ZEN & THE ART OF COOKING
There is a certain Zen to making a tasty, satisfying meal with few ingredients. I like to challenge myself to five. This comes from my tendency to be intimidated by complicated recipes, the limitations of what’s in my kitchen, the time I have and budgetary constraints. I’m not a purist, so salt & pepper don’t count.
In 5th grade I gave Peggy, a friend of my older sister’s, “my” recipe for Banana Nut Bread (which I probably got off the back of a Betty Crocker box). When she saw my detailed measurements (“1/8 tsp. cinnamon”), she let out a laugh while rolling her eyes. I wouldn’t understand why for many more years - that cooking is more a “feeling” than an absolute (especially a 1/8 tsp. absolute).
Cooking is like life – you have to be ready to react to and rise gracefully above unexpected challenges. YOU CAN’T LET THE PASTA BEAT YOU!
It wasn’t until I cooked along side my mother-in-law that I understood touch, taste, smell and intuition were just as important as exact measurements provided in a recipe. Quite frankly, I enjoyed her Pollo con Arroz, Pico de Gallo, Carne Asado, Tripe, Red Chili Enchiladas, Albondigas, Carnitas, Carne Guisada and Chili Rellenos much more than I ever enjoyed being married to her youngest child (ex-husband #1).
The one positive thing I took away from that disastrous marriage was the understanding of intuitive cooking. And that parting gift set me on a happier course in life. YOU CAN’T LET THE BAD MARRIAGE BEAT YOU!
But, as any great creation demands, the need for a good foundation is imperative. The basics of cooking (using those 1/8 tsp. of cinnamon) must be learned from the ground up. And when you’ve got a few of those under your apron -- let the culinary games begin!
Nectarine Olive Oil Cake
Bring back the sweetness of summer during the gloom of winter. (8 servings)
When in season, I use fresh nectarines (peaches will do in a pinch). Check for both in your grocer's freezer section when you just can't wait for summer to come around.This recipe is from Real Simple Magazine
Don't skimp on this cake's magic ingredient: olive oil. Real Simple recommends one with grassy or peppery undertones. I recommend topping with a scoop of creme fraiche (or vanilla ice cream if your sweet tooth needs more than this cake offers), but it is delicious served solo with just the fruit puree on top. Can be made up to 2 days in advance.
- 1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- (4) ripe nectarines
- 5 TB Olive oil
- 3/4 C granulated sugar (plus more for pan)
- (2) Large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 C olive oil, divided (plus more for pan & drizzling)
- Powdered sugar (to cover top of baked cake before serving)
- 1 tsp flaky sea salt (for top of cake before serving)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9" round cake pan with olive oil & line bottom with parchment paper. Brush parchment with olive oil & sprinkle bottom of pan with the sugar
Whisk flour, salt, baking powder & baking soda in a large bowl
Pit & roughly chop 2 nectarines
Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth
Whisk sugar, eggs & vanilla in a large bowl
While whisking constantly, gradually add 1/2 C olive oil
Add flour mixture in 2 batches, whisking until evenly incorporated. Batter will be thick
Fold in nectarine puree & pour batter into prepared pan
Bake 25-30 minutes until cake is golden & pulls away from sides of pan
Remove cake from pan & transfer to a rack to cool completely
Plate & dust cake with powdered sugar
Slice remaining nectarines & toss with flaky salt & remaining 1/4 C olive oil. Drizzle over cake.
Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt
Savory, healthy, easy. Cook and serve in one baking sheet. (Makes 11 servings)
This recipe was adapted from the one by Melissa Clark, author of the "Dinner" cookbook. Also available through American Public Radio's show, The Splendid Table.
Leave space between ingredients on pan so they brown and crisp rather than steam. As always, adjust seasoning to your liking. That also goes for the garlic and tomatoes. Use enough harissa & olive oil to coat as listed below.
- (11) Chicken thighs
- (1 lb) Yukon Gold potatoes (cut evenly cut cubes)
- Salt & Pepper
- Harissa (from a large jar if you don't have time to make)
- (5 TB) Olive oil
- (2) Leeks (clean well) - Use light & green parts
- (1) Pint of Cherry Tomatoes
- Grated lemon zest & slices lemons
- Handful of herbs like parsley, cilantro, mint, dill for topping
- Plain yogurt
- (10-12) Garlic cloves peeled (delicious when roasted)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees (after chicken is done marinating)
Line rimmed baking sheet with foil
Combine the chicken, potatoes, salt & pepper in a bowl
Whisk together the harissa, cumin, (3 TB) olive oil. Pour over chicken & combine, using hands, until covered
Let this mixture stand at room temperature for 30 minutes
Combine in bowl: leeks, tomatoes, garlic cloves, lemon zest, salt, (2) TB olive oil
Arrange chicken & potatoes in a single layer on baking sheet. COOK FOR 20 MINUTES
Toss potatoes a bit & scatter leek, garlic, tomatoe mixture on top
COOK 20 to 25 minutes longer until golden & crispy
When done, top with yogurt & lemon slices, salt & pepper to taste
SERVE with a green salad, couscous, tabouli or orzo
Enjoy leftovers the next day!
Spinach Puff Pastry Rolls with Ricotta and Feta Cheeses
Tasty vegetarian pastry for breakfast or after school snack. Using just a few ingredients. (Makes 8-10 slices)
Most puff pastry comes with 2 sheets that can be cut into 3 separate pieces
- (1) Pkg Puff Pastry (thaw according to packet instructions)
- 2.5 C fresh spinach - wash and dry well
- (4) garlic cloves - minced
- (2) shallots - diced
- 1 C feta cheese - crumbled
- 1 C ricotta cheese
- 2 TB olive oil
- (1) egg & 1/2 tsp water for wash
- Handful of sesame seeds for topping
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Whisk 1 egg with a little water and set aside for Egg Wash
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Heat oil in pan. Saute diced shallots until translucent & add minced garlic. Saute another minute
Add chopped spinach. Cover pan. Heat on low (stirring often) until wilted. Set aside to cool
Mix ricotta cheese with salt & pepper to season well
Add cooked spinach mixture
Add feta cheese
Slice sheets of puff pastry evenly (most pkgs will contain 6 separate sheets)
Roll puff pastry sheets out on board with flour to widen them a bit
Spoon spinach cheese mixture on one puff pastry (leave clear about 1/2" each side)
NOTE: Don't overstuff the rolls with mixture. Left over mixture can be added to your next pasta dish
Top puff pastry with another sheet & flatten it down a bit
Crimp all edges with a fork
Do this to all rolls.
Brush the top of each roll with the egg wash
Liberally sprinkle sesame seeds on top of each roll
Slash the rolls with sharp knife to let steam escape
BAKE 15 minutes until golden brown & puffy
Cut in slices & enjoy!
Yummy, Healthy Take-to-Work Lunch (Roasted Veggies over Lemon Couscous)
I'm crazy for this dish. It just feels good to eat, looks pretty and is simple to make. What more can you ask for from a lunch?
I've eaten this dish for breakfast, lunch & dinner. I usually add a protein (grilled chicken, steak or shrimp). In my lunchbox, I bring along a small container of lemon infused olive oil and fresh grated parmesean cheese to add after heating up. This is a most satisfying meal!
INGREDIENTS - ROASTED VEGETABLES (makes 4-6 servings):
The sky's the limit - choose "like" veggies so they cook evenly. Cut them in like sizes for the same reason.
- mini carrots
- sliced onions
- sliced shallots
- sliced zucchini (yellow and green)
- small cherry tomatoes (leave whole)
- sliced bell peppers
- sliced brocolli
- garlic cloves
- whole mushrooms
- olive oil (plain or infused...like lemon)
- salt & pepper to taste
- thyme (use dry if you don't have fresh)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Line rimmed baking sheet with Silpat OR aluminum foil
Put all vegetables in large bowl. Toss with olive oil, salt & pepper until covered
Spread veggies evenly over cookie/baking sheet
Cook for about 15 minutes
Remove from oven & give them a toss to ensure even roasting
Put back in oven & check again in about 10 minutes
Veggies should be tender, but not overly cooked - it's nice to have a crunch when eating with couscous
Cool. Serve over couscous. Add protein if desired. Drizzle with olive oil, squeeze of fresh lemon, salt & pepper to taste. Add fresh parmesean if desired.
INGREDIENTS - COUSCOUS (makes 6-8 servings)
Try buying couscous in bulk - you get & pay only for what you need & want.
- 2 C couscous
- 3 C chicken broth (water is okay in a pinch)
- 4 TB olive oil (more to taste)
- juice of 1 lemon (to taste)
- 1/4 to 1/2 C chopped parsley
- salt & pepper to taste
- sliced/slivered almonds (for topping)
In medium to large saucepan over medium heat, bring broth to boil
Add Couscous. Cover with lid. Remove from heat
Let sit for 10minutes. Then fluff with a fork
Add oilive oil, lemon juice and parsley. Season with salt & pepper
NOTE: For a richer tasting couscous, add 1-2 TB of butter with olive oil
SERVE: Roasted veggies over couscous. Add protein if desired. Toss almonds on top. Optional parmesean cheese. Adjust olive oil, lemon, salt & pepper to taste.
Skinny Elvis (Peanut Butter Banana Cookies)
It's great to pack a lunch for Tucker that includes something yummy, but not filled with lots of sugar.
I like these cookies for the flavor combo and because they're more on the shortening bread side. I guess that's because the recipe calls for no butter. It didn't call for chocolate chips either, but I threw those in anyway. You can't go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter.
Be prepared to clean off the mixer blades. And if forming balls by hand, you'll need to keep your hands moist in between each cookie. This is a sticky recipe!
Adapted from The Dash of Sanity websitehttp://www.dashofsanity.com https://www.dashofsanity.com/
INGREDIENTS (makes 36 small cookies):
- 2 C Peanut Butter (rub vegetable oil inside measuring cup so PB doesn't stick)
- 2 Bananas
- 1/4 C Brown Sugar
- 1/4 C White Sugar
- 1 Egg
- 1 TB Vanilla
- 1 1/2 C Flour
- 1 tsp Baking Soda
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/2 C Chocolate chips (or flavor of your choice)
- Extra granulated Sugar-to roll cookies in before baking
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (2-3) cookie sheets (line with Silpat) will eventually be used
Whisk together flour, baking soda & salt. (Will add later)
Smash Bananas & cream it together with peanut butter and all sugar
Use mixer to beat until smooth & creamy
Add the egg & vanilla. Continue to mix until well combined
Add flour mixture to wet ingredients a little at a time. Continue mixing until well combined
Mix in chocolate chips by hand
Make 1" balls (with hands or cookie dough scooper)
Roll each ball in the granulated sugar
Place dough balls on baking sheet. Press down with fork to make criss-cross pattern
Bake 7-9 minutes. When cool, transfer to wire rack (Will store for several days in airtight container)
Call me Old Fashioned
Holidays were usually on the rocks at my house growing up. Although the drink of choice was Whiskey Sours, there's something about bitters and a twist to quench the thirst of even the most discerning palette.
This Memorial Day cocktail is for you, daddy. Hope you & mom are taking a fun ride as you pilot your WWII plane named after her, Itty Bitty.
INGREDIENTS for Two:
- Simple Syrup (2 spoonfuls)
- 6-8 dashes of Angostura Bitter
- 4 ounces Rye or Bourbon
- Orange Peel Twist
COMBINE syrup, bitters & liquor in shaker filled with (crushed) ice. Shake vigorously.
Swipe rim of glass with orange twist
Pour ingredients into whisky glass filled with ice cubes
Top with a Maraschino Cherry
Asian Short Ribs
This is a stout dish made flavorful with the assistance of sweet, sour and hot ingredients. Cooking this long and slow (crockpot works great) results in a fall-off-the-bone rib meat bathed in a rich sauce.
I know, it's a recipe calling for much more than five ingredients, but I figure once it's put together, the crockpot does the rest & I'm free from cooking. And the meat is not an expensive cut for the delicous, hearty result.
Switching up the ingredients (replace Asian spices with thyme, rosemary sprigs, oregano, parsley & dry red wine & serving over parmesean risotta (instead of brown rice) turns the dish from SE Asian to Italian.
Short ribs resemble a good life -- build a sure foundation, then switch things up so it's never boring!
- 6 short ribs
- Celery (sliced)
- Carrots (sliced or whole baby)
- Onion (sliced in thin slivers)
- Garlic (8 cloves sliced)
- Flour (for dredging)
- Garlic powder
- Corriander powder
- Chinese Five Spice powder (made of cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise & Szechuan pepper corns)
- Salt & Pepper
- Soy sauce 1/2 C
- Beef broth 1/2 C
- Rice wine vinegar 1/4 C (I like more for a tarter result)
- Brown sugar 1/4 C (I like less for a not so sweet sauce)
- Fish sauce 1 TB
- Ginger fresh grated 2 TB
- Red pepper flakes 1 Tsp
MIX marinade in bowl & set aside
COVER ribs well with rub mixture
DREDGE ribs through flour
SAUTE veggies medium heat (carrots, onions, celery, garlic) in vegetable oil (add some chili oil for an extra heat kick)
REMOVE from pan after about 10 minutes (not keeping the oil)
WIPE pan clean with paper towel
ADD more oil to pan - medium heat
ADD ribs & brown on all sides (browning meat & veggies gives them a nice color & locks in flavor)
REMOVE ribs from pan & place in crockpot
COVER ribs with sauteed veggies
POUR marinade on top
Cook on low approximately 5 hours (until bone falls off meat)
Serve over brown rice. Top with sliced scallions (white & green parts) & sesame seeds.
Steel Oats (slow cooked overnight)
Lovingly called "gruel" in our household. Chock full of warmth and goodness. And you can personalize yours...brown sugar, honey, nuts, dried fruit, butter, with or without milk.
This meal really fits my "5 ingredient" recipe. Put it in a slow cooker at night before bed and wake up in the morning to a bowl of deliciousness. Goes without saying, Steel Oats is an easy, filling and nutritious way to start the day.
- 1 C Steel Oats (purchase in bulk)
- 4 C Water
- 1 TB Maple Syrup
- Dash of Salt
- (Delete syrup or replace with another "sweet")
THROW ingredients in crockpot & stir (rub crockpot with oil if you think it will stick)
COOK on low overnight (6-7 hours)
TOP before serving with ingredients you love: peeled apples, dried cherries, raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, nuts, butter, milk
The varieties are endless!
(Makes about 4-6 servings)
Cabbage Soup with Vegetables and Meatballs
Houston can rarely be counted on to produce a "winter season". So when it gets cold (or snows...it has happened!) having a go-to, easy and inexpensive soup to serve is a great treat.
I asked Gary to bring home sausage, but he forgot. I happened to have made meatballs earlier in the week (See below for my Meatball recipe), so that's what I added instead. Obviously, you can skip the meat entirely & make it pure vegetarian.
Remember to save your scraps to make a vegetable broth. You can freeze the veggies until you're ready to make it.
Soup's like life - put in what you want to get out, spice things up & embellish!
- Onions & Shallots
- Leeks (clean well)
- Potatoes (Russet or other)
- 1/2 to 1 Cabbage (sliced in long strips with core removed)
- Salt & Pepper
- Fresh Bay Leaves
- Herbs of your choice
- 8-10 C Chicken Stock + Water if needed
- Olive Oil
SLICE veggies (cabbage should be in long strips)
HEAT OLIVE OIL in pot (you can use the same pot soup will cook in)
SAUTE veggies until soft (about 8-10 minutes)
ADD cabbage the last two minutes so it "wilts" a bit
ADD chicken stock
BRING to boil
SIMMER for about 20 minutes
SEASON (add water if needed)
SLOW SIMMER until meatballs are cooked through (about 20 minutes)
SERVE with crackers or (garlic) bread. Top with fresh parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and a dollop of cream or plain yogurt for some extra creaminess.
(Makes about 6 bowls)
Fresh Cranberries with Port, Ginger and Orange
This recipe uses few ingredients, is simple to execute, has depth of flavor and those whole cranberries look impressive on the plate. It is a great go-to side dish for the holidays!
Yes, every holiday season my mom opened up that can of Cranberry Sauce and with a loud PLOP, it fell out and onto a festively-decorated platter. Not very yummy sounding. I never cared for the taste of it – or the look of those rings the aluminum can imprinted on the side of that jelly log.
WHY SETTLE FOR CANNED ANYTHING WHEN YOU CAN GET FRESH SOMETHING?
Here is a SIMPLE recipe for the holidays. It gets better with age, looks beautiful, your vegetarians will love it and it goes well with turkey, ham or chicken – try some on scrambled eggs. An added bonus is as it cooks – the cranberries POP!
What could be better than that? It's a dish for all senses AND all seasons!
- 2 Bags/12 oz each fresh rinsed cranberries (use frozen only if fresh unavailable)
- 1/2 - 1 Cup sugar
- 1/2 Cup port
- 1/2 Cup orange juice (fresh squeezed is nice)
- 2-3 TB chopped crystalized ginger (or fresh ginger chopped finely)
- Zest of 1 orange
COMBINE all ingredients in a heavy pan
BRING to boil
REDUCE to a simmer and cook until most of the cranberries POP open (15-20 minutes)
DON'T break the cranberries as you gently mix
ADJUST ingredients for sweetness and tartness. Like ginger? Add more!
SKIM any foam off the surface
Cool to room temperature and serve
Can be refrigerated until all your holiday left overs have been eaten!
(Makes about 3 1/2 Cups)
Carrot and Almond Torte
This recipe is credited to Harry Astley & Jane Scotter of Fern Verrow
Adapted by Aleksandra Crapanzano of The Wall Street Journal, “Eating & Drinking,” February 13-14 2016http://www.FernVerrow.com
I’m always looking for ways to cook up a less sugary desert with veggies. Even Bugs Bunny would agree that this one fits the bill.
There’s a hardiness to almond flour. I buy it in bulk (buy & use as needed so it’s always fresh). When I can’t find almond flour, I’ll use almond meal instead. Both make such delicious things!
- 4 large eggs (separate yolks from whites)
- 1 Cup sugar
- Zest from 1 orange
- ¼ tsp vanilla
- ½ pound of carrots (6-7 large)
- 2 Cups almond flour + 1 heaping TB self-rising flour
- Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting)
- Crème fraiche to serve on top
BEAT with electric mixer: Egg yolks, sugar, orange zest & vanilla until thick & creamy (about 5 minutes)
STIR into yolk mixture until fully incorporated: Carrots, both flours
BEAT with electric mixer in CLEAN BOWL: Egg whites until stiff (about 5 minutes)
FOLD Whites into yolk/flour mixture until no streaks remain
POUR Batter into pan
BAKE 35-45 minutes until toothpick comes out clean from center
REMOVE From oven. Let cool in pan. Turn out onto a platter
DUST: With confectioner’s sugar & serve with a dollop of crème fraiche atop.
CRÈME FRAICH (1 Cup):
- 1 Cup Whipping Cream
- 2TB buttermilk
COMBINE both in glass container.
Cover & let stand at room temperature from 8-24 hours until very thick.
Stir well before covering. Refrigerate up to 7 days.
Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (Makes 24-36 depending on size of meatballs)
The first time I served my mother’s meat sauce over spaghetti, my young son pushed it away and asked, “Mama, where are the meatballs?” I knew then mom’s dish wouldn’t make it to the third generation.
Meatballs take a bit more time to make as does the sauce (compared to opening up a store-bought jar), but both are worth it. The meatballs are versatile and the sauce is flavorful and only gets better with time (both when cooking & serving). Sauces out of a jar now taste sweet to me. This sauce is as real & basic as you can get.Fool around with seasonings, cheeses, tomatoes and other veggies.
KEEP THE RINDS of cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino-Romano, Parmesan) in the fridge or freeze for later use. ADD to the sauce (remove any labels!) for extra flavor. (Rind is great in soups, too).
BUY BULK HERBS in small amounts. Better to use very fresh and replace as needed. (Inexpensive, too!)
INGREDIENTS: TOMATO SAUCE
Mix ingredients below in a large pot. Let simmer for an hour (or longer), before adding the meatballs
- Roasted Tomatoes OR Crushed Tomatoes OR both (3) large cans
- Tomato Paste (1-2) small cans
- Mushrooms (bite sized slices)
- Garlic minced
- Red wine (sweet or dry depending on your taste) - splash or two - allow time for it to "cook off"
- Salt / Pepper / Dried Oregano / Red Pepper Flakes / Cheese Rind
- Ground Beef 1.5 lb (Ground pork can make up half the mixture)
- Onion minced (I like sweet yellow)
- Parmesan cheese (grated)
- 1 egg (beaten)
- Bread slice – no crusts (cubed)
- Milk (just enough to cover bread)
Pour milk over cubed bread to soften & set aside. Drain before adding to meat mixture
Combine onions with beef / pork
Throw in the egg & (drained) bread – mixture should not be soggy
Mix with hands just enough to combine all ingredients well
Roll into equal-sized balls
Brown meatballs in olive oil – turning on all sides (may have to do in batches)
Add browned meatballs to tomato sauce
Let simmer for 60 minutes. Adjust seasoning.
SERVE over spinach pasta. Or in a hard roll with provolone and mozzarella cheese. Broil until gooey and hot.
Carnitas with Pineapple Salsa
This savory dish uses a "cheap" cut of meat (pork shoulder) which means it's a great dish to cook on a lazy Sunday afternoon for dinner that night.
It's even tastier the next day, served over rice.
BUY BULK HERBS. They are fresher & cost less than those off a grocer's shelf. You may replace more often, but once you've cooked with FRESH cumin...you'll never go back to bottled spices again.