Sunday, August 15, 2010

Waste Not Want Not

I absolutely HATE wasting food.  Maybe it's because my father was a child of the Depression.  Or maybe it's because I have such respect for the people who spend their (looooong) days growing delicious, wholesome foods for us to eat.  Or maybe I'm just cheap.  Whatever the answer I simply get really angry when I find I've wasted something.

In the summer I often cannot control myself at the farmers markets.  OK maybe not just in summer but go with me here.  All of the luscious fruits seem to call out to be purchased.  And stone fruits (peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines) are my absolute favorites. That is how I recently found myself with about 10 pounds of various stone fruits stashed in several bowls in my kitchen.  This is where I remind you that three people live in my apartment and one of them is under the age of 7.  Unless I wanted three people with very upset tummies or felt the urge to let something *gasp* go to waste clearly I had to do something with some of the fruit before it went beyond the point of no return and had to be tossed.

I know canning is trendy these days.  And I've done it.  And I'll do it again.  But at 9 PM on a Tuesday I'm not going to embark on a project of that scale.  So I decided to make a freezer (refrigerator?) jam.  Meaning - I would stick the results in the fridge and eat the jam before it went bad.    No pretty jars with artfully designed labels tonight.  I will definitely make this again and preserve it properly when I have the time.  The thought of summer perfectly preserved in a gorgeous spicy, sweet, ruby haze is too powerful not to make this again.  (Picture to come - promise)

Plum and Peach Confiture (That's a fancy word for preserves.  Can you tell I read "Fancy Nancy" at bedtime tonight?)
Yields approximately 4 cups

6 cups stone fruit, pitted and diced (I used peaches and plums all on the cusp of going from delicious to mushy)
3/4 - 1 c sugar (I tend to go less sweet especially when I'm not using proper canning methods and just storing in the fridge)
1-2 TBS cardamom pods (optional but the combination of plums and cardamom is ethereal.  Use ground if you have it - just go down to about 1 tsp)
1" piece of ginger, peeled
Juice and rind of 1/2 lemon (just juice the lemon and toss in the pulp/rind - you'll strain it out later)

  • Combine everything in a large non-reactive pot that can hold all of the ingredients. 
  • Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. 
  • Reduce to a strong simmer (you want some bubbles breaking the surface) and cook, until the fruit has broken down and resembles a chunky applesauce-like texture (about an hour). 
  • Allow to cool. Remove pods, ginger and lemon. Store in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks or freeze in small portions for up to a year and defrost as you need it.
Great as a topping on yogurt with crunchy granola.  Delicious on ice cream or pound cake (especially grilled pound cake with frozen yogurt, creme fraiche or ice cream - a simple elegant summer dessert). I've been eating it on well done whole wheat English muffins with a thin shmear of cream cheese for breakfast. It also makes a nice accompaniment to a cheese plate.

And I'd be lying if I said it wasn't perfect by itself on a spoon while standing in front of the fridge.  Not that I've eaten it that way.  Or plan to. Ever.

Friday, August 13, 2010


No, not that baked.  People, people.  I'm referring to the cooking method of BAKING.  And when your child prefers something baked over something fried you know you've hit recipe nirvana.

Don't get me wrong, the occasional fried item is worth every last calorie.   If you use good quality oil, keep it at the right temperature and are mindful of what you are doing the oil really acts as a cooking medium with minimal absorption.  That being said - emphasis on occasional.

This summer we've been cursed blessed with an abundance of zucchini from our CSA.  Personally it isn't one of my favorite vegetables.  I cannot abide it raw, can only eat so much of it stewed, and, while delicious fried, I have a history of heart disease and high cholesterol in my family.  So if I'm going to indulge in something fried, zucchini isn't exactly my go-to choice.

One week, after arriving home with three huge zucchinis (and confronting two leftover from the week before when I went to store them in the vegetable bin), I knew I had to find a healthy and delicious way to get rid of prepare some of them.  Luckily we had some suckers friends coming over to dinner that night.  I figured I could use at least 3 of them in one fell swoop if only I could come up with something delicious.  Dare I say, I did.  When 3 kids under the age of 12 gobble something up and whine when they discover they've eaten all of it you know you've done something right.  Herewith I present to you:

Parmesan Zucchini Crisps*

2-3 medium zucchinis washed, dried and cut into 1/8-1/4" rounds (Any thicker and you lose the Crisps part of this recipe.)
1 or 2 egg whites (The amount of egg depends on how many rounds you end up having.  You can also use whole eggs if you prefer.  I find these are crispier when using only egg whites.)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 c panko bread crumbs (It is essential these are panko - see "Crispy" above.)
1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan

  • Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Line a baking sheet or 2 with parchment paper (alternatively lightly grease with Pam or other oil spray)
  • Lightly beat the egg whites and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  • Combine breadcrumbs with Parmesan and mix well to combine.
  • Dip the zucchini into the egg whites and then press both sides into the breadcrumbs/Parmesan mixture.
  • Place on the prepared pan and continue until all of the zucchini is coated.
  • Bake for about 30-35 minutes (flipping 1/2 way through the cooking for even browning) until golden brown and crispy.
  • Best enjoyed immediately.
These are also good dipped in ranch dressing or tomato sauce but really they're perfect on their own (if I do say so myself).

I should add that our dinner guests that evening enjoyed this so much they called me last night to get the recipe.  This morning I received the following text:  "My mom made the zuccini (sic) that u made the last time we were there.  It is DELISH!"    And my own child just answered "the zucchini again" when asked "what would you like for dinner tonight?"

*Name compliments of the child

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Savoring the Sweet Moments or Why I Cried When My Daughter Cooked Breakfast

The child, whisking
It's not every day your almost 7-year old daughter announces that she wants to make breakfast. By herself. Using the oven. Feeling brave I decided to let her go for it. We had just received a new cookbook (Molly Katzen's excellent Honest Pretzels) and, as she flipped through it deciding what to make, I found myself wondering how we had arrived in this place. When did she get so tall? So independent? So decisive? So... grown up?

For those of you who know me in real life you know my daily struggles (and associated joys) with motherhood. I'm probably more honest than I should be but, hey, it isn't all cuddling, rainbows, kisses and ponies. Raising children is tough. And I only have one. Each day is a new challenge with its own rewards but some days are harder than others and I'm not afraid to admit when I mess up.

One place I've managed to do OK is in the kitchen. The child is a good eater, comfortable in the kitchen and has recently developed a sense of adventure. This is pretty common around age 7 so if you have a picky eater seize the moment and start introducing some new foods, STAT. She wants to taste everything. Make everything. Do everything on her own. And while I'm loathe to have her make a huge mess or hurt herself I know I have to let go and allow her to make mistakes so she can learn from them.

Cooking really is a metaphor for life. You have a plan (the recipe), resources (ingredients/equipment/mother who happens to be a chef) and various opportunities for success or failure. Whatever the outcome hopefully you learn something from it.

What I took away from this experience is that no matter how uncomfortable I might be with watching her spread her wings (Now I'll have to re-clean my freshly cleaned kitchen! Is something burning? How sharp is that knife?!), she needs to fly and I won't always be there to catch her if she falls. But I can teach her how to pick herself up and try again. *sniff*

Giant Baked Pancake Puff
(adapted from Honest Pretzels by Mollie Katzen)
Yields 4-6 servings

1 TBS butter (melted)
4 large eggs
1 1/3 c milk (we used 1% b/c it's how we roll)
1 tsp vanilla extract (almond would also be good)
3 TBS sugar
1 1/2 c unbleached white flour
1/2 tsp salt

  • Preheat oven to 375 F.
  • Lightly grease a 9x13" baking pan with the melted butter.
  • Combine eggs, milk, vanilla and sugar into a bowl that will accommodate all the ingredients.
  • Whisk until smooth and eggs are fully incorporated.
  • Add in flour and salt and whisk until all the flour is incorporated and there are no lumps. Take care to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and place in the oven.
  • Bake for approximately 35 minutes until it is puffy and golden.
  • Cut into pieces and serve with your choice of toppings. We used a sprinkling of powdered sugar and some delicious sliced plums from our CSA. In the fall this is fantastic with some sauteed apples. 
  • Leftovers are great lightly toasted and spread with jam.
Don't forget to sneak a peak at the look of satisfaction on your child's face as s/he eats what s/he made.