Tag Archives: cooking

let’s eat: the basics

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One of the things I mentioned in the post about my New Year’s goals / intentions, was to push myself a little more in the kitchen this year. (Before pushing myself out of the kitchen for awhile while the RENOVATION is going on.) I’m feeling more confident in my amateur skills related to baking and meal-making, and I’m in a constant state of mental note-making on how the new kitchen can work to support those roles and accommodate more people comfortably. I’m not going to lie – I enjoy the solitude of the kitchen quite a bit, but I also really like it when everyone is participating. So what I’m really ready for is stations!

I’m trying to build my skills a little more, and I’m also trying to push myself further at the basic ingredient level. We’re most certainly not a whole foods kitchen – we’re a fairly “unprocessed” kitchen, but if we’re making dinner that includes bread, we purchase the bread, we don’t make it. I’m also realistic about time – and I don’t have lofty goals of scratch-made everything. But there are simple ways to make better use of the ingredients we have on hand that will also improve the flavors of the finished product.

I took that first photo after finishing up dinner prep one night. I do all of my prep on an 18″ wide countertop between the range and the sink. Now that I think of it – it might actually just be 15″. Whatever, it’s small.

I chop everything and as I’m doing that I sweep the scraps off the cutting board and into this colander that I place in the sink. When I’m completely done with prep, I carry the scraps to the garbage can and dump them. If I had the time (and yard) for a garden, I’d most certainly compost everything, but for now, this is all just waste.

I decided I’d start a freezer bag for these throw-aways, and then I’d make my own veggie broth. I found a handy list of what to include / not include, and now I divide up my ingredients I’m prepping into two piles. I chop up the ‘include’ ingredients first, and throw those into the freezer bag, then I toss the rest.

Turns out we generate a LOT of scraps each week. So I now have enough vegetable broth to feed the planet.

After simmering and straining (and cooling), I filled muffin tins with a 1/4 cup of broth each and froze them. I did this in several shifts throughout the day and evening Saturday. It reminded me of my baby food making days – they seem like forever ago.

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And now I’ve got ready to use, easy to measure, veggie broth at hand.

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I used the first bit to make the Saffron Rice in this recipe. I highly recommend this dish, especially on these cold, snowy evenings. And most especially when your (veggie broth) cup runneth over.

…..

I’m curious what sort of pantry staples you make. We don’t buy salad dressing anymore, and I’d like to make more of our extracts.

a really good tv dinner***

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This is the second dinner post in a row, but when Andrea asked about a recent counter photo I posted on Instagram, it reminded me of another good meal we had recently. (You can usually tell the really good ones when my husband comments on the photos later.)

You know that my husband is a vegetarian, and he’s pretty adventurous with food in general. But I still think that I’m probably the least picky eater in the house. I absolutely crave good food – particularly good fruits and vegetables – more than dessert or bread or cheese or meat. M’s not a huge fan of foods that have a bland, rubbery texture, or that can go soggy quickly. He’ll eat mushrooms, but he doesn’t do cartwheels over them like I do (if I could actually still do a cartwheel). Eggplant is the same thing – not top on his list.

So last week he was looking over the meals we got from Blue Apron* and he laughed and said that every meal had something that he wasn’t crazy about. But the thing is, we almost always love the dishes after they are made**. I’m pretty sure that I can now say that Blue Apron has brought me (slowly) aboard the fennel train. And I have a new found love for eggplant following this recipe. So, if you are like Andrea and have some eggplant in your CSA box, or picked some up at the farmer’s market this weekend (because it’s abundant right now), then this is the recipe to try out.

Good bread is key here. The ciabatta bread they sent us was delicious. So get your favorite ciabatta bread from your neighborhood bakery or grocery store. You want that crisp outside but soft inside to really squish down under a press. And you spread the marinara sauce on the bread, so you also need a bread that’s not going to yield to the pressure or get soggy. There’s really no magic performed on the eggplant – it was just really, really tasty with everything else on this sandwich. (We had extra eggplant that I diced up with some pasta for lunch.) And I’d recommend doing that side salad with it – we used caramelized sliced plums and went easy on the dressing so that the mustard didn’t overwhelm. Really great accompaniment to the sandwiches – this salad will be a repeat. I heart arugula.

*I swear I don’t work for Blue Apron.
**Blue Apron does not even know I exist.
***We made these sandwiches last weekend, kind of late, and after the girls had eaten dinner at birthday parties with friends. We put them on a tray and caught up on some old episodes of This Old House while we ate – we’re still on the Charlestown house from late spring / early summer, maybe. Anyway – if you watch that show it’s SO much like the work we did on our house – tying the bulging brick back into the wood structure, excavating the basement dirt floor to pour a new slab, carting material wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. It’s a lot of fun to watch with E because she can see the madness that came before her. And when they installed all the steel in the back wall for the kitchen addition – well, stay tuned, because we’ll be doing some of that here soon.

gnocchi is delicious

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I made this dinner last night and it was so good and so easy that I thought I would share it with you. I’ve mentioned before that we use Blue Apron on weeks when the recipes don’t include tree nuts and when we’re also planning on being around for the weekend – the delivery comes on Wednesday, so we need to be able to make three meals at home before Saturday-ish so the fresh produces is still good to go. When it doesn’t work out for us to use it I’m sort of bummed out – it really takes a load off of the menu planning and grocery shopping portion of my week. I’m very disciplined at doing those things, but they are NOT my favorite things to do.

Last night after work I went for a run, and M took the girls to the Y. I beat them getting home by about ten minutes – just long enough to get to this point in the prep and take the above photo. They walked in and begged me to go on a quick walk around the neighborhood, so I turned the heat off the pot of water and left everything where it was while we headed out. The weather is so nice right now, and it’s still light enough outside til around 7:45 or so. The sidewalks were full of people listening to the blues band at the deli and eating lobster and crab at Peacemaker or out walking dogs or just walking themselves. Thursday nights are so nice in our neighborhood.

Anyway, I’ve gotten off track. Gnocchi is delicious, and so is this dish. Here’s the link to the recipe. It serves 2-3 people (remember gnocchi is filling!) but you could easily double everything for a larger family – last night the girls ate a little of the gnocchi, but we also had some pesto and sliced pears, so we didn’t double.) So even after a long day at work and school, early evening workouts, and then a leisurely walk around the neighborhood, this meal wasn’t daunting at all. Pairs well with a nice glass of red wine, perfectly ripe sliced pears, slightly smelly running clothes, the sound of violin practice in the living room, and animated first grade terrarium talk.