Category Archives: supper time

Spring supper (or breakfast)–with asparagus

IT WAS NEARLY DINNER TIME and I had just decided what to have. Asparagus with baked or fried eggs, a few roasted potatoes and some buttered toast. That sounded about perfect, as I had just bought some nice asparagus the day before.

asparagus in jar

My daughter taught me you could put asparagus in a glass or jar with cold water and it would keep really well. And in the meantime, it looks good too.

Asparagus and eggs seems like a natural combination. Nutritionists go back and forth about whether eggs are good for you or not. But in any case, one egg won’t kill you. I remembered that I once wrote a blog post about this dish, so I looked it up. Yes, it’s funny that I had to consult my own blog — but when you think about it, it’s just like consulting all those little recipe cards I’ve kept over the years.

The original inspiration for the dish came from something I’d read that had baked eggs on top of steamed asparagus. I never did find the recipe I was looking for, (though I later saw a similar recipe for asparagus with eggs that was called “Asparagus Milanese.”) — but I ended up making a variation with roasted potatoes and asparagus.

Here’s how it went: I cut up a few Yukon Gold potatoes and half an onion, tossed them in a tablespoon or two of olive oil and some salt and pepper and put them on a cookie sheet in the oven (400 degrees) to roast……

After about 15 minutes or so (20?) I tossed some asparagus on top of the potatoes (I also drizzled a little oil over them, and sprinkled on some salt) and then, after those were mostly done — the timing so far doesn’t need to be really precise–I cracked open an egg and carefully let it sink over the asparagus (if I’d had the asparagus a little flatter, the egg might have looked even better.) The original recipe called for one egg for each person, by the way.  I just kept checking to see if the egg was as done as I like it, the yolk still a little runny (but not so much. It’s hard to order an egg like this in a cafe, by the way. You have to say “over medium — plus a little more). A guideline for the eggs is somewhere between 8 and 12 minutes.

In the last minute or so, I sprinkled on just a tiny bit of  grated cheese. Parmeggiano, Romano, pecorino or sharp cheddar — any of these would do.  Or skip it.

asparagus and eggs

In the original post,  I baked the eggs, but this time I didn’t feel like waiting and checking the oven so often, so I opted to simply fry them in the pan, while I melted a bit of Parmeggiano over the asparagus in the oven.

I had some nice bread to make toast with this tonight, but in my original post I was more ambitious and made biscuits. You might have noticed that I have a lot of posts about biscuits, but just in case you’d like that recipe again and don’t want to search for it, I’ll keep it here as well. Happy asparagus season to you all.

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Years ago I wrote about biscuits in an essay called “Still Living with a Biscuit State of Mind.”  (published in Christian Science Monitor). That essay still applies, except I now dispense with the two knives and just use my fingers to “cut,” or more precisely, rub the butter into the flour….

And here’s that biscuit recipe once again:

Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut in four pieces
  • 3/4 cup cold buttermilk

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and soda together in a bowl and cut or rub in the butter until it’s in little pieces. Stir in the buttermilk with a fork until the mixture comes together as a moist, but not sticky dough.

Turn onto a floured board and knead just a couple times (you never want to overwork a baking powder/soda dough). Roll out the dough about 3/4″ thick with a rolling pin (or a wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling pin), cut into biscuit shapes with a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour. You’ll have 10 to 12 biscuits or so. Any leftover dough can be just formed by hand into a little patty (or you can make them all this way).

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, or till they’re golden. The time will vary depending on the size of your biscuit cutter. Serve hot.

Tip: I like to roll out the dough, then fold it in half and roll again. This makes it so the biscuits break open neatly in the middle when you want to put on some butter, jam, honey, etc.

This is my favorite biscuit cutter, which I’ve had for about 100 years. Well, at least 25.

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Filed under baked goods, spring, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables

Spring is still soup season

THE OTHER DAY IT WAS SO BLUSTERY AND COLD that I decided soup was in order. A nice between-season soup is the leek-potato one, and you can add fresh parsley or other greens to it just before serving to give it a fresher spring flavor. I found that I’d written a blog about it years ago, and it sounded good enough to recycle. It reminded me to sweat those leeks (awful as it sounds)! And though I was lacking stock or broth of any kind, I just used water and it was still just fine. With some bread or popovers, and perhaps a salad — I’d call it a meal fit for the season.

Fresh leeks are a glorious, yet humble, sign of spring. A few years ago, when I was visiting Cathy in California, a neighbor brought over a big bagful of freshly picked leeks, and I set to work on some leek-potato soup.

Most of this work took place around the sink, as leeks like to hold on to dirt in their layers, so they demand a lot of cleaning.  Basically, you cut off the dark green leaves and the root-y bottoms, then run the rest (the white and light green parts) under running water, making sure you clean between the layers. (Alternatively, sometimes  you can find trimmed, cleaned leeks in your grocery store.)

If the leeks are very fat, slice them vertically before cutting your horizontal slices.

I had never been quite happy with the texture of leeks in the soup I’ve made previously, so this time I consulted Cathy’s cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen, and these experts supplied the ultimate tip: sweat the leeks.

It’s not the most attractive term, but basically it means that you saute the slices of leeks in some oil or butter (use your judgement for how much) and then put a lid on top for 15 minutes or so. The leeks continue to cook in their own moisture, and they will become meltingly soft and intense.

Now all you need to do is to add some vegetable or chicken broth, a bay leaf and perhaps some thyme, salt and pepper, and a few potatoes — red or white or Yukon gold — cleaned and cut into about 1/2-inch dice. You can leave the skins on if you like. Cook till the potatoes are soft, then smash some of them against the side of the pot to thicken the soup.

It’s nice left chunky like this, with pieces of potato and leek in your soup bowl, or you can blend some or all of it for a silkier texture. Some minced parsley or other greens, and a dusting of Parmesan, is good just before serving.

I found this advertisement in a store flier. Were the mushrooms leaking out of the strudel?

Do not confuse a leek with a leak. If in doubt, please contact me for proofreading advice.

 

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Filed under fall, Praise for other cooks, soup, spring, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

What’s for supper?

potpie2

“WHAT ARE YOU COOKING for supper, Toby?”

Many years ago, when my dad was in his late 80s and early 90s, at least once a week, he would call me about 5 p.m. and ask me that question.  It was a great way to start a conversation — even on days when I really had no idea what we would have for supper and could laugh with my father about my lack of a plan.

At 5 p.m. Pacific Time, it was already 7 p.m. in Chicago so my parents had eaten and the dishes were cleared, and I could find out what they’d had for supper.

Although I will always miss hearing my dad asking me that question, I’ve taken his cue and often ask my adult children that same question. There is a difference: while my father was not planning to replicate my recipes, both my children are great cooks, and often finding out what they’re making for supper gives me a good idea what to make.

Such was the case a couple nights ago, when Aviva told me she was making a pot pie with a biscuit topping. “Oh, that sounds delicious!” I said. “I’ve made that last winter — but I forgot all about it.”

After we hung up the phone, I went into the kitchen and scrounged around. Sure enough, I had all the ingredients for such a pie. Previously, Aviva had showed me about cooking the vegetables (in this case, a little onion, some celery, carrots, chopped potatoes and  sweet potatoes, peas, etc. etc.) and chicken if desired, in a cast iron skillet, then making a sauce with a flour-butter roux and putting the biscuit batter on top.

The beauty of this method was the one-skillet method — which I’ve written about in a former post (which also includes a puff-pastry topped pie and a delicious lentil-carrot soup which I intend to make again soon).

The next day, Aviva and I compared notes on our pot pies. She’d warned me that the sauce (gravy?) might get too thick, by the time the biscuits were baked — and mine was. Aviva said she’d overcompensated and made the sauce too thin. I think that next time, I will put the filling in a regular pie pan (which has less surface area) so the filling won’t get quite as much direct heat. Like life, cooking is a work in progress.

What are you making for supper?

p.s. (By the way, though you can use any type of biscuits atop your pot pie, I do like Mark Bittman’s recipe for a cobbler-style biscuit topping).

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Filed under baked goods, musings, Praise for other cooks, supper time, vegetables, winter

Small comforts

chicken-pie

I KNOW IT’S A CLICHÉ to write about “comfort food,” but the anxiety I’ve experienced  since the election has made comfort seem more necessary than ever. There is something calming about the normality of cooking, especially if you’re making something both comforting and nourishing.

Last week I made a mushroom-chicken pot pie topped with biscuits that fit the bill. Aviva showed me how to do this basically in one pot: saute onions and garlic with your choice of vegetables –some options: mushrooms, chopped potatoes or sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, cauliflower greens– in butter and/or oil in a cast iron skillet. Add a few tablespoons of flour and seasonings (salt, pepper, rosemary or thyme) and then add enough broth (chicken or vegetarian) to make a nice “gravy” for your pie. Add cooked chicken or leave it out for a vegetarian version. The sauce should be a little thinner than you want it as it’ll thicken in the oven. You can top with a biscuit dough, as I did here (Mark Bittman’s biscuit topping works well) or with a typical pie crust.

puff-pastry-pot-pie

Or, for the easiest method, do as I did recently and use puff pastry (buy it frozen and thaw it). Lay a circle of puff pastry over your filling, and cut a few slits for the steam to escape.

For any of these toppings, bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits or other crust is golden.

The pot pie is a little more ambitious than my usual comfort nourishment though. I gravitate toward the simplest form of cooking. Faithful readers of this blog (thank you!) know that I love SOUP, especially in fall and winter, when my go-to supper is soup and bread (or toast, popovers, cornbread, etc.).

Indeed I have a long family history with soup, one part of which I wrote about in my latest sketchbook:

soupspoon-jpg_0001

In just the last few weeks, I’ve run through a lot of my soup favorites: lentil with spinach and lemon, parsley-potato; chicken soup with matzo balls, red lentil soup; and of course, minestrone.

My latest soup creation is another lentil soup, this time with lots of carrots to brighten its color, and some seasoning to perk up the flavors. I adapted it from a recipe by British food writer Diane Henry for “Turkish carrots and lentils with herbs” in the book Plenty (no, not the Ottolenghi Plenty).

Henry’s recipe is more a side dish with fewer lentils and no real broth; I doubled the lentils and added more water for a soup-ier version. She suggests fresh mint, parsley or dill for the herbs — I chose to use cilantro (but I do want to try the mint version sometime.) Henry also adds 2 teaspoons of sugar, but I left it out; it didn’t seem to need it. The coriander seeds and red pepper, along with the lemon and herbs give it a bright and lively flavor.

carrot-lentil

This first serving was more stew-like; when I heated it up the next day, I added more water to make it more of a soup. Really good either way.

Carrot-lentil soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1/4 – 1/2 dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 6 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (or you can use tomato puree)
  • 4 or 5 cups vegetable stock or water
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped cilantro
  • lemon juice
  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute’ the onion until soft. Add garlic and spices and cook for two minutes. Then add everything else except the cilantro and lemon juice.
  2.  Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Add more water or broth as you like — it can be more of a lentil stew or a soup.
  3. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a glug of olive oil to the soup (I don’t but you might want to).
  4. Ladle into bowls, adding a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a good sprinkle of cilantro into each bowl.

I love Diane Henry’s concise description: “This shows just how delicious frugality can be.” And comforting too.

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, soup, supper time, vegetables, winter

August fixin’s

pasta and vegAUGUST REMINDS ME of my childhood: the sticky hot humid days in Chicago, barely relieved by the big swamp cooler in the basement. We had no air conditioning and my two sisters and I slept in an upstairs attic-type room, catching what little breeze we could from the open window and a fan. A thunderstorm was an evening’s entertainment:  From our screened-in back porch, we’d listen to the thunder, watch the streaks of lightning and smell the oncoming rain.

But best of all, August meant we would pack up the car (I always had a case full of books) and leave the city for a rented cabin in Ephraim, Wisconsin, or South Haven, Michigan, where we’d swim in Lake Michigan (Yes, we did that at home too, but here it was even better) and eat fresh peaches and blueberries, corn and tomatoes, trout and smoked whitefish, and bakery white rolls. And cherry pie.

Wherever you are, fresh produce is abundant this month, and dinner doesn’t have to be salad. On these lazy days, I love to center an August meal around corn on the cob. Or potato and green beans in a vinaigrette. Or cherry tomatoes, as in the photo above, roasted (or sauteed) with some garlic and oil and sprinkled with basil, to dress a pasta. With a side of green beans with lemon zest, and a simple salad with beets (dressed in another vinaigrette) and hazelnuts, it was a light but satisfying meal that didn’t take long at the stove.

blackberry cobbThis kitchen blog began in 2009 with Blackberry Cobbler No. 8, a recipe for the eighth version I had made of blackberry cobbler.

This week my daughter and I picked  blackberries (it’s been unusually hot here so it’s almost end-of-the-season) for a cobbler and decided that the No. 8  version is still hard to beat, with very tender biscuits with a touch of cornmeal. There’s not too much sugar in it, and a dollop of ice cream on the warm cobbler will suit it just fine.

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Filed under dessert, fruit, musings, summer, supper time, vegetables

Thanksgiving’s simpler sides

As usual this year, I am making cranberry chutney as well as a basic cranberry sauce with orange zest to take to the Thanksgiving feast. And green beans, perhaps with some toasted pecans or caramelized lemons (or both?). And rolls — not that anyone needs or even wants more carbs, but these are yet another Thanksgiving tradition (and there are so many).

Really, one day is not enough to appreciate all the side dishes of Thanksgiving tradition, and one doesn’t always have leftovers, so I decided to make a meal of some classic sides before Thanksgiving. When you’re just making a couple of dishes, of course it’s much simpler, and this meal was so good I may do another variation or two of side dishes after the big feast.

brussels

Roasted brussels sprouts were on my menu

I made a wild rice-brown rice pilaf with onions and mushrooms, topped with toasted pecans — the cranberry chutney on the side (I’d made extra) really perked up this dish. And I had just bought a bag of nice little brussels sprouts from the farmers’ market, so those were roasted, with a little pomegranate vinegar on top.

TdaysidesAnd of course, there were baked sweet potatoes.

Maybe it wasn’t the most beautiful or original supper plate we ever had, but it was very satisfying to give full attention to some of Thanksgiving’s less glamorous sidekicks!

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Filed under fall, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

Al fresco

zuccflowersIt’s well into August and the farmer’s market is bursting with pretty much everything. We finally got some rain here last week, which made the farmers really happy.

farmersmktEverything is fresh, beautiful and tasty!

newpotatoes

salmonsaladWith all these fresh selections, I’ve still been mostly in the salad mode, which has the great advantage of using little or no heat.

capresesaladI’ve  even had enough Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and basil from my own teeny garden to make a Caprese salad (with fresh mozzarella).

pizzaAnd occasionally I have turned on the stove or the oven, to make pasta with roasted or sauteed tomatoes and basil — or pizza with those same ingredients. (Mmmm, it had been such a long time since I had pizza.) And green salad alongside, of course.

springrollskin

Another great way to eat your salad is in a fresh spring roll — also called summer roll or salad roll.

springrollwrapI’d never made these before but it turns out to be pretty simple — just a lot of chopped salad ingredients (plus some thin Asian noodles — I used brown rice ones), some shrimp or chicken or tofu if you like, and the spring roll skins, which are briefly soaked in hot water, then rolled around the filling like a burrito. You can find instructions here and many other places on the Web, and adapt them as you see fit. And make or buy a nice sauce to dip them in.

alfruit dessertAlso,  all the marvelous fresh fruit this time of year makes it easier to eat a little lighter than usual. We’ve really been enjoying a simple dessert lately: a bowl of fruit with a nice dollop of maple-sweetened yogurt. Sitting outside on a warm evening with a slab of watermelon or a juicy fresh peach is appealing too.

bbbcakeBut I really couldn’t let August go by without baking at least one Blueberry Boy Bait! I made it when we had some company coming, and it was a fitting afternoon treat.

Freddie and Val sample the Blueberry Boy Bait

Freddie and Val sample the Blueberry Boy Bait

And what better way to enjoy it, as with so many of these meals and snacks,  than al fresco — the perfect summer way to dine!

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All-in-one supper

allinoneThe one-dish meal is usually a pot of soup or stew (and sometimes a salad) but another way I’ve found to do this is an all-in-one supper roasted in the oven on a cookie sheet. (The clean-up is super easy too if you line the cookie sheet with foil.)

Because asparagus is in season, I’ve been making this meal recently with roasted potatoes and onions, asparagus and fish.

Lately, Dover sole is the least expensive fish on offer at our favorite fish store, and I’ve found that it’s so quick and easy to cook it in the oven.

Simply rub a little oil on top of the filets, then season with salt and pepper and a scattering of herbs if you like (I used fresh thyme here; dill or chives or parsley would be fine too) and a squeeze of lemon juice. It takes only five minutes or so to cook the thin fillets.

doversoleandlemon

I like to top the fish with lemon slices, caramelized in a skillet with a little butter or oil. It’s an extra step, but worth it.

The only trick to this all-in-one meal is the timing. I heat the oven to 400 degrees, start with the potatoes (tossed with a slick of oil), and then (when they’re getting soft), add the onions (also with a bit of oil). About 20 minutes in, I’ll add the asparagus (yes, a little oil and salt) and finally (when everything is about 5 minutes away), the fish, which cooks very quickly. If you are making this meal for more than two people, you will likely need two cookie sheets.

The potatoes and asparagus are forgiving (a little extra time in the oven won’t hurt) but check the fish often, as you don’t want to overcook it! It won’t hurt to open the oven every minute or two. If the filets are very thin or small, they may even take less than five minutes. As soon as the flesh turns white and flakes apart when touched with a fork, it’s done.

soleandasparagusAnd so is supper. All you need is a plate and a fork.
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Filed under spring, supper time, vegetables

Summertime easy

saladbowl
It’s been more than a month since I’ve written here, and in the meantime, we took a 12-day road trip to Montana (central and eastern) and a bit of Wyoming. For those of you who have followed my blog, you’ll know this trip in the rural West presents a challenge for me in finding food that I like, especially fresh vegetables.

I’ve written about my road trip kitchen and motel cooking tips before here, and here — and salads I made by boiling water in the electric kettle to cook bulgur and washing lettuce and other vegetables in my salad spinner.

But this year, I was lazier — ahem, that is to say, more practical (smarter?)– and often bought those packages of pre-washed spinach or salad greens that I usually eschew at home. Let me just say –they are great for travel! — Of course, I had my bottle of olive oil, plenty of lemons (and my lemon reamer) and some salt, so I had all the ingredients for dressing any kind of salad.

Also, I was inspired by a nice new blue speckled enamel salad bowl I bought at Ray’s Sports & Western Wear in Harlowton, Montana.

broccolirabe

Amy of Terra Verde Farms clued me in about roasted broccoli rabe. Just toss with a little oil and salt, roast at 400 degrees till it’s as done as you like it.

Back home, I really haven’t had much energy for making dinner. So we continue with salads (lettuce and radishes from the farmers’ market) and corn or bread or a quesadilla. If I am more ambitious (not much) I might just make pasta with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil and a sprinkle of pecorino. Or it’s cool enough to turn on the oven, occasionally I make a delicious  little piece of sockeye salmon and rice. Or some roast vegetables.

Often I really can’t think of what we should eat for dinner (crackers and cheese?) but if I do decide to actually cook something, it must be simple. It’s summertime, after all.

beancornquinoaThe salad above is about the most complicated thing I’ve made in a month, and it was really pretty easy. Quinoa (I used red quinoa from Trader Joe’s) a can of black beans, corn kernels, green and red onions, halved cherry tomatoes (from the plants on my patio!), chopped cucumber, cilantro, a little chopped jalapeno, avocado pieces and a dressing with some oil and lots of lime juice, some lime zest and salt. You could vary this a number of ways, of course.

It made a good lunch today — but I don’t know what we’ll have for dinner.

It’s not that I’ve been avoiding the kitchen all the time. I made a jar of quick pickles using dill I had in the garden, and I bought basil from farmers’ market to make pesto.

picklesI made Blueberry Boy Bait for summer visitors. Lately, Steve and I have been picking lots of wild blackberries in the evenings, and I’ve made blackberry scones and blackberry crisp (in individual servings so we wouldn’t eat too much) and even blackberry focaccia —  but mostly I’ve been putting them into the freezer for the long winter ahead.

It’s summertime, I’m lazy, and the livin’ should be easy…

individualblackbcrisp

When it comes to dessert, few things are easier than a blackberry crisp. Add a tablespoon or two of sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice and a teaspoon of cornstarch to enough berries to fill two ramekins; top with a mixture of butter (you don’t need much), oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon (and chopped nuts if you wish.) Bake at 350 degrees till berries are bubbling and topping is crisp. Yum!

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Pleasures of summer

yograsp

Yogurt and granola with freshly picked raspberries

Here are just some of the delights I’ve been enjoying this first week or so of July.

Salmon with lemon slices

Salmon with lemon slices

 Copper River salmon with blackened (caramelized) lemon slices. It’s nice to use a cast iron skillet for this. First, saute one (or two) thinly sliced lemon(s) in a bit of butter or olive oil until soft and starting to blacken; next, sear the salmon filet, then finish cooking in the oven at 300 or 325 degrees until the salmon is tender and flakes easily.

beanandbroccoli

Beans and greens summer salad

The base is cooked or canned white beans. I used cannellini beans that I brined the night before and rinsed before cooking. (This is a great way to cook beans that I learned from Cook’s Illustrated.) Make a dressing of olive oil, plenty of fresh lemon juice (and some zest if you like), a little garlic and some salt. You can basically add any chopped vegetables and herbs you like: for this salad, I used chopped raw spinach, chopped broccoli rabe (cooked crisp-tender), chopped green onions, a little sweet yellow pepper and some minced parsley, mint and dill. A second variation omitted the spinach but had more broccoli rabe and some basil.

Pie cherries from the farmers market

Pie cherries from the farmers market

Pitting pie cherries

Pitting pie cherries

Cherry pie

Cherry pie

I only had enough cherries for a small pie — and I decided to make the top crust only. (We never missed the bottom crust or its calories. And I didn’t have to decide whether to pre-bake it or not.)

You’ll need some nice fresh pie cherries, which are not always easy to find — and some sugar and cornstarch or other thickener for the filling (How much? Epicurious has a good basic recipe and you can adjust it according to how big a pie you’re making, etc.) Also a little lemon juice and zest.

Some people like almond extract in a cherry pie, but I don’t care for almond extract anywhere, so of course it didn’t go in.

cherrypieone

Later, that same day

I didn’t hear any complaints.

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