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Happy Friday! Another week of nippy weather, and I’m really settling into cozy fall cooking. I’m doing some planning for Thanksgiving, by which I mean I bought a second potato masher at the thrift store. I have always been a wiggly line potato masher kind of gal, but now I’m branching out into the grid-on-a-circle style, and I have high hopes. Because I just don’t make very good mashed potatoes, and it’s probably the masher’s fault.
However, I am happy to announce that I used up the last of the apples! Very satisfactory. Read on.
I’m skeptical Saturday even happened. I have no idea what we ate.
You may recall how, last time I made pizza, I committed the high crime of not making any just-cheese pizza. Well, this time I did! And the kids made exactly as big a fuss about it as if I hadn’t (“Well SHEESH, Mama, the only reason we’re ASKING is because LAST time . . . “). But I did make a cheese pizza. I really did. I also made one pepperoni and one olive, fresh garlic, and anchovy.
Man, I need to do something about that grout. Good pizza, though.
Pork ribs, applesauce, mashed acorn squash, risotto
APPLE ARMAGEDDON. There were dozens and dozens of soft, spotty, dinged-up apples hanging around the dining room in bags and boxes and government-owned mail cartons driving me mad, so on Monday I gathered them up, hacked them into quarters, threw them in my biggest pot, added a little water (too much, like I do every year), and let them simmer loosely covered for a few hours.
I left everything intact, peels, cores, everything, and when they were soft enough to collapse under the weight of a wooden spoon, I ran them through my wonderful food mill, very similar to this one (affiliate link):
The food mill is one of the few once-a-year kitchen gadgets I allow to take up space in my tiny kitchen, because nothing else does exactly what a food mill does (i.e. not only smooshes the food, but separates out the undesirable parts). I was a little dismayed to dismayed to discover that someone had put it away last year after using it to make applesauce but not necessarily super duper washing it out, bleh. It has a pot with handle and bowl clips, a crank and blade, and a screw with a sweeping arm for underneath, and [deep shuddery breath] you really do need to take it apart to clean it properly.
But a little scrubbing did the trick, and I was soon cranking out sweet, beauteous applesauce.
I didn’t take a picture of the refuse because it’s just not pretty, but I’m always impressed at how efficient the food mill is. If you keep cranking, it really gets every last possible scrap of edible material, and just leaves the barest minimum of waste behind. Then you crank it backwards a few turns and it scrapes the leavings up into a little heap for you to whack out into the trash. Very satisfying activity altogether.
After several batches, I was left with a heavy, steaming bowl of fragrant, rosy applesauce, and it smelled so nice, I was tempted to just leave it at that. But I did pitch in a bunch of cinnamon, a generous drizzle of honey, and a lump of butter, and mix it up.
I covered it and left it alone, and it was so dense, it stayed warm until dinnertime. I felt like a fairy tale mother. Everyone was very pleased.
I served it with pork ribs, just roasted quickly on a rack in a very hot oven with salt and pepper, and some rich, cheesy Instant Pot risotto, and some mashed acorn squash
What an excellent meal. Here is the recipe for Instant Pot risotto, which isn’t quite quite as creamy and luxurious as stovetop risotto, but it’s pretty darn close, and it’s easy enough to throw together on a weeknight, with onions, sage, white wine, and chicken broth.Jump to Recipe
You can add in any number of things, including squash if you’re not already serving squash.
But I was, and I was trying a new method. Normally I roast it in the oven and then mash it. This time, I cooked it in the Instant Pot, and I learned a tip to sprinkle it with kosher salt and baking soda first, allegedly to help caramelize it, before mashing it with your add-ins. Here’s the full recipe:Jump to Recipe
and whoa, it was excellent.
I have no idea if the process really made that much of a difference or if i just got hold of some really tasty squash, but it was amazingly flavorful. Yay! Damien really liked it, so I’ll definitely do it this way from now on.
Ima’s Everything Soup and overnight bread
On Monday night, I started some bread dough using an exceedingly vague recipe someone, I’m sorry I can’t remember who, put on Facebook. To wit:
Ingredients3 cups All Purpose Flour1 teaspoon active dry yeast1 teaspoon salt1 1/2 cups warm waterIn a large bowl combine flour, active dry yeast and salt. Mix together. Add water, and stir until blended; dough will be sticky. Give it ten good folds. Cover bowl with a tea towel. Let dough rest overnight for 10 to 12 hours at room temp.In the morning, your dough will have grown x2- then give it a few folds (I basically scraped the dough off the sides of the bowl towards the middle), empty it out onto a piece of parchment paper and let it rest for 30 minutes. If dough is sticky and hard to work with, add a bit of flour so it doesn’t stick to your hands. Score your bread with a knife. (I made an “x” on the top.)While dough is resting, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Put a covered 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (Dutch oven, enamel, ceramic) in oven as it heats for about 30 minutes.Carefully remove pot from oven. IT’S VERY HOT. Pick up parchment paper with dough and slide directly into pot (ie dough sitting on the parchment). Cover with lid and bake 35-40 minutes at 425 Degrees F. LID WILL BE HOT – remove lid and bake another 10-15 minutes, until loaf is golden brown.You can eat it warm with butter or wait until it cools.
Okay, that seemed simple enough! I tripled the recipe and left it in a big bowl to rise overnight. I ended up using more flour than it called for because it was not just “sticky,” it was like batter, and really couldn’t be called dough.
The next day, it had risen nicely and was more dough-like, but I did add yet more flour to be able to handle it. I poured it out in two batches onto parchment paper and let it rest 30 minutes as directed.
I don’t seem to have any dutch ovens (the contents of my kitchen are always vaguely mysterious to me), so I heated up a glass casserole dish and a large iron frying pan, and baked it in two batches in that. You’re supposed to bake it with the lid on, then uncover it and finish baking. Since my containers didn’t have lids, I used tin foil, which stuck to the dough, so when I pulled it off, it peeled some of the bread crust off with it. I could have avoided this by spraying it with cooking spray, or covering it with a bowl or something else with more clearance.
But overall, it came out of the oven looking like bread!
Quite dense and rather chewy, but real bread, a really good return for the miniscule amount of labor and very basic ingredients I put into it.
So that was nice. It was pretty good with a little soft butter and a sprinkle of salt, and it hit the spot along with the hearty soup I made.
This seems to be a version of Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread that everybody got all worked up about a while ago. He gives more precise directions and his technique requires more time, but does seem to produce a nicer loaf. So now you know everything I do.
The soup is an adaptation of my mother’s minestrone soup, which she used to call “everything soup.” Minstrone soup usually has vegetables, greens, beans, tomato, and some kind of pasta or rice. My mother’s version doesn’t have tomato and it does have meat. She used ground beef; I used mild sausage. She used celery; I swapped in zucchini instead. She specified frozen spinach, and I used fresh. I skipped the wine and used fresh parmesan. But otherwise, this is basically her recipe, which is basically minestrone. Or not! It has onions, garlic, carrots, zucchini, chick peas, sausage, spinach, beef broth (and wine) and is topped with a little parmesan.
I cooked it a little too long and it got a little blurry, but it was tremendously nourishing and cozy. This is Little Bear food.
Together with the world’s most basic bread, it was a very fine little meal for a chilly day.
And here is where I have to express my admiration for people who cook but don’t enjoy the process. I salute you! I like to eat; goodness knows, I like to eat. But I like to cook almost as much, if not more. The sight and sounds and sensations, the smells and textures and patterns of food being processed are a constant delight to me, even when I’m in a hurry. Peeling and cutting and chopping and grating, rinsing and stirring, steaming and simmering and tossing. Every onion is different inside! Every head of lettuce has its own music when it’s torn. The colors, the colors. It is all absolutely my jam.
What a treat to peer down through the top of a shiny box grater and watch the little torrents of parmesan billowing through the holes as I shred, and then sensing that the grater is stuffed full and needs to be knocked empty against the scarred wooden board, until it spills out its little bounty of delicate curls into the sun.
And then I also like to eat! Lucky me.
Honest to goodness, I thought it was Thursday, and I was so annoyed at myself for putting off this meal all week, so I was painted into a Thursday corner and had to make a slightly laborious dinner twice in a row, first the soup and bread, then the shawarma. I had been up all night with a cold and fever, struggling with the delusion that I had hidden a terrible, purple secret on top of a mountain and so needed to get my socks off. Then I got up and I was like, OH NO, AND NOW I HAVE TO MAKE SHAWARMA, I HAVE NO CHOICE BECAUSE IT’S THURSDAY. In retrospect, I may still have been a little sick. Luckily, shawarma is actually easy enough that you can make it when you’re a little loopy.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs were on sale, and that is the best kind of chicken to use for shawarma, so I didn’t have to do much processing, just trim the fat off a bit. The marinade is easy, and the rest is just really chopping and opening jars and cans. And crushing plenty of garlic.Jump to Recipe
So I set several pounds of chicken to marinate in the morning, and made up a big bowl of yogurt sauceJump to Recipe
Corrie was home too, so she juiced lemons for me, and also cut up the cucumbers. So we had pita, cucumbers, tomatoes, black and kalamata olives, feta cheese, yogurt sauce, and hummus. I marinated just the chicken and then spread red onions over the top of the chicken before I cooked it. And that was it! Great meal. Everyone loves it. A little bit of work on the front end, but it’s all easy, with no exotic ingredients, and it’s just so tasty.
Sometimes I make homemade pita or stuffed grape leaves or fried eggplant with this meal, but this is the basic form and it’s great as is.
Thursday turned out to be Thursday, for whatever reason, and so we had tacos. I don’t make the rules. (Well, I do, but I don’t have to explain myself.)
Something new for us. Pasta with lemon, parsley, seasoned breadcrumbs, capers, and bits of fried egg!! from Smitten Kitchen. I think this is one of those delicious, delicious poverty dishes the Italians are so good at. I’m guessing most of the kids will just want plain pasta, but you never know.
Or maybe we’ll just have spaghetti! The kids have the day off for Veteran’s Day and maybe I’ll do the weekend shopping on Friday and have the actual weekend off for once, to do something fun. Although so far all I have managed to do is sleep for twelve hours, which I haven’t done in years, and I think that means I am still sick.
Oh, I just remembered what we had on Saturday. Corn dogs! Corn dogs and hot pretzels. With a side of mustard.
Instant Pot Mashed Acorn Squash
- 1 acorn quashes
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
Cut the acorn squashes in half. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt on the cut surfaces.
Put 1/2 a cup of water in the Instant Pot, fit the rack in it, and stack the squash on top. Close the lid, close the valve, and cook on high pressure for 24 minutes. Do quick release.
When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop it out into a bowl, mash it, and add the rest of the ingredients.
Ima's Everything Soup
heavily adapted from a sort-of-minestrone soup my mother used to make
- 1+ lbs loose mild sausage (my mother used ground beef)
- olive oil if necessary
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4-5 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1-1/2 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 1 zucchini, diced with the skin on
- 6-12 cups beef broth
- 4 cups fresh spinach (frozen is also fine)
- 1/4 cup red wine (optional)
- 1 cup small pasta like pastina, raw
- 1 can chickpeas, drained
- salt to taste
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
In a pot, cook the sausage, crumbling, until it's cooked through. Add olive oil if necessary to keep from burning. (If using an Instant Pot, use the sauté function for the first two steps.)
Add in garlic, onion, oregano, and pepper. Cook another several minutes until the onion is soft.
Add in the carrots and zucchini, and pour in the broth (and wine if using), and stir. If cooking on stovetop, cover loosely and let simmer for twenty minutes. (If using an Instant Pot, add all the ingredients except the cheese, close the lid, close the valve, and press "soup.")
Add in the spinach and chickpeas and continue simmering another ten minutes. Add in the pasta ten minutes before serving and cook until soft. If the soup is too thick and too much broth has been absorbed, add another 4-5 cups of broth. Top with parmesan.
Instant Pot Risotto
Almost as good as stovetop risotto, and ten billion times easier. Makes about eight cups.
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground sage
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 cups rice, raw
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1.5 cups grated parmesan cheese
Turn IP on sautee, add oil, and sautee the onion, garlic, salt, and sage until onions are soft.
Add rice and butter and cook for five minutes or more, stirring constantly, until rice is mostly opaque and butter is melted.
Press "cancel," add the broth and wine, and stir.
Close the top, close valve, set to high pressure for 9 minutes.
Release the pressure and carefully stir in the parmesan cheese and pepper. Add salt if necessary.
- 8 lbs boned, skinned chicken thighs
- 4-5 red onions
- 1.5 cups lemon juice
- 2 cups olive oil
- 4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbs, 2 tsp pepper
- 2 Tbs, 2 tsp cumin
- 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 entire head garlic, crushed
Mix marinade ingredients together, then add chicken. Put in ziplock bag and let marinate several hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 425.
Grease a shallow pan. Take the chicken out of the marinade and spread it in a single layer on the pan, and top with the onions (sliced or quartered). Cook for 45 minutes or more.
Chop up the chicken a bit, if you like, and finish cooking it so it crisps up a bit more.
Serve chicken and onions with pita bread triangles, cucumbers, tomatoes, assorted olives, feta cheese, fresh parsley, pomegranates or grapes, fried eggplant, and yogurt sauce.
- 32 oz full fat Greek yogurt
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- fresh parsley or dill, chopped (optional)
Mix all ingredients together. Use for spreading on grilled meats, dipping pita or vegetables, etc.