Posts tagged dinner
Posts tagged dinner
Leftover lunch: Chorizo, sweet potato, chickpea, and corn soup.
This soup is one of my crowning achievements, cooking-wise. It’s thick: more like a stew than a soup, and a good mix of spicy and sweet, and really satisfying. It takes a little bit of advance planning but not much real hands-on work.
Spicy Vegetable Soup
(Soak the chickpeas overnight, or bring them to a boil, let them boil for a minute, then turn off the heat and let them sit, covered, for at least an hour.*)
Heat the olive oil in a large pot, then add the sausages. Saute for a few minutes. Remove the sausages and add the onion. Cook until translucent.
Add the chickpeas and enough water and chicken stock to easily cover. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat to a simmer. Cook until the chickpeas are mostly done, which I think was around an hour for me? Maybe less? I didn’t keep track.
Add the carrots and bring the soup back up to a boil/simmer. Wait maybe 5 or 10 minute and then add the sweet potato. Add more water if you need it. Cook for maybe 15 minutes? Maybe more? Again, I didn’t really keep track. But once the vegetables are mostly done, add the corn. Bring everything back up to a boil, cook for a few minutes more, season with salt and papper and serve.
Like almost all soups, it’s better the next day (for lunch, at your desk, while you wade through a morass of budgets).
* If you have canned chickpeas instead of dried, I think you’d add the chickpeas with the sweet potatoes. So you’d add the carrots to the onions, saute for a minute, then add the chickpeas, sweet potatoes, and liquid. Correct me if I’m wrong on this, readers.
Anyone can make dinner occasionally.* You plan out your meal, look up recipes, go to the grocery store to get all the ingredients, prep your ingredients early when you have energy and aren’t starving, and have a lovely meal to eat. Yes, there are skills you need to learn and resources you need to have, but making dinner once or twice or a few times isn’t a slog.
Making dinner every night is a whole different ball game. Getting home late from work, and getting the kid in the bath, and getting the dog walked, and having not gone grocery shopping recently, and realizing you’re missing key ingredients for your first three dinner ideas, and just not feeling like making an effort, and then making dinner happen anyway? That’s the grown-up shit.
That’s the shit that requires being flexible and creative and having back-up plans and just sheer grit.
I want you to remember this next time you see someone’s Instagram photo of the dinner they had with roast pork with apricots and braised greens and a side of parmesan polenta and you’re feeling bad about your scrambled eggs and a salad.
Which gets me to the frittata. My real serious scraping the bottom of the barrel dinner has always been scrambled eggs. But a frittata isn’t much harder, and is also very flexible, and feels like a real, satisfying dinner in a way that scrambled eggs kind of doesn’t.
There are tons of frittata recipes that vary a fair amount. I ended up with a variation of a Mark Bittman recipe, but what I took away from the whole thing was that there are different ways to do this and they’re all basically successful.
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.
Cook your fillings as appropriate in an oven-safe skillet in some butter. If you want to be lazy, you can just leave them in the skillet.
Whisk together the eggs and some milk. Add the fillings (or leave them in the skillet) and stir together.
Turn the heat to medium/low. Add some butter if need be, then add the egg mixture. Cook until the edges are mostly solid but the top is still runny.
Stick the skillet in the oven to finish cooking, around 15 minutes. (This is where they say to broil the thing to get the top browned but if I had time for that shit I wouldn’t be eating eggs for dinner, so.)
* Right, so that’s a huge simplification and based on a lot of assumptions and some privilege.
Hubbard squash near Berlin, Connecticut by Lee Russell, 1939. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
We have so much to talk about! I’ve been cooking a bunch lately!
But first: how many of you knew about stuffed squash and didn’t tell me?
This is not a thing you keep from someone! Stuffed squash! It will solve all your dinner problems.
My parents divorced when I was very little. My mum is a wonderful cook. My dad is not a good cook. He used to make stuffed peppers. I was legitimately a very, very picky eater, so I was not inclined to like stuffed peppers, but I also believe that the stuffed peppers were objectively not good. So not good that it’s taken me until adulthood to be able to trust stuffed vegetables. I am over thirty!
So I ended up at the Portland Farmer’s Market* a few weeks ago with a friend and admired some interesting squashes** and I asked what she would do with them and she was all, oh, stuffed squash. Like that was just a regular thing that people did.
I have eaten stuffed squash many times since then and it has legitimately changed my life. You want to know what to do with leftover rice? Leftover chicken? That half of a sausage you didn’t finish at dinner? The hearty greens that maybe have a day or two of good left in them? Half-mushy white beans? PUT THAT SHIT IN A SQUASH AND BAKE IT.
First, cook the squash. Cut your squash in half, scoop out the insides, rub each squash half all over with olive oil, place the halves cut side down on a baking sheet and cook at 425 until they’re tender. Maybe 30 - 50 minutes depending on the size and type of squash.
While the squash is roasting, get together your fillings and cook them/combine them. If needed, chop up the fillings (I like any meats to be cut up into 1/2” or so pieces so the effect is of a stuffing and not of hunks of meat inside an edible bowl). Variations I have tried:
Many of these would have been slightly improved with the addition of a little bit of chicken stock to keep everything moist. Also, make sure to salt the filling.
When the squash is done, flip over the squash hemispheres and mash in the filling. Top with some grated cheese. Bake for another 20 minutes or so.
I also want you to know that you can eat the skins of many squashes. Try it!
* All you guys who told me the key to the Portland Farmer’s Market was going when it first opened? You were totally right. Now that I’m up and about when it opens at 7 am on weekends I go that early and it’s nice.
** You are interested in the best squash? It is the kabocha squash. Now you no longer have to wonder.
Slightly Mushy White Beans
Somehow in the past few months I’ve ended up eating way more beans and whole grains and much less meat. I truly have no idea how this happened, since I’ve been wanting to eat more beans and whole grains for years and not actually made it happen until very recently. The only explanation I can think of is somehow having a kid knocked me so far out of my comfort zone that starting to cook and plan meals in a totally different way seemed natural.
In any case, it’s been going well.
I eat things like lentils with roasted vegetables and curry mayonnaise, or farro with beet greens, or black rice with beets and feta. I make big batches of lentils and then eat them in a variety of ways over the following few days. They taste good, they’re easy and cheap, and I enjoy a vague sense of virtuousness that goes nicely with a large ice cream for dessert.
I do keep having trouble cooking beans in the slow cooker, though. That seems like it should be the easiest thing in the entire world, but I’ve ended up with mushy beans two or three times now. The whole point of beans-in-the-slow-cooker is to avoid having to stand over a pot of beans boiling on the stove checking to see if they’re done (and steaming up the kitchen), but I guess I need to do more checking than the current amount (which is almost none).
This is how I ended up with a batch of somewhat overcooked white beans. I cooked a pound of great northerns (I think) with a big handful of sage, some dried thyme, some chopped onion, peppercorns, a bay leaf, a few cloves (I just started throwing shit in there in the end). I salted them, drizzled on some olive oil, and had them with tuna. Fine, but really a job for sardines or anchovies, not tuna. Know your canned fishes!
And I still had a lot of leftover slightly mushy white beans.
Mark Bittman suggested having white beans with sauteed red peppers and sausage. So I bought a sweet Italian pork sausage at Whole Foods, sauteed it, added cut up red peppers, cooked everything until it was done, and dumped it on top of a pile of the white beans. And drizzled on olive oil. (Pictured above)
It was really delicious and a pretty perfect one-person meal. I highly recommend it.
Please let me know if you have other suggestions for slightly mushy white beans.
I was inspired by PBS-Food’s incredibly beautiful lentil with roasted beets and carrots recipe.
In my variation, I made a curry mayo with eggs instead of the egg-free version (I seem to be unable to avoid a raw egg opportunity if it comes my way). I skipped the carrot tops since I didn’t have them and steamed the vegetables instead of roasting them (so I could make extra to puree for Bear).
Lentils with Beets and Carrots
Carefully wash a bunch of beets and carrots. I cut my carrots up so they were in little sticks about the size of my pinkie. I plunked a silicone steamer basket into a relatively large pot, added an inch of water, and layered the beets on the bottom and the carrots on top. The carrots cook faster, so you can fish them out when they’re done and leave the beets to finish cooking. The carrots might take 15 minutes? I’m not positive. The beets can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on their size. They’re done when you can pierce them easily with a fork. Once they’re done you can peel the beets with your hands— the skins should come off easily. Cut up the beets.
While the beets and carrots are cooking, cook your lentils. I used french green/de puy lentils, which hold their shape really nicely and are delicious. You can cook them in water or in chicken broth. It’s kind of a waste of chicken broth, but also tasty. Do with that what you will. Anyway, bring your lentils and water/broth to a boil, toss in some salt, and simmer for 20- 40 minutes until tender. Drain and toss with a little bit of olive oil if they’re done before everything else.
Once you’ve got the vegetables and lentils going, make your mayonnaise. I made this mayonnaise recipe and dumped a bunch of curry powder in. So good!
Top the lentils with vegetables. Add crumbled feta or chevre if you have it and fresh herbs. Drizzle with curry mayonnaise.
It was as delicious as it was beautiful.
There is almost nothing as boring as writing about eating more whole grains. Maybe reading about eating more whole grains. It’s excruciating.
So I will just say this: I bought a bag of black rice at the grocery store and really enjoyed it and have been eating it more and more lately. I find the color really satisfying (deep purpley-black), and I like the taste (nutty), and it has a nice chewy texture. It takes more time to cook than, say, microwave rice, but not that much more time than regular rice, and it has enough oomph that you can build a meal out of it.
Black Rice with Beets and Feta
Chop off the beet greens, leaving a bit of stalk on the beet (don’t cut the beets themselves or they’ll bleed like crazy) and wash beets. Steam the beets until tender. This can take anywhere from 25 minutes for very little beets (ping pong ball sized or smaller) to an hour for really big beets (tennis ball sized). Just check periodically. You should be able to pierce them with a fork easily. Once they’re ready, take them off the heat and let them cool a bit, and peel the skins off with your fingers. You can also leave the skins on, honestly, but they come off steamed beets really easily.
While the beets are cooking, cook the rice. The package I bought says to combine 1 cup rice with 1 3/4 cups water along with a teaspoon of butter and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover. Simmer for 35 - 40 minutes or so. Remove from heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes or until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.
Top rice with beets, shallot, and feta. Season with salt and pepper.
I drizzled some salad dressing on top, but you could use sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar with olive oil.
I was watching the Gordon Ramsey show with the home cooks and relatively less yelling a while back (don’t judge me). It involves a group of contestants going through a whole bunch of challenges to test their mettle in high-stress cooking situations (feeding 101 cowboys in an outdoor setting! Reproducing a restaurant sushi dish in 60 minutes!) and a fair amount of crying.
It’s a fine show, but it reminds me of this thing that makes me kind of crazy, which is the chef-ification of home cooking.
Home cooks are not restaurant chefs. We don’t have to be restaurant chefs. Those are two different things. Why do people need restaurant-quality appliances in their kitchens? You are not cooking for hundreds of people every evening. Knife skills are great, but really, a lot less important when you’re cutting up 3 carrots versus a 30 pound bucket of carrots. I get my knives sharpened once a year if I’m feeling pretty on top of things. I don’t know that my Grandma ever sharpened her knives, she just bludgeoned her carrots. And she still made dinner!
And the measures of success are totally different in home cooking than restaurant cooking. Home cooking requires making one reasonably tasty, reasonably healthy meal for at most a handful of people most nights in the amount of time that you can manage or deem appropriate for cooking dinner. Fifteen minutes? Half an hour? An hour? Whatever. If you’re discussing the merits of Viking ranges, I’m guessing the amount you spend per pound on arugula doesn’t really matter. Meanwhile, it takes me forever to supreme an orange. Of course it does, I’ve supremed maybe 15 oranges in my entire life. And I pretty rarely get the timing just right so all the dishes are done at the same moment. Profit margins, speed, volume are all basically irrelevant as compared to restaurant cooking.
Which is not to say that there aren’t challenges in cooking dinner at home night after night. I certainly struggle with it these days, and even before the kid it could be a slog (“What do you want to have for dinner?” “I don’t know, what do we have?” “Some salad greens we have to eat, but I don’t feel like salad” “Are they even still good?” “I don’t know, is there anything else?” ad nauseum). But let’s not pretend that the challenges of cooking dinner would be solved by a fancy oven or familiarity with yuzu or incrementally better knife skills.
So…I have been a touch critical of the new Bon Appetit tone* in the past, but the past few issues have been surprisingly good. There was a cooking school feature in January, I think, and then the dinner feature this month.
In fact, I was looking for poetry material the other day and found surprisingly little. Kudos, Bon Appetit!
* I would describe it as self-satisfied-Brooklyn-hipster-dad.
(shot by Gentl & Hyers, Bon Appétit, March 2013)
When I first started cooking, I was afraid of high heat. And if I can extrapolate out from my own experience (of course I can, it’s my tumblr, n=1 in these here parts), I think that’s not uncommon.
High heat means that things go from undercooked to charred much, much faster. And there’s greater potential for smoke, and the smoke detector going off, and things catching on fire, and burning myself (not really, but it felt that way). And those are all really stressful when you’re already unsure of yourself in the kitchen.
But my fear of high heat translated into a fear of the broiler, and that is ridiculous. The broiler is your friend! Be religious about setting a timer (leaving something broiling for an extra minute can make the difference between perfectly done and dried out), understand that there might be smoke, and watch your hands. Otherwise, broil with abandon! Why? It cooks food really fast! And it makes the outside of things nice and brown without drying out the inside!
You could start with this recipe. The salmon takes almost no time to cook and the outside gets crispy and browned while the inside stays moist. If you cheat like I did and buy pre-sliced pineapple* and microwave instant rice** it’s even faster.
This photo is from Real Simple, but is basically what my finished dish looked like (except I think my salmon might have been more browned on the outside and a little less well-done on the inside).
Maple Glazed Salmon with Pineapple
Recipe from Real Simple. This serves four, but I halved it, kind of. I halved the glaze, and probably halved the pineapple (I bought the small container of pre-cut pineapple, which I think works out to about a quarter of a pineapple). I used the whole jalapeno, and I used the full amount of salmon. I intended to only spread the glaze over two of the salmon pieces and broil and save the two non-glazed pieces for salads later, but it seemed like there was enough glaze to go over all the salmon, so I glazed everything and just had extra tasty salmon in my salad the next day.
* On the one hand: crazy expensive. On the other hand: it means I don’t have to spend precious minutes that could be spent showering or going to the bathroom or just sitting quietly and reading my email breaking down a whole pineapple, and I don’t have to carefully strategize about when to break down the pineapple during the day in advance of dinner. And there weren’t whole pineapples for sale at the grocery store.
** I really didn’t want to tell you guys about the microwave instant rice, because I am embarrassed about it, but I felt like I should be honest. It turns out that the difference between cooking real rice and microwaving rice translates to the difference between not having rice with dinner and having rice with dinner some nights.
Thus far I’ve made baked beans; lamb, apricot, and olive tagine; spiced chicken stew with carrots; and this chicken curry recipe in our new slow cooker. I wouldn’t say any of those have been failures (far from it), but the chicken curry is definitely the most successful:
The chicken curry, though, was amazing. And super easy.
See that picture above? That is more or less the prep involved, and I did that, again, with my beast of a kid strapped to me.*
Step 1, pre-cooking.
Slow Cooker Chicken Curry
From marthastewart.com, my notes in italics.
Photo of the completed dish from marthastewart.com. It did not look so lovely when I made it.
* Somehow we’ve made a baby that is freakishly large. The checkout clerk at Target gave me a tiny bit of side-eye when I said he was only seven weeks old.