Category Archives: From the Cookbook

Mini Plum Cakes

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Plums get a bad rap ’round these parts. They fall low on my stone fruit totem pole, well below peaches and nectarines and cherries and apricots, and even below pluots and apriums and other weird hybrids that derive from the plum. Too often, I’ll bite into a seemingly ripe plum only to recoil in horror, eyes watery and mouth puckering — man, an unripe plum can be tart.

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So, rather than get burned twice a hundredth time, I’ve just stayed away. But then there were some very pretty looking plums at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago and I couldn’t resist. And then I kind of forgot about them, and let them languish a bit in my fridge. And then somehow what was supposed to be a quick afternoon snack turned into a perfect afternoon snack: buttery, plush cake enveloped around a tart-sweet plum that softens and becomes jammy in the oven.

I could tell you more about these, but let me just show you instead:

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A lid of sliced almonds adds a little crunch, and they bronze beautifully in the oven. Aren’t they so pretty? Is it just me?

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Plums are making their final appearance this summer, so don’t miss your chance. Make these beauties before time runs out. Continue reading

Autumn Crostini with Kale and Squash

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I’ve been in a bit of a weird food rut lately. I can’t ever figure out what I want to eat, I don’t crave things with the same ohmygahhhmusteatthisnow intensity. I float between “hmmm, I guess that sounds good” and “maybe I’ll make that,” no longer spend every waking hour contemplating what I’ll eat next. It’s all very weird. (Or, maybe normal? How often should one think about food anyway?)

Maybe it’s end-of-summer listlessness. There’s only so much one can do with zucchini and tomatoes and corn before they get boring. Or maybe the prospect of cooking yet another balanced meal for lunch and dinner is bit … blah. I haven’t been truly excited to be in the kitchen for a while, despite spending copious amounts of time there cooking stuffed peppers or making banana bread.

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So I thought I’d try “unconventional” this week. Monday, I had a grilled cheese for dinner, with sauteed kale, sharp cheddar, pesto and tomatoes. It was pretty glorious, and kind of fun to indulge in something I very rarely eat. Tuesday night, I had these autumn crostini, appetizers for dinner, if you will. A puree of butternut squash, roasted garlic and balsamic vinegar (similar to these mashed potatoes) formed the base, topped with sauteed shallots, kale and feta.

Usually, I’d just toss the roasted butternut squash cubes with the kale (either sautéed or fresh) and create a salad, maybe with a grain. And in fact, I did use half of the squash in a lentil salad to (maybe) be named later. But crostini seemed like a fun way to use up leftover bread, and the butternut squash mash is a cinch with a food processor, stick blender or even just a fork and strong biceps.

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Even though the recipe is by all accounts “healthy” and “balanced” and all those other things that grown-up dinners should be, it felt weirdly exciting and special to basically have a snack for dinner. Paired with a glass of wine and the strangest episode of television I have ever witnessed, it was a respite, however brief, from my food apathy.

Do you ever get stuck in food ruts? How do you deal? Continue reading

Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa and Ground Beef

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Growing up, Sundays used to be my mom’s cooking day. She’d start by chopping up a big mess of vegetables, then slowly cook most of the food we’d eat that week, working through each recipe one by one until, by dinnertime, she’d made six days’ worth of lunch and dinner for four people. We’d “help” by keeping her company, aka watching football and getting in her way.

Obviously, I’m not nearly with it enough to plan and make that much food in one sitting. (Also, I don’t have the patience.) But sometimes, I kind of love day-long “cooking projects.” Most days, I don’t have a ton of time to spend slaving away in the kitchen, so on those occasions when I do, it’s nice to spend a few hours chopping vegetables, turning on the oven, stirring multiple pots and pans and just generally working towards creating a real meal. It’s my version of my mom’s cooking days, only the only person getting in my way is me (not hard to do — I have basically one square foot of usable counter space) and no one yells at me for cheering too loudly when my team scores.

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These stuffed peppers with quinoa and ground beef can be a project, or, if you don’t have the time, something that can be assembled in parts over multiple days. You could cook the ground beef in 20 minutes one day, the quinoa in 15 on another day and then spend 30 minutes assembling and baking on a third. Start to finish, the recipe takes a little over an hour, so it’s not a terribly difficult endeavor regardless, though there will be a lot of dishwashing involved. You’ve been warned.

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Is it worth it? Totally. Every day that I’ve brought these peppers to work, my co-workers have raved over them, and they’re just going off how good they smell. They have a nice crunch from the nuts and from the quinoa, which gets toasty when the stuffed peppers go in the oven for the final time. The raisins, which I added because they were in the back of my pantry and needed to be used up, actually taste good here (shocking, I know!), adding a slight sweetness to balance all of the savory, spicy notes. If only all of my cooking projects turned out this delicious … Continue reading

Whole Wheat Roasted Banana Bread

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I eat a TON of bananas. Like at least one per day. Like this diet would be no sweat for me, if it didn’t also involve eating only uncooked food. But I have a very short shelf-life for them — no green spots and definitely no brown spots. (I freeze any “about to turn” bananas before they can get too spotty, which is why my freezer looks like this.)

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So what to do faced with a craving for banana bread, but without the requisite almost-black-and-attracting-flies specimens needed for delicious banana baked goods? In two words: roast them. Sticking the bananas, still in their peels, in the oven caramelizes their sugars and turns them into soft, sweet piles of concentrated banana-y goodness.

While I could have used the roasted bananas in my always perfect banana bread recipe, I wanted to try something with whole wheat flour, since its nuttiness is delicious in quick breads and breakfasty sweets. The Kitchn’s original recipe was pretty perfect, though of course I had to make it a one-bowler and used oil instead of butter and brown sugar instead of maple syrup because that’s what I had at home. And then I threw in chocolate chips because … well why not?

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I made this early on a Saturday morning, while home for a very lazy Labor Day weekend. It was ready just as we were starting our second cups of coffee, after teasing us for almost an hour with an impossibly delicious aroma. Obviously it was good straight out of the oven, but it really shone the next morning, after the flavors had some time to deepen and blend together. There was no Day 3.  Continue reading

Greek-Style Orzo Salad

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I should have made this pasta salad a few months ago. Pasta salads are resolutely picnic fare, and well, the season for picnics is kind of over. But pasta salads fall into the broader “grain salad” category, and as evidenced by the numerous quinoa, farro, barley, wild rice (and more quinoa) salads on this site, I love a good grain salad.

They’re especially perfect for packed lunches, since they can be made the night before and then eaten hot, cold or at room temperature. They also travel easily, and are filling enough to keep you out of the vending machine come 3 p.m. And since fall is the start of “serious” time, that weird three-month gap between summer and the holidays in which school and work and commitments and schedules and productivity seem to take on increased importance, a go-to collection of recipes for good packed lunches is essential. I’ve already gone through my tips for packing lunch here and here, but a few more:

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1) Keep things interesting. Eating a sandwich five days a week is pretty boring, even if you switch up the sandwich fillings every day. (A Chipotle burrito sounds especially amazing when you’re tired of eating the same lame thing day in and day out.) Try salads one week, soups the next, pasta the week after — add new recipes to your rotation of old faves.

2) Don’t forget snacks. I get to work pretty early, so I pack my breakfast, lunch and at least one snack on a regular basis. I can’t make it through the day without at least one mini-meal, whether it’s apples and cheddar, bananas and peanut butter, carrots and hummus, sliced apricots and almonds, yogurt and granola, etc. Without one, I’d buy peanut M&Ms every day, and neither my wallet nor my waistline could handle that.

3) Vary your diet. If you eat eggs for breakfast every day, don’t pack a frittata for lunch. You’ll get bored (see: “Keep things interesting.”) and health-wise, it’s not ideal to eat a dozen eggs a day. (Unless you’re Gaston.) If I have peanut butter with my breakfast, I’ll pack apples and cheese for a snack, if I have a spinach smoothie in the morning, I won’t pack a spinach salad for lunch, and if I have a carb-heavy lunch, I’ll take chia pudding in the morning. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized more and more how important it is to eat a balanced nutrient-heavy diet, and varying what you eat with each meal is essential to that.

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This orzo salad takes all of the delicious components of a Greek salad (cucumbers, olives, red onions, dill, feta [plus tomatoes]) and tosses them with a bit of olive oil, vinegar and orzo, which makes the salad hearty enough to keep you full throughout the day. You could add white beans, toasted pine nuts, a teaspoon of pesto or tapenade, or you could leave it as is. Either way, I guarantee it’ll convert you to a “lunch packer.” Continue reading