Archive for May, 2010

Chickpea skillet bread

I don’t know how I missed it, but when I was visiting the south of France, I never once encountered socca. Just another reason (as if I really needed one) to go back.

In the meanwhile, I’ll content myself with this chickpea skillet bread, easily put together right in my own kitchen at a moment’s notice — anytime I’m feeling the pressing need to get the heck out of the desert.

And even though my home-wrought bread is a meager substitute for the authentic experience, it will at the very least exhaust me of my chickpea flour supply (why did I buy it again? Probably for the same reason I secured that giant bag of cardamom I still need to find uses for. Surely in some untapped [by me] culinary universe I could tackle both ingredients at once. Perhaps a cardamom-scented dal to smear on the flatbread is in order?)

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Improv night: Broccoli penne with lentils

Welcome to Improv Night, when I feature a thrown-together meal from my kitchen.

Here’s the thing: As much as I love my cookbooks, and my dog-eared food magazine collection, and the wide, wide world of worldly recipes on the web, sometimes dinner is less about following someone else’s very specific instructions and more about catering to my of-the-moment whims.

Allow me to continue: Sometimes dinner is about that fresh bundle of asparagus that looked too promising to resist, or about those languishing greens or leftover salmon. Put together with some grains or legumes from the pantry, whatever herbs or spices beg to be used, and we’re one fed and happy family. No recipe required, just a little hard-won experience and well-practiced intuition.

It’s not the timid way I used to do things, back when separate ingredients like flour and baking soda were suspect time-suckers, when I thought making muffins from a mix was the modern way to do things.

These days I care less about modernity and more about scratch cooking (and aren’t we glad that cooking is the new take-out, anyway?).  Now when I use a recipe it’s because I want to learn a new technique, or get a feel for an unusual ingredient. More often than not, I’ll take a recipe as a suggestion rather than as a set-in-stone way to prepare a dish.

The keys to improv dinners are a well-stocked pantry and freezer, a few fresh herbs, a well-honed trick or two, and a willingness to experiment.

This time there was a waiting head of organic broccoli from my produce basket and a Tupperware of leftover lentils. Once I discovered some caramelized onions in the fridge as well, things really got moving.

Prep went something like this: I washed and thinly sliced the broccoli (it cooks better that way) while my medium frying pan, with a bit of olive oil, was heating. I sauteed the broccoli with a fat pinch of red pepper flakes for several minutes until it was just tender, but nowhere near mushy. I added a few cloves of minced garlic part way through the saute.

Then I poured in a can of whole tomatoes (Muir Glen’s Fire-Roasted are my favorite) and broke them up with a wooden spoon as they simmered. I threw in the caramelized onions and about a cup of black lentils, got generous with the salt and pepper, and let it bubble gently away while I cooked the penne.

I boiled the penne until it was just barely al dente, then, using a large slotted pasta ladle, transferred it to the pan with the sauce to let it finish cooking there.

Of course I topped it all with shavings of Parmesan, and of course I served it with a bit of crusty bread and a simple crunchy salad. Like I said: Fed and happy.

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Grilled tofu skewers

Tofu is much less maligned than it used to be, and aren’t we glad? I mean, if you’re of the alternative-protein persuasion at all, even a couple days a week, then you must be thrilled with the increasing availability of tofu, and with the bounty of recipes in all sorts of mainstream mags.


I know I am.

I like tofu. My girls like tofu. Even my husband, a smoked-pastrami-on-sourdough guy if there ever was one, likes tofu. But I always do essentially the same thing with it: Throw it in a stir-fry or pad thai or fried rice or something else in the neighborhood of Asian preparations.

Know this for sure: Where there has been tofu in my kitchen, there has always been soy sauce.

And surely the stuff is more versatile than that, right? So this time I grilled it. I stuck cubes of it on a stick — after marinating them in a not-Asian-inspired dressing, but a Greek-inspired one made with olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and oregano — and put them on the grill.

Easy, right? Easily out of my comfort zone. Easily attractive to the wee diners at my table, who get a kick out of anything on a stick. Easily delicious.

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Baked pasta and cheese

Doing a little menu planning for the week? Might I offer a suggestion, a go-to recipe around here that I’m sure you’ll love as much as I do?

My baked pasta and cheese is a favorite of mine because a) it’s easy; b) it’s amenable to whatever fiddling I want to do with it (rotini or macaroni? Fontina or cheddar? You get the idea); c) it’s what I make when I’m not in the mood to hear Quinn whine/pout/protest about what’s for dinner.

And, finally, it’s a favorite because it’s featured at Raising Arizona Kids magazine this week. Check it out.

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Pick and choose

Here’s my problem: I can’t do everything. Yes, that’s a superfluous-by-virtue-of-its-obviousness statement, but it’s a fact, and facts demand to be faced now and then.

I can’t keep my pinky toe in my writing career and volunteer to run the craft at my first grader’s class party and stay on top of watering the basil and remember that my sixth grader needs new shorts and train for a 200-mile cycle race and mop the kitchen tile after every meal preparation.

As moms (or as parents, or just busy people, for that matter) we’re in the business of picking and choosing. Do we do this or do we do that, because when we choose this instead of that, that is going to go undone.

And so I’m not obsessed with whatever sticky thing may be on the kitchen floor at the moment.

Instead, what I’m choosing to be awfully dang-good at is feeding my family well, at keeping my pantry stocked and the fruit bowl filled. I’m a pro at making sure there’s a constant supply of grape tomatoes and baby carrots, that we always have frozen berries for after-school smoothies and enough whole grains and beans for nights upon nights of rushed throw-together suppers.

The inside of my toilets may not have seen a scrubber all week, but I could care less because tonight — after I supervise the first graders’ craft, that is — I’m making some chargrilled asparagus and zucchini with strange cheese that’s a byproduct of feta. I’ve cleaned those toilets a zillion times over, but I’ve never made this recipe before.

No, I don’t get it all done, but never say I don’t have my priorities.

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