Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to Feed an Eater

Starting ever so delightfully soon, we are hosting two beloved visitors for ten days. One of them eats a lot more and a lot differently than we do on Cake and Edith Avenue. So I have a plan, and I'm posting it here in case you need a plan too because maybe you also have a dad or several teenage sons to feed. I'll let you know how it goes.

Day 1
Skillet Chicken Pot Pie* (similar in method to Skillet Lasagna)
Green Salad
Green beans

Day 2
Vegetarian tacos with Smitten Kitchen's black beans, queso fresco, and magic green sauce or roasted tomatillo dressing
Fried plantains
Sweet and spicy coleslaw
Saveur's pickled red onions

Day 3
Damn good chili plus all the fixins (e.g. "3 boxes of Saltines" for Eater alone)
Root veggie coleslaw
Peter Reinhart's cornbread (i.e. the only cornbread we will ever eat in our home)
Honey butter

Day 4 might be leftovers and/or take-out plus Halloween candy. Day 5 involves a dinner party elsewhere (Alleluia!). And then we're halfway there.

*You need a membership for access to that recipe. It's worth it. ATK is the best.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Skillet Lasagna with Homemade Marinara and Italian Sausage

You know what I love? Teaching. As of last month, I've been doing it for four years and right when I think I couldn't love it any more, I make a new batch of eager, engaging friends and am overwhelmed by my good fortune. I mean seriously. Look at these cuties! I get PAID to hang out with them!

Mambo Italiano

Last week, I promised these all-star chefs a recipe for skillet lasagna. Skillet lasagna is basically a combination of all the components of the best-ever lasagna we've historically made in my Mambo Italiano class, only faster, thanks to America's Test Kitchen and their clever ways. (Also we skip the mozzarella, but you won't miss it.) This could be a weeknight meal (a) if you have an hour to make dinner, or (b) if you (i) make the sauce beforehand or (ii) use a prepared pasta sauce you like instead of making your own, and have 40 minutes to make dinner. It's definitely good enough for company and is best enjoyed alongside a simple mixed greens or Caesar salad. It's perfect this time of year, when it's brisk and gusty out but not yet so cold that we'd rather have a lasagna baking in the oven for an hour, warming up our freezing house.

Mambo Italiano

Pretty, eh? Almost as pretty as my Mambo Italiano students last week! Enjoy! xxoxoxoxoxo

Skillet Lasagna
Yields 6-8 servings

1 onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried basil or Golden Fig Dynamite Herbs
½ teaspoon each: dried marjoram, parsley, oregano, red pepper flakes (could also use 1 teaspoon Italian blend)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 lb Italian sausage (optional - see note)
2 large (26.5-28 oz) cans tomatoes (diced, crushed, whole)
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
10-12 lasagna noodles, broken into 1 to 2” chunks
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces good quality ricotta cheese (or 4 more ounces cream cheese or mascarpone)
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil

Equipment: One large (at least 12”) skillet with lid
Tip: Salt as you go!

Measure out 1 teaspoon of salt and have it ready next to your stove. In 12” or larger skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add onion and a pinch of the salt and sauté for 4-5 minutes, until slightly soft. Add garlic and a pinch of salt, then a minute later add dried herbs, red pepper flakes, and about half the remaining salt and sauté for one more minute. Add sausage and cook, stirring and breaking it apart, until no longer pink, about 4-5 minutes. Add one jar of tomatoes, lemon zest, the rest of the salt, and honey. Bring to boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Stir in butter (better) or olive oil. Scatter broken lasagna noodles on top of sausage and sauce and pour remaining jar of tomatoes on top. Cover and bring to simmer; reduce heat and keep simmering, stirring occasionally, until pasta is al dente (about 20 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine three cheeses and a few big grinds of pepper. Once pasta is al dente, dot lasagna with cheese mixture. Cover, turn off heat, and allow to steam for about 5-10 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Top with fresh basil.

Notes: If you want this to be vegetarian, you can simply omit the sausage. If you want to throw in more veggies, do so before adding the lasagna noodles and can of tomatoes. If your sauce is still too thin but your noodles are cooked, continue cooking with the lid off until the liquid has reduced, stirring constantly.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hi! Remember Me?... Plus:
Coconut Curry with Apples and Winter Squash

Contrary to what this poorly updated blog might indicate, I have been cooking! I just haven't been writing.

Remember March and April? When I did the Whole30 and felt amazing and lean and energized?

And then remember July? When I read a book about the hog farming industry that pretty much rendered me vegetarian overnight?

And then came August, when I read The Good Gut, all about how to restore a compromised microbiota. (In case you are wondering how: beans + kale.)

Then September brought us two hospitalizations and a staggering stack of medical bills and a lot of mac and cheese and what do you know? It's October. And my food baggage is heavy.

But! I've been feeding my family, teaching at Local D'Lish weekly and in my home occasionally. I am focusing on technique rather than creativity at the moment and, to that end, am currently enrolled (from the comfort of my own kitchen) in The Kitchn's baking school. I also made and have been updating a Facebook page (like me, yo! - Cake and Edith Cooking Classes). But I have not been documenting much here. I hope I haven't lost you entirely. Because I'm ready to get back in business. The kind of business that is a total labor of love with no pecuniary gain whatsoever.

It's also the kind of business that stores a list of recipes I want to tackle in the near future because my bookmarks bar and Pinterest fail me every time. In the spirit of technique, and just reminding myself how to follow a recipe every so often instead of relying solely on my resourcefulness and the random contents of my refrigerator to dictate what I end up cooking... hold me accountable, friends.

Slow-Cooked Boeuf Bourguignon (I said mostly vegetarian)

And now... curry! I used half a butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces. You could use any winter squash though, cook it however you'd like and add about 3 cups of 1/2"-ish chunks of it to the curry on your stovetop and cook until hot.


Really anything goes here. I browned my butternut squash in a pan with some coconut oil, salt and pepper. Then I set it aside and sautéed a makeshift mirepoix. Just start with whatever vegetables you have in your refrigerator to make an aromatic base. Here I've got carrot, celery, a few cherry tomatoes, and some scallions.


Add some apple. My thinking: the inclusion of apples might prompt one's picky children to eat curry. We've had a 50% success rate with this effort. (Girl yes, boy no.)


Once the apple has softened, add some other aromatics, e.g. ginger, lime zest (pictured). Add your curry powder (I used a mild curry + some fenugreek and amchur powder because I like sweet-sour flavors and I also like to use my spices up before they are no good). Have some liquid ready to go - water or broth.


Once the stock has turned everything into a nice saucy base, add in coconut milk, squash, and some chickpeas and cook until everything is heated through and the sauce is as thick as you'd like. It took mine about 10 minutes at this point. Off the heat, drizzle juice from half a lime over the curry and stir to incorporate. Serve over rice or perfectly fluffed quinoa.


Garnish with avocado and some mint or cilantro.


This was a weeknight meal for us, but I am a stay-at-home mother, so I had the 40 minutes it took from start to finish (including peeling and dicing squash). I chopped the aromatics while my butternut squash was browning and then I grated ginger and lime zest while the apple was softening. It keeps well in the refrigerator and only gets better over a couple days. And like I said before, anything goes.


Coconut Curry with Winter Squash, Apples, and Chickpeas
This curry is infinitely adaptable. Substitute whatever vegetables you have on hand for the ones listed below. Brown tofu or chicken with or in place of squash (tofu will take about the same amount of time as squash, but chicken cut into 1” pieces will brown more quickly – just about 3 minutes per side is fine before setting aside).
Yields 4-6 servings

2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, divided
3 cups peeled, ½”-diced butternut squash or other winter squash (about 1 delicata squash, half an “average”-sized butternut squash)
½ an onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1-2 large apple(s) (you decide what kind!), peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons curry powder (plus other spices you might want to add)
1/2 cup water or broth
1 can full-fat coconut milk, well shaken 
1 1/2 cups cooked (or one 15-oz can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed 
1+ teaspoon salt*
Freshly ground pepper to taste

* Measure out your teaspoon of salt before you begin cooking and then sprinkle a little bit of it into the pan every time you add a new layer of flavors. This allows each ingredient to interact with the salt so that you are drawing out more flavors and allowing for more complexity in your finished product. After adding the lime juice at the end, taste and add a little more salt if desired, 1/4 teaspoon at a time.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. Add squash to pan, spreading evenly in one layer. Don’t touch the squash for 4 minutes. Check on your squash and once it has started to brown on one side, stir, add some salt (~1/8 teaspoon), and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes. Remove squash from pan and set aside.

Add remaining oil to pan over medium high heat. Add onion, celery, and carrot with a big pinch of salt and cook for 4 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add apple and another big pinch of salt; cook for two minutes. Stir in ginger, lime zest, curry powder, and the rest of your salt, and cook for one more minute. Add half a cup of water or stock and stir so that it loosens up any browned bits of vegetables or spices from the pan and forms something in between a sauce and a paste. Bring to boil. Add coconut milk, chickpeas and squash to pan. Bring to a low boil. Stir until curry has reduced and thickened a bit, vegetables and apples are cooked through, and chickpeas and squash are piping hot. Off heat, stir in juice from half a lime. Taste and add more salt, lime juice, or black pepper to taste. Garnish with avocado and cilantro or mint. Serve with pita bread or over rice or quinoa.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

For the Omnivores, an excerpt from Pig Tales

I'm sorry I haven't posted a recipe in forever. We've been eating the old-fashioned way, heavy on resourcefulness and fresh veggies, light on recipes and oven-use. Our home is a little warm by modern standards and we don't yet own a grill, so we end up eating a lot of salads and sandwiches and rustic hodgepodge cheese-plate-ish meals in the summer. We also take more than our fair share's advantage of restaurant patios.

What brings me to post today was something I couldn't not share, ASAP: powerful prose I encountered this morning from food journalist Barry Estabrook's latest book, Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat. There are loads of positive and hopeful bits in the book and Estabrook's tone, weight of his topic notwithstanding, is light, inviting, and often humorous. He loves pigs! I have opted to share a darker, gruesome excerpt, however, because sometimes it's important to face the facts, especially when we choose to eat meat in an era when we have alternatives.

More than 100 million hogs are raised in the United States each year, 97 percent of them on factory farms. Four huge conglomerates, Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods, JBS USA, and Excel Fresh Meats, process two-thirds of all hogs in this country. Those pigs are crowded in pens on hard slatted floors that allow their excrement to fall into pits directly below their feet, where it stays for up to a year reeking and emanating poisonous gasses that would kill the animals should the barns' ventilation fans fail. Even though a single pig operation generates as much waste as a small city, farmers are not required to treat it. Instead, they can and do spray it directly onto fields where it can be washed by rain into waterways.

Pregnant female pigs live their entire lives on top of their own feces and urine in individual crates that are too small for them to turn around in. Rubbing against the crates' steel bars causes gaping, raw wounds. Piglets have their teeth pulled, their tails amputated, and their testicles removed without anesthesia. To survive in such an unhealthy environment, pigs are fed a steady diet of low-dose antibiotics, a practice that leads to the evolution of drug-resistant 'superbugs' that sicken and kill thousands of humans each year. Even when medicated, factory hogs are notoriously vulnerable to epidemic diseases that sweep the industry once or twice a decade. One such illness, a porcine diarrhea virus, was first detected in the United States in May 2013. Within a year, it had killed more than 7 million American piglets.

Industrial pigs are not even guaranteed a humane death. Some modern mechanized slaughterhouses can kill and pack more than 30,000 pigs in a single day on vast 'disassembly' lines. According to on-site investigations conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture's Office of the Inspector General, many of those animals are still alive and sentient when their throats are cut and they are dipped, struggling and kicking, into tanks of scalding water. USDA inspectors who report such abuses can find themselves disciplined or transferred to less desirable jobs. The pigs are killed and butchered by workers whose earnings have dropped by 40 percent since the 1980s. Once no more dangerous than the average manufacturing job, meat-packing has become more hazardous than working in construction, manufacturing, and even mining.

So what's an omnivore to do? I haven't figured that out for myself yet, although this week I'm 200% vegetarian. You should read the book. And in the meantime, think before you eat the bacon! Especially if the bacon is from a restaurant or conventional grocery store (though Whole Foods and other health food retailers are by no means immune from selling products at odds with their perceived message of sustainability, humaneness, et cetera). Beeler's, at least insomuch as the Wedge co-op assures me, sources all its pork from independent farms in Iowa and states that "no antibiotics, growth promotants of any kind, nor injections of vaccines or vermifuges, chemicals used for treatment of parasites, are ever used" in its products. I cannot find any information that speaks to the humaneness of their practices.