Still looking for a last minute holiday gift? Check out my friend Audrey’s brand-new blog: Edible Internet. She tracks down the best food finds online, and her first post focuses on holiday gift ideas. I am coveting the digital recipe reader from Neiman Marcus, and all of the Jacques Torres goodies look pretty darn appealing too.
The Final Menu
We had a lovely small Thanksgiving yesterday. I think I have a bit of a food hangover. Three glasses of cava early in the meal probably didn’t help.
Overall I was really pleased with how all of the “new to me” dishes turned out. This is what we ate (and will be eating for the next few days):
Nigella Reminds Us You Don’t Need to Be an Expert to Cook
Thanks to The Food Section I ran across this interesting Eater.com interview with Nigella Lawson, the buxom British cookbook writer and television host. I’ve been a fan of Nigella since I first bought How to Be a Domestic Goddess many years ago. I think she’s a terrific writer – her voice is so clear and distinctive. I can hear her talking as I read her words. Like her, I am a big proponent of getting people into the kitchen, and I’m also of the loosey-goosey, tailor-it-to-your-tastes school of cooking.
This was a somewhat serious interview about food, cooking, and class, and while I didn’t agree with everything Nigella said, I did find it thought-provoking. A few of the most interesting bits:
“There is something disenfranchising in making people feel they need a qualification or a great level of expertise before they are allowed in the kitchen.”
“In the Victorian age the peasants just ate local and in season and the aristocracy spent fortunes building greenhouses and growing pineapples. It was a class issue. It was about the elite. Now suddenly because of supermarkets and air travel, the masses — if you want to talk in class terms — can get out of season produce. So what do the elite do? They say If it is not seasonal, if it is not local, it isn’t good.”
“For me cooking is an act of independence. I don’t feel entirely comfortable handing over the means of sustenance and survival to someone else. It’s empowering.”
Click here to read the whole interview.
My Thanksgiving Mission
Show me someone who loves to cook and I’ll show you someone who loves Thanksgiving. (Right? Tell me if you are an exception.) For people who feel happily at home in the kitchen, there is nothing like having a whole day dedicated to food. The once-a-year opportunity to plan, execute, and, of course, eat this amazing meal is reason enough to celebrate.
And I haven’t made Thanksgiving dinner in three years! Last year Dave and I were in Paris.
Zucchini Bread Season
This is the time of year when I get out the mixing bowls, turn on the oven and make batch after batch of zucchini bread. We eat the tender, cinnamon-sweet loaves for breakfast on the weekends, or I freeze them or give them away. Sometimes I bake the batter in muffin tins, but most often in small loaf pans.
The zucchini bread was one of my mom’s specialties when I was a kid, and I’ve probably made it every late summer since college. In the last few years I’ve tweaked the recipe, cutting back on the sugar and oil, and substituting whole wheat flour for part of the white flour. But after an earlier batch this summer I realized that I’d gone too far. The bread was too heavy. So I added back in the oil and found a perfect balance I think.
Recently I also remembered another zucchini bread my mom used to make – a savory, white bread. She’d lost the recipe over the years, and finally this summer I tried to make something similar. I used a Joy of Cooking recipe as a jumping off point, and turned my loaf into a flavorful, Parmesan-flecked bread. It’s crunchy on top and tender in the middle, perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. (I think it would be especially yummy with tomato soup.) New York Family Magazine posted the recipe on its site on a round-up of brunch recipes.
Here is the well-tuned recipe for the sweeter bread.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini (use the large holes on a box grater)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease the loaf pan(s) or muffin tin with a bit of canola oil.
2. In a large bowl whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
3. In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs, canola oil, sugar, and vanilla.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until almost incorporated. Add the zucchini and mix until the ingredients are just combined. Do not overmix or the bread will be tough.
5. Transfer the dough to the baking pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean or with just a few crumbs clinging to it. Begin checking the muffins at 25 minutes, the small loaves at 40 minutes, and the large loaf at 50 minutes.
6. Cool in the pan(s) for five minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.
Yield: 12 muffins, 1 large loaf, or 3 small loaves
I am usually the type of cook (and the type of person) who welcomes the change of seasons. I relish returning to crisp apples and creamy butternut squash after a long hot summer and, of course, the first strawberries of summer raise my spirits sky high.
But this summer I find myself holding on for dear life. I cannot get enough of the tomatoes, peaches, and corn, not to mention the plums, golden summer squash, and tender baby potatoes. A little olive oil, basil, and salt make nearly everything taste divine. And, aside from the food, I love the sunshine. I love not wearing socks. And even when it’s too darn hot I think ahead to the cold February alternative, and I’m happy.
Sadly, my desire to keep summer here is having little effect (surprise!). Strawberries are already long gone. A sign at the farmer’s market on Saturday warned that it was likely the last week for blueberries. We’ll be able to enjoy tomatoes, sweet corn, and peaches for a few more weeks, and then it will be onward to apples, pears, and Brussels sprouts. C’est la vie.
Maybe my reluctance to welcome fall this year has to do with the fact that we had a particularly cold winter last year. Maybe it’s because my daughter is starting pre-school and the change of seasons are magnified when there’s a growing girl in the house and everything seems a little bittersweet. Or maybe I just need to move to LA where the seasons can pass unnoticed.
Whatever the reason, I am cooking like crazy these days — in that easy breezy style that only summer allows — and with an eye toward winter. Saturday I whipped up some tomato salsa in the food processor and froze half of it in small containers to be defrosted for tacos and rice and beans. And, on the not easy breezy front, I made a large batch of killer ratatouille from Francis Lam’s recipe on Salon.com. This weekend I will make zucchini bread and tomato chutney, both destined for the freezer. If I can’t stop winter from coming, at least I’ll still be able to taste some summer sunshine come January.
If you’re looking for simple recipes that make the most of summer’s bounty, check out these recipes for chilled soups that I developed for iVillage. My favorite is the ginger-beet, although they’re all pretty good if I do say so myself. The green gazpacho, in particular, freezes well and would be a welcome reminder of summer this winter.
What’s on the menu for Father’s Day?
I love cooking for Father’s Day (or any holiday really). It gives me an excuse to pull out at least some of the stops and make a special meal. Luckily for me, my husband likes almost everything so I have a lot of options when I want to make something I know he’ll love.
In past years I’ve gone the traditional route and cooked big, brawny steaks. While that’s usually a hit, this year we overdosed a bit on steak as I was developing five new steak recipes for iVillage. Our overdose is to your benefit, though. Any of these recipes would be great for Father’s Day (or any day). My favorites are the hoisin steak wraps, the strip steaks with tomato salsa, and the steak and arugula salad.
Still, we’ve eaten enough steak over the past few weeks as I tweaked those recipes. So, this year I’m going to prepare a traditional seafood paella for Father’s Day. Thanks to my friend Sarah at paellapans.com I have a real paella pan to use!
And while it’s hard for me not to make a fruit dessert in summer, I’m going to bake the chocolate hazelnut cake from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. The cake consists of ground-up hazelnuts, bittersweet chocolate and an entire jar of Nutella, one of my husband’s favorite things. Whenever we have it in the house I catch him standing at the pantry with the jar and a spoon in his hand.
Photos to come after the big meal tomorrow, and I’d love to hear about your Father’s Day celebrations too.
Spring Stinks (the fruit, that is)
Fruit, even more so than vegetables, I try to eat seasonally and locally as much as possible for one simple reason: it tastes so much better.
Since we are a family that likes fruit, each spring I face a similar conundrum. Long before March, apples and pears have become mealy and tasteless. The height of winter citrus season is over, and strawberries won’t grace my local farmer’s market until June bringing with them the promise of a summer full of berries and stone fruit… that leads to fall’s bounty of apples and pears. But for now – March, April, and May – I’m stuck.
So this time of year I tend to fall back on a couple of strategies that aren’t perfect. First off, we eat more dried fruit, which I love, especially dates, figs, cherries, and apricots.
Secondly, I spring for the imports: grapes, kiwi, mango, and pineapple. They’re bright-tasting and keep color on my daughter’s plate. I know there are many reasons not to eat fruit from abroad, food miles being chief among them, but as I said my solutions aren’t perfect.
This year, I’ve added a third arrow to my quiver: frozen fruit, which has the benefit of being picked and frozen at the height of ripeness, so at least it tastes pretty good. And while nothing will taste as sublime as a local, summer strawberry, in the fruit doldrums of spring a frozen one isn’t half-bad.
Who influenced you in the kitchen? Growing up, my mother made our kitchen warm and accessible. She never discouraged me from trying a new recipe or baking, provided I cleaned up afterwards, of course. My friend, writer Dina Cheney, inspired me to go to culinary school. Her infectious enthusiasm for cooking and her ability to cook without recipes made me excited to learn as much about food as I could. My husband influenced me too. His desire for good, home-cooked food most nights led me to develop a similar palate.
I recently wrote about one of my biggest influences in the kitchen, my mother-in-law, Iolanda. Born and raised in Italy Iolanda is an exceptional cook. From her I learned how satisfying cooking for your family can be, as well as numerous helpful tricks and new flavor combinations. In this piece on iVillage I remember the days when we first met and I really couldn’t cook at all. I was so intimidated by her culinary abilities and almost afraid to help for fear she would see just how inexperienced I was.
Click here to read the story.
Today when I visit her, I am usually perched by her side in the kitchen with my notebook in hand, helping out here and there but mostly watching and recording her every move.
When I cook my trash can fills up quickly. I try to buy fruits and vegetables that don’t come wrapped in plastic, but it’s not always possible. And, of course it’s difficult to avoid Styrofoam and cellophane wrapped meat and chicken. Cans, boxes that once contained broth, milk cartons, and mustard jars all go into the recycling bin. But still, when I think about food packaging my knee-jerk reaction is less – and preferably none – is better.
So I was surprised to read a defense of food packaging in the New York Times Freakonomics blog today: “In addition to protecting food from its microbial surroundings, packaging significantly prolongs shelf life, which in turn improves the chances of the food actually being eaten.”
And that’s where things take an even more interesting turn:
“[W]hen it comes to saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our behavior in the kitchen far outweighs the environmental impact of whatever packaging happens to surround the product. Consumers toss out vastly more pounds of food than we do packaging—about six times as much. One study estimates that U.S. consumers throw out about half the food they buy. In Great Britain, the Waste and Resource Action Programme (funny enough, WRAP) claims that the energy saved from not wasting food at home would be the equivalent of removing ‘1 out of every 5 cars off the road.’”
That’s pretty powerful stuff (even if the stats are somewhat exaggerated, as some comments claimed). I work hard not to waste food, saving even dribs and drabs of various dishes to incorporate into other dishes – a half-cup of sautéed spinach to put on a pizza, three sundried tomatoes to chop up for a frittata, the ends of onions for chicken stock. There is nothing more satisfying than cleaning out the fridge, making good use of forlorn leftovers. It makes me feel thrifty – an underrated, and in my life, rarely felt, quality.
But even though I’m wasting less food in the kitchen, I know I can do better. Fresh herbs are one of the trickiest foods to make good use of since the bunches are usually larger than I require. When I have extra basil, mint, or parsley I’ll make a batch of pesto to freeze. But, rosemary, thyme, and sage? Hm, I’m still thinking about that.