Each spring, when the first local asparagus arrives in the farmers markets, I go a little bit overboard. Those fat, green-verging-on-purple stalks mean that the season of abundance has finally arrived. I binge on asparagus, buying several pounds at a time without any kind of a plan, a little bit fearful that it will disappear before I have my fill. MORE
When I was eleven years old, my family moved to a house that had once been owned by a botanist. She left behind antique apple trees, a row of lilac bushes and a rhubarb patch the size of a queen bed. Every April, the rhubarb would start to unfurl from the soil and I knew that spring was really and truly on its way.
I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about peas. For most of the year, they are an ever-present vegetable that lives in the freezer. I regularly add a handful to soups and salads (rinse them under warm water to quickly defrost them) and appreciate them for how little they demand of me. However, when spring arrives and peas are in season, I feel it necessary to celebrate the joy that is the green pea. MORE
My maternal grandmother (Tutu) was not much of a cook. A perpetual dieter, she was far more interested in what she wasn’t eating than what she was. However, as a woman raising children in the 1950s, it wasn’t possible that she escape the kitchen entirely and so learned to make a few things to fill the gaps when the maid or my grandfather were unavailable.
Oddly, her specialties involved either beef (broiled steak, hamburger patties, and pot roast) or rolled oats (hot oatmeal and oatmeal cookies, mostly). When she made meatloaf, she would bring her two favorite ingredients together, relying on the oats to act as a binder. Beaten eggs and generous amounts of onion salt rounded out that recipe.
When I was old enough to pay attention, she took me into the kitchen and taught me her secret for making creamy oatmeal. You always start the oats in cold water and you heat them very slowly. That way, you give them the chance to soften and release their starch. As we stirred the quietly simmering oats, she’d say, “Cook them like that and you don’t even need butter!”
With March 17th just around the corner, it’s time to start planning the St. Patrick’s Day menu. Tradition states that one eats corned beef, boiled potatoes and steamed cabbage on this greenest of holidays and most years, my household has followed suit. It’s a meal towards which I look forward each year, as I’ve found that there’s really no way to go wrong with tender beef and soft, floury potatoes (particularly when they’re served with a dab of grainy mustard).
It’s not until you get to the cabbage that I find myself balking in the face of tradition. I don’t think it does it justice to the cabbage to boil or steam it into submission. The end result develops a palid, near-grey complexion and ends up tasting horribly bland and watery. There are better, more delicious ways to tackle cabbage and make it fit into the framework of your St. Paddy’s celebration.
Much like with birthday cakes, skillet suppers and onion soup, home cooks have been led to believe that cornbread is so hard to make that one should employ a boxed mix instead of doing it from scratch. Truly though, to do it entirely from raw ingredients takes no more than 30 minutes from start to finish (and that includes the baking time).
Homemade cornbread is a highly versatile thing to have in your culinary repertory. A basic loaf baked in a square pan makes a meal of soup and salad fit for a cozy dinner party. When you’re planning brunch for a crowd, brown a few strips of diced bacon, stir those crumbles into a batch of prepared cornbread batter and bake the bread right in the same skillet. It makes the most delicious accompaniment to eggs. MORE
Red lentils are one of my staple legumes. They are wonderfully cheap, cook quickly, and look so darn pretty in a jar on the shelf. When I know I have a busy week ahead of me, I will often cook a few cups to keep in the fridge. I puree them into dips, use them to add bulk to lunchtime salads, or slip them to blended soups that I know could use some extra substance and thickening.
Pre-cooking lentils takes absolutely no time at all. I typically do it while I’m cleaning up from dinner, knowing that they’ll be done long before I do my final counter-wipe. Here’s how I do it.
I am the daughter of a devoted sports fan. My father follows most major flavors of professional athleticism (he is lukewarm about hockey). He is devoted to college sports, regularly attends triple A games, and even stays up-to-date with football scores from the high school my sister and I attended.
And so, though I don’t care a whit what happens in the world of football, basketball, or baseball, I pay a tiny bit of attention for my dad. I make a point of reading to just enough each fall to be able to talk about the World Series with him. I listen to his thoughts about the Oregon State Beavers and the University of Oregon Ducks. And come Super Bowl time, I provide the game day snacks. MORE
Wasted food is one of the unfortunate facts of our modern lives (a recent study says that we toss between 30% and 50% of all food produced). We overbuy, we eat out on nights when we had planned to cook, and we let leftovers wither away into slimy puddles in the back of the fridge. For our planet to survive and thrive, we need to curb this waste.
While there are grand, systemic changes that need to occur to truly rectify this issue, there’s also a lot that we can do at home to reduce the amount of food that ends up in landfills. To my mind, the most important thing to do is to start seeing our aging and leftover food from a transformational perspective.
Leftovers from dinner can be scrambled into eggs for breakfast. The last bits of cheese can be blended into a pleasing spread the French call fromage fort. And then there’s stale bread. From use as a soup thickener, to bread puddings and panades to breadcrumbs, it can do almost anything. MORE
When I was first out of college, I spent exactly $.85 on breakfast each morning. On my way to work, I’d stop at the food truck parked outside the front door of the building and order a small coffee with cream and a soft pretzel. I’d hand over a short stack of quarters and dimes and get a brown paper sack with my order tucked neatly inside.
By the time I got to my desk, the pretzel would be slightly warm from the coffee and ready to shed large grains of salt all over my keyboard. I loved the ritual of starting my day that way.
Pretzels, whether hard or soft, have long been a staple in my life. When I was young, skinny pretzel sticks were the first solid food my sister and I would be allowed to have after a bought of stomach flu. Throughout high school, I bought those terrible, long-frozen-and-defrosted Super Pretzels from the cafeteria as an afterschool snack. And during college, my roommates and I would devour large bags of crunchy mini-twists during our study sessions, thinking them a healthier snack than the potato chips we truly craved. MORE
During my childhood, my parents always gave homemade gifts to their friends, co-workers, and employees during the holiday season. My dad would stir up industrial-sized batches of his super-secret pancake mix, package it in zip top bags, and pair it with jars of my mom’s blueberry jam.
In exchange, we’d receive plates of chewy homemade toffees, tins of dense, sugar-dusted pfeffernusse and giant bags of long-roasted Chex Mix. (I loved the nearly burnt bits most of all.)
Since becoming an adult, I’ve spent years searching out my signature holiday treat, so that I could have a thing that my friends and neighbors would look forward to each December. I’ve tried tiny frosted sugar cookies (too much work), dark chocolate toffees (delicious, but I could not abide the endless wrapping), and pumpkin seed brittle (good, but not everyone likes grassy flavor of pumpkin seeds). MORE
When it comes to Thanksgiving menu items, my family is the type that prefers tradition to experimentation. Throughout my childhood years, we ate nearly the same meal. A turkey, prepared and stuffed with seasoned bread cubes from Pepperidge Farms. Mashed russet potatoes with butter. Hubbard squash, steamed, drained of extra liquid and creamed with butter, salt, and freshly grated ginger. Briefly blanched green beans, dressed with more butter and toasted almond shards. Canned cranberry sauce. And two pies (apple and pumpkin) with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
It’s a fairly traditional spread, with just one glaring omission. There are no sweet potatoes to be found. My mom, unimpressed with the classic casserole constructed of canned potatoes, brown sugar and marshmallows she had been forced to eat as a child, banned orange tubers from her holiday table. MORE
So many of my foundational food lessons came from family members. My grandma Bunny taught me about meringues, while my other grandmother showed me how to shove slivers of garlic into roast beef to enhance the flavor. My mom is responsible for my everyday food knowledge (along with my basic canning skills) and my dad shared everything he knew about fried eggs, pancakes, waffles and the art of the chocolate chip cookie.
I wish I could tell you that I learned to make béchamel and cheese sauces from an aunt or a kindly neighbor, but sadly, the truth is that all the credit for that particular skillset goes to Rachael Ray, circa 2002. MORE
My mom grew up in the fifties and sixties, in one of those idyllic suburban neighborhoods where kids walked to school unsupervised and played outside in the afternoons until the streetlights came on.
There was no better day of the year in her community than October 31. The streets would fill with miniature hobos, ghosts and witches, all clutching brown paper shopping bags to hold their treats, warm winter coats concealing most of their costumes.
These were the days before candy companies got wise and started producing snack and “fun” sized candy bars and long before homemade treats were deemed dangerous. This meant that my mom’s grocery sack ended up filled with full-sized Snickers and Chunky bars, freshly baked gingerbread men from Mrs. Rath and Mr. Brown’s famous popcorn balls. MORE
From the time I was young, I’ve had an instinct to tuck bits of food away for later. During my pre-school years, my mother would regularly find a crumbly handful of cheddar goldfish tucked into my sock drawer or a half-eaten banana in among my Golden Books. In high school, I always had a granola bar in my backpack, just in case hunger struck during after-school play rehearsal. In college, friends knew to knock on my dorm room door when they got peckish during late-night study sessions.
As an adult, I’ve channeled this instinct into the maintenance of a well-stock home pantry. There’s something I find deeply comforting about knowing that at any given moment, I can put my hands on two or three pounds of dried pasta, canned tuna fish, jars of tomatoes, brown rice, oats and half a dozen different kinds of beans. MORE