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 ( totallyoptional 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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 basicvinaigrette. 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’sbemusement), 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!
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.
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.
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.
“To be nobody But yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
That’s a very strong quote to explain why recipes are merely a suggestion, but hear me out! If cooking is a metaphor for life – why you wanna be like everybody else?? I can go to McDonald’s if I want predictable food, but where’s the fun in that?
I have a pretty cerebral day job, so cooking has become my creative outlet. I read cookbooks like some people read novels. Here’s the rub though – I dislike being constrained by rules. Guess what? I have discovered that you can still make tasty food even if you don’t exactly follow a recipe. All it requires is an interest in cooking, a willingness to improvise and a little faith in yourself.
What I have to offer you here are anti-recipe recipes that are purposely vague. And short (I’m going for post length equivalent to a Ramones song vs those miles long recipe missives on other sites). I want to encourage you to begin seeing recipes as suggestions, not rules that must be strictly followed. My intention is to inspire you to go ahead, get in the kitchen, try something new. Switch up these ingredients, use what YOU like instead; crank up the heat, use balsamic if you have no sherry vinegar, substitute basil for cilantro, whatever. I give you permission to NOT follow the recipe! Have fun and be you, in all things.
I saw a recipe list for high protein breakfast ideas that are plant-based. Typically and disappointingly, most of them were sweet. Being a committed savory girl, the beans on toast recipe caught my eye and ignited my creativity. Of course, I had to make it my own though, because recipes are merely a suggestion!
I toasted some Ezekiel bread. The stuff I eat when I’m feeling virtuous or just want that mighty grain texture. Mashed up a can of cannellini beans I had in the pantry with a splash of my beloved Sicilian Lemon balsamic vinegar from Navidi’s @navidiscamas plus a generous sprinkle of Tyna Mays-Schey’s Saucy Minx Tantalizin’ Tex Mex rub @saucyminxbbq. I don’t eat slabs of meat anymore, but this rub stuff is great as an all-purpose seasoning salt. Love her other varieties too.
So I spread the bean mash on the toast and then smashed an avocado with salt and lemon and smeared that on top. A couple of grinds of black pepper. I put diced red peppers and red onion, dash of Marie Sharp’s habanero hot sauce on mine. The kid avoided the veg (typical), but liked everything else.
I thought about this breakfast all day long because it was so good! My brain was filled with so many possible variations from changing up the bread, the beans and the toppings. Mashed pinto beans with chili spices on wheat topped with shredded cheese, tomato and green onions. White beans with garlic on Italian peasant bread with chopped tomato and basil dressed in olive oil. Rye toast with baked beans, sharp cheddar and white onion. MMMM the possibilities are endless! And this would be good for any meal, not just breakfast 😉