Crostini for one… after a successful race!

I did something pretty awesome on Saturday – I ran a road race, a 5K. I am not the most in-shape of people, and my running pace is on par with Husband’s brisk walking pace, but I ran the whole time! Afterwards, I felt that perfect kind of tired: the kind that makes it feel like you deserve a treat, but only because you have worked really, really hard.

My treat was inspired by the delicious recipe Rebecca sent me https://faithsighanddiy.com/2016/08/01/another-great-cooking-triumph-and-its-b-e-u-u-u-tiful-too/ – I endorse vanilla sugar, ricotta cheese, and strawberries as highly as I could, but sweaty, tired me had none of them in the house. What I did have was some awesome crusty bread, and a desire for crostini.

Unless there’s something fancier about it that I don’t know, crostini just means “things on top of crusty bread/crackers” and I think it’s brilliant. My friend C made them for a potluck once with three different fun combos of a cheese and another thing. My nutrient-craving brain came up with a simple combination: goat cheese, mashed avocado, and cashews. A bit of crunch, a bit of green, and well… goat cheese. Enough said.

I watched a sappy indie movie and ate all my three crostini on the couch before taking a long nap, and let me tell you – they were everything I could ever imagine. I want to try some sweet ones like the ones Rebecca tried, but from the delight on her blog entry I have to assume that we had very similar reactions to this kind of food. It’s perfect for newbie cooks like me, who want to experiment and try new flavor combinations but want a minimum of possible things to catch on fire. The preparation is simple: toast a bread (don’t even have to do this part with crackers), and assemble all other ingredients on top. They can look fancy or they can (like mine) just look like bread with things on it. Regardless, those crostini rafts are perfect for shepherding surprising and excellent flavors into your mouth, post-race.

Turning Leftovers into Freezer Meals

I’m still working on two or three dishes I cooked up during Husband’s last trip – when I am at home alone, half as much food gets eaten and twice as much gets cooked because I start thinking about all the things I have in the kitchen, and all the recipes people have sent me, and I just make things until the fridge is full. I have my pick of things to eat, but they inevitably become leftovers.

One tactic I’ve seen a lot of people do is freeze things almost immediately after making them, anticipating how they will not really want that food for multiple meals in the same week. I, however, begin with optimism that we will eat, for instance, chili for days on end. Husband is pretty good about it, as I’ve said before, I love the luxury of eating something different every day. So it appears that I need to practice freezer meal prep!

Pinterest has a few links about it, but I’m especially intrigued by meals that, when reheated, retain the same awesome flavors and textures they had when first made; any freezer meal recipes out there that don’t taste like freezer meals? I’d also love to get better at packaging up more freezer meals, i.e. “meal prep” ahead of time, but for now, I think I have to stick with just doing a better job of not letting leftovers get old and then get thrown out. I want to be able to cook a lot and experience variety, but I also really want to avoid trashing any real food.

There is nothing like spending all summer to try to grow just a few buckets of tomatoes to make you appreciate every grain of rice and lump of stew that you sadly throw out because it’s gotten too old in the fridge. Time to use my freezer to save food. 🙂

Crichton’s Spanakopita

I finally bought fillo dough this weekend, which meant trying out a recipe sent to me: https://crichtonscoop.wordpress.com/2016/06/13/i-span-so-far-away/. The author sent me a lovely description of what it means to them:

“It’s a spanakopita recipe. It reminds me of Christmas because of the dill smell but also my husband’s aunty makes a version of it every particular year for Christmas. I like recipes that revolve around family or remind you of good family times.
It also can be portioned and frozen and then it serves as an easy tasty mid week meal when you are too tired to cook during the working week.
Enjoy :)” 

Honestly, I would love cheese and dill and spinach any time of the day or night, but this is even better as something easy to heat-and-eat at lunch time. I thawed my fillo dough and set to work mixing all the delicious spinach, spices, and cheese together to make that creamy mixture. I thinned mine out with some plain yogurt, which while not in the recipe, seemed in the spirit of the whole mix. Then came the fun part: rarely does cooking feel like construction or craft time, but layering dough with spinach mixture does! Also, always lots of butter for construction “glue” and also for later deliciousness.

The final product was not very thick (I blame my impulse to thin out the sauce), but was crisp on top and smooth in the middle. It started out sort of chewy and hard to cut, but by the next day it was much easier to eat – the dough layers had almost turned to pasta-consistency which meant it felt a bit like an ultra-thin spinach lasagna. I know I should savor every moment, but this was a wonderful thing to be able to cut out a slice and eat cold while running around doing things to get ready for the week; I hope to soon be able to make it for others to share, like your Christmas time memory.

Hira’s Chicken Shawarma!

So, Hira sent me this recipe:  https://www.madeeasy.com.pk/shawarma-recipe/, which just sounded perfect one evening when I was home alone. Sure, it makes enough for more people, but I scaled it down to fit the spices I had and the serving I could eat, and didn’t end up with leftovers… though that was probably more due to the fact that the sauce/spicing on this is SO GOOD. I didn’t make it super hot-spicy, but the garlic mayo sauce is to die for and mixes so well with curried chicken – I loved it! I probably could have marinaded my chicken longer – didn’t work very hard to wait on it, just let the strips of chicken dethaw for a few minutes – so I bet it could have been even more flavorful.

I didn’t have pita (anyone have a go-to homemade pita recipe???) and I was home alone, so I ate this one straight out of the bowl. There is something really special about a meal that you don’t dress up to the full presentation possibilities, that has all the delicate flavors of a fancy dinner but which you can eat with a fork, sitting at your kitchen table watching squirrels chase each other behind your home. I really thought that I wasn’t very hungry when I started, that I’d have a little leftover for the next day, but the spicing and the sauce all mixed together and my appetite grew.

I really appreciate Hira sharing her blog, which has lots of recipes for spices I’ve got on my shelf but which I don’t always know how to use – sorry they aren’t National brand, but I’m sure the chicken shawarma would have been even better if I could use your garam masala! I am excited to try more “Arabic everyday food” in the future, because this was lovely.

A daily staple: Husband’s salad mania

I know that the core of most healthy people’s diet is salad of some form – replacing some of those calorie-dense carbs with a bed of lettuce of some kind or another. I also know that I’ve yet to crave such things – I am the last girl to ever look straight at the salads at a restaurant. Still, Husband has been making them for me for years now, so I am very familiar with his way of doing things:

Husband’s formula for salad:

Start with good greens: Husband doesn’t like iceberg lettuce, though more power to you if that’s how you get in some salad time. He tends toward mildly bitter lettuces, like spring mix from the grocery store, though we’ve recently been getting local butterhead lettuce which is even earthier (i.e. dirt-flavored). 

Add all the veggies in the house: his staples are peppers, carrots, bell peppers, and mushrooms.

Dress with balsamic and oil: Husband has a comically huge jug of balsamic vinegar he got on super-sale one time last year, and we always go through a lot of olive oil, so instead of a dainty bottle of dressing he’s always got these two jumbo containers to contend with. 

Add cheese: Husband will put a generous topping of whatever cheese we have in the house, which I always ask him not to do with my salads. Why would I put one of my favorite foods on top of my least favorite? If I have to eat salad, I want to feel like I’ve won a medal for healthy eating. He, on the other hand, actually enjoys it. 

I really love that he can get excited about salad, especially since it gives us nice tasks; if I’m finishing up a pasta dish, he’ll come in to the kitchen and prepare two salads, usually not giving me a choice, one with all his favorites and mine with no mushrooms and no cheese. It’s a labor of love, I’m sure, to get me to eat my raw veggies, but he’s doing it.

 

Community Supported Agriculture

Lately, I’ve been ordering online from a very small urban garden about a mile from my house. They can’t have everything a grocery store has, so I often look through their website and think, “How will I find enough produce to spend at least 10 bucks, making it feel okay to have them deliver it to my door?” I don’t want to waste food, so I have to get creative.

In this last shipment, I felt pretty proud. I purchase fresh herbs – thai basil and rosemary – which I’ve used in a lot of my cooking lately, including the mac and cheese from a couple of nights ago. I also got yellow squash which featured in a potato dish I haven’t written about yet, and four jalapeños in a cute green  bag that I need to use for something but don’t really know for what yet. Husband is the spicy food person, and I’ve been told that chopping jalapeños can be hazardous to your health… or at least to your eyes!

Our local bakery has also partnered with them, so I got the rest of my way to 13 dollars of produce by adding in a lemon rosemary bread, which was consistent and delicious in all the ways that my bread never is, and made great toast for breakfasts; it replaced buying store-bought bagels that we usually use for breakfast, which I count as a win. Lastly was a new bag of kale, which got put straight in for more kale chips.

The fun part, of course, is the community of it. The woman who runs the boxes from her mini van up to my front door is now becoming a friend of mine; I give her back the cardboard box from the previous week and take the one she has in her hands. We chat about the day and how the tomatoes are coming in, both in her garden and in mine. If you have ever felt happy to see a full fridge or a pile of groceries, I assure you, the feeling of a box of local produce is even better, and it really isn’t expensive. I feel like I’m healthier for it after only two weeks, and I’m looking forward to the cooking challenge of using what’s in season.

A’s Gazpacho and Spain’s Salmorejo

I remember hearing about gazpacho when I was a kid; I thought most foods I had never tried were gross, but the idea of a cold soup was just nasty. I couldn’t imagine something savory tasting good all blended up and not even warm. If Young Me had received A’s gazpacho recipe tucked into her sweet wedding gift of a beautiful recipe book, I would not have been nearly so grateful as I am now.

My first cold soup was at a restaurant called La Soberbia in Madrid, Spain – my friend S had been living in Madrid for a year and she said their “salmorejo” was to die for. Sure enough, a big beautiful bowl of creamy red soup with a dash of olive oil and a sprinkling of hard boiled egg bits arrived, and it was wonderful. Salmorejo is different from gazpacho in that there is bread blended up with it, giving it more thickness and flavor of a cream-based soup, while gazpacho is almost like a savory smoothie, thin and veggie-packed.

I had been saving tomatoes for a few days and decided to try out this wonderful recipe, and it didn’t disappoint. I think gazpacho is wonderful for a night when you are sick of salads but don’t want to “cook” per se, rather want a cold meal that doesn’t get the house all heated up. This recipe is from a distant relative of my husband who is not Spanish, as far as I know, but the flavor reminds me of the kick of gazpacho in Spain, which is a wonderful memory to share across totally different experiences.

 

Penney’s Gaspacho (given to me by A)

Blend 4 tomatoes, 1.5 cucumbers, 1 clove of garlic, 1 onion, and 1 small green or red pepper. Then add one can chicken broth, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, sugar, pepper, and salt and cilantro to taste. 

Following the Ingredients to… Macaroni and Cheese

I am not a recipe writer; I’ve been learning a bit about food blogging lately and that seems to be the most daunting of the aspects of it: what if my recipe works for me but fails because I forgot some detail I needed to tell the readers? Perhaps this is why I like trying other people’s recipes and tweaking them, because it is easier than writing my own.

Lately though, since I started daily posts, I’ve found that I don’t get around to enough new recipes a week to keep the blog full up on only completely new recipes. For instance, we were quite tired the other night, so I did something I call “following the ingredients” – I start with one thing I know I want to eat, then add things that I think will be good until a food emerges.

For me, it started with some pasta shells. They looked like they were aching for some cheese, so while they boiled, I scrounged in the fridge. I found a smoked gouda spread that we were given a long time ago; since we don’t sit down with fancy crackers and cheese spread very often, it really hadn’t found a home, but I had a hunch it would make a good cheese sauce, if I added (consults fridge) the last of this block of cream cheese!

When the shells were finished, I put some leftover cream from when I made liquid truffle, and began dissolving the two kinds of cheese into it. In went my go-to spices for italian food: oregano, garlic, sea salt, cracked pepper. The bowl of recently-picked cherry tomatoes stared up at me accusingly, reminding me that there was no vegetable matter in this dish. I sliced them all up in halves and threw them in with the pasta on the side. The cheese sauce smoothed out, and a few leaves of basil later… something was born.

Husband loves cooking this way, just throwing in what we have, not worrying too much about recipes or whether the flavor mixes are perfect, but personally? It feels like a one-off – when I’m a little lazy, it’s great, and I’ll tell you – smoked gouda cheese spread doubles as a killer mac and cheese sauce. Recipes still are my favorite though: getting to be a part of that difficult, long-term creation process starting with originator of the idea and coming all the way through a bunch of grandmothers and mothers and food bloggers and pinterest-pinners all the way down to you. It’s pretty special.

The Unexpected Pleasure of Veggie Side Dishes, brought to you by GoSun

The GoSun oven provides for my cooking of veggies what Pokemon Go provides players for walking: an extra pleasure, a delight above the regular benefit of the action. Walking and eating veggies are their own reward, but that’s sometimes not enough to make us do those things. The GoSun makes me cook more veggies than I ever thought I would this summer, and I thought I’d share my four favorite combinations:

  1. bell peppers and onions: This mix is especially great for breakfast, right alongside scrambled eggs and biscuits. You barely need to season a good onion recipe, and as long as you cut the bell peppers ahead of time and let them air-dry for an hour or two. Also nice on top of burgers!
  2. yellow squash and zucchini – It only takes a little longer to put these in the GoSun than in a roasting pan, so if you spice them up with red pepper flakes and some garlic, this can make for the best possible side-dish and also use up some of that squash piling up during this part of the summer.
  3. cut cherry tomato halves – to roast up cherry tomatoes before putting them in pasta or a casserole, throw them in the GoSun with a little olive oil! I have been doing this in order to make it not feel like we have too many tomatoes coming out of the garden – sure, they’re good on salads, but this packs so much flavor into other dishes.
  4. Green beans with a little bacon grease – I am not a huge green bean person, but putting a bunch of these in the GoSun with a little pan dripping from a batch of bacon makes them full of flavor and, as long as you don’t go overboard, still quite healthy!

Obviously, I need to get more adventurous with my cooking of other things besides vegetables, but these are just so easy to clean up after, so tasty, and such a good mid-summer run.

 

By the way, I get nothing from GoSun for these posts – I just really like this product and think that people will like it if they get it and use it regularly. Just letting you know, this ain’t an ad. 🙂

My Great-Grandmother’s Buttermilk Biscuits – Beware the Over-Improvising…

Today is a story of biscuit woe. I’ve been pretending for a while that my biscuits turn out well, because, honestly, the first day they always taste good. But they turn to hockey pucks with great speed after that. My great grandmother’s recipe is no exception. It’s amazing how it was passed down to me: my grandmother’s sister learned it from her father when she was 8 years old to be able to fill in while my great grandmother, H, was ill; she had 13 children during her lifetime, so you could barely blame her for being under the weather! They didn’t have self-rising flour or electricity, so no mixers. Everything was beaten by hand in a wooden bowl.

The recipe is this:

4 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons lard (shortening)

1 cup butter milk

Put the sifted flour in the mixing bowl and make a hole in the flour – add the buttermilk in the hole and sprinkle baking soda on the milk and add salt. Add lard and mix well until soft dough forms. Pinch off a ball of dough and shape to 1/2 inch thick large biscuits. Place on greased oven pan so the biscuits touch. Bake in 400 degree oven until a rich brown.

Let me tell you, this was where my substitution nature got the best of me. I hadn’t planned to try this recipe, but E was in town and we wanted to have a nice breakfast, so I made little corner-cuts until I realized my own recipe was unrecognizeable: no buttermilk so I used regular milk, the baking soda was old, the lard had to be subbed with crisco vegetable shortening. All in all, hockey pucks by midday, though our breakfast was delightful.

I need to return to T’s house, my friend who makes biscuits entirely by feel. I need, also, to buy new baking soda, which might solve my problems. More than anything, I’ve got to respect the biscuit recipe: they know what they are doing. It’s baking, after all: a science experiment. Cooking may yield something different and delicious when I improvise, but baking can be pretty unforgiving!