The Mindset Needed To Create This Fritatta

“Don’t let failure be final”. -Steven H. Shomler

 

I love this quote and it lends itself beautifully to the concept of embracing improvisation; in cooking and in life. If you give up after one fuck-up and remain afraid to try new things, you will never progress.

This is exactly the mindset needed to create something out of (seeming) nothing. Like this frittata. I made it this morning from odds and ends I found in my fridge and pantry. It took me some time and lots of experimentation to get a good feel for how to throw stuff together like this. Has every single one turned out perfectly? No. But so what? They were still edible ( most of the time). I just filed away the errors I made or the tweaks I thought would improve the dish and incorporated that knowledge into my next effort. Cooking without a script is so much fun though – there is reward in that all by itself.

Back to that frittata: It is a cozy Saturday morning here at HavenHome and I knew I had some goodies in the fridge from last night’s dinner and lunch last week to use up. So I chopped up the tater tots, some red onion and leftover cooked bacon. Tossed that into a greased baking dish. Added some diced green chilis from the pantry and some pepperjack cheese. Then whizzed up some eggs and coconut milk (unsweetened and unflavoured). Seasoned with salt, pepper and dried tarragon from the garden (I am obsessed with tarragon right now and add it to whatever I reasonably can). Baked it in the oven until done. So good with crusty baguette toast topped with butter and marmalade. If I didn’t have shit to do today, I’d also have a ruby sunrise (champagne and ruby red grapefruit juice. WAAAAYYY better than a lameass, boring mimosa).

Cooking is science, but it is also art. No wrong answers here. The worst thing is to become so afraid of failure that you stop trying. Cooking can be a daily, creative outlet that nourishes both body and soul. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

 

 

 

 

Just Like Kool & The Gang Sang…

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate” -Oprah

Everyone needs a champagne stopper. It instantly removes the barrier from going ahead and opening that bottle of sparkling wine, champagne, prosecco or, my favorite, cava. It allows us to celebrate more often without having to commit to the whole bottle (if you’re a quitter. JK).

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Celebration and sparkling don’t have to be reserved for just ultra-special occasions. I keep a bottle ready to go in my fridge at all times because I like being prepared to celebrate at the drop of a hat. A book contract, a windfall, surviving a challenging work week, the full moon, Tuesday night. Big things, little things, silly things, why not?

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And I believe in the inherent value of celebrating as much as possible. Because celebration is the manifestation of gratitude and that’s a great place to have your attention. Keep focused on what is good, what is working, what is right with the world.

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So get yourself one of these gadgets, get something nice chilling in the fridge and pay attention to what needs celebrating. However small or seemingly insignificant. Try it, it’s fun!

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“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle”. – Albert Einstein

 

Pimento Cheese

Fancy Cheez-wiz. You can claim you are too sophisticated and you don’t love this, but no one will believe you.

Long story, but through my dear husband we wound up with a refrigerator full of cheese. I’m not kidding, the bounty took up an entire shelf. And all good stuff too. Picnics are fun and all, but there are only so many cheese and cracker plates I can stomach.

I was leafing through my  book of old recipe clippings, from ancient days when I used to take the newspaper everyday. I know, crazy. I came across one for pimento cheese using fancy cheeses. Yes! Of course I didn’t have the same cheeses as in the recipe nor an inclination to obey their prescribed amounts, but it still turned out sinfully great!

Into the food processor went some regular cream cheese (room temp, believe me on this detail) and chunks of various cheeses including Jefferson Cheddar and Touvelle from Rogue Creamery, Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, and Face Rock Creamery Horseradish Cheddar. You can really take liberties on the cheese selection (I sure did). I also added some chopped up roasted red and yellow peppers (I roasted my own, but you could get them out of a jar too), some celery seed and a splash of milk just to aid mixing. Chill it. That’s it. End of story, easy cheesy delight! The next day it was even better. This makes a lot so the next day I stirred some into hot cooked pasta for the most decadent mac and cheese you can imagine. Also guiltily good by the spoonful right outta the fridge. Shhh, don’t tell.

*Rogue Creamery pic

Squash Soup

Autumn is my favorite season of the year; I love the colors, the smells, the beginnings of a chill in the air and this soup is Fall in a bowl. Make this for your friends and they will think you are fancy as fuck! They don’t have to know how easy it is. For real.

My kids love this soup. We often eat it as an alternative to that sickeningly sweet condensed mess that most people call tomato soup. It also happens to be pretty healthy, just by accident, not by virtue. I suppose you could add some more rich and fatty elements, but I really don’t think it needs it. No need to gild the lily! It is especially good with a crusty grilled cheese sandwich on the side for dippin’.

I have no idea why so many recipes call for peeling the squash first. If you roast it, there is no good reason to make yourself crazy doing this. Just hack that baby in half, put it on a sheet pan and throw it in the oven to roast. This is a good tip for roasting pumpkins for pie or other uses as well.

I’ve used both acorn and butternut squashes and pumpkin for this soup. Pick what you like. Cut it, place cut sides down on a lined sheet pan or any other baking dish and roast it in the oven at somewhere between 350 and 400 degrees, you decide, until it is easily pierced with a fork. Let it cool a bit until you can easily handle it (I usually skip this step due to my own impatience and pay the price of burned fingers). Use a big spoon to scoop out the seeds and other stringy stuff from the middle. Then scoop out the flesh into a blender. Incidentally, my dogs (and cats I have had in the past) go nuts for the leftover skin; waste not want not! Add a spoonful of broth paste (I use Better Than Bouillon @betterthanbouillon), chicken or veggie. Salt and pepper. Thin out with a milk type product (I usually go non-dairy) and blend til smooth. You can thin this out as much as you like, just adjust the amount of liquid added. Then pop it into a pot and warm it to serving temp on the stove. I like to finish mine with a drizzle of Navidi’s @navidiscamas white truffle oil and some good grindings of black pepper.

Black Sea is Brilliant!

Black Sea; Dispatches and Recipes Through Darkness and Light by Caroline Eden is my kind of “cookbook”. 4 things I love about it*:

  1. It has a sexy cover
  2. Lots of beautiful pictures of food and places.
  3. Provides historical background.
  4. It includes Turkey! The next big stop on my lifetime itinerary.

*Noteworthy that none of these mention recipes, heehee!

Do Yourself A Favor And Read Chillpreneur

4  valuable things I learned from Chillpreneur, many thanks to Denise Duffield-Thomas:

 1.       Making money doesn’t have to be hard or painful.

 2.       Just start! It doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate.

 3.       Protect the golden goose (take care of myself or I will lose my creative energy).

 4.       I have valuable stuff to share and it won’t suit everyone’s taste, but that’s ok.

Scalloped Potatoes, the “Recipe”!

Ok, so now that you have the background on the significance this dish holds in my family, I can tell you how to make it. Kinda. It turns out different for me each time and I am ok with that. Adds a bit of excitement. If you, however, like things to be predictable, you have certainly stumbled into the wrong territory here. Turn back now and return to the safety of your cookbooks, hurry!

I’ve used all kind of potatoes in this dish and any of them will work. Use what you got. Russets, golds, reds, purples, whatever. I’ve even made this with some sweet potatoes thrown in with russets and one time I made the whole thing with parsnips instead. I was getting a CSA box at the time and had to do something with them. For the record, it was good, but maybe even a little too delicate for my taste. I crave this dish when I want something hearty and comforting, decidedly not fancy or challenging to my palate in any way. Just  being honest!

This dish can easily be made vegan with non-dairy milk. I steer away from cow’s milk myself, but I do add cheese. I like sharp ones such as an aged cheddar or even a blue. Stronger cheeses don’t require adding as much to give good flavor.  Sometimes I’ll add ham or hot dogs (Reserve judgment! Its family tradition). Green onions are a nice addition, leeks would also be good. Anything oniony combined with a sharp cheese is perfection in my world. I’ve gotten more creative with add-ins in the past (green peas, sausage, peppers, jalapenos), but these days usually stick to the basics (potatoes, cheese, some onion thingy, plus or minus a pork product).

Heat oven to 375, 400, something like that. Grease a baking dish, I use butter or whatever. Slice potatoes into rounds, peel them or not, I don’t care. Put the potato slices in a big mixing bowl and sprinkle them with flour or cornstarch. Dice up some butter (vegan or regular) and toss that in the bowl. Grate and add some cheese, or leave it out. Same with the onions and other mix-ins. Salt and pepper. Pour over some milk (I use unsweetened almond or coconut), it should be pretty wet, but not soup. Toss it all together until there aren’t any big clumps of flour hanging out. Tip that all into the pan and kind of pat it down. Add more grated cheese to the top if you want. Cover with foil and put it in the oven. Cook until the potatoes are tender; I don’t set a timer or watch the clock, but I think this takes about 30-40 minutes generally. Then remove the foil and let the top crisp up. I’ve even been known to up the heat to broil on this step when I’m impatient. You are going to want to dig in right out of the oven, but you will be rewarded it you wait a little bit first for it to cool. Plus avoid tongue burns that will definitely ruin the experience!

The Historical Significance of Scalloped Potatoes

This dish is legendary in my family. I am the youngest of 6 (sadly, now 5) and this was a crowd pleaser when we were growing up. My mom totally rolls her eyes at us when we (still) ask her to make it. From her perspective at 81 years old, it is too fussy and time consuming and she ain’t got no time for that. My mom would never be accused of being overly sentimental, but that is definitely a big part of her charm!

I first started making it for myself and my hungry, clueless-in-the-kitchen college roommates. And it WAS time consuming. At least how it was written in The Joy of Cooking, which was my only cookbook at the time and I had yet to learn to bend recipes to my will. There was peeling, soaking, layering and pre-cooking involved. But I did it anyway because it was a taste of home and a bit of comfort to all of us big kids living away from our parents for the first time.

Many years later, my dear (late) chef brother opened my eyes to a better way. He did that a lot! He was probably my biggest role model and  inspiration in cooking without rigid recipes. He was a classically trained chef, but ironically, never followed a recipe and made it all look effortless, fluid and fun. Maybe the recipes were in his head, IDK. Anyway, he took all kinds of liberties and was something of a MacGyver in the kitchen (you’ll have to be as old as I am to get that reference). I remember one time I was hanging about while he catered a fancy meal for a bunch of fancy people at an estate deep in the wine country of St Helena, California. VERY far from any kind of market. He was making a skewered chicken app and forgot the skewers. Without a moment’s hesitation, he ripped some rosemary stalks from the yard and threaded the meat onto those. Genius! Looked and tasted fucking amazing. He would do shit like that all of the time. Miss him so.

So back to scalloped potatoes – my brother and I were together one Christmas far from home and decided to make the old family favorite. So I started to peel and chop and was about to start parboiling, layering and pre-heating the milk when he (thankfully) stopped me. “You know you can just mix that all up in a big bowl and toss it into the baking dish right?” Mind. Blown. Duh. So I’ve made them that way ever since and it is way more fast and fun and I never measure a bit. Just trust myself to make it look right, even if it is different every time. Which is part of the fun.

You Could Just Have a BLT, But a BELT is Better!

My sweetie loves BLTs and so does my mom. I’ve never really been a big fan, but I do understand their appeal, in theory. Very simple, good quality elements come together and elevate the whole sandwich.

How could I put my own spin on it though and make it more appealing to myself?

Then it hit me – no one eats BLTs for breakfast, but they should! I think there could be a niche for them there in my world. I am all about the savory breakfast after all!

I always cook my bacon in the oven these days on a foil lined sheet pan to make the cleanup easy. No more standing over a pan patiently turning bacon strips while the fumes coat my hair and then having to deal with the disposal of a shitload of grease. For my sandwich I chose pepper bacon and then picked some cute lil’ cherry tomatoes and basil from my yard. I chopped those guys up along with some white onion. Tossed all with olive oil, salt and pepper then roasted in a slow oven on a lined sheet pan til soft and squishy. Cooled them down and ran them through the food processor with some balsamic vinegar. I left it pretty chunky. Once the bacon was done, I fried up an egg, toasted an English muffin and spread some of the tomato onion mix on there. Then layered the egg, bacon and lettuce. My egg got a shot of Tabasco, but you don’t have to.  

From Expert To Novice. Again.

I am so not following the recipe in my working life right now! And I say that not so much in a proud way (at least today), but more in a scared shitless and totally uncomfortable way. Ugh.

I’ve managed to go from having a solid, regular, full time job in a niche in my field where I excelled to now a part-time position in a different, nichier niche where I have no idea what the fuck I am doing! And it shows!! Expert to novice is definitely not how the recipe for professional success is written, but here I am.

And how am I doing with that you ask? Not well! I like being the one who knows, the one who people look to for guidance, the one who can do the work and do it well almost in her sleep. It is so much more comfortable to have all of the answers rather than to be asking all of the questions. I don’t want to traverse this sea of mediocrity again damn it! I’ve already made that journey plenty of times! But this time the distant shore is really where I want to be: self-employed in a creative way on my own terms with plenty of time to spend with my kids while they are still at home. Guess I better suck it up and stay the course.

There is no substitute for experience though and that just takes time. Trying to force something to cook faster won’t turn out well. It will be burned on the outside and raw on the inside. And I just keep reminding myself that cooking without a recipe was not easy at first, but now it is effortless and fluid, like breathing. I’ll get there.

 

Slightly Slimy Spinach Gets a Second Life as Joe’s Special

We buy a lot of greens in this house. For smoothies, salads, tacos (I’ll tell you about that one later), but frequently, despite our best efforts, the greens turn on us. You know, when the leaves look fine one day and then a wet, inky blob the next? Total bummer. You just have to throw that shit out.

But what about when there are just a few rogue leaves polluting your bag of otherwise perky greens? I’ve got the perfect vehicle – Joe’s Special.

Joe’s special has a special place in my heart because my dad loved it and so do I. It was something we would excitedly order whenever we went out for breakfast and happened to find it on the menu (rare) or would cook up for ourselves on leisurely weekend mornings. I still make it at times and think of him; miss him. I take a lot of liberties with it though (duh, see name of this website). And in my adult life, I have learned that it is also a perfect dinner when I want something easy, meaty and satisfying.

Sautee up some chopped white onions and add some crumbled up ground meat or meat-like product. I’ve used everything from vegetarian TVP to leftover hamburger patties; in these pictures it happens to be turkey sausage. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, if using raw. Then add your spinach to the pan and cook it until it is shrunken down; no worries if there are a couple of slimy bits in your greens going in, they will still taste ok once cooked. I’ve also used other greens here like baby kale, arugula, but spinach is traditional. I like to season with garlic salt and lots of black pepper. Sometimes I add some chopped jalapeno if I’m feeling spicy. Then add some scrambled eggs to the pan, or tofu if you are going veggie. Cook til the eggs are how you like them. The proportions are totally up to you – I tend to go heavy on the spinach and lighter on the meat and eggs, but you do you. If you are feeling cheesy, feta is super yummy on this. In my mind, Tabasco is the perfect finish. Serve with toast, wrapped up in a tortilla or all by itself.

Summer Fruit Cocktails

Ever have the disappointment of picking a bad watermelon? Crack it open ready for a firm fleshed taste of summer and instead finding a sodden, mushy mess? Ugh. Been there. But do not despair, just add booze!

This idea was born out of necessity. We were going to a family barbecue and had promised to bring signature drinks. We have become known in certain circles for creating special cocktails for different events. It is creative, fun and we like it.

We were having a heck of a time getting this one to come together though. I really wanted to make use of a somewhat funky cucumber mint vodka we had lingering in our bar, but it just tastes weird on its own. Adding gin and making a play on a vesper helped, but still wasn’t quite up to snuff. Taking it more in the direction of a vodka tonic was better, but still not great.

Coincidentally, I made a watermelon misstep that saved the drink! Watermelon pureed in the blender with fresh mint and cucumber then combined with the cucumber vodka, gin and seltzer made an incredibly refreshing cocktail just right for a backyard barbecue. All kinds of riffs you can do with this one too. Use any melon or combo of melons. Use vodka, gin or both like we did. Use a flavored sparkling water or even a clear soda if you like it sweet, or maybe tonic water if you want a bit more bite. Sad summer fruit instantly redeemed.

Summer Fruit Cocktails – Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion KC is me Summer Fruit Cocktails – Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion KC is me IMG_9800 IMG_9800

 

 

 

 

Bagel Breakfast Strata

Bagel Breakfast Strata? Sure, why not?!

So I had a couple of forgotten everything bagels and a neglected tub of chive cream cheese that were begging to be used. This rainy Sunday morning, inspiration struck! What if I made these into a breakfast strata? For those not in the know (or younger than 50) , a breakfast strata is a baked eggy, custardy, brunchy kind of casserole thing that uses cubed bread as a base.

I love bagels. The chewy salty outside of a well-made, REAL bagel is sublime. But not nearly  as perfect without a cream cheese partner. I could have simply used the bagels mixed with the eggs and other stuff here, but incorporating the cream cheese as well was simply irresistible. Might just be crazy enough to work.

How to add the cream cheese though? Mix it in with the eggs and milk? Spread it on top after baking? There had to be an answer…then it hit me. Keep it simple stupid!

Heat up the oven to 350. Grease up a baking dish, I used 9×13. Spread cream cheese on a couple of bagel halves, I don’t care what kind of either one you use. Stick the 2 halves together and then chop them up into cube sizes. Toss those into the baking dish with whatever other stuff you want or need to use up. I added chopped red and yellow peppers, a handful of spinach, sausage, some purple onion and a small can of diced green chiles. Then I mixed up some eggs and (almond) milk with salt and pepper and poured that right into the baking dish (you need enough of the egg mix to saturate everything). Mix it all together until everything is moist. At this point you can cover this and let it sit in the refrigerator for a while so the bagels soften up a bit to make it more custardy. Even leave it overnight. I baked mine right away the first time because I’m impatient and it was fine, but letting it sit for at least an hour before baking was better. Bake until done ( eggs set, not runny, brown on top). Let it cool a sec before you cut it. It is good hot, lukewarm or even cold straight from the fridge.

The Humble Bean

Who doesn’t love the creamy lardy goodness that is refried beans? Whether at your local Mexican joint with a fishbowl sized margarita on the side or at home out of a can, they satisfy, right? What if I said you can make them at home cheaper, healthier, tastier and pretty damn easily? Don’t believe me? Here’s how:

 Step 1: Get yourself a slow cooker! Godsend. I start this in the morning before I leave for work.  I pick out some dried beans, usually pintos, sometimes black beans for this. I throw enough beans in to cover the bottom of the pot then add a couple of inches of water above the bean level. I put in a big spoonful of coconut oil (but any oil would work here, you could even use lard 😉) then add bay leaves, a couple of whole dried chilis, sometimes a couple of smashed and peeled garlic cloves if I’m feeling it. Then I set it to low and forget it until I get home from work later.

The house smells great when I get home and here’s where the magic happens. Turn off the heat on the cooker and drain the water. I am not super thorough on the water drain because a little bean juice helps the alchemy that ensues. Remove the bay leaves (toxic to eat, I always put in 3 so I know exactly how many I need to fish out later), take out the peppers, but leave the garlicky goodness (if using). Then I add some salsa, (red, green, whatever you like) or if I’m out of salsa sometimes I’ll substitute V8 juice. Just some extra liquid to flavor things and help thin the mixture for the immersion blender that will turn everything nice n’ creamy dreamy. A regular manual potato masher works too, but is more work and hard to get them really creamy. Might need to add liquid as you go along to get the desired texture and you can leave it as chunky as you want. We tend to go a little more liquidy in our house. I’m usually adding spices and seasonings and correcting as I’m blending but you can add it all in the beginning or the end. I use typical Mexican spices like chili powder, cumin, sea salt, sometimes oregano. Spice blends work here too, you could even just use a packet of pre-made chili or taco seasoning.

We use the beans to make all kinds of yummy meals including tostadas, tacos, tortas, burritos. You can also add meat to any of these, if that’s your thing.

Stuff To Make With Beans

Tostadas: Take those crisp corn tortilla shells you can buy near the other tortillas in the grocery stores and top them with a smear of the homecooked non-refried beans from the slow cooker. Then sharp cheese and a simple coleslaw made from shredded cabbage, colorful peppers, onions, cilantro and a dressing of plain yogurt/sour cream/mayo whatever you have on hand mixed with seasoned rice vinegar, salt, pepper and celery seed. And of course Marie Sharp’s habanero sauce!

Tacos: Get those cute lil’ tiny corn tortillas and put a dollop of beans on there, some quick pickled red onion, cilantro and cotija cheese. Add taco sauce or salsa.

Burritos: Beans, cheese, white onion and salsa. Classic.

Torta: Any combination of the above on a bolillo roll for a tasty Mexican style sandwich. I always add fresh cilantro to mine, but I realize some people think it tastes like soap.

Bruschetta

 I love this recipe when we have a shit ton of tomatoes to use up or we just feel like having a light summer dinner. It also works great as an easy but impressive appetizer.

We grow cherry tomatoes in our backyard pots, so that’s what I use, but any ripe tomato would work. We also grow basil, which is super easy, even for brown thumbs like me. There is no right or wrong here as far as proportions – I am more moderate in my garlic quantities, but my sweetie goes for the vampire repellant level.

Chop up some variety of ripe tomatoes. Ok to mix and match. Add as much chopped garlic as you like. Throw in some chopped up basil. Toss it all with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar plus salt and pepper to dress. Once I used a lemon balsamic vinegar and that was really good. You can get creative here.

 It is even better if you let this marinate a bit, even for a few hours. Just cover it and let it sit on the counter for a while. We usually go for a martini length of time here (time it takes to drink a martini).

Toast some bread slices and spoon tomato mixture on top, with or without grated parmesan or Romano cheese. Italian bread or baguette are best, but I’ve been known to use whatever bread we have lurking around in the freezer for this. It’s meant to be low stress, so use what you got. The toast is just a vehicle for this summer tomato goodness. You need to eat it right away though or else it will become soggy, but then you could just put it into a bowl, eat it with a fork and call it Panzanella salad instead!

Bruschetta Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion by kc is me

Bruschetta Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion by kc is meBruschetta Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion by kc is me Bruschetta Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion by kc is me

Asparagus Potato Soup

I love roasted asparagus! But what to do with the left over parts of the stalks? I have always just snapped the stalks to see where they naturally break in order to find the most tender parts for roasting, but it kinda hurts to throw so much of it away.

I tried using the reject parts to make vegetable stock once, but it tasted sort of weird and looked murky.  I do have a non-discriminating old dog who eats them like jerky sticks, but I really wanted to find a way to make them tasty, for human consumption. Enter this soup.

I chopped up the more tender parts of the leftover stalks into thin rounds and discarded the really woody end parts. Sautéed some shallots in olive oil (butter would be good here to, alone or in combo with the oil). Added most of the asparagus parts for a minute or so, but kept a few aside as well. Peeled a few  soft, sprouting, aged potatoes found in the bottom of a fridge drawer and diced them up. Added potatoes to the pot and enough stock to cover (I used veggie because The Vegans were dining with us) and simmered until potatoes were tender. Put the whole lot in my Magic Bullet with a bit of almond milk (but other milks or creams, unsweetened of course, would work) and blended til smooth. You could use an immersion blender here too. Leave it as chunky as you like. Then back into the pot, corrected seasonings with salt and pepper and added in the reserved asparagus parts. Warmed for a few minutes until the asparagus was no longer crunchy. Off the heat I stirred in a bit of truffle oil ( totally optional but really good) and served it with left-over bread croutons (see recipe).

Next time, If I’m  feeling more fancy, I may add some fresh tarragon to the seasoning of this soup since I now grow my own! I am happy with it though considering it is made from usually discarded remnants. And it happens to be vegan, for those who care about that stuff.

Breaking Breakfast Rules

Breakfast and its cousin brunch are often a desert wasteland for those of us of the savory persuasion. You have your breakfast cereals; sugary nuggets bathed in milk. What else is dunked in milk and eaten? That’s right, cookies. Basically they are the same thing. Or you stay over at a friend’s house and they go out of their way to make you a special breakfast… 10 to one you are getting pancakes or waffles. I can feel my blood sugar plummeting now. You say smoothie, I say fruit milkshake. And please explain to me how breakfast bars are any different from bar cookies?

Too much sweet! Don’t get me wrong, I like dessert. Just not for breakfast.

When I was a kid, I was the weird-o who made toasted cheese sandwiches or ate leftover cold pizza or even fried rice for breakfast. Travelling in Japan was a dream come true – savory breakfast stuff everywhere! Ramen, rice and miso oh my! Same with Eastern Europe; nothing wrong with charcuterie to start the day in my book.

My kids are apples that have stuck pretty close to my tree on the breakfast front. This has presented some opportunities for creativity over the years. One result was the development of savory oatmeal. Hear me out and don’t scrunch your face all up like that. Oatmeal is just a grain so no reason why it can’t be savory. Think rice pilaf or risotto and you kind of get the picture. So next time you are making oatmeal for breakfast (we use steel cut, but any variety works), cook it in broth instead and top it with savory delights like cheese, nutritional yeast, green onions, green chiles, salsa, beans, smoked almonds. It works.

Cooking Without a Recipe is Scary. At First.

And I think this is a good metaphor for life as well. We all are just trying to figure out what makes us happy, or in cooking, what tastes good. Recipes offer a promise that things will turn out well. The problem is, what tastes good to you or what makes you happy may not follow the recipe. Recipes are safe, predictable and offer a tested and trusted way to a specific result. But what if that is not the result that suits YOU? Or, what if the act of cooking, or living life your way is the reward in itself?

For much of my life I have stubbornly proclaimed that I am not a baker. Why? Because baking is more science-y and requires following the rules. Unlike other cooking, I couldn’t see a way to improvise to my heart’s content and also produce baked goods that were actually edible. I resisted baking for years and I lived down to my own expectations every time I did try it. I could not find any joy in the process of following a recipe.

Then something changed. I gave myself permission to screw around with baking recipes, treating them more like suggestions as I routinely do with my general cooking. Two things happened; I learned I could do it my way with good results and I was a whole lot happier baking. Now I turn out homemade pizzas, focaccia, muffins and cakes like nobody’s business. And they are uniquely, imperfectly, deliciously mine.

Now I’m applying that same found wisdom to my life. I have jumped ship and departed from the generally accepted recipe for a happy life. I no longer have a leash (steady job), but neither do I have a recipe to follow either. I am making this up as I go along, finding work that suits me and fits into the rest of my life. I’m a little (sometimes a lot) scared about it, but I just keep telling myself that I don’t have to follow the recipe and everything will still (probably) turn out ok. And I am already much happier in the process.

You See Useless Bread Remnants, I see Croutons!

In my house the heels of the bread loaves get the shaft. They collect, unwanted and unloved, in multiple varieties and bags in my freezer. (Yes, I keep my bread in the freezer, screw you for judging me).

But, croutons. Croutons are beloved. On salads, soups, right out of the bag (I’m looking at you Steven Shomler!), croutons kick ass.

Once in a while when I notice multiple bags of unloved bread in the freezer I pull them out to transform them into croutons. I use whatever combination I find; might be all sourdough or sourdough plus rye or Ezekiel bread. It doesn’t matter, variety is good. Except cinnamon raisin or other sweet stuff might be a little weird and I have not found gluten free breads very conducive to croutoning (too dense). Just let ‘em thaw enough to dice up into chunks as big or small as you like, but all roughly the same size. Toss in a big bowl with some olive oil and whatever seasonings sound good. I’ve used everything from Old Bay to Oregon Coast Wasabi seasoning salt, but Johnny’s Garlic Bread Seasoning is my go-to favorite.

Spread them out on a lined sheet pan (I use those silicone liners now, but foil or parchment paper worked fine before I got all fancy). Put them in a low oven, I go 250 degrees. Stir them around once in a while. Cook until dried out and brown. I think this usually takes about an hour, but it depends on how big your chunks are. When they look done-ish, I just turn off the oven and leave them in there to cool. It helps them get even more dried out and crunchy.

 

Customize Your Granola

Buying granola in the store is such a scam. It is super cheap and easy to make it at home. Plus, then you don’t have to tolerate having any nasty bits in there that you don’t want (I’m looking at you raisins).

This recipe was born from a mis-buy of a large, you could even call it jumbo canister of old fashioned oats. You know, the one with that scary, smarmy looking pilgrim guy with the bad haircut on the label. Turns out, my little darlings are partial to steel cut oats for their savory breakfast oatmeal, so I was stuck with this gigantic silo of old fashioned oats.

Nobody likes oatmeal cookies, at least not in our house, so that was out. I don’t like oatmeal at all as a rule, so I was not willing to take one for the team on this score. I guess we could have given it away, but I don’t like to give up so I turned to the Google gods for inspiration. Eureka! Granola! My sweetie likes it mixed with yogurt and fruit and they sell that shit for like 10 bucks for a tiny little bag in the grocery store. I was all over this plan like white on rice.

In a big bowl measure out about 3 cups of old fashioned oats and mix in about 1 teaspoon of salt (trust, this is needed, don’t leave it out). Measure out around ½ cup of coconut oil and melt it in a pan or in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. Stir into the oil  something else sweet that you like (I’ve used honey, agave, brown sugar even date butter). The sweetness part is to your own taste, anywhere from a couple of tablespoons to, I don’t know, maybe a cup? I stick to the less sweet end of the spectrum so you are on your own here. Also, you can add other flavorings to the oil and sweet mixture. I like vanilla and almond extracts, but other ones would be good too (maple maybe, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, etc). Put that oily stuff aside and find some other goodies to throw into the oats. I love pepitas in this as well as pecans. Any nuts would be good. Add some dried fruit if you like, I used dates and that rocked, but have tried dried cranberries too. I like coconut flakes in mine, but you don’t have to use it. I know how divisive coconut can be! Then add the oil mixture to the oat stuff and stir it all round until everything is coated. Turn it out into a ½ sheet pan size rimmed baking sheet lined with something (parchment, silicone mat). Pack it down with the back of a spoon, or your hands. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or so until it is all toasted and yummy, stirring and packing back down once during the baking process. Let it cool on the counter then cover and don’t touch it until the next day. Then you should wake up to some awesome granola chunks.

Focaccia, Simplified

For years I told myself I was not a baker. Then I got a KitchenAid stand mixer for a present and convinced myself to give it another go. I still don’t love the ultra technical types of baking, I’m more of a big picture gal and don’t delight in the finer details. I have found some baked goods that lend themselves to my particular brand of maverick cooking (AKA hard to fuck it up while improvising). This is one of them. Whenever I am making pasta, a big pot of soup or featuring a salad for dinner, I usually trot this one out. It is fast and pretty unfussy. Impresses the hell out of people too. Plus, fresh bread is a phenomenal olfactory and gustatory experience no one should deny themselves.

Chop up some fresh or dried herbs that sound good for focaccia. I often snip some rosemary from my yard and mix it with chopped garlic and dried thyme from my spice cabinet. Dried basil, fennel even oregano would be tasty. Put that in a glass measuring cup and add about ½ cup of olive oil. Microwave in 30 second increments on high for 3-4 cycles, stir in between. Let it sit for flavors to mingle and cool down. You could do this part in a pan too, if you are so inclined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (if using, highly recommend) with paddle attachment dissolve 2 ¼ tsps. yeast in 1 cup warm water with a dash (like ½ tsp or so) of something sweet to feed the yeast (sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup). Stir it and let it do its thing while you prep the flour mix. In a big bowl, measure out 2.5 cups of flour and mix in 1 tsp sea salt. To the yeast mix add about ½ of the oil/herb mixture (put the rest aside) and half of the flour. Mix together and let it sit for a few minutes. Then add the rest of the flour and stir/knead it in the mixer or with your hands for a minute or two. Oil up the flour bowl and turn the dough into that for rising. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise for an hour. I put mine in my oven with the light on. Sometimes I turn the oven on to broil for a few seconds before loading the dough, just to take the chill away, but not too hot or the yeast will croak.

Once risen, prep a ½ sheet size rimmed pan with a tablespoon or 2 of the oil/herb mixture, greasing up the whole bottom and sides. Be generous. Pour the dough out into the prepared pan and stretch it out and pat it down to fill the space. Its gonna be really soft. Use your fingers to dimple the whole surface of the dough. Like you are playing Beethoven on the dough. Then drizzle with the rest of the oil/herb mixture and sprinkle with a bit of coarse sea salt. Let it rise uncovered on the countertop for 20-30 minutes while the oven heats up to 450 degrees.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until it is nice and golden brown. Best eaten the same day, but we rarely have any leftover to worry about anyway!

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are comfort food extraordinaire. When I was growing up, we only had them on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were considered special, or maybe just too much work. I am fortunate enough to own a KitchenAid stand mixer, so I don’t even bat an eye about making them, even on a Tuesday.

I put “potatoes” in parentheses on purpose (OOO love that alliteration right there!) because I rarely make my mashers with potatoes solo. Some proportion of cauliflower, turnip or sweet potato is usually part of the mix with the regular old russets or golds.

It’s a very basic recipe, cubed up potatoes and whatever else boiled in salty water. Sometimes I peel them, sometimes I don’t. Cooked til tender then drained and tossed into the mixer bowl. Butter (vegan or real), milk of choice (unsweetened/unflavoured – I’ve made THAT mistake), salt and pepper, sometimes a spoonful of horseradish or greek yogurt, sour cream. Put on the whip attachment and watch the magic happen in moments.

Taste them, correct the seasonings and add other goodies that delight you. I’ve been known to add green onions, wasabi plant stems and Oregon Coast Wasabi seasoned salt, even blue cheese chunklets when I had some left in the fridge begging for use.

Fuck Sherry Vinegar!

My vegetarian kids fell in love with patatas bravas after two summer trips to Barcelona. The land of many tapas, most unrecognizable to your average American kid. Even young ‘uns with a mom who loves to cook and feed them different stuff. But ahoy! In the sea of weird foods stood something approachable and vaguely familiar to them – patatas bravas. Fried potatoes with a creamy, smoky tomato sauce.

I got a wild hair last week to make some when I saw a jar of patatas bravas sauce while cruising through Cost Plus with my favorite sidekick. Yum, but $5 for a teeny jar?! I sprung for it anyway since we were soon off to the coast for a mini vacation and I was planning on spending some serious time in the kitchen cooking up some love for my loves.

They turned out great. The kids were in heaven. We had fun reminiscing about Spain and planning our next trip. But $5 a jar seemed silly to continue, so I committed myself to making my own.

Anyone who knows me, understands that I see recipes as merely a suggestion. I often read several and then cobble together my own thing. I keep a pretty well-stocked kitchen and I love condiments, but there were a couple of things I would need to buy in order to make my version of this dish so that it would still ring the same bells. Smoked Parpika – that sounds interesting and I can already think of a couple of other things I might do with that. Tomato paste – an excuse to buy one of those cute tubes, yay! I can’t stand those silly little cans. You use one or two tablespoons out of it and then what are you supposed to do with the rest?! I usually put the remainder in a baggie, stick it in the freezer and promptly forget about it along with all of the other previously canned items that met the same fate. Soon I have a collection of orphaned mystery items lurking in there until I either toss them all or make a soup out of them if I am feeling particularly thrifty and/or creative. But what’s this? Sherry vinegar?! WTF. I currently have 5 types of vinegar in my house, do I really need another one? No senor. Time to improvise!

Patatas Bravas, Minus Stupid Sherry Vinegar

See my rant about sherry vinegar for the backstory to this recipe.

Cube up some potatoes, skinned or not. Leftover baked potatoes work well here if and reduce the cooking time. Season them. Plain salt and pepper, some cayenne if you like them extra spicy. Spice blends work well here too; I’ve used Old Bay and a yummy one from the Saucy Minx. Fry them in oil in a pan on the stove or toss in oil and spread them out on a baking sheet to cook in the oven. I suppose an air fryer might work here too, I don’t have one so can’t test it. I usually go the oven route and use parchment paper to prevent sticking, because I’m lazy and don’t like standing over a hot, greasy pan. They should be crispy.

While the taters cook, fry up some onion and garlic in olive oil til soft. Add paprika to the onions and garlic, cook til fragrant. Add canned tomatoes, some tomato paste and vinegar (I use balsamic most of the time). Cook down until thick, takes about 10 minutes. Cool a bit. Toss into a blender, blend until smooth. Taste and correct seasoning. I like to add a couple of dashes of hot sauce because I like things spicy! Add some mayo to the sauce to make it slightly creamy. I used Veganaise because it’s awesome.

Serve taters with sauce on top or on the side for dipping (my kids are dippers). I might add a jalapeno next time, maybe some grilled/roasted peppers, even a little chipotle might work here. Any leftover sauce is tasty on burgers, baked potatoes, any roasted veg. Probably make a good all-purpose sandwich spread too. So, make a big batch!

Tuscan Kale and White Bean Pasta

My sweetie had a long week and requested a comforting pasta dish for dinner. We turned on the Italian Cooking Music station, poured some wine and I looked through the larder. The result was this crazy dish, which could easily be vegetarian or veganized, if you are so inclined.

I put on a big pot of pasta water with lots of salt. Chopped up and sautéed in olive oil some white onion, red bell peppers, kale and chicken sausage (leave the sausage out or use a veggie one if avoiding animals products). Sprinkled on some red pepper flake and sautéed until soft. Opened a can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained. Chopped up a few cloves of garlic. Added the beans and garlic to the pan, poured in about ½ cup of water and a small spoonful of Better Than Bouillon stock paste (I used chicken but veggie would work too). Put the lid on and let it all meld on lowish heat.

Dropped the elbow pasta into the boiling water (any smallish shape works here  but I chose elbows since it was one of the MANY partially used boxes we had on hand, SMH). Once cooked, I scooped the pasta from the pot into the pan with the other goodies. Purposely did not try to drain off all of the pasta water – that starchy liquid is what makes a creamy sauce! I added more of the pasta water to adjust the thickness and quantity of the sauce in this dish; that stuff is liquid gold!

Let it all simmer for a sec, tasted it and added a bit of sea salt,  then served with freshly grated parm and lots of black pepper. In the summer I would add some chopped basil from my garden to top it off.

What To Do With Condiment Dregs

My family has a thing for condiments. The more the better! We joke that some people use second fridges for beer, but we need one just for our condiments. What do you do with all those little bits left in the bottom though? 4 ideas: Sauces, salad dressings, sandwich spreads and marinades.

Dab of jam? Add some soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds, maybe a dash of chili paste – instant stir fry sauce or meat marinade.

Ketchup, horseradish and Worcestershire with a dash of siracha makes a pretty good cocktail sauce for shrimp, crab, fish and chips, fry sauce. Near empty mayo jar gets rice vinegar, celery seed, squirt of agave and salt and pepper to make coleslaw dressing. Another use for nearly empty mayo or sour cream or even Greek yogurt is to add some siracha to make a spicy sandwich spread, excellent on banh mis.

To that almost empty mustard jar, add some olive oil, diced shallots and vinegar (I’d use wine vinegar or balsamic), salt and pepper to make a basic vinaigrette. Use for dressing a salad or as a sauce for roasted vegetables or add to leftover cooked potato chunks for potato salad. One of the weirder combinations I’ve done recently was with orange marmalade. I do so love orange marmalade! I kinda did a riff on a honey mustard by adding Dijon mustard, rice vinegar, tarragon and shallot to the marmalade dregs. Mixed it right in the marmalade jar (to my husband’s bemusement), added salt and pepper and it was great! Ate it on a romaine and arugula salad with mixed sweet bell peppers that night, served over roasted asparagus the next then added the dregs of the dregs to an orzo salad for the win!

What To Do With Leftover Mashed Potatoes

You could just eat them cold out of the container like I’ve been known to do, much to my kids’ horror, or try one of these:

Potato pancakes: Super easy lil’ yummy fritter type thing. Put cold potatoes in a bowl, mix in an egg to bind, add green onions, finely diced peppers (sweet or hot, multiple colors preferably, makes things pretty), maybe a little garlic pepper. Form into small flat patties and cook them in oil in a frying pan until crisp and brown on both sides. Serve with ketchup, aioli, apple sauce, sour cream, whatever.

Soup: Quick but delicious potato soup. Sautee until soft and fragrant some shallots or diced onion in a small amount of oil or butter, maybe add some red bell peppers for color and taste. Leeks would be awesome here, but I rarely have those laying around. Add potatoes. Thin out to soup-like consistency with combo of broth and milk. Toss in other stuff if you want or have things you need to use up. Corn, green peas, asparagus – all good here. Diced ham or bacon would be tasty if you want it meaty. Correct seasonings and warm until it is as hot as you like it.

Quesadilla: I know this one sounds weird, but trust. Small bit of oil in a frying pan over medium heat, flour tortilla rubbed around the pan to get the pan and the tortilla greased up. Keep pan low-medium because you don’t want to burn the tortilla while you are still filling it with awesome stuff.  Spread mashed potatoes all over tortilla and top with other goodies (meats, veggies, cheese). The potatoes act like the “glue” to seal the quesadilla together, which in my opinion, is a way better vegan option than those weird milkless cheeses. Even though the cheese is not absolutely required to glue, doesn’t mean you can’t still add it! I’m all about gilding the lily. Cook until golden and then fold over into quesadilla shape. These work for any meal, but are especially great for breakfast stuffed with scrambled eggs or tofu, sausage, salsa, whatever else sounds good.

What’s For Dinner?

Three words that can strike fear into the hearts of the bravest. In my house, usually spoken by hollow-legged teenagers with fridge door open, staring blankly inside. The aforementioned perpetually hungry growing kids have outpaced the standard 3 meals per day, lately requiring 4, 5, 6…as my culinary skills struggle to keep up with demand. Plus, leftovers aren’t big sellers around here, so I’m tasked with not only volume, but variety as well. What’s a savvy, cost and waste conscious cook to do?

Recombine. Repurpose. Create!

When I peer into my fridge, I don’t just stare blankly like my kids. I see building blocks of opportunity. Leftover mashed potatoes, check! Wilty greens, ok! The heels of the bread loaf, alright! Salad dressing dregs, yes! What delicious thing can I make from this seemingly random collection of stuff?

It helps to have go-to vehicles for said random stuff. Mine include soups, pastas, quesadillas, tortas, frittatas, stir frys, burritos. It is possible to make food magic happen even with stuff that looks like it belongs on the compost heap. Trust.

What To Do With Leftover Patatas Bravas

SOOOO many things! These lil’ babies are repurposing gold!

Fritatta: For breakfast, brunch or even dinner mix the taters with eggs and other goodies and bake. I usually sauté some veg, like onions, peppers (sweet and/or hot), maybe some greens if I’m feeling it or just need to use some up. Sausage would be yummy too. Pop all of that into a greased glass baking dish with the leftover taters. Whisk up some eggs with a dash of milk of choice (unflavored and unsweetened, duh) and salt and pepper. Pour that over the stuff in the baking dish and mix gently. Pop it into a 375 oven and cook til done (brown on top and no longer jiggly). I like to eat this at room temp, with toast at breakfast or with wine and a salad for dinner.

Quesadilla: Small bit of oil in a frying pan over medium heat, flour tortilla rubbed around the pan to get the pan and the tortilla greased up. Keep pan low-medium because you don’t want to burn the tortilla while you are still filling it with awesome stuff.  Shredded or crumbled cheese of choice (I like cotija or Monterey Jack for this, but anything that melts will work). Add to one side of tortilla leftover patatas and whatever other veg sounds good or is lurking around the fridge and needs to be used. I always do onions of some sort because I love them, peppers, pickled jalapenos, salsa, leftover corn or beans, etc. When tortilla has browned and cheese has melted, fold the just cheese side over the other and eat it. Salsa, guacamole, sour cream optional.

Burrito: Patatas bravas, beans, cheese, leftover meats or veg, salsa, avocado/guacamole, sour cream (if you’re into that, I’m not) all rolled up into a tortilla.

Taco: Fill a crunchy taco shell or folded soft corn or flour tortillas with warmed up patatas bravas. Sometimes I’ll add cooked greens or peppers, but it is good with just the potatoes too. I love diced white onion and cilantro, sharp cheese and Marie Sharp’s habanero sauce on my taco tops.