I’ve been in a kitchen rut.
I cut down on the “what to make for dinner” dilemma by meal planning (so resistant to doing, so glad I did), but I was getting bored. Last week my friend Lilly hosted a winter recipe jam that got me excited about food again.
I almost said cooking, but really it’s the food. I started reading this book last night and it made a clear distinction between enjoying cooking and enjoying food. I like both, but I’m coming back to the food—the eating, the sharing, the memories, the stories.
For the recipe jam, I pulled a jar of pickled peppers from my cupboard and asked, “What would you do with these?”
The answers came in:
sprinkle on pizza
serve with sausage
toss with greens
add to white chili
use on nachos . . .
None of it was earthshakingly new. I was just in too stuck in what we usually do. I think first of fresh peppers for nachos. I turn to dried for chili. My kids are back on forth on spicy. The little one won’t eat a fried egg sandwich without Tabasco sauce. They’ll both eat our homemade chili. Except on the days they won’t. “Too spicy.” So too often I skip it.
I opened a jar to have with pork dumpling burgers (dumpling filling pressed into burgers). The suggestion to use the hot peppers on pizza with sausage reminded me of stuffed jalapenos (and that I had an overabundance of cream cheese in my fridge.) A few nights later, I sprinkled the rest of the jar over a corn-meal crusted pizza with spicy sausage, cream cheese, and a Mexican blend cheese.
Definitely not rut material.
Hot Pepper & Sausage Cream Cheese Pizza
3/4 c. warm water
1 tsp yeast
hefty pinch of sugar
1 1/4 c. flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
- Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and add the sugar.
- Put both flour and the salt in a large bowl and combine.
- When the yeast has bubbled up, add it along with the olive oil to the flour.
- Stir to combine. Then knead lightly.
- Coat the dough in oil. Place back in the bowl and cover with a towel. Set in a warm space to rise. My dough didn’t double, but it expanded.
- Preheat oven to 425.
- Sprinkle a pizza stone or pan with coarse corn meal. Stretch the dough into a round (or several small rounds).
- Bake for about 15 minutes until dough starts to set.
1 8-oz package of cream cheese softened
cooked spicy sausage
1 4-oz jar pickled hot peppers (or chopped fresh jalapenos)
shredded cheddar, Mexican blend or similar cheese
fresh salsa or pico de gallo
- Spread the cream cheese on the partially baked crust.
- Sprinkle the sausage and peppers evenly over the pizza.
- Top with the shredded cheese.
- Bake until the cheese is melted and the edges of the crust are just turning golden.
- Serve with fresh salsa.
“What happened?” my big girl asked from the seat behind me, her question mirroring my own momentary confusion.
“Somebody hit us,” I said stunned.
She was OK. I was OK, but shaken, badly. All week, I was tight and anxious. All week, my stomach has churned as I called the insurance company, filled out forms, waited for call backs, avoided thinking about what could have been.
All week, still off-kilter, I needed grounding, so I stepped outside. I welcomed the golden afternoon autumn sun, warm on my back. I breathed deep the cold smell of fall. While my kids jumped in piles of yellow and browning leaves, I pulled plants soft and straggling after our frost. I loosened the cold earth and dumped wheelbarrows of compost. And I planted garlic.
Garlic was the most satisfying thing I grew in my garden this year. I don’t know why I haven’t grown it before. I loved every step from the early green points poking out of the earth to the graceful curved scapes that I cut off for pesto to the bulbs themselves that I dug a few months ago and hung to dry.
I love this starting point too. It’s time to plant garlic again, now when everything else is wrapping up or just hanging on. Now while I’m pulling dead plants and putting the garden to bed for spring. I love the hope of planting, even if it means a long wait. All winter, I’ll know that my garlic is out there under the soil, under the snow, waiting for spring sun, ready to push up shoots and get going.
Garlic didn’t ask a lot of me. I picked the scapes and dug the bulbs. I ate the scapes quickly, and the bulbs will stick around for a while (though we go through garlic pretty quickly around here).
Garlic was simple in the garden and it’s simple in the kitchen. I’ve been making this easy garlic bread for more than 20 years now, since I first learned it in an Italian kitchen.
1 loaf good, firm bread
1–2 cloves garlic peeled and halved
kosher or sea salt
- Slice the bread and toast it under the broiler just until it starts to take on a little color. Flip the bread and toast the other side.
- Arrange the toast on a platter, and while it is still warm, rub one side of each slice with the garlic.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Sprinkle with salt.
One of my favorite fall dinners is this garlic bread served with greens (sauteed with more garlic) and white beans. Some nights I’ll add sausage (my favorite is garlic and cheese—yep, more garlic—from our local market) or mushrooms. Some nights I just keep it at beans, greens, and bread. Simple. Quick. Satisfying.
“It’s no fair!”
We get a lot of that around here. This time, my big girl was disgruntled that the cooking class in the school enrichment program was only for bigger kids.
So we had our own cooking “class.” We invited some friends, and although we ended up with a smaller group than we hoped, we had fun with apples.
The kids peeled, cored, sliced, and grated apples. They measured sugar and spices in between playing with Legos. Then while things cooked, they became ninjas and butterflies. I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen in the regular cooking class.
Up next: Pumpkins
Easy Apple Muffins
2 medium apples
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
- Grate the apples into a mixing bowl. Pour sugar and spices over apples and let sit for 10 minutes.
- Preheat over to 350.
- Mix egg and oil into the apple/sugar/spice mixture.
- Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix to combine.
- Fill greased muffin pans and bake for 20–25 minutes. (Makes about 18-20 small muffins and 12 medium size ones.) Alternately pour the batter into a greased 8×8 cake pan and bake for 50–55 minutes.)
I love fall foods and getting back into baking after a summer of using the oven less. I love cooking with my kids even when it’s messy or looks a lot more like dress up play. I love that they wanted to share this fun with friends.
What do you love?
Write What You Love is back. I hope you’ll join me.
Waiting for green coriander—and keeping the pollinators happy
Tick Tick Ticktickticktick
A cluster of tiny green seeds rolls through my fingers into a plastic bowl.
“I think everyone really loves my green coriander pesto,” my big girl says as she strips seeds from the plants I’ve pulled. “Well, except for some of the kids. Because they’re picky.”
She’s been anticipating this moment since early spring when I began finding cilantro everywhere. We noticed the plants getting bigger and sending out feather, carrot-top like leaves. We watched bees buzz the tiny white flower clusters. And we found the first tiny green seeds. Now, some of the plants have gone from full flower to full seed.
To everything its season, and this is the season for green coriander.
Two years ago, I cooked with green coriander for the first time, making the green coriander–marinated chicken from Grow, Cook, Eat. Picking green coriander (and later the dried, brown seeds) became a summer afternoon activity with the kids asking if we could pull one more plant to strip. As long as everyone had their own plant and their own bowl, squabbles were minimal.
Last summer my big girl decided we should make pesto with the green coriander. We talked about the things that usually went into pesto and she picked what she wanted to put in. Here’s what she came up with:
K’s Green Coriander Pesto
1/2 cup green coriander (roughly seeds from 3–4 plants)
1 scant cup parsley leaves
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
Two good squeezes of lemon juices
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Romano cheese
- Run the green coriander, parsley, garlic, and walnuts in a food processor until smooth-ish. (The green coriander will still be a little pebbly, but all the seeds should be somewhat ground up.)
- Add the olive oil and lemon and whiz to combine.
- Stir in the cheeses.
- Taste and add more lemon juice or oil if needed.
This has a crunchier texture than most pesto. We love it on chicken and crackers. We’re less fond of it on pasta. I imagine that the bright green, citrusy flavor would be good with fish or shrimp.
My big girl was so excited to bring green coriander pesto chicken to a pot luck last night. If rosemary is the smell of jealousy, maybe green coriander is the smell of pride.
What are you creating with summer’s bounty these days?
I ate my first strawberry of the season standing in my garden surrounded by weeds.
I spotted it, red, plump, and perfect under green leaves as I reached for a handful of grass trying to choke out my garlic. For a moment I thought about calling my girls, but there was only one ripe. I savored it myself.
Yesterday, four more ripened, and I called the girls up to find the little red treasures. We’ll only get a handful as I try to re-stablish a strawberry patch, but what we get is so good.
Most years we go to a pick-your-own place and bring home pounds and pounds (or quarts and quarts). I make jam and ice cream and core and freeze a lot of berries.
The past few years, June has come on fast and strong, and I find myself swamped when I should be picking strawberries. I’m in that place right now—getting through field trips and field day and music shows and end-of-year picnics while trying to wrap up work projects so I can really take the vacation I’m taking at the end of the month.
Strawberries remind me to make time. Blueberries and raspberries and peaches will do the same later in the season.
We need to make time to go pick before the season’s done. In the meantime, my neighbor dropped of a box of berries and I’ll be making strawberry ice cream later. It’s going to taste good with my chocolate birthday cake tomorrow.
Strawberry Ice Cream
1 pint strawberries, cored and sliced
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup + 2/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream*
1 tsp vanilla extract
equipment: ice cream maker
Makes about 1 quart
- Combine strawberries, lemon juice, and 1/3 cup of sugar. Stir gently to combine. Let sit for about 2 hours so that the berries macerate . (A little longer fine, a little shorter and you’ll miss out on flavor.)
- In a medium bowl, mix together milk and sugar. Drain the juice from the strawberries and stir it into the milk-sugar mixture along with the cream.
- Put the mix into your ice cream maker and run until thickened (in my machine that’s about 30 minutes).
- Add the sliced strawberries and run the machine for 5 minutes.
- Eat it soft or let it set for a couple of hours.
* Light cream will work too. I’ve also used a little half and half instead of milk.