Saturday, November 17, 2018

Cooking as Solace and Comfort

Cooking as Solace and Comfort

In the spring we experienced a death in our family that shocked and saddened us. About six weeks later The Washington Post published a commentary by Mireille Grangenois who wrote of providing the meals for her aging father during his final illness. Although our situations couldn't be more different, we feel she articulated something important. Many humans recognize cooking is an act of love as evidenced by the effort expended when loved ones join for meals both celebratory and commemorative. On a smaller scale and more often, we cook as a sign of our love, sometimes every day. Friends and neighbors offer caretakers and the bereaved meals, knowing there is little else one can do when hearts are badly broken. Grangenois, while recognizing the significance of the gifts, sees them also as personal healing acts with mutual comforting benefits. She calls it "self-healing and self-preservation".

Our family members utilized cooking in its necessity but also as we tried to heal. Last spring, during the time of crisis when family joined together, the communal kitchens at a Ronald McDonald House were used to create some of the most luscious meals we've eaten. Soon afterwards one family member most keenly affected by the loss cooked for those who had rallied to be of assistance: chicken and waffles, grilled pizza, and a seafood feast. Still later, others of us traveled long distances to connect with far-flung siblings, parents, and children, and often our focus was on the food we could provide each other.

Included in this recipe repository are a good number of foods that have comforted Betsy and me either as recipients or as cooks (see especially Chocolate Bread Pudding). While we've taken a break from our blog as we've mourned we think we're ready to start again. Even that may be some comfort to us.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Brown-Butter Chocolate Oatmeal

We have needed comfort food lately, as a little person we love has been fighting for her life in a hospital across an ocean. Here's a comforting, warm, chocolately breakfast for chilly mornings, whether a metaphorical chill or otherwise.


Brown-Butter Chocolate Oatmeal

Source: New York Times
Yields 4 servings

2 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 c steel-cut oats
3 T Dutch-process cocoa
1/4 teas salt
2 c milk of any kind
2 1/2 c water
Sugar, honey, or maple syrup to taste
Toppings of your choice (cream, milk, coconut milk, butter, flaky sea salt, sliced bananas, shredded coconut, sliced dates, sliced avocado, or raspberries, alone or in any combination that sounds good)

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook for several minutes until deep golden brown. Add the oats and cook for a few minutes until they start to color a bit on the edges. Place the oats mixture into a bowl.

Add the milk and water to the same saucepan. Bring to a boil and then add cocoa, whisking well to remove lumps. Stir in the oats and butter, then reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the oatmeal is done, turn off the heat and cover the pot. Let it stand for 5 minutes. Then add sweetener to taste; enjoy as is or add toppings.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Lamb Meatballs (Kofte) with Yogurt Sauce and Herbs

For about three years, I've taken Turkish cooking classes at a local Turkish cultural center. Although my teachers haven't yet taught this, my attention was piqued when I saw it in the NYTimes food section recently. This dish has more garnishes than most Americans are accustomed to but they make it beautiful and truly tasty. Use them all or just some of them depending on what you have.


Lamb Meatballs (Kofte) with Yogurt Sauce and Herbs

Adapted from NYTimes Cooking
Serves 6

1 teas ground cumin
1 teas ground coriander
1/4 teas cinnamon 
pinch of ground cayenne
1 1/2 pds ground lamb, not too lean
1/2 c breadcrumbs
2 teas kosher salt, divided use
1/2 teas freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c finely diced red onion
3 eggs, divided use
2 T olive oil
1 c chicken broth
1 c plain, tart yogurt (if you use Greek yogurt, thin with milk and lemon juice)
1 T cornstarch, dissolved in 2 T water
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1/2 teas sumac
crushed red-pepper flakes, to taste
ground turmeric, for garnish, optional
3 T chopped mint
2 T chopped dill
cilantro sprigs

Place the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne in a small skillet and toast over medium heat for a minute or so until they are fragrant. Set aside to cool a bit.

Combine the lamb, breadcrumbs, 1 1/2 teas salt (I used less), pepper, onion, and toasted spice mix with your hands in a large bowl. In a small bowl beat 2 of the eggs and add to the lamb mixture; mix until incorporated. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and as much as 24 hours.

When ready to cook, bring lamb mixture out of fridge and break off even 1-inch pieces. Roll into balls and set on a baking sheet. This will be easier if you dampen the palm of your hand. 

Heat oven to 225F. While preheating oven, brown the meatballs in a large skillet with the  olive oil heated over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs in a single layer until they brown on one side (3 minutes or so). Turn them over and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.  Do not overcrowd and cook in batches so the balls brown rather than steam. Place on baking sheet or cake pan lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil and set in oven to keep warm while you prepare the sauce.

Pour excess oil from the skillet and turn the heat to medium-high; add the chicken broth. Heat to a simmer. Beat the remaining egg in a bowl or large liquid measuring cup and add the yogurt, 1/2 teas salt, and cornstarch mixture. Stir until well combined. While whisking constantly, gradually pour the yogurt mixture into the hot broth. Turn the heat down a bit and continue whisking until the yogurt is heated through. Try to keep the mixture from boiling since it can break or curdle. 

Pour the sauce over the meatballs. I liked doing this in individual serving bowls but it isn't necessary and probably too much work for a group larger than two. Drop the crumbled feta over the top and sprinkle with the sumac and crushed red pepper, if using. Garnish with pinches of turmeric powder and sprinkle with mint, dill, and cilantro and serve. This is good accompanied by rice, orzo, or pita bread. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Maple Pork Chops and Sweet Potatoes with Bacon

This meal feels seasonal to me; it's substantial and comforting food for those places that are still having some winter weather. 


Maple Pork Chops and Sweet Potatoes with Bacon

Source:  Simple Weeknight Favorites from America's Test Kitchen
Serves 4

1 1/4 pds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
6 slices bacon, chopped
4 (8 oz) bone-in pork rib chops, 1 inch thick, trimmed
salt and pepper
2 teas fresh thyme or 1 teas dried
1/2 c maple syrup
1 T cider vinegar
2 teas Dijon mustard

Place the sweet potatoes a large microwave safe bowl, cover, and cook in the microwave until tender but not falling apart; they'll have some additional cooking time. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch nonstick skillet on medium to medium-high heat cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside. Pour the bacon fat into a small bowl--you'll use some in the following steps.

To keep the chops from buckling, make shallow slices through the fat on the edges of the pork chops; 2-3 cuts should probably be sufficient. Pat them dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Replace about 1 tablespoon bacon fat into the skillet and heat over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke. Add the chops and allow to cook until browned about 4 minutes each side. According to the USDA the chops should reach an internal temperature of 145F. Remove the chops from the skillet and place on a plate; tent foil loosely over them while you proceed.

Add another tablespoon bacon fat and the sweet potatoes to the skillet; cook and stir occasionally until they are browned. Stir in thyme and reserved bacon and sprinkle with salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if needed. Place in a bowl for serving. Cover to retain the heat.

Reduce the heat to medium. In the empty skillet, add maple syrup, vinegar, and mustard and cook until thickened. Add the chops back to the skillet and pour in accumulated juices. Let the chops simmer while you turn them. When coated by the glaze serve the chops with the sweet potatoes.

Friday, February 23, 2018

One-bowl Brownies

We're still searching for our favorite brownie and I found a recipe in this month's issue of Cook's Country that has made it into our top five. (This recipe is so appealing it is showing up in other cooking blogs, too.) It has substantial chocolaty flavor and, if stored in the refrigerator, it has the chewiness Betsy and I like. There are a number of variations such as Nutella or mint brownies. Check the magazine out from your local library to find them.

Next time Betsy and I get together we plan a side by side test of brownies (might be harder on us than you'd think). Maybe this one will win!


One-bowl Brownies

Source:  February/March issue of Cook's Country
Yields one 9X13 pan

In parentheses are amounts I used for an altitude of almost 5000 feet.

1/2 c plus 2 T boiling water, measured after boiling
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped finely
1/3 c Dutch-processed cocoa
2 1/2 c sugar (for altitude subtract 3 T)
1/2 c plus 2 T vegetable oil
2 large eggs pus 2 large egg yolks (for altitude have them at room temperature)
4 T unsalted butter, melted
2 teas vanilla extract
1 3/4 c flour (for altitude add 2 T)
3/4 teas salt
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2 inch pieces or 1 c chocolate chips

Place oven rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 350F. Prepare 9X13 baking pan by lining with foil. (See note below.) Coat foil with oil spray.

In a large bowl whisk the boiling water, unsweetened chocolate, and cocoa, stirring until the chocolate is melted. Add the sugar, oil, melted butter, eggs and yolks, vanilla and salt; stir until combined. Add the flour and stir until just incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chunks or chips. 

Place the batter in pan. Bake 30-35 minutes, rotating halfway through baking time and test with a toothpick. There can be a few crumbs attached. Remove the brownies from the oven and place the pan on a rack. Let cool for 1 1/2 hours. Using the foil as a sling, lift the brownies from the pan and place on the rack for an additional hour, until they are completely cool. Cut and serve. If you are looking for some chewiness, keep them in the refrigerator until you eat them. 


Cooks' Country suggests placing two perpendicular pieces of foil so all sides are covered but these brownies didn't rise so much that the pan needed full coverage. I managed with one piece being  careful to press it fully into the corners. My pan is sufficiently covered up the sides but if you have a wider pan you may want to try folding two long pieces of foil so one is 13 inches wide and one is 9 inches long. Then lay them across each other so all sides of the pan are covered.

For an efficient hint when lining with one sheet of foil see this page.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Many of us feel loyal to a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe but browned butter makes this cookie exceptional.


Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (with altitude adjustments)


Source:  The Washington Post
Yield:  36-45 cookies, depending on size

(for altitudes of 4500-5000 ft, follow changes in parentheses)

2 sticks unsalted butter, one at room temperature
1 c packed light brown sugar (for high altitude subtract 2 T)
2 teas vanilla (for high altitude add 1 teas)
1 teas molasses
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk (for high altitude have eggs at room temp)
2 1/4 c flour (for high altitude add 2 T flour)
1 teas kosher salt
1 teas baking soda (for high altitude 3/4 teas)
1 c bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2-3/4 c toasted pecans, chopped
Flaky or coarse sea salt for sprinkling, optional

Melt the chilled butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, giving the pan a swirl occasionally. The butter will foam and spatter and will start to form brown bits on the bottom of the pan and smell nutty. This can happen while it is still spattering so keep an eye on it and swirl the butter from time to time. When the bits on the bottom have turned amber brown remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a small bowl to stop the cooking. Let it rest for 20 minutes. 

Prepare oven by placing racks in upper third and lower third and start preheating to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Combine the room temperature butter and the brown sugar in a stand mixer or use a hand mixer. At medium speed, beat for 3-5 minutes until the mixture is smooth but not necessarily fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and molasses at medium-low speed until incorporated. 

Pour the brown butter into the mixture as well as the granulated sugar. With the mixer on medium low, beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. The mixture will become lighter in color and quite fluffy.

With the speed on low, add the eggs and beat for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the flour, salt, and baking soda. Beat on low just until incorporated. Fold the chocolate chips and pecans in with a rubber spatula and, at the same time, mix in any of the last bits of flour.

Spoon or scoop cookies onto the baking sheets, flatten slightly and sprinkle with salt. Place one sheet on each rack and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown (if you like them to remains soft rather than crispy, remove from oven while they look a little raw in the middle). Rotate and turn the baking sheets half way through. Let the cookies sit for 5 minutes on sheets before moving to cooling racks.


As much as I like salted sweets (cookies, chocolates, etc.) I think I'd prefer these cookies without it, giving the browned butter flavor a chance to shine. Try some both ways and see what you think.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Pasta with Kale Pesto and Winter Squash

Here's a pesto made from kale that stays green for as long as you have left overs, unlike some varieties that oxidize soon after preparation. Even better, you don't have to wait until summer provides you with baskets full of basil.


Pasta with Kale Pesto and Winter Squash

Adapted from: New York Times
Yield: 3-5 servings 

1 1/2 pds winter squash (butternut, banana, acorn, etc.)
1/2 c oil, vegetable or olive
3/4 teas kosher salt, more for roasting squash
freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of kale (about a half pound) center ribs removed
8-10 oz pasta
1/3 c toasted pine nuts
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
grated zest of 1 lemon
freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
1/2 c grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the squash and remove seeds. Peel it and cut it into 1-inch pieces; place it on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Mix with your hands to ensure each piece of squash is well oiled; then generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Make sure squash is in an even layer and roast until golden brown and tender, approximately 30 minutes. Stir a couple of times. You'll want to have warm squash when the pasta is ready so once it has cooked keep it in a warm oven.

Meanwhile heat a large pot of  water, 2 quarts or so, and bring it to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt and stir in the kale. Cook for a minute or two (if you are at sea level--use the lower amount of time). When the kale is limp, remove from the boiling water (don't drain the water) and cool. You can shock it in cold water or spread it out on a tray to let it cool rather quickly. Bring the water back to a boil. If you think you'll need more water for cooking pasta, add some now.

When the water has returned to a boil, place the pasta in the pot and cook according to package directions. I like to leave it with a little bit of chew since it will keep cooking once the pesto is mixed in.

Drain the kale well and wrap it in a dry kitchen towel. Squeeze the towel over the sink until the kale is quite dry. Chop the leaves roughly and place into a food processor. Add the pine nuts, garlic, salt, and lemon zest and process together until the mixture is very finely chopped (almost smooth) and salt has dissolved. Spoon some of the pasta water into the mixture and run the processor again until the pesto is fairly smooth.

When the pasta has cooked, drain it but remember to reserve a couple cups of cooking water. Return the pasta to its pan and stir in pesto. You may want to hold some out to make sure you like the ratio of pesto to pasta (I thought it fairly heavy and was glad I reserved some). Toss and add more pasta water to loosen the pesto, if needed, so it coats all the pasta.

Add the grated cheese, and a teaspoon or two of lemon juice. Taste to check for seasoning and add more salt if needed. Serve topped with roasted squash and more cheese.