Archive for the ‘Cookbook bits’ Category

Have I posted this already? I can’t remember.

Making sauce from scratch is one of the most satisfying things to do in the kitchen, and I can’t think of it without recalling teaching my cousin and his housemate how to do it for the first time (and the first time I learned how to do it, teaching myself and reading instructions printed off the internet). They were both so fascinated by the process, something that should be completely obvious but that none of us learn, and something that is so thoroughly based in getting your hands dirty: namely, up to the elbows in tomato guts, if you do it like me. The basic concept of making a true tomato sauce, from scratch, is to prepare the tomatoes like you were going to can them, but instead to put them in a pot and add fun vegetables. It is possible to make tomato sauce by just chopping a bunch of tomatoes and throwing them in a pot, or by opening a can and doing the same. But it’s much less fun.

Step one is to cut the stems out of the tomatoes. If you’re buying a grocery store tomato, not only will this not taste as good, but the stem won’t be there. But the flat hard bit at the top of the tomato is where the stem used to be, and it helps enormously to cut that out first. Then you want to boil water in the biggest pot you have, but be careful not to overfill it because you need room for the tomatoes. When the water boils, add them in and turn the heat down. Let them boil for about three minutes, then fish them out with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl.

I find it’s easiest to put my strainer in my biggest mixing bowl, and put the tomatoes in there. As they cool the water will drain out, and the bowl will be there all ready to catch the tomato juice. Cause after you finish boiling all the tomatoes, and they’re all sitting ready and cool enough to touch in your bowl (or strainer), you get to squeeze. If a tomato hasn’t been in the fridge, the skin will slide right off and you can discard it to compost. If it has (and also with some heirlooms, inexplicably) you might have a harder time of it. If there were any splits in the tomato that dried out, you might also have a hard time getting the skin off, and for that reason I keep a paring knife on hand to peel those bits. You should be left with a naked tomato.

And then comes the fun part. You get to squeeze even more. The aim is to get the juice in the bowl, not in your eye, or on the wall, or all over the counter, or on your friend’s shirt, though all of these except maybe your eye can be a lot of fun. But you want to get out a decent amount of the juice and seeds, because otherwise your sauce will be sitting there simmering forever and ever. You will be left with the actual flesh of the tomato, and you will be surprised, if you’ve never done this, with how little is actually left when you take out the water. You will also be left with delicious, pure tomato juice, which you can strain through a cloth (to get out the seeds) and use however you like. I make sure I save some to add to the sauce as it cooks if it dries out. Squeezing tomatoes is a messy process, but I find it extremely satisfying, like squeezing those little stress balls but much better because at the end you get tomato sauce. It is one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen.

After you finish squeezing, you can do whatever you like with the actual tomato you have left. You can throw it in a stir fry or chili, make tomato sauce, throw the tomato in Ziploc bags and freeze it, or can it, instructions for which will follow later. If you want to make a traditionalish spaghetti sauce, see below.

Vaguely Traditional Spaghetti Sauce
This is a fun one, because I have so addicted my mom to it that she repeatedly begs me for giant quantities of it over the summer, which she will eat almost daily, and she has now altered her own recipe to more closely reflect mine. My dad, on the other hand, refuses to eat it because it has too many vegetables. Go figure. I like to use a variety of tomatoes because they look prettier, with all the different colors, and I will never get over how beautiful a watermelon colored heirloom tomato looks on the inside.

Lots of tomatoes
More garlic than you think necessary, roughly chopped
Olive oil
Veggies of choice, typically onion and carrot; eggplant, zucchini and pepper will make it more like stew or ratatouille (but even better tasting)
Seasoning, pepper and salt, I primarily use chili powder, cumin, and oregano
Fresh basil, rosemary or thyme if you have it, or a bay leaf
At least one hot pepper
A pinch of sugar
Tomato paste (you can make your own by stewing tomatoes for absurd lengths of time, but this is a pain in the ass)

1. Follow the instructions above to prepare the tomatoes, save aside a little juice in case you need to add it back in
2. Sauté the garlic and onion on the bottom of a really big pot, in a little olive oil
3. Add the tomatoes, and most of the seasoning (but not any fresh herbs), allow to simmer until it thickens a little and most of the juice is rising to the top
4. Add the vegetables, simmer, stir regularly
5. When most of the juice is absorbed (if it gets too dry before the vegetables are cooked, keep adding liquid), add the rest of the seasoning and any fresh herbs, the hot pepper, the sugar, and the tomato paste. It should only simmer for maybe ten minutes after adding these ingredients. Then it should be ready to serve! If you have leftover, freeze it in Tupperware and eat it all winter.

I make chili almost exactly the same way I make tomato sauce, but with a lot fewer tomatoes, so the ingredients look like this:
A few tomatoes (peeled or not)
1 can each black beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans (I often double this)
Lots of garlic
Veggies (same as above)
About a cup of veggie stock, or some water
Plenty of seasoning, especially chili powder, cayenne pepper, and cumin
Hot peppers aplenty
A pinch of sugar
Tomato paste

The instructions are also basically the same, except to add the beans, drained, and the stock on step three with the tomatoes. You can also use dry beans, but you have to soak and cook them first, and I am usually too lazy, especially since Goya canned beans are so cheap.


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Spinach Lasagna
1 lb medium tofu (or 1 cup ricotta, though I’ve never tried it)
¼ c milk
oregano, basil, salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
several cloves garlic
2 cups spinach, chopped (or food processered)
4-6 cups spaghetti sauce
cooked lasagna noodles
2 cups cheese (parmesan or mozarella or both)

1. In a blender, blend first 5 ingredients until achieves consistency of cottage cheese. If mixture is too thick, add a little water. Stir in chopped spinach and set aside.
2. Cover bottom of lasagna pan with a thin layer of sauce, then a layer of noodles. Sprinkle half the tofu mixture and ½ cup of the cheese. Cover this with noodles and cover with sauce.
3. Add remaining filling, ½ cup of cheese, and a layer of sauce. Add one more layer of noodles and cover with remaining sauce. Top with remaining cheese.
4. Bake 30-45 minutes at 350˚F. Remove from oven and let set 10 minutes before serving.

Eggplant Parmesan
3 tbsp olive oil
garlic cloves, minced
1 13 oz can diced tomatoes
1 large eggplant, sliced thin
8 oz cheese of choice, grated (cheddar and mozzarella work well, or, I guess, parmesan)
extra cheese, to top

1. Heat oil in large frying pan. Shallow fry eggplant in oil in batches until brown, turning to avoid burning. Drain on paper towels. Add more oil if necessary.
2. Remove eggplant from pan. Add extra oil if necessary. Fry garlic for a minute, then add tomatoes and seasoning. Simmer 15 minutes.
3. While tomatoes simmer, layer eggplant in bottom of casserole dish. Cover with grated cheese. Add another layer of eggplant, alternating until all eggplant is used. Pour tomato sauce over layers, top with remaining cheese.
4. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
5. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until cheese is melted and forms crust on top.

Linguine Primavera
Veggies, such as zucchini, asparagus, peppers (things that cook fast)
Grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
About 1 lb pasta, such as linguine or fettuccine
1 cup raw cashews
Salt, pepper, onion powder
2 cups milk
Basil, parsley, other fun herbs
Cheese for topping (grated parmesan or mozarella)

1. Cook linguine in boiling water about 5 minutes, than add vegetables (not the tomatoes) for last five minutes. Drain.
2. Pulverize cashews and seasoning in blender. Add milk and blend until smooth and creamy.
3. Combine pasta, veggies, tomatoes, milk mixture, and herbs in large bowl. Top with cheese. Serve!

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Boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew. Bonus points if you name the quote.

We’re Polish and Irish by descent, so home cooking in our family is pretty heavy on the potatoes. Plus potatoes are cheap and just taste damn good. And it’s finally the time of year where we get them every week in our share!

Mashed Potatoes
milk and/or butter
optional: turnips and hard squashes (butternut or pumpkin)
cinnamon, nutmeg, and a dash of allspice

1. Roughly chop potatoes and other vegetables. Cut off skin of hard squashes, though this is sometimes easier to do if you boil them separately and scoop the flesh out before adding it in with the potatoes after they cook.
2. Boil until soft (about 20-30 minutes), drain water (easiest if you have a lid. Or one of these magical things they make to drain things without taking them out of the pot, it’s like a cross between a pot and a strainer).
3. Mash, adding milk to soften and seasoning. Best to go light on the seasoning, but that little dash adds just the right taste. If you’ve never mashed potatoes… people argue about technique. A potato masher usually does the trick, but you can use a big spoon. Some people use this weird thing called a ricer. Some people use a mixer (no idea). It’s up to you.

Fried Potatoes like Grandma used to make (sort of)
vegetable oil
1 recipe the Bean Stuff

1. Slice potatoes into rounds. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in bottom of frying pan over medium heat, just enough to coat, though you will have to add more if the bottom starts getting dry. Add potatoes in a single layer.
2. Fry in batches until browned, flipping to brown each side as necessary. The length of time depends on the heat of the oil and how impatient you are to eat. Potatoes will not brown if they are not touching the bottom of the pan, and depending on your stovetop, will brown first in the center of the pan rather than the edges.
3. Remove potatoes from pan and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Eat with ketchup, the Bean Stuff, or just as they are with a dash of Old Bay, chili powder, or salt.

Potato Pancakes
Mashed potatoes (this is a great use for leftovers)
Oil or butter

1. Heat some butter in the bottom of the pan. It doesn’t take much, and the pancakes will actually cook faster if the pan is mostly dry. Don’t cook them on higher than maybe medium unless you like them really burned.
2. Place scoops of mashed potato in the pan. It helps to push them down a little bit with a spatula to make them more pancake like. Cook until browned and then flip. Voila.

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A lot of the recipes in my cookbook call for “the bean stuff.” This is something I started making in college when I was eating everything out of cans, for lack of fridge storage. It is super easy and can be used to make any number of things, some of which you will find below, and others over the next few days. Learn to love it. Of course now I make it with dried beans that I have revitalized (ie cooked), tomatoes I canned myself, and corn that the HF froze over the summer, but you know, whatever, it’s still the same concept.

The Bean Stuff (the most versatile recipe in existence)
1 can corn (small)
1 can black beans (or kidney or chickpeas)
1 can diced tomatoes
veggies (if there are any left or frozen)

1. Combine ingredients in large pot, first draining out liquid from cans. Stir. Simmer until liquid reduces. If adding vegetables, wait 10-15 minutes before adding.
2. Serve over anything, particularly starches. Also stores well so can be made in enormous quantities and eaten for lunch for weeks (over baked potatoes, fried potatoes, pasta, bread, in tortillas, on chips, plain).

Stuffed Zucchini or Bell Peppers (for feeling fancy)
There is a certain zucchini called an 8 ball that is in fact a slightly larger version of a pool ball. They are great for stuffing and make really cute and vaguely fancy little dishes for special dinners.

4 or so zucchini, halved (can be doubled)
1 recipe the Bean Stuff
Olive oil

1. Blanch the zucchini in boiling water for about 3 minutes, until tender. Scoop out flesh and set aside. It is possible to chop this and add it to the Bean Stuff.
2. Cook rice and combine with Bean Stuff. Fill zucchini halves with the mixture. Top with grated cheese.
3. Coat the outside and a baking sheet or casserole with oil. Place halves inside and bake uncovered 30-40 minutes until zucchini skins begin to brown.
4. For bell peppers, use the same method except cut off the tops of the peppers and remove seeds. There is no need to blanch, as the baking will cook the pepper through.

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1. Olive oil is your best friend. Buy olive oil in huge quantities. When in doubt, stir-fry everything in olive oil. (Or butter. Oh, or bacon fat! I keep a jar on the kitchen counter where I dump the fat out from frying bacon, and I use this for cooking all the time. It’s delicious.)

2. If you run out of olive oil, use vegetable oil. It’s a little cheaper, and not quite as healthy (and doesn’t have that nice flavor) but works well enough to get the job done. Other types of oil add nice flavor, especially sesame for Asian-type dishes and canola for baking. And throwing some seasoning in a jar of vegetable or olive oil and leaving it sealed, on a windowsill, for a couple days does wonders.

3. Have the right knife for vegetable chopping. Large knife: large vegetables (potatoes, eggplants, zucchini). Smaller knife: small vegetables (garlic, de-veining peppers). Though oddly, to chop things really small, like onion, again go for the large knife.

4. Eat your veggies. Also, canned or frozen veggies have had most of the good stuff sucked out of them in the process, and usually have added salt or preservatives. So, fresh veggies, all the way.

5. Keep salads fresh by sprinkling with lemon juice.

6. Intensify sweetness in a dish (or in baking) with a pinch of salt. Cut the acid in savory dishes (especially with tomatoes) with a pinch of sugar.

7. Add salt to water to make it boil faster (my German friends tell me this is untrue, but I ignore them). Add olive oil if the pot looks like it might boil over (while cooking pasta). Add a pinch of sugar to tomato dishes to cut the acid, a dash of cinnamon to rice while it cooks for extra flavor, and a dash of crushed red pepper to almost anything to give it a kick.

8. Cakes and breads are done when a knife or fork comes clean. Always let them cool for at least 5-10 minutes before removing them from the pan, they will shrink away from the edges. Then run a knife around the edge and turn upside down very slowly and carefully to remove.

9. When debating whether to cover or uncover something: covering will keep the liquid in, uncovering will dry it out. So if you want something to absorb the liquid (like potatoes for soup or mashing, or sauces), cover. If you are frying potatoes, leave uncovered. Water boils faster if you cover it.

10. If cookies or other baked goods get stale, place in a plastic ziploc or other tightly sealable container with a piece of fresh bread. The cookies will absorb the moisture from the bread and rejuvenate.

11. Prevent onion tears by chilling the onion in the fridge first.

12. If carrots go limp, put them in a bowl of ice water, and they’ll suck the water up and recrisp.

13. Baking soda cleans EVERYTHING. Keep a large supply of baking soda on hand at all times. If a pot gets all black and nasty, sprinkle some baking soda on the black bits, and pour a little bit of vinegar over it. It’s like chemistry in grade school, it makes a lot of bubbles and noise and is all kinds of fun to watch. Allow this to sit for a few hours, and magically all the black shit will come off with some vigorous scrubbing. If there are weird smells coming from your drain, or the drain in the shower is all backed up for mysterious reasons, do the same thing. Put about a half teaspoon of baking soda down the drain, pour a quarter cup of vinegar on top, and put the stopper in the drain for a minute or two while it bubbles, then rinse it all down with hot water. Presto. You can also scrub your hands with baking soda if they smell like garlic or onion, get weird stains off plates and pans, and get sticky stuff off the countertops. Just add a little water to make a paste, and voila. This also apparently cures warts. Who knew?

14. Vinegar is also magical. There is a whole website devoted to it: http://www.vinegartips.com

15. Clean as you go. For serious, if you are waiting for water to boil or something to simmer, attack the prep dishes. It is so much more pleasant to be able to finish a meal and actually put the dishes in the sink because it’s not full of pans and spoons and pieces of the blender. And, mystery of mysteries, if you wipe up spills when they happen instead of two weeks later, they are so much easier to get off! Imagine!

16. You can use a lot of stuff over… especially oil. If you are ever frying anything in large quantities of oil (not recommended to do this frequently) you can strain the oil after it cools off and store it in a dark place and use it again. You can also make your own veggie broth by using the water leftover from blanching veggies, which is full of all the nutrients that until recently were in the veggies.

17. If things are consistently burning, you probably either need to a) turn the heat down or b) get a heavier bottomed pan. I kept burning jam and then realized it was just because my pan was too thin.

18. When cooking things that you would prefer to stay shaped as they cook (for example cookies, or falafel balls) it helps to put them in the fridge first. This helps them to maintain their shape when they are suddenly thrown in hot oil or a hot stove.

19. By the way, things brown faster when you put oil on them, including breads.

20. Do not leave plastic cooking utensils on the stove next to the heating element. Especially if you have a gas stove. I have melted at least two plastic spoons this way. Also, if you leave a metal spoon next to the flame, it will be hot when you pick it up! Surprise! You’d be amazed at how many times I have forgotten this fact.

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Basil- sweet, goes good in savory dishes with tomatoes.
Bay leaves- make fantastic cookies. More commonly found, sparingly, in spaghetti sauce. Have a sharp, sort of pine taste (bay laurel trees are evergreen).
Cilantro- an herb that upsets some people’s stomachs, but which is kind of sweet and sharp and great with curry and anything Indian. And falafel.
Coriander- actually the dried, crushed seed of cilantro, so imagine the same taste but stronger.
Crushed red pepper- to be used lightly, but in everything, even unexpected things like dessert, unless you don’t like spice.
Cumin- a slightly sweeter spice, that goes really well in Mexican and is a staple for any curry. Try adding a dash to spaghetti sauce for extra spice.
Dill- a mild herb that goes well with veggies that don’t have a strong taste, like cucumbers.
Fennel seed- expensive, but adds a unique flavor, especially to roasted veggies.
Garam masala- actually a seasoning mix, a little sweet, but great for Indian cooking.
Garlic powder- goes with everything, except sweet stuff, like cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. Add liberal amounts to everything you make.
Ginger- common in Asian-style recipes, and really good in small doses in curries or desserts.
Oregano- the most versatile herb, good in just about everything from spaghetti sauce to fajitas. Use liberally, and combine either with chili powder and cumin for Mexican, or basil and rosemary for Italian, or add a dash to curries.
Parsley- pretty useless dried, because it doesn’t taste like anything (though it will prevent pregnancies in very large doses), but the flat kind fresh is nice with Italian dishes. The curly kind they use as garnish also doesn’t taste like much.
Rosemary- a pine flavor that goes really well on foccacia, pizza, or in spaghetti sauce or in bread.
Sea salt- this is on the seasoning list because it is underutilized and yet makes almost anything taste amazing. It is well worth the $3-4 for a big can of sea salt. Put it on pizza, bread, popcorn, whatever.
Thyme- another evergreen, with a softer flavor than rosemary but stronger than oregano. Also very versatile.
Turmeric- a bright gold spice to be used sparingly with curry, adds kind of a sweet spice.

Pesto (the most common thing to do with an herb)
Mmm basil. Some people put pine nuts and other weird things in their pesto, but I’m a purist. Basil and garlic, baby.

Lots of basil- works better if you take the leaves off the stems
Lots of garlic, very roughly chopped
Olive oil
Opt- sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, cheese
1. Place basil and garlic in a food processor, with a little olive oil, and push the button. Devour.

The art of drying things
So, at some point you may want to dry herbs to eat later. How does one actually go about doing so? Well, there are a few options. The easiest one is to tie them up with twine and hang them somewhere, preferably somewhere dark and dry. Otherwise you end up with mold or the sun completely sucks out all the flavor. However I string up herbs from the knobs on my kitchen cabinets all the time and somehow haven’t had any problems, except once getting fruit flies in basil. No idea how that happened.
The other option is to use an oven. You have to watch this one, because herbs, if they get too dry, can catch on fire. Not kidding. Essentially you want to spread the herbs on a baking sheet and heat them on a relatively low setting on the oven, watching them very carefully and turning them occasionally. It can help to leave the oven door open to let some of the heat escape. You can also dry herbs by placing them in layers between paper towels and microwaving them in short bursts of no more than two minutes. The paper towels should rattle when the herbs are dry.
If you are collecting the herbs from an outdoor garden, think through the time when you collect them. You want them to be as dry as possible. After you have just watered the garden or after a rain is not the appropriate time. Early in the morning is usually pretty good. If there is dew, dry them with a paper towel first. The drier they are to start with, the less likely they are to develop mold, or go wilty. This can happen when drying herbs: they turn black and look kind of dried up, but secretly they have just wilted and are rotting. Don’t eat them.
You can also dry hot peppers of all sorts. You can either tie a string to the stem, if it’s still attached, or use a very sharp needle to run a thread through the green part at the top. NOT the pepper itself. If you put the thread through the actual pepper you are inviting rot. Stem only. Then you can make a big long strand and tie them up and they look all pretty. You can do the same with onions and garlic (just tie a string around the long part at the top) and remember: cool, dry place.

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Since I’ve been on about them so much…

We make almost everything in a single, giant frying pan, or sometimes a wok, which is basically a deep frying pan. You can make anything if your pan is big enough, even tomato sauce, though a pot is usually more convenient for preventing splashes.

The trick to cooking everything all in one is to think ahead. If you add the ingredients in the right order, everything will be cooked properly by the time you finish, and, if you’re quick, you can stagger chopping things up while the first ingredients are cooking. This is another one of those things that bends to personal preference. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to chop everything, and then add the ingredients one at a time, though since often there is only one cutting board this can get tricky. It also depends on how well you want things cooked and what you’re cooking them in. But this is a general rule of thumb:

1. Cook hard things first, ie potatoes of any kind, carrots, turnips, beets, cauliflower, or hard squashes. Most of these you can chop and cook in just enough water to cover them in the bottom of the pan. They only need to be cooked until you can get a fork into them, because they will cook the rest of the way during the actual stir frying. If you get the quantity of water right, most of it will burn off and you can set the veggies aside for when you are ready, otherwise, drain and set aside. You can also put them in a bowl covered with a little water and microwave very briefly. If you are using a lot of liquid in your cooking, you can sometimes cook most of these things through without precooking them, especially fingerling potatoes and carrots, but there is nothing so odd as a really good stir fry with weird bits of uncooked veggies in.

2. Once the pan is empty again, start with the garlic and onion, if you’re using one. Fry in a little oil until they become translucent. You can also add peppers at this point, which shouldn’t cook for longer than maybe three minutes. The idea here is to cook all the crispy things first so they retain their crisp.

3. If you’re adding tomatoes, those should go next, along with your spices. If not, add the spices and liquids with the rest of the veggies. If you are for some reason cooking tofu, it’s often best to add it before the main part of the veggies and definitely before the liquid (except soy sauce or teriyaki), so it has the opportunity to brown and soak up some spices. Often it’s easier to fry tofu separately and add it toward the end.

4. Next you can add any of the medium texture veggies- summer squash, eggplant, that sort of thing. You can also add the hard veggies back in at this point. Once these have cooked for a few minutes, you can add broccoli and some of the more tender things. Beans would also go in at this point, and any canned veggies which will be soft already.

5. Anything leafy goes in last. That includes bok choy, chard, kale, cabbage, anything of that nature, as well as what I think of as accessories, like water chestnuts or nuts. These hardly need to cook at all, since you are mostly just wilting them, and shouldn’t be added until the rest of the vegetables are cooked very nearly to completion.

6. At all stages, stir regularly, unless you are trying to caramelize or seriously brown something. If at any point things start sticking to the pan, add a little more liquid and turn the heat down. There’s seldom a reason to stir fry any higher than medium on most stove tops, unless you are really hungry and in a hurry, in which you really need to stir frequently to prevent burning. This is one of the most versatile and fast ways to cook large quantities of veggies, and once you get the method down, you can cook almost anything, with any combination of seasoning, to perfection.

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