A Day in the Life

Today was an epic cooking day, even by my standards.  I spent about 6 hours in the kitchen.  Here’s what I accomplished:

  • Broke down last night’s chicken carcass and turned it into chicken stock.  I made about 5 quarts.
  • Made chicken salad with toasted slivered almonds.
  • Trimmed and ground 5 pounds of chicken breast.  Dumplings in vast quantities coming soon to a freezer near me!
  • Made two jars of refrigerator dilly beans.
  • Toasted walnuts for tomorrow’s lunch.  As a special birthday treat I’m making a pear, walnut, blue cheese salad.  Can’t wait!
  • Made  green curry paste.  If you think ginger is tough, try working with fresh galangal (Thailand’s answer to ginger).  I actually broke a sweat peeling and slicing it.  I also used fresh lemongrass.  Yum!
  • Currently in progress: lime-basil granita with a cup of freshly-squeezed lime juice and basil from the garden.
Admittedly, much of that time in the kitchen was spent cleaning up after myself.  Soon it will be time to make dinner.  It shouldn’t take long – the curry paste was the tough part!


Stir Fry on the Grill

Sometimes in the summer, it’s just too hot to cook.  We eat salads almost every day for lunch, so in the interest of a varied diet, I don’t want to also serve salad for dinner all the time too.  I am increasingly turning to my grill as a heat source for everything.

I was inspired by some beautiful peapods I brought home from a friend’s garden, so last night I made an Asian stir fry on the grill.

Unlike my woks, the grill pans I have are full of holes.  To make sure I was getting as much flavor as possible from my sauce, I tossed each of the first few vegetables in the sauce and then poured a bit over everything at the end.  Here’s the story:

Dark sesame oil, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, a small squirt of sriracha, a tiny bit of rice vinegar

Veggies, in the order in which I added them to the grill pan:
Kohlrabi, zucchini, green pepper, garlic scapes, sweet peas, swiss chard
*It’s worth noting that all these veggies were grown locally, either by farmers or friends (thank you Sara and Britta!)

I added each vegetable, tossed it a bit, closed the grill. Tossed the veggies, added the next item, tossed again, closed the grill…add, toss, close, toss, add, toss, close…you get the picture.  I think the trick is to close the grill to keep it as hot as possible, just like you would with your wok.

Serve over Rice:
Brown rice, boiled in water, ponzu and sauteed onions

Yes, yes, yes, I know that sugar snaps are a more traditional option, but Sara’s peapods were so tender that I could not shell the peas and toss the pods.  That would have been a grave injustice and a terrible waste.  And chard is probably not all that prevalent in stir-fry, but I also combined sriracha (which has Thai and Vietnamese origins) and soy sauce (Chinese).  Oh, and I used ponzu (Japanese) in my brown rice.  So I wouldn’t say I was terribly focused on authenticity here.  Just in keeping the heat out of the house.  And in that, I would call this a success!

Not-So-Summer Soup

It was a little breezy and chilly here this morning, so despite the fact that it’s summer, I made hot soup for lunch.  I have been trying out a cookbook that Chuck seems particularly attached to, but, as usual, I varied it quite a bit.  Here’s how it goes:

1 6 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small leek, minced
1 medium celery stalk, minced
1/2 green pepper, diced
3 small red potatoes, skin-on, chopped
6 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, washed and sliced
1-1.5 quarts vegetable stock
Handful of beet greens

Drain the artichoke hearts, pouring a couple tablespoons of the marinade into a medium sauce pan.  Add a touch of olive oil and heat to medium-high.  Saute onion, pepper, garlic, leek and celery in olive oil and the marinade.  Add mushrooms and potatoes.  Saute for 5 minutes.  Add 4-5 cups vegetable stock.  Add more to taste or if you have a larger party to serve.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes.

While soup is heating, coarsely chop artichoke hearts.  Add to soup and simmer another 10 minutes.  Just before serving add salt, pepper and a dash of lemon juice.

Add washed beet greens to bottom of soup bowls.  Tuck in roots to ensure they are covered with broth.  Pour soup into bowls.  Allow to rest for 2-3 minutes to soften beet green roots.  Serve!

The result was not quite as mundane as I anticipated, and I liked it.  It had more depth than I expected.  You can, of course, use another type of mushroom or other greens, but if you do use beet greens, be ready for the broth to turn orange.  It’s actually quite pretty.

Note: You can find the original recipe for Inspiration Soup in The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen.

Stuffed Tomatoes

I try to have a pretty varied lunch selection throughout the week, and sometimes that means using leftovers.  Here is a particularly successful creation.

I started with orzo that I had used as a side dish for grilled lamb and minty beet carrot salad (not my favorite).  I cooked the orzo and added some olive oil, kalamata olives, green pepper and feta.  So a couple days later, it didn’t seem like such a jump to add a couple more veggies, keeping the mediterranean flavors but enhancing it a bit.  And then I hollowed out a couple tomatoes, put some sharp provolone in the tomato cavities, along with some breadcrumbs to soak up the juices and put them in the oven for a few minutes.  Once they were softened, I put them on a bed of mesclun greens and filled them with the orzo salad, letting the extra salad overflow onto the greens.  It was a beautiful and delicious presentation.  A pretty perfect lunch.

The only thing I will do differently next time is take a photo.

Tabling Rye

My third attempt at rye in a week was not completely disastrous.  Nor was it a rousing success.

I followed the same method as Attempt 2, but did not melt any plastic wrap or bowls.  A small victory.

The bread rose each time I expected it to.  Baby steps.

However, the final step in no-knead bread is to put the dough into a pre-heated 2 3/4 quart dutch oven.  My dutch oven is slightly larger, 6 quarts, I think.  But I had made this bread before and it worked, right?  Wrong.  My rye oozed across the bottom of the dish.  And that’s how it baked.  It tasted good, but you can’t make a sandwich out of a puddle of bread.  So we came close, but for now I’m taking a break from rye.  When I revisit it in a few weeks, I have a plan:

Step 1: Borrow bread book from my dad.  Indefinitely.  Follow a recipe until I better grasp how to work with rye flour.  Then improvise.

Step 2: Buy a small dutch oven.  I’ve already picked one out.

I don’t think I’m admitting defeat, but I do think I may need to be less stubborn.  It’s not about Bread vs. Elizabeth.  Well, not today.

Rye Bread 2 Elizabeth 0

Last night I made my classic mistake.  The one I’ve made, oh, say 8 times.  I don’t learn too quickly.  As I allow bread to rise, I usually keep it in the oven.  It’s the most draft-free place I can think of (it also keeps my cats out of things, and yes, they do enjoy bread).  There is the added benefit of keeping the oven slightly warm.  So I turn it on for a couple minutes while the bowl is in there.  But I often forget to turn it off.  I start doing other things and before I know it, there is the smell of melted plastic.  Saran wrap melting onto the bowl, into the dough.  It is a smell I know all too well.  Again and again and again I do this.

Last night’s stupidity was not treated gracefully or humorously.  It was met with a lot of profanity and self-flagellation.  And then I started my rye.  Again.

Glutton for Punishment

Yesterday I tried to make rye sourdough bread.  I didn’t find a recipe that I loved, so I sort of winged it. As a guide, I used my mother-in-law’s sourdough recipe, which yielded great results last time I used it.  When I followed it to a T.  I seem to remember reading that making rye bread includes a combination of wheat and rye flours, so I substituted white flour with half rye and half wheat.  Knowing that this would probably be a disaster, I at least had the sense to cut the recipe WAY down.  In fact, I quartered it.  Clearly I had no faith in my choice to abandon the script and improv.  I was right not to have faith.  Rye flour is very coarse, and even as I added it to my sponge, I knew I was weighing the dough down too much.  It rose.  And rose again.  But not much.  I put it in a loaf pan anyway.  And let it rise a little more.  I still had a tiny bit of hope that somehow it would miraculously rise enough to be edible.  It didn’t, and it wasn’t.  It was a brick.  I didn’t even cut into it.  Into the compost, do not pass go, do not collect $200.  Done.

So guess what’s rising as I write this?  Yes, another loaf of rye.  Again, I am adapting a recipe.  A no-knead bread recipe.  Instead white flour, I used a cup of rye and two of wheat.  Instead of rosemary and lemon zest, I added caraway seeds.  And I threw in a little more yeast than the recipe calls for.  I don’t have a lot of faith in this attempt either (I have already added rye bread to the grocery list), but I just have to try.

You see, I hate baking.  I do it all the time now, but I hate how precise I have to be in measuring things.  I can’t taste bread as I make it and adapt.  But I want to figure it out.  I have to find the middle ground between how I cook and how I think I have to bake.  A friend once told me that once you bake enough, you figure out how to adapt.  So I know it’s possible, and I know I’m impatient.  I also know that somewhere in a loaf of rye, I will find my answer.  And someday, I will enjoy baking.  Until then, I won’t give up.  Brick by brick, I will conquer this.

A New Life

I recently left my job, and I now have a LOT of time to cook.  I have eschewed the “Meals-in-30-Minutes” trends and embraced a long drawn-out affair with ingredients and knife work.  Dinner prep has turned into a glorious 2-3 hour affair.  Not everyone’s dream, I know.  But it’s mine, and I’m living it.  Chuck often rolls his eyes as I start preparations for an 8pm meal at 4:30.  While his eyes head skyward, I think I see him licking his lips.

I also have a decent garden space now, so much of what I cook later in the summer will truly be a labor of love.  Seeds to Supper.  I have already successfully grown a couple kinds of lettuce and spinach, but most of my crops won’t be ready for quite a while.  In the meantime, I have plenty of farmer’s markets and a generous, green-thumbed mother-in-law to keep me supplied.

I’ll try to keep up with blogging, but every minute I’m writing is a minute I’m not cooking or gardening, so we’ll see.


One of my stocking stuffers this past Christmas was a dumpling press.  I was skeptical.  But I recently gave it a try, and I made some beautiful dumplings.  I made a basic Asian filling with ground chicken, carrots, scallions, ginger, garlic.  The dumpling press was quite easy to use.  Just put a round wonton wrapper on the open press, add some filling, brush the edge with egg white and press!  I froze about 4 dozen in small batches.  I steam them and finish them off in a little sesame oil for some crunch on the outside.  A quick and delicious meal after  a tough day at work.  Beautiful.

Stock Photo

Sous Vide Part Deux

Just a quick follow up to my last post.  I did indeed cook chicken wings sous vide-style.  They were tasty, but the trouble is that if you want to utilize a bone as a vehicle for getting food from a plate to your mouth, using a cooking method that makes things literally fall-off-the-bone tender is probably not the best way to go.  Lesson learned.