Tag Archives: roasting

How to Explain Cooking

20 Sep

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Every year, without fail, the exact same thing happens the first day in Kindergarten:

“Who knows the sound the ‘M’ makes?”
“I do, I do…mmmmmmmmm.” I cringe as 18 surprisingly-loud-considering-their-size 5-year old voices shout at me.
“Wait, wait, wait, friends. You have to raise your hand to answer the question. So let’s try again. What sound does the ‘M’ make?”
Then right on cue: “Mmmmmmmmmmm,” 18 surprisingly-loud-considering-their-size 5-year old voices continue to shout at me all with hands up in the air.

My bad.   Nowhere in my explanation did I state that the kids have to be quiet while raising their hands so I can call on one of them. Kids are so literal. They are also blatantly truthful:

“The reason I’m late is because my mommy had to put her bra in the dryer.” Or, “You aren’t an old lady, but you do have wrinkles.” Or (amidst uncontrollable Friday morning sobbing), “I’m…. so….. tired.”

That last one I could relate to perfectly, and almost started sobbing myself out of sympathy and understanding. However, I’m happy to report that after five weeks into the school year, we are raising our hands to answer questions, and continuing to learn – together.

Having spent hours upon hours of advanced collegiate learning about writing, expression, and both written and verbal communication, as well as hours upon hours of putting those skills to use, the hands raising situation is a perfect example of how the lack of such a small detail can simply mess up everything.

Cooking is the same way. I have a good friend, Laura – and no, names have not been changed to hide identity – Laura asked that I specifically refer to her by name. She said being mentioned in my blog would make her famous (while I don’t think Laura knows that I only have 48 subscribers, I love the sentiment!). Laura has a hard time with the culinary arts, and frankly, like most who struggle in the kitchen, she dislikes the act of cooking. So over the past couple of years, I have tried to help her out by showing her easy cooking tricks, making her meals to introduce food she thought she didn’t enjoy, and provided recipes for potlucks and such. While most every time I’ve received an OMG-happy type phone call or text about the food, there have been a couple like this:

“So how did the lemon and lavender cocktail turn out?”
“Well,” uh-oh. The extended “well” is never a good sign. “The recipe said the word ‘syrup.’”
“Yes, the directions said to boil the water, sugar, lavender and lemon to make a simple syrup.”
“Yeah. I don’t know what that is. I read ‘syrup.’”
“So?” (Cue blonde moment; I had no idea where she was going with this, but I think most people probably would have.)
“I added syrup.”
“Syrup?”
“Yes.”
“Like, maple?”
“Aunt Jemima, baby.”
“But the directions didn’t say to add maple syrup!”
“But the directions SAID syrup!”

My bad, again.

I think it happens quite often when the inside thought doesn’t match the outside output. Which, in turn, always creates a learning experience. For Laura, she learned what a simple syrup is, and to only put in a recipe specifically what is on the ingredient list. I learned that if I’m going to use a cooking phrase, I might want to explain it as well.

Friday night’s meal reminded me of Laura, as she was adamant about telling me how she hated squash – that was until she had a spaghetti squash salad at my house. Prior to the meal, I was standing in line at the grocery store, and a woman asked me about the spaghetti squash I was buying and how to cook it. I explained the “oh it’s simple” way of cooking it flesh-side down to steam it up before turning it over to roast, and received a blank stare. The woman did not know what the flesh of the squash was. A necessary key detail!

IMG_2539So for Laura, for the lady at the store, and for all the times I’ve tried to explain something that was oh-so-obvious in (only) my brain, here’s my simplest, easiest, go-to, gluten-free, veggie-loaded meal that will leave even the worst cook feeling proud and satisfied: Roasted Spaghetti Squash. It’s perfect for this beautiful start to the autumnal season, and smells so yummy while cooking.

Roasting is high-heat cooking, usually in an oven. To roast a spaghetti squash, first preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and then prep the squash by cutting it in half vertically. A strong knife, like a 6-8 inch chef’s knife will work best. The inside will have seeds and pulp like a pumpkin. Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds and pulp and discard. The inside of the squash is the flesh, beautiful and yellow, and season the flesh with 2 tbsp of olive oil and ½ tsp of salt for each side. Place the squash halves open side down on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Then, using kitchen tongs, turn over the squash halves so the open side is facing up. Continue to roast the squash for about 20-25 minutes, or until the flesh of the squash is tender enough to be pricked easily with a fork. Remove from the oven and let cool until able to handle. Then, holding the squash with one hand and a fork in the other, scrape the spaghetti squash starting at the top and pulling the fork down. The flesh will pull off in a noodle-like form, and voila! Roasted Spaghetti Squash!

From here, the options are endless for serving the squash:

* melt a stick of butter, whisk in lemon juice from one lemon, and add thyme leaves in a pan and pour over the squash for an easy side dish.
* shave fresh parmesan and crack fresh pepper over the squash and mix with arugula, basil, and dried cranberries for a tasty salad.
* mix with a favorite tomato sauce for a faux-spaghetti dish.
* add it to a turkey sandwich for a sweet, Thanksgiving-y taste.
* stir into a favorite curry sauce and serve over cooked lentils for an exotic meal.
* mix in some crunchy bacon, fry up an egg to top, and enjoy a healthy carbonara alternative.

For my, eh-em, many readers out there that will inevitably make Laura famous, I have taken these cooking lessons to heart, and have started to learn how to talk about cooking more specifically. After all, the last thing we need is any more kitchen mishaps when cooking can be so much fun and so rewarding. So please, try the squash, and let me know how it turned out!

Enjoy!

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Happy 2015

27 Jan

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Did anyone else have a whirlwind of a holiday season? Even now, mostly through January, I’m just now getting to writing. After Thanksgiving, Christmas was just a hop, skip, and jump away. After Christmas, Rob and I traveled up North visiting Boston, Maine, and Connecticut. Two weeks later, we took a road trip to visit my sister and friends in New Orleans. Celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the overall holiday/New Year season with family and friends was more than wonderful, it was truly a blessing.

But so was all the amazing food.

For a quick run-down, starting from the week of Christmas at my mom’s house for hor’derves, ending with this week’s vegan inspired meals, here are our holiday dishes in Cliffs Notes: Foodie Volumes form.

NOTE: It’s ok to drool. No one will judge.

  • Dungeness crab cocktails and Mom’s dip (yep, my absolute fave straight from the waters of our former backyard)
  • Beef Wellington (Rob’s fave, and he only gets it once a year. Poor guy.)
  • Pork Loin Chili
  • Oysters from off the Massachusetts coast
  • Oysters from off the Maine coast
  • Oysters from 2 different river beds in Maine
  • Maine Lobster (in the best way: a simple roll in a local fisherman’s pub. Also had great coffee.)
  • New England Shrimp
  • Oxtail Tortellini (yes, I will be recreating this)
  • Scottish Salmon (Chinooks, you’re still No.1, but this beast of a fish takes a close second)
  • Lamb Shoulder Risotto
  • Lamb Leg
  • Lamb Rib (Lamb. Rib. OMG.)
  • Oh, and all those lambs were in one dish. Well, it probably was just one lamb…
  • Maine Finnan Haddock with Absinthe Cream (Absinthe cream, people!!)
  • Goat Meat Chili
  • Duck Confit Poutine. The real deal.
  • Fermented apple, cider beer. Kinda like kombucha, only better.
  • Truffled Venison
  • Wild Boar Pappardelle
  • Wedding Cake Latte (pumps of vanilla and almond syrups)
  • Jenn’s Bacon and Spinach Wrapped Chicken
  • Lemongrass Hot Wings
  • Etouffee French Fries
  • And finally…. Duck Sausage with Spicy Mustard and Cranberry Sauce (in hotdog form, mind you)

After finally taking yet another step into the social media world, I did document many of these on Instagram, #eatingacrossAmerica and #42potatoes. Needless to say, it’s been fun. And filling. But mostly fun.

So now it’s back to the real world; Rob is back flying and I am back teaching, and in four days I’ve given myself 7 paper cuts. One of which is in that little soft spot between my fingers (now, if that’s not cause for a choice word or two, I don’t know what is). However, reality doesn’t mean the food adventures have to stop. Oh no, my friends, it’s only just beginning.

I am taking a new approach to the new year. Like many resolutions, the oh-you-made-a-new-years-promise-to-eat-better-and-detox-but-after-three-days-of-quinoa-torture-you’ll-give-in-to-the-hidden-frozen-candy-bar resolutions obviously don’t work so well. I’ve learned not to make resolutions that will end up in failure, making me feel defeated and diving into plate(s) of nachos. So this year, there are no resolutions, just more fantastic eating.

We have an overabundance of beets from our farm, so I’ve been trying to be creative with them (plus, almost every restaurant we visited in New England had some sort of beet salad on the menu, so I’m inspired). Beets are an incredibly versatile veg, and after putting in the initial efforts to prepare them, having them ready to use in the fridge lends to infinite possibilities.

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To prepare roasted beets: cut off all the greens (if you have beets with their green tops – they are edible and delicious, by the way), then wash and dry the skin. Place the beets 3-4 at a time in a foil, drizzle with olive oil, and wrap the foil loosely around the beets making a little package. Pour in about ¼ c of water, and leave a little opening at the top for steam to vent. Place in a 400 degree oven for an hour to an hour and a half; until a paring knife slides easily in the beets. Remove, let cool, and peel the skin off using a paring knife, or just your fingers. NOTE: you will get beet-red stained hands, but it will fade with a few washes.

At this point, they beets are ready for whatever beety plan you have for them. I choose to lightly marinate them with rice wine vinegar, salt, lots of black pepper, and dill, and keep them in a glass jar for making salads, hashes, or pureeing with white beans and garlic for a delightful and healthy crostini topping. They are great for breakfast, on sandwiches for lunch, chopped up finely as a relish on tacos, and fantastic paired with sweet, fatty fish.

In other parts of the country, beets tend to be the start of the spring season. Here in Northern Florida, they are a staple at the moment. So, whether you are able to use them now, or have to wait until April, hopefully some inspiration has sparked for a healthy new year. Enjoy!

 

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The 100th Day of School, Writers Block, and Cardamom

4 Feb

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This past Wednesday was the 100th day of school.  My students were so anxiously awaiting the day to do everything around the number 100.  Counting forwards, backwards, by 2s, 5s, and 10s to 100, making posters of 100 things, writing 100 words, hopping for 100 seconds, and making 100-Fruit Loop necklaces were all in the mix.  In one project, a student said that if he had $100, he would buy a bologna sandwich.  Then, he also said if ate 100 marshmallows, he would vom (what our class calls vomit – It sounds nicer).  A lot of kids wrote stories about being 100 years old, sitting in a chair and knitting, while one girl said she would be in the circus.  I’ve got some pretty cool kids.

But it made me realize that these 5-year olds have the almost effortless ability and sparked motivation to think of something super cool, and immediately express it with ease, fluidity, and creativity.  How fun it must be to have the mind of a kid!  Seriously!  Remember the times when you would come up with crazy fun ideas and write stories and draw pictures and put stickers all over everything?  One girl told me through infectious giggles that she put 100 stickers on her dog’s head cone.  So much fun!

Alas, those days have gone for ye ol’ adults.  And it must be showing because when I asked my students if I looked 100 years old, they said no – more like 72.  YIKES.

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Many things have happened over the last month, much of which involved traveling and having so much fun with our family.  Yet, as I always find it hard to write when I’m on the road, returning home conversely held an anvil of writers block over my head.  Have I been cooking?  Absolutely!  Made a vegan version of grits with red-eye gravy, no less!  Have I been writing?  Sure!  There are bits and starts and notes of soon-to-be blogs all over my notepad and computer.  Have I actually completed anything?  Nope!  Just like the laundry piling up in the closet, intention is there, but execution is not.

So rather than try to come up with some fun, witty, or the occasional deeply sentimental blog post, I’ll take a lesson from those who are always taking lessons from me.  Here’s the last month, through the eyes of a 5-year old:

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Rob and I were on TV!  We made it onto the Today Show for all of 2 seconds!  It was super dark, a sign was covering Rob’s face, and you had to pause, rewind, slow-motion play, and repeat, in order to see us, but we are TV stars now!

We had LOTS of great food – my Aunt and Uncle’s football Sunday food followed by filet of beef with horseradish, potatoes, and creamed spinach hit the spot on a rainy Sunday night in Long Island.  In Connecticut, Rob’s mom made our favorites including the Chicken Francese that I will never be able to perfectly recreate.  While in NYC, we ate at a small, almost hidden gem of a steakhouse called Quality Meats.  We ordered soybeans.

Rob tried beef cheek (liked it!), shrimp (liked it!), and octopus (not so much).

I learned how to knit!  According to my students, this makes me an “old lady.”

Due to the first of these many winter storms, our flights were cancelled out of the northeast, leaving us driving all the way down the I-95 corridor to get home in time for work.

I slept through Delaware.  The state also cost us $8 in tolls.  I didn’t think that was fair.

Finally, the wonderful, yet unusual cold Jacksonville weather has inspired us with cozy, warm meals like Cardamom and Citrus Roasted Chicken.

Really, anything with cardamom is going to be amazing – it is a spice often used in Scandinavian and Middle Eastern countries.  It is the warmth in Pulla (Finnish Cardamom Bread, or as my Great Grandmother called it, “Biscuit”), and the spice that sits on the back of your throat in Chai Tea.  While it tends to fall into the cold-weather-sugary-sweet-treats spice category (think nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves), I actually prefer using it in savory ways.

When cooked with protein, cardamom adds a grassiness and earthiness to the meat that pairs organically.  With the brightness of citrus and hearty herbs, a dish is complete.  Thus was born my Cardamom and Citrus Roasted Chicken.  I actually purchased an already cut-up 8-piece chicken, as it was surprisingly cheaper than the whole Roaster.  But if you can’t find the cut up whole chicken, a whole Roaster will work just as well – just stuff the cavity with the leftover citrus and rosemary.  This recipe is also very versatile if you only like white meat (buy the breasts bone in and skins attached), or dark meat (thighs would be divine).

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Using my trusty cast iron skillet, I organized my bird like a jigsaw puzzle, drizzled over the juice of 2 tangerines, 1 lemon, and 1 lime and added the citrus shells to the dish (we are at the height of citrus here in Florida – it’s awesome).  While cooking, even more flavorful juice seeps out of the citrus, naturally basting the bird.  With a liberal sprinkling of s&p, about 1 tsp dusting of ground cardamom, and 3 large rosemary sprigs tucked in open crevices, the bird was ready for its final touch: butter.  With only 3 tbsp of butter dabbed on the bird, it browns just enough, and the fat from the butter emulsifies in the cast iron with the citrus and chicken juices, creating a fabulous, no fuss gravy for the roasted chicken.  After 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven, let rest, then serve with Steamed Parmesan Broccoli, and a buttery chardonnay, and enjoy.

Occasionally, when our class is sharing our “New News” in the morning, I like to share what I made for dinner the night before.  I shared this one, and generally got responses with lots of Ooooos and Yuuummms.   Except for one, who incredulously asked, “But where’s the pasketi?”  Through the eyes of a child, a key component of my dish was clearly missing.  But, also gave great inspiration for the next night’s dinner!

Enjoy!

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