Pantry Cooking

Our actual, not-made-for-photos pantry, obviously in need of organizing,
and brown lentil pancakes.

Perhaps this is indicative of articles being written far ahead of time, but recent food articles in newspapers don’t seem to reflect the reality that people aren’t going to the store as often, and that stores don’t have the selection they usually do.

My last grocery trip was over 3 weeks ago, and I don’t plan to return for another week or two.  I did not enjoy the stress of being at the store or coming home and washing everything.  I usually fill our fridge with fresh, colorful produce weekly, but now, aside from a pound of carrots and a half stalk of celery, our fresh produce is long gone.  However, I enjoy a good challenge, and we have ample frozen vegetables and a pantry with sufficient staples to produce some interesting meals.  We’re a very long way from subsisting on wheat kernels as was chronicled in The Long Winter, or from the limited food choices of many countries in present and past times of war.

Our pantry consists of an old shelving unit from my college days in a small basement closet; it always holds sufficient dried beans, pasta, rice, canned tomato products, and other staples to see us through a snowstorm. It is one of my favorite frugality tools, as it allows me to stock up when there’s a good sale, and saves trips to the store.

Without commuting, I’ve had more time and energy this week to look up some new recipes to try.  Here are some of the things that the pantry provided (all made without onions, because those were not available in the store):

Brown lentil pancakes, from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, made by soaking and pureeing lentils into a batter and adding shredded carrot and spices.  This is a good cookbook for pantry meals because there are so many options on every recipe, and he generally eliminates non-essential ingredients.  We tried these with various condiments that happened to be in our refrigerator and they were good enough to cook again, but we all agreed that we prefer potato pancakes (when stores have potatoes).

Salmon cakes from canned salmon, with barley and frozen green beans.  This provided an opportunity to use the barley that I bought some time ago and was the reason for the next meal, using the leftovers.  Frozen green beans are okay steamed, but delicious roasted.  We always have frozen green beans on hand – they’re a huge time saver and very versatile.

Tortellini soup with carrots and celery and some kale that I had cooked and frozen a couple months ago.  Aldi sells dried tortellini that we all enjoy.

Baked Italian arancini, with leftover barley instead of rice, dipped in marinara, and carrot and celery sticks on the side.  I used frozen spinach, omitted the Parmesan, and did not roll in breadcrumbs because that’s just too fussy for my kitchen.  Everyone liked these, but if I make them again I will add a healthy dose of garlic and oregano.

Black bean burritos, with frozen spinach and corn and a lot of spices… and no onions.  Luckily, there’s always salsa in the pantry.

Pasta with sauce and frozen peas, Mari’s standby dinner.  I asked her to cook on Friday night so I could take a long post-work walk on a beautiful sunny afternoon.  It’s as basic as it gets, but no one here ever complains about pasta for dinner.

I look forward to seeing what the pantry provides next week.

Has your cooking changed during the current situation?

 

 

Weekend Cooking – Rosemary-Raisin Buns

P1020223It’s going to snow tomorrow.  I’ve lived here long enough to expect one last round of snow shoveling in mid-April, and flurries for a few weeks after that.   My parents once considered moving here and visited in late April to look at houses.  As we were driving to a nearby town with snow blowing horizontally, I knew that Minnesota had lost out on that chance.

I’ve lived about 1800 miles distant from my family since I finished college, and therefore have created my own local “family” and holiday traditions in the places I’ve lived.  Our Easter is usually a celebration of spring with our fellowship – music, stories, conversation, laughter, and food.  Tomorrow we will meet online with some of theses folks who have watched Mari grow from 3 to 17.  Toddler Mari used to hunt eggs on the grounds of the old one-room schoolhouse where we meet, and older Mari used to hide eggs for the little ones.  Between the stay-home order and the snowstorm, it might be hard to make it feel festive, so I’m thinking that there will be a mandatory snowball fight in the afternoon.

I was leafing through a book that I was excited to find on the library discard shelf, Anissa Helou’s Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, and landed on Pan di Ramerino, Rosemary and Raisin Bread.  When I read that it was an Easter specialty of Tuscany, and saw that it required only ingredients that are available in our pandemic-depleted kitchen and pantry, I decided that it would be our Easter breakfast. Helou writes, “In ancient Greece and later in the Roman Empire, rosemary was used as a remedy for coughs and liver aches, whereas in medieval times, it was used to repel evil spirits.”  Sounds perfect all around.

Wishing you a joyful Sunday whether or not you’re observing a holiday, free of both coughs and evil spirits.

Shared with Weekend Cooking

 

 

Weekend Cooking: Friday Night Pizza

IMG_2287Friday night has been pizza night for a while.  It is a treat for everyone at the end of the week – including the cook (me), due to the fast prep time and lack of required decisions.  Although my favorite meal is a giant salad topped with delicious things, pizza is much easier to make – and no one ever complains.

I mix a yeast dough Thursday night or Friday morning; if the former, then it overnights in the fridge.  I like to add a generous amount of rosemary (it becomes much less like little sticks in the wet, long-fermenting dough) as well as some quick steel cut oats.

With the dough made, homemade pizza is done in about 30 minutes – much faster than delivery, takeout, or driving to and waiting in line at a store. And the cost can’t be beat – a very large pizza with an entire bag of fresh spinach comes to about $6.   Did I mention that between dough and cheese is one of the ways the rest of the house will eat leafy greens without complaining?

Packable Breakfasts

IMG_2222For most of my working life, I’ve eaten breakfast at work.  It saves time in the morning and allows me to extend my overnight fast by at least an hour.  My current routine is to arrive at work about 30 minutes before my hours begin, which gives plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast and to care for the houseplants I keep there, while also allowing me to commute ahead of the worst morning traffic.

Many days, my breakfast is dinner leftovers.  Stir-fries are quite good cold, which prevents any vegetables from becoming overcooked.  Soups and stews are warm and filling, perfect for a winter morning.  I really love baked pumpkin steel cut oats; I modify this recipe, reducing salt, butter, and maple syrup  – it’s tasty warm or cold.  But an easy breakfast standby that I’ve enjoyed for decades is variations on berries, yogurt, and granola.

Pint-sized (16 oz) mason jars are my favorite way to transport any food that has the potential to be messy (That said, I don’t send them in Mari’s bag, which is tossed around throughout the day).  They never leak, they store easily in the refrigerator, the contents are visible, and they take up little space in the dishwasher, unlike plastic containers.

Berries, yogurt, and granola requires a little advance work (I make the yogurt and maple-cinnamon toasted oats), but this can be done in batch mode, and the jars can also be prepared in batch mode.

Packable Yogurt Parfaits: 
Per container, add
About 1.5 c frozen berries (they will shrink substantially as they thaw)
2-3 Tbsp flaxmeal
Shake the jars from side to side to move the flax into the berries
Add 3-4 Tbsp plain yogurt

The jars are too full for the oats now, so I pack those in a separate bag or container; they’ll be added just before eating, after stirring together the yogurt and berries, and they remain crunchy.  Store in the refrigerator; the berries will be thawed in 24 hours or so. 

My toasted oats are crunchy and lightly sweetened.  Here’s how I make them: Position both oven racks near the center of the oven and preheat 300F.  Oil 2 large baking sheets.  In a large bowl, mix 8-10 cups of old-fashioned rolled oats, 2 T cinnamon, and a pinch of salt.  Sometimes I add other spices – allspice, ginger, nutmeg, etc – experiment and see what you like.  Add about 1/4 c maple syrup and stir well.  Pour onto the baking sheets and spread to an even thickness.  Bake for 20 minutes, then swap the locations of the baking sheets, and bake for another 15-20 minutes.  I store this in the refrigerator or freezer in a large jar.

These toasted oats can also be used as a topping for fruit crisps.  Bake the fruit first, covering the pan with a baking sheet, until the fruit is as done as you like.  Then top with the toasted oats and return to oven just until warm.

Saturday Cooking

dirtydishes
Today’s cooking mess in my authentic ’80s kitchen, which I expect to be in vogue any day now.

Today was cooking day.   Although my weekend cooking routine results in a kitchen disaster one day each week, it generally is much more efficient; I can reuse pots and pans with just a quick rinse between vegetables, for instance, the oven can cook multiple dishes, and I can reduce kitchen time significantly on weeknights.   While Mari dyed her hair blue and Thom mowed the backyard despite the falling snow, I made cardamom raisin and oat sandwich breads, yogurt, a wild rice and vegetable salad, tapioca pudding, and Mari’s lunch lasagna.

lasagnaOf all the ways in which our 16-year old has surprised us, one I really was not expecting was the return to dietary preferences typical of a toddler.  We’ve always eaten a wide variety of fresh foods, and the sudden rejection of some foods was quite a surprise to me.  To be honest, though, Mari does still eat many things that I know her friends don’t (case in point: the teen who picked all the vegetables out of our lo mein dinner), even though she would probably eat pizza for every meal if left to her own devices.  Her lunch of choice so far this academic year is spinach lasagna, so I’ve been making a lasagna nearly every week.  My pan makes 8 servings, which is perfect for one weekend dinner plus 5 lunches.

Yesterday a college student said to me, “You are very organized.  How can I be more organized?”  I was surprised; we have worked in the same office for a couple of years, but I am not sure why I would seem any more organized to her than would the average person.  But I do know that weekend cooking makes it much easier to keep the family fed , and also allows me to have more time to exercise, read, spend with my family, and catch up with friends during the brief after-work hours.

 

Zucchini Pancakes

pancakes on seltmann weiden.JPG

My mom and I both enjoy cooking and cookbooks alike, and as our elders have passed, their cookbooks have found a new home on her shelves or mine.  Today’s pancakes were modified from the “Favorite Pancakes” in the 1950 edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, courtesy of my maternal grandmother.

Zucchini Pancakes
(Makes about 12 3″ pancakes)

1 egg
1 1/4 c sour milk
2 T canola oil
1 1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 t baking soda
1 t sugar
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1 c shredded zucchini, dried on a towel

Beat egg well, then beat in milk and oil.  On top of liquid ingredients, add flour through nutmeg, then stir the dry ingredients together gently.  Mix dry and wet ingredients and then stir in shredded zucchini.  Cook on hot, oiled griddle or skillet.

My mom learned about Sammeltassen from my Oma, her mother-in-law: individual place settings for coffee from assorted patterns, with a cup, saucer, and dessert plate from each.  It was always fun for me to choose the plate on which I would eat from Oma’s china cabinet.  I think this particular plate survived more household moves than its cup and saucer.  The Sammeltassen is making its way to my house now, as my parents slowly downsize, and although I do not have the energy to use dishes that require hand washing on a daily basis, I do pull them out fairly regularly.  I don’t know if Mari will have fond memories of them, but I hope that she will.  I’m one of the few remaining people who remember my Oma’s kitchen, but I think of her every day as I work in my kitchen, and I hope to one day observe Mari continuing those traditions in her own home.

Shared with Weekend Cooking

Zucchini Season

zucchini-4344270_1920
Image by Sh2587 from Pixabay

It hasn’t been a great year for my garden. Although the farmers market tables are thankfully, as always, overflowing with beautiful produce, my garden suffered from our travels and unusual weather. Too cold for the tomatoes, too wet for the peas, but always, no matter what the weather, just right for zucchini.

Zucchini is rarely the star of anything. I love roasted zucchini, but Mari and Thom require that zucchini be dressed up or disguised. Of course, they both love zucchini bread, which tastes as good as anything laden with sugar and cinnamon. Most of the zucchini from our garden ends up in savory meals, but I have so many this year that I’ll probably bake some chocolate zucchini muffins and zucchini cornbread this weekend.

Our Savory Meals Featuring or Disguising Zucchini

Chili
Enchiladas
Vegetable Pancakes with Soup
Veggie Burgers & Coleslaw(salt zucchini and press out liquid before adding to coleslaw)
Frittata (precook zucchini)
Zucchini Pizzas (with roasted zucchini slices as “crust”)
Lasagna
Curries
Polenta with roasted vegetables and cheese
Potatoes or pastry with spinach, feta, and zucchini

What are you doing with your garden produce?

Cold Chocolate for Summer

Images from “Famous Recipes for Baker’s Chocolate and Breakfast Cocoa,”
copyright 1928, Walter Baker & Co., Inc.

Had I been born a century earlier, I think the odds are high I’d have been a home economist rather than an engineer.   My aunt, who had a chocolate party for her retirement and is the only other member of the family who really understands my love of chocolate, shared with me this tiny booklet, written by several home economists of the 1920s.  I enjoyed the simplicity and inventiveness of the recipes and was surprised by the lavish colorful illustrations in a small pamphlet of that vintage.  Did you know that cocoa nibs were available 90 years ago?

Everyone knows hot chocolate, but I have to say that when I saw the simple instructions for Iced Cocoa, all I could think was, “Why didn’t I think of that?”  A quick search found plenty of recipes, and, of course, it’s similar to but less rich than modern chocolate milk, but I like this version for its simplicity.  The ingredients are as written in the 1928 booklet, but instructions have been edited for brevity.

Hot or Iced Cocoa

4 T cocoa
2-4 T sugar
few grains salt
1 c cold water
3 c milk

Add cocoa and water to saucepan and stir while heating until smooth.  Boil about 2 minutes, then add other ingredients.  Heat until foamy, then beat well and serve.  Vanilla or cinnamon may be added prior to serving.

For iced cocoa, prepare hot cocoa in advance and chill, then serve over cracked ice in tall gasses, garnished with whipped cream if desired.

 

There’s also a cocoa syrup recipe that can be used in a variety of ways for summer beverages.  I haven’t tried this yet, but think the quantity of sugar is probably at least double the necessary amount since the ratio of sugar to cocoa is 4 times the above recipe.

Baker’s Breakfast Cocoa Syrup

1/2 c cocoa
1 c cold water
1/8 t salt
2 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Cook cocoa and water together, stirring until smooth.  When the mixture begins to boil, stir in sugar and salt and stir until dissolved.  Boil 3 minutes and add vanilla.  Refrigerate.

Chocolate Float:  To 1.5 T cocoa syrup, add 6 oz carbonated water and stir well.  Add cracked ice and top with whipped cream.

Frosted Chocolate: To 1.5 T cocoa syrup, add 4 oz milk and 1/4 c ice cream.  Add carbonated water.

Chocolate Milk Shake: Add to a glass jar 1.5 T cocoa syrup, 8 oz milk, and cracked ice.  Shake well.  (Very different from our modern definition of milkshake, but now the name makes sense!)

No variation was provided for mocha, but the rule seems to be 1.5T syrup to 8oz liquid.  Recipes from “Famous Recipes for Baker’s Chocolate and Breakfast Cocoa,” copyright 1928, Walter Baker & Co., Inc.

Shared with Weekend Cooking.

 

Reducing decisions in the kitchen

market_vegetables_carrots_artichokes_herbs_sage_thyme_radish-715590.jpg!dI am grateful for a week off from food responsibilities (having cooked in advance and left Thom well supplied while I travel). I always find summer to be difficult regarding meals – our big freezer is off, we’ve got unpredictable garden produce, it’s hot and I won’t use the oven, and every week is different due to travel and other activities, some of which arise at the last minute. After 6 weeks of summer, I feel like I’ve completely forgotten what we usually eat.

But this year, it’s not just that. I’ve been trying for years to have Thom and Mari take more of a role in at least planning meals, and I am tired of shouldering this myself. My efforts to grow, purchase, and prepare healthy foods feel largely unappreciated, with both Thom and Mari reaching for the few packaged foods in the house rather than the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. Cooking used to be a big creative outlet for me, but for months I’ve just had little interest in putting my energy there, and my audience is not particularly appreciative of creative meals and would probably be happy if I would just make homemade pizza every night. Although I don’t intend to do that, I think I will try rotating basic, quick meals, such as

Monday          Black bean burritos and raw veg/salad, or tacos with lentil filling
Tuesday         Curry with chickpeas and greens (extra rice for Thom’s lunches)
Wednesday   A noodle dish (pad Thai, soba, or lo mein) with tofu and veg
Thursday       Leftovers or salmon with potatoes and veg
Friday             Pizza and raw veg/salad
Saturday        Veggie burgers, soup, or spanakopita casserole
Sunday           Chili or pasta in some form (leftovers for Mari’s lunches)

This accommodates all their favorites and leaves plenty of latitude for adding random ingredients and using seasonal vegetables (eggplant, for instance, can hide sufficiently for them in the burritos, curry, veggie burgers, or chili). There are enough nights featuring legumes and greens, those markers of a longevity-friendly diet, to make me happy, and enough nights featuring bread and pasta to keep them happy. My last-minute emergency meal of veg-filled omelet doesn’t appear, so that can fill in occasionally when needed. All of these will work around late evenings at work or school, being friendly to microwave reheating and allowing prep that can be done the night before. And the weekend meals would be acceptable to most of Mari’s friends should we happen to have unplanned guests.

The weekend meals are intentionally basic.  While some families traditionally have a fancier meal on the weekends, I know that I will be getting groceries and preparing breakfast and lunch foods for the coming week.

Meal planning for the indefinite future: check. We’ll try it out in the coming month and optimize before my return to work.  I’m glad to have a plan for reducing mental energy  in the kitchen.

How do you reduce time and mental energy on household routines?

Easiest Frittata

frittataKelli’s thoughts about brunching reminded me of one of my standby meals.   Everyone has, or should have, a few meals that can be assembled and cooked quickly, easily, and without a recipe, for those nights when the schedule is even more compressed than usual. One of my favorites is a frittata. It is generally gluten-free, and can be vegetarian and/or dairy-free depending on your preferences and what’s hanging around in your refrigerator.

Pictured is tonight’s dinner – a spinach-summer squash frittata topped with a few bell pepper rings. These freeze well and make excellent leftovers for lunches.  Leftover vegetables or potatoes or grains from a previous dinner will speed dinner still more.  I’ve tried various ways of cooking these – stovetop, oven, and both, and I’ve found no textural or flavor differences, but I prefer the below oven method for ease. In the summer, I bake in a toaster oven on the porch to avoid roasting us all out of the house.

The 30-minute baking time is sufficient to prep a salad and clean the dishes generated in cooking, so cleanup is quick, too.

Frittata (6 servings)

  •  6 large eggs
  • vegetables, sliced thinly (tonight’s used 1/2 pound frozen spinach and 1 medium crookneck squash; onions, peppers, asparagus and green beans work well also. )
  • potatoes, in small cubes, or cooked grain or pasta, if desired
  • seasoning to taste – fresh herbs are nice when available – chives, basil, parsley
  • optional: cheese – I’ve used everything from cheddar to chèvre

Oil a deep 9″ pie plate and preheat oven to 350F.

Saute the vegetables (if using potatoes, start these earliest, and cook until done) dry or in a small amount of olive oil until most of the moisture is removed. Stir in seasonings.

Beat the eggs until your arm is really tired. Put the vegetables into the pie plate and pour the eggs on top. Using a fork, gently move the vegetables around here and there to mix in the eggs. Make a design on top if desired, with pieces of pepper, asparagus, thinly sliced carrots, etc.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until eggs are thoroughly cooked and the frittata is beginning to brown.  Serve with salsa or ketchup if desired.