreamt of in February. Worth the wait.

20160809_193607Zucchini turkey burgers with nectarine and tomato salad and leftover Eastern-style focaccia. So much summer on a plate!! I roasted the burgers instead of frying and then roasting them. They weren’t nearly as pretty that way, but so much easier. The slightly sour yogurt sauce with these is so good.

20160810_190504Lo mein with roasted tofu, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots. I didn’t have a real dinner plan, then saw this on Instagram and knew I had a way to use up some random veg in the crisper. I loved the easy lo mein from Serious Eats and had all the ingredients, so I went with that plus some roasted tofu.

Green scrambled eggs. Good thing I have a food blog, otherwise I might have forgotten about this delightful summer breakfast.

Nectarine and sour cream pancakes. When I made these, Will said “sometimes I think you spoil me.” Maybe true, but I also get to eat these pancakes…so it’s not selfless. The batter comes together quickly, but they take a little bit to cook. Totally worthwhile.

Last Week I Cooked…

20160802_192344Beer brats with beer mustard (leftover from our Oktoberfest party) and sauteed red cabbage. This dinner felt like a cop out, even though I technically did cook it. Great sausage made things ridiculously easy. I’ve made this cabbage recipe a few times before. If you love the flavor of kraut and pickles, this dish is a delicious shortcut to those flavors.

20160801_191231Saag paneer with sauteed beets (from Vegetarian India) and brown rice. This was not technically saag paneer, because instead of spinach I used a mix of collards, beet greens, and tatsoi. I’ve made this recipe many times with all different varieties of greens, and it is always delicious. The beets had chili powder and tomatoes. I didn’t get quite enough beets from the garden to make a full recipe, but it was the perfect amount to be a little side dish. Next time I would use a little more chili to cut the sweetness of the beets, but I would still make it again.

Summer squash pizza and kale salad with feta and dried cranberries (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook) This didn’t feel like pizza. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, and used parmesan instead of the gruyere and no bread crumbs. It was pretty good, and certainly an efficient way to use a lot of summer squash at once. But if I was going to make another summer squash pizza soon, I would go for this goat cheese version instead.

Hash browns with collards and an egg. Yet another iteration of my breakfast favorite.

20160807_102845Potato and bacon fritatta (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook). There were a few steps involved, so I would reserve this for dinner or weekends, but it was a delicious all-breakfast-items-together dish. Along with a salad it would make for a perfect fancy brunch.

Last Week I Cooked….

This week I read via Dinner: A Love Story about how Brooks Headley describes the feeling of overwhelming options in the summer as “good anxiety.” Silly as it was, I think last summer it felt more like straight anxiety, because there were so many seasonal things I wanted to enjoy, and never enough time or meals in the day to do so. This year I’m taking it a little easier, and reminding myself as Jenny does: this is a good problem to have.

Sweet potato, chicken, and black bean tacos with radishes and avocado. This was a fast dinner made after returning from a long weekend (and without going grocery shopping). My mom made some extra spicy grilled chicken that I threw in, plus some radishes from the garden dressed in lime juice.

20160718_200642Taco salad. I used a bit more leftover grilled chicken, plus corn, black beans, cucumbers, and this spicy chipotle dressing.  One member of our house doesn’t love spicy or creamy dressings, so I made the dressing with the lime juice, cilantro, etc, and then added some olive oil to thin it out. I removed half, then added the yogurt and chipotle to make an awesome, creamy, and spicy dressing. This is one of my favorite salads, and an excellent option for easy summer dinners.

20160720_200943Toast with farmer’s cheese and zucchini (adapted from Vegetable Literacy) alongside kale, beet, blueberry, feta, and pine nut salad (adapted from The First Mess). This toast is one of those silly things that has been on my “to make” list since I got this cookbook…which was years ago. Sometimes I put off making absurdly simple dishes, because I always think I will have time to fit it in later. While I shouldn’t have waited so long, it was the perfect thing to make on a very hot night when I barely wanted to cook. I started off making the squash as directed (quick sear then steamed in the pan), but  since I was trying to cook more it became apparent that this would take way too long. I flipped on the broiler, tossed the squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put it under for 5 minutes.

I used the exact salad dressing from The First Mess, plus her blueberry feta combo (though I used regular feta, since I had some on hand), and added in some blanched beets. Next time I would add a little more cider vinegar to the dressing to balance all the sweet things, but it was a delightfully summery salad.

Tofu bowls with shredded carrots and cucumbers, plus sauteed broccoli and collards and tahini dressing over brown rice. The old standby! I used the soy marinated tofu recipe from Thug Kitchenand the rest of the contents came from the farmer’s market and garden (including the broccoli!!).

20160721_200636Chorizo and potato tacos with zucchini from Michoacán (from Mexico the Cookbook). Tacos, again! It’s just too easy to throw some veg and protein on a tortilla and call it dinner. I simplified the taco recipe to just consist of sauteed onion, chorizo, and the potatoes. I mixed the zucchini with summer squash, and sauteed them in batches. Once they were all cooked I put everything back in the pan and added the cilantro, onion, garlic mixture. Then I topped everything with cheese (omiting the sour cream) and let it melt.

20160721_082747Breakfasts this week included basic toast with avocado or greens and feta, plus my favorite summer fruit use: Greek yogurt with maple syrup, raspberries, and granola.

 

Last week I cooked….

Summer! Is! Here! An oh boy, does it make cooking fun. This week included some evening extracurricular activities and a short vacation so I didn’t cook as much, but what I did fully captured the season.

20160711_195236Pizza with sausage, grilled summer squash, peppers, and onions. My mom gave me leftovers from a grilled meal over the weekend of many vegetables on the grill with sausage. I re-purposed then into pizza with a classic tomato sauce and mozzarella, and was mighty pleased with the result.

20160712_193744Pasta and fried zucchini salad. The first time I made this salad was a couple years ago when Will and I had just started dating. I lived in an apartment with a super stuffy, long galley kitchen. He was helping make dinner, and I asked if he had ever fried anything. The answer was no, which did not stop me from handing over a giant bowlful of paper-thin squash to fry (he’s a quick learner). This time I fried the squash myself, and while I don’t mind a time consuming cooking project, I’m not sure it is entirely worthwhile. This dish is great, with a quick basil sauce, zing from the vinegar and capers, and hunks of mozzarella in an extremely summery pasta dish (plus I used fresh peas instead of edamame, because I could!). But next time, I will attempt roasting the squash slices and report back.

20160714_180712Beet, avocado, and pea salad (from Plenty More). The essence of this salad is sweet beets, creamy avocado, and a biting sherry vinegar dressing. From there I adapted it a bit, leaving out the peas, pea shoots, and cilantro, and adding thinly sliced cucumber and a bit of quinoa, and keeping the red onion, mint, and Tabasco. Beets are not my favorite vegetable, but I loved them thinly sliced and paired with some sour and spice.

Last Week I Cooked….

20160704_194936Steamed and roasted chicken wings with garden salad. After a weekend of BBQs, we spent the actual 4th entirely at home (and it was glorious). I had contemplated a grocery store trip, but laziness prevailed and instead I made dinner with ingredients found in the freezer and garden (which is what I should be doing now anyways). I started by steaming the chicken wings (a la Alton), and then roasted them in cast iron with rosemary added halfway through (inspired by incredible wood-fired chicken wings I had at Jack’s Abby). They were made into a real meal with a salad of cabbage, collards, and kale with a lemon vinaigrette.

20160705_191249Pizza with garlic scapes, squash blossoms, and basil. I used my usual crust, brushed the base with olive oil, then put the veg (I roasted the chopped scapes for about 5 minutes in the oven to parcook them, and sliced the blossoms). On went shredded mozzarella, then into the oven at 500F for about 10 minutes, and after sprinkled with chopped basil and crushed red pepper flakes.

20160706_195228Big salads with radishes, cucumbers, quinoa, beans, and lemon tahini dressing. On an incredibly hot summer day head to your local farmer’s market. Grab some lettuce, and a selection of whatever else looks good (radishes are still great, cukes are starting to come in). Once at home, read in the shade for a while because it is still too hot to do anything. Then when you can muster it, throw half a cup of some kind of grain on the stove, prep your veg, add some legumes if you have any, and make a dressing with the dregs in the tahini jar. Summer dinner: done.

20160707_194815Cold noodles with miso, lime, and ginger. This is an ideal hot weather dinner. I didn’t like the miso dressing as much as the peanut sauce I used on cold noodles a few weeks ago, but it was certainly quick. I used radishes, cucumbers, a handful of snap peas and some small turnips.

20160709_102904Shakshuka. I followed a tip from Ottolenghi this time around and started by dry toasting some cumin seeds in the pan before adding oil, sauteing onions, etc. It made for pervasive, toasty cumin flavor (which I’m a big fan of).

Coconut lime popsicles. These are life changing. Before this week, I hadn’t hit on an everyday popsicle recipe. I mean, I’ve made some really good ones, but they were too indulgent for regular cooling. But these. Oh man. Three (3!!!) ingredients, about that many minutes to pull together, great texture once frozen, delightful flavor. Easy enough to pull together before dinner when you know scorchers are in the forecast.

Summer berry crisp. Sometimes I think about making pies…and then I think, why would I do that when I can make a crisp? Much better fruit to grain ratio, and so much faster. I loved the addition of port, which made for a dark and jammy fruit layer. I used blueberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries.