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Archive for the ‘side dishes’ Category

I have a remarkable cadre of friends in Southwest France, mostly retired, who are truly living their best lives. They are constantly posting beautiful, luscious, envy inducing photos of meals they’re enjoying through this pandemic and it’s been enough to make me tear up a few times. Maybe one day we’ll be able to enter the country again. Maybe one day, I’ll see them again and share a lovely meal.

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Even before this pandemic began, I was a bean hoarder. You see, I’ve got a real thing for Rancho Gordo, those utterly delicious heirloom beans. They are fantastic and live up to all the hype. I’ve bought them in stores, I’ve ordered them online, I’ve received them as gifts. I even went to the home base in Napa, CA … and bought more beans. Back in October, I received an email that their Bean Club was open to new subscribers. This rarely happens. There’s a 5,000 person waiting list and somehow, I had the golden ticket. I’d passed on it once, years ago, and wasn’t going to let it happen again. On a whim, I quickly joined and a month later, a box with 6lbs of beautiful beans arrived in the mail. It was glorious. A few months later in the midst of a nationwide lockdown when everyone was clamoring for beans, and these beans in particular, my little whim seemed pretty damn smart.

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It seems I am incapable of cooking for one person. I try, I do, but this fact has become abundantly clear during this quarantine and I am overrun with leftovers. Browning bananas, pieces of half used vegetables, staling loaves of bread, and plastic deli containers of semi-identifiable ingredients are taking over my kitchen. I don’t like leftovers so I’ve taken on the challenge of turning them into something new. Last night’s pasta, beans and greens became today’s lunchtime soup. Dinner leftovers were chopped up, encased in pie dough and reinvented as lovely turnovers. Last week’s excess cinnamon rolls became the weekend’s bread pudding. It’s been working out pretty well. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. The other day I found a plastic wrapped chunk of cornbread, hidden behind an enormous bowl of oranges. Wonderful. Forgot about that. It was fine, but stale. I thought about making stuffing to go alongside a roast chicken but bread pudding has been on my mind. What if I turned this stale hunk into a strada, a savory pudding with whatever I could wrangle up in the fridge? I could use those little bits of whatnot tucked in plastic wrap and Ziploc baggies and make something delicious. This was how a cornbread pudding was born.

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Cooking in the time of corona and self-isolation is getting interesting. Hopefully you have what you need or more importantly, need to get by. I hope you’re digging into the depths of your freezers for long forgotten treasures and your pantries, finding those lost bags of beans and jars of things you bought a while back for something. I am unusually well stocked and have been diligently working my way through all my stuff and am doing pretty well. I’m taking on long, involved cooking projects because I have the time – sourdough (who isn’t??), fresh pasta, kimchi, lasagna, bagels. Why not? Perhaps you’re like me and made some curious choices on your last grocery trip. Case in point: I am perplexed as to why there is not one, but two, whole heads of cabbage in my refrigerator right now. One red, one green. Why? That is 50% more cabbage than I purchased in the 2019 calendar year. I suspect my instincts took over while shopping; cabbage is a good keeper and at least one was certainly a St. Patrick’s Day inspired purchase but why two? Regardless, I have a lot of cabbage taking up too much space for one person and it needs to go. Time to get creative.

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I came home from the Labor Day weekend with a big bag full of peppers, a gift from a friend with a large and productive garden. I was thrilled – homegrown produce is always welcome – but I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Her husband suggested salsa but I’d just come off a similar project and wasn’t all that interested in making more. I’d already made a delightfully cheesy hatch chile queso dip, but that only used five of the hatch chiles. There we so many more in the bag. So I did what I always do when I’m not sure how to proceed: I googled. “What to make with a lot of peppers” yielded the expected results with recipes for peperonata dominating. No surprise as it is essentially a pepper dish but I was surprised at the lack of variety in the recipes. Italian in origin, peperonata contains slowly stewed sweet peppers, onions, garlic and sometimes tomato, and it is absolutely delicious. But my peppers were mainly Mexican/Southwest in origin – anaheim, poblano, hatch, jalapeno as well as a mess of hungarian yellow. An idea formed. Would a spicy version work? I wasn’t sure but a southwest style peperonata was now in the works.

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I’ve been on a dumpling kick lately. A few weeks ago, I made out a bunch of Asian dumplings – pot stickers, won tons and the like – with various combinations of pork and shrimp fillings and homemade wrappers. Last week I made gnocchi, a frequent craving. In a few weeks I’ll make dozens and dozens of pierogis for my annual Polish Easter dinner. I’ve also made something simpler a few times to fill that dumpling gap – spätzle. Simple little noodle-type dumplings found in the cuisines of southern Germany and Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Alsace, Moselle and South Tyrol. They come together with basic ingredients – flour, eggs, milk, salt, pepper – and are quickly cooked in hot water. I usually have these ingredients on hand and they’ve become a frequent meal around here.

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Hey! So I’ve been cooking up a storm lately, but nothing really blog worthy. More so, just some old favorites, many that I’ve already posted. With Easter coming up, there are some good things in the archives for your holiday brunches and dinners so let’s recap today.

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When I started this exploration of the foods of recently maligned countries a few weeks ago, the only real familiarity I had with African foods were those from Ethiopia. When I first moved to Chicago, there were three Ethiopian restaurants within walking distance of my apartment. I’d go frequently on the weekends when they had a cheap and plentiful buffet and load up on all sorts of delicious things – the spongy sour bread that sops up all the delicious flavors, the deeply flavored, subtly spicy stews and the tender, flavorful greens. Oh man, those greens. Right off the bat, I knew I had to make those greens.

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To my great delight this little experiment of mine, the exploration of some recently disparaged countries, has been very warmly received. Thank you. Through our collective horror and disbelief, there’s an awful lot of us who want to fix things, to learn, to better understand. So it might be a small step, but let’s do that through some food. Today, continuing in the African direction, I’m taking a crack at a West African favorite – Jollof Rice.

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For the first time, in all my years of community gardening, my rosemary was popping this summer. Much to my surprise, it had grown into a large, vibrant bush. This had never happened before. Last year it flat out died on me in the middle of the summer and in other years it was small, stringy and unimpressive. I have no idea what I did differently this year. Maybe it liked that I went to France for most of the summer and left it alone. The good news is I can easily replicate that situation next year. Whatever happened, I was delighted to see it upon my return.

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