Fit for a King

I really love soup. Like, a lot. This is good for two reasons: I’m broke and it’s cold out. I just started a new temp-to-hire job (yay!) and I am immensely grateful to be working AND doing work I enjoy, but I had to take a significant pay cut to do it. This means I am watching every penny carefully. To save money I’ve been experimenting with soups that are more or less whatever’s in the fridge, watered down and heated up. Tonight, whatever’s in the fridge consisted of winter squash, mushrooms, leftover rice, leeks, onions, and pumpkin pasta. Surprisingly, it worked out pretty well.

I don’t remember the name of the squash, but it’s small (maybe 1-3 pounds) and it looks a lot like a pumpkin, but bumpier. The flesh is very very orange but tends to be a little green near the skin. It’s sweet and takes well to seasoning. That soup and some sauteed tofu with kale made for a nice warm dinner that protected me from the unseasonable chilliness we’ve had the last couple days.

A vague recipe follows…

Winter Squash Soup

Roast 1 medium or two small winter squash in a 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until soft. Before putting them in the oven stab the fruits a few times so they don’t explode. Let cool, cut in half, and scoop out the guts. The seeds are edible and delicious if you want to keep them.

Meanwhile, saute some onions and leeks in a stock pot. Add mushrooms (sliced, a cup or two per your preference) and turnips (peeled and sliced, about 4 small). Add a couple cups water, some leftover rice (optional), and the chunked-up squash guts. Bring to a boil, season, and let simmer for a while. (This was the part where I stopped to make the tofu and kale dish.) A minute or two before serving throw in some fresh pasta. If you’re using dried pasta give it 10 or so minutes. Serve!

This made significantly more soup than I was expecting so I will probably freeze a good portion of it. My favorite part about soup is that you don’t need to eat much to feel full. It’s cost-effective and awesome.

No-Knead Bread

In the morning, I have a habit of flipping through How to Cook Everything over breakfast. I’ll open to a random page and skim a few recipes, then move on with my day. A few weeks ago I did this and found the page for Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread. It sounded fascinating – bread you barely touch that comes out fancy and artisanal? Rock on! I finally got a chance to try it over the weekend, and I now believe this is one of the best things I’ve ever made. If I made this for a person I was trying to court he’d fall in love with me instantly. Kings would bow to me and presidents would give me medals.

I am convinced this bread ends wars.

I won’t post the recipe here for two reasons. One: mine came directly from a copyrighted book and I respect intellectual property rights. Two: it’s really easy to find online. I will, however, share the process.

 This was my first attempt at the dough. It was entirely too wet and I ended up pitching it. (Side note: too-wet whole wheat bread dough makes an incredibly convincing fake puke.)

 The second attempt, and the one that worked out. It’s wet and shaggy, per instructions, but not too wet. At this point, before the first (18-hour!) rise, I was not entirely convinced this would work.

 After a few hours it was obvious the yeast was behaving exactly as it was supposed to. Good yeast!

 And after the 18 hours had passed, the dough looked like the best and most delicious kind of swamp beast. Success! At this point the dough also had a lovely slightly sour flavor, which made me want to figure out no-knead sourdough bread.

 The loaf about to go into the oven. I used a small amount of oat bran during the last rising to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface, and also because oat bran is awesome and deserves to be in everything, more or less.

 Is this not one of the prettiest things you’ve ever seen? I had to let it sit for 30 minutes before I could cut it, during which time I nearly went mad with desire. The smell. You can’t imagine how good it smells.

 The delicious perfect chewy air-holey interior that takes oh so well to a smear of butter or a fried egg.

I may have to make more tonight.

Delicata Squash

A new kind of winter squash (what? winter? it’s still almost 90 degrees out!) showed up in my CSA box last week. They were out of spaghetti squash so instead I got delicata. This lovely little vine fruit is secretly a summer squash but is treated like its winter cousins. Having never seen a delicata before, I consulted my old friends Mark Bittmann and The Internet. Both advised me that roasting was the way to go, and so I did.

I wish I could show you pictures of the end result, but…there isn’t anything left. It came out so well I almost couldn’t help eating every last slice while they were still hot enough to burn my tongue. I hope to get more next week. (Secretly, I really hope for spaghetti squash. Why? So I can make spaghetti squash and meatballs, of course.)

Roasted Delicata Squash

(makes enough for, oh, let’s say 2 side dishes, or one me-sized snack)

2 squash, scrubbed clean and not peeled, about 1 pound each
olive oil
salt, pepper, other spices as per your inclination

Set the oven to 400. Prepare the squash in one of several ways:

  • Slice off the ends, then cut into 1/2″ thick rounds, removing the seeds with a knife, a spoon, or your fingers (this is what I did)
  • OR slice the whole thing longways, remove the seeds, and slice into half-moons
  • OR poke the skin a couple times with a knife and roast whole

(Keep the seeds if you want – clean off the guts and roast those suckers right along with the squash.)

Drizzle olive oil all over a rimmed cookie sheet. Lay the slices onto the sheet, flip once, and season. Cook for about 40 minutes or until everything is caramelized and lovely, flipping once halfway through. If you decided not to slice, cook it until you can poke the skin easily with a knife, rotating once or twice during the cooking process.

Try not to remove too many taste buds eating directly from the cookie sheet.

Challah

Image

I made challah today, following a recipe I’ve used several times before (here). It came out beautifully, but didn’t rise enough. I’ll have to figure something else out next time. For now, though, this will have to do.

My family is Jewish, and challah was everpresent at synagogue on Saturday mornings. Round challah with raisins was a special favorite for Rosh Hashanah, the new year. It lends itself well to sandwiches, or just being slathered in honey. But my favorite is French toast. I can’t wait to share this with my friends on Friday.

Making challah is fun and easy. It takes all day, but most of it is hands-off, and it’s worth it. Mixing and kneading takes up all of 15 minutes, and then the rest is 3 separate risings, during which you can do chores, cook the rest of your meal, or read. It would certainly be easier with a stand mixer, but until I get one…

Lemon chicken, skillet potatoes, squash fritters, zucchini bread

Happy Fourth/random Wednesday in July!

It’s very hot here. Hot and humid. So, without a doubt, it was the perfect day to keep the oven running for 6 hours straight. In my defense, the end results were pretty spectacular.

Late Monday night I marinated some chicken with lemons and some other stuff; this morning I baked it. I didn’t really follow a recipe but if you want to replicate this, have at.

Lemon Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes

1-1/2 lb chicken breast (or whatever meat/meat substitute floats your boat)

2 lemons

a couple tablespoons oil

2 cloves garlic (or more if you hate vampires)

salt and pepper

herbs and spices (I used parsley and tarragon)

one pint cherry tomatoes

Put the chicken in a baggie. Add the oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and spices. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the bag. Then throw the lemons in for extra flavor. Marinate for a couple hours or overnight or a day and a half (if you’re forgetful, like me).

Set the oven to 400. Pour the chicken and marinade into a large pan, add the cherry tomatoes. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until you’re reasonably certain the chicken won’t kill you (hits internal temps of 165 or above).

Image

I also made some skillet potatoes to go with it. Couple of new potatoes (red and white) supplemented with a sweet potato, sliced thin, lightly fried with garlic, salt, and pepper.

Later, it was time to use up all the squash and beets I’ve been getting the last few weeks. I grated it all up (that took over an hour) and started making things.

These are pretty damn good. If you have 20 minutes and some leftover zucchini, you can make them. Mine of course did not look as nice as the picture…

Image

…but if they taste mighty fine, it doesn’t matter.

Finally, I made three double-batches of zucchini bread. All in all today I used eight cups of shredded stuffs and still had about 2 cups leftover. I followed Mark Bittman’s basic recipe for a fruit/vegetable quick bread, from How to Cook Everything. (Seriously, guys, if you don’t have a copy of this book, you are doing it wrong.)

In half the batches, I swapped in applesauce for butter. In the other half, I swapped in yogurt. I’ve tried both. I can’t tell which I like better. But I’m definitely going to keep leaving the butter out. In the future I will also start cutting down on sugar (a cup per loaf? really?), probably by adding some vanilla.

Here’s the batch that came out prettiest:

Image

The loaf in the glass pan had a devil of a time coming out. Ultimately I lost quite a bit of the bottom…which somehow made its way into my mouth. Ooops.

I hear in this week’s share I can expect lots of pickling cucumbers. The farm offered up a recipe for fridge pickles, and I can’t wait to try them! I love pickles almost unnaturally, and it would be great to have a few jars in the fridge I can feel good about eating.

By the way, I have plenty of zucchini bread for anyone who wants it…

Let’s play a game!

Hey everyone, it’s time for a game I’m calling What Would Happen If?

What would happen if I marinated a couple pounds of chicken in the juice of two lemons (with the lemon halves, why not), some oil, two fresh garlic cloves, salt, pepper, parsley, and tarragon?

And what would happen if I baked all that up tomorrow with some roasted potatoes and yogurt-cucumber-tomato sauce?

We’ll find out soon! Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion of…

What Would Happen If?

What I Had for Lunch Today

I had the day off work today, so I decided to use the time cooking things that are sometimes too fancy for everyday meals.

First up: beet soup. I had a bunch from the last couple weeks’ CSA pickups, and it’s kind of dreary out today, so it seemed appropriate. I followed this recipe from Allrecipes. (Without the heavy cream.)

After roughly chopping an onion, I threw in some fresh, uncured garlic that came from the farm. Check this out!

garlic

The cloves have a lovely pinkish skin that peels off as easy as a jacket. They don’t smell very strong. It’s not really what I imagined. A couple of times I’ve driven through Gilroy, California, widely known as the only place in the world you can season a steak by hanging it outside. This definitely doesn’t smell like Gilroy on a summer afternoon.

Image

Next I peeled and chopped the beets (and also clogged the garbage disposal, but luckily all it needed was a good plunging). The recipe called for 6 medium beets but I used 8, because 4 were small and 4 were large. I like that the different sizes are different varieties. They look so nice piled up like that.

Image

Anyway after a million years (approximately) of simmering I got to pull out the stick blender my boyfriend gave me for my birthday (is he not the best? He totally is.) and I made a nice chunky puree. I could have gone smoother but I liked the texture as it was. Also I was *really hungry.*

Image

The end result was buttery and sweet, strongly reminiscent of sweet corn. Next time I need to add something to sharpen the flavor. More black pepper, maybe. I had some with a chicken and squash stir fry over brown rice, and two hours later I’m still pretty full. I’d consider that a win.

Later, I’m going to make calzones with chicken, ricotta, and more of that damn Swiss chard, as well as basil from the CSA. The dough will be from scratch, of course. I just need to get up the energy for it. Lunch was a four-burner event.