Category Archives: Weekend Cooking

Recipes from My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl: Cookbook Club #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

Something I’ve always thought would be fun would be a cookbook club where everyone would try a recipe from a cookbook, bring it to the meeting, and the group would talk about the good and bad of the cookbook, the recipes we tried, and the recipes we still wanted to try.

So I got the Good Taste Cookbook Club started at my library last September, and it’s going strong! Except for meeting every other month instead of monthly, it’s just like any other library book club, except that the books we read are cookbooks. Oh, and we also eat extremely well at every meeting!

book coverMy Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl was the January selection. It’s a combination memoir/cookbook that the longtime restaurant critic ended up writing after Gourmet – the magazine she had edited for ten years – was suddenly shut down, with everyone on staff laid off. Its format, design, and recipe layout are unusual for a cookbook (e.g. loose, conversational-style, sometimes inexact, instructions; ingredient lists divided into “Shopping List” and “Staples”; personal notes woven into the recipe directions) which some of the group didn’t care for, but others enjoyed.

“For the past six months, cooking had been my lifeline, and I was grateful for everything I had learned in the kitchen. Most cookbooks, I thought as I reached for an orange and began to squeeze it for juice, are in search of perfection, an attempt to constantly re-create the same good dishes. But you’re not a chef in your own kitchen, trying to please paying guests. You’re a traveler, following your own path, seeking adventure. I wanted to write about the fun of cooking, encourage people to take risks. Alone in the kitchen you are simply a cook, free to do anything you want. If it doesn’t work out – well, there’s always another meal” – My Kitchen Year

I made Lemon Panna Cotta for my contribution to the meeting, which was a very simple recipe from My Kitchen Year, having just three ingredients: heavy cream, sugar, and three lemons. As an example of the inexact directions, the recipe calls for the juice and zest of three lemons, but doesn’t tell you approximately how much juice and zest you should end up with. So I wondered if I had it right as I mixed the lemon juice and zest together and plopped it all into the hot cream, but the recipe worked – simple as it was! Even people who don’t particularly care for lemon desserts raved about it.

I put the Lemon Panna Cotta into plastic shot glasses for individual servings, with the remaining amount filling two ramekins. During the meeting, we discovered that it would probably be best kept refrigerated right up until serving time, because it got a little soupy in the bottom of the shot glasses. (The thinner layers in the ramekins seemed to stay firm, though.)

Lemon Panna Cotta in shot glass-sized servings
Lemon Panna Cotta just after being poured into the ramekin

I also wanted to try the recipe for Food Cart Curry Chicken before the cookbook club met, but didn’t have time, so my personal chef (aka Mr. BaystateRA) kindly made it for me. My photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was delicious! Mr. B. complained about grinding spices when we had ground spices in the spice cabinet already, but I think the extra work – his, that is – was definitely worth it, for the flavor explosion.)

served in the pans

I’ve read many of Ruth Reichl’s other books, including the novel she also worked on during this year of unemployment (Delicious!). My Kitchen Year is divided into seasons – Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer – and chronicles her time spent in two residences, a New York City apartment and a country home, upstate.

My Kitchen Year happened to resonate with me, personally, because I had an unexpected six months of unemployment starting in the late fall of last year, which caused me to reevaluate my career and how I spent my time. Like Ruth Reichl, who found so much comfort in the kitchen during her year at home while looking for new employment, I did more cooking than usual during those months and also found it soothing. Although, unlike Ruth Reichl, I didn’t write a book (much less a cookbook AND a novel) during my time of unemployment, I discovered that preparing healthful meals can be as relaxing as baking, and got a lot more creative with salads, so I count that as an overall plus.

Now, settled happily into my new job, I’ve been finding less time to cook and had also been going to the gym less often, but thanks to New Year’s resolutions and the encouragement of Joy Weese Moll’s Readers’ Workouts, I’m getting back into a gym routine and have now finally gotten back to Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads!

At our meeting to talk about My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl, we sampled:

  • Anchovy Bread
  • Tuscan Bean Soup
  • Perfect Pound Cake
  • Banana Bread
  • Applesauce
  • Khao Man Gai (Thai Chicken Rice)
  • Beef, Wine and Onion Stew
  • Gingered Applesauce Cake Glazed with Caramel
  • Lemon Panna Cotta
  • New York Cheesecake
  • Bison Chili
  • Fried Chicken
  • Chicken Pate
  • Potatoes au Gratin
  • Custard in a Crust (Quiche)
  • Pickled Red Onions

Click to enlarge the pictures:

Happy Weekend Cooking!

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Punching Up Packed Lunches #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

The upside of being unemployed–lunch at home with my work-from-home husband.

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After several months of being unemployed, I have recently gone back to working in a library, and so have started bringing packed lunches again. I am lucky to have a husband who often packs lunch for me, complete with unexpected little treats!

The lunches my husband packs for me to eat at work are a balm to my soul.

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But I do try to pack my own lunch at least a couple of times a week, so I checked out this article right away when it came into my email inbox from Refinery29:

11 Things People Who Pack Their Lunches Always Do

The ideas in the slide show reflect different approaches and eating/cooking styles; depending on your level of willingness to plan ahead, spend money, etc., only some may seem worth a try to you. Some of them I occasionally do already, such as  immediately portioning out and putting away a lunch-sized serving for the next day of whatever we’re having for dinner. Tip #9 from Senior Health Editor Amelia Harnish was my favorite, “Pack a fun snack”:

The secret to bringing your own lunch every day for real is making a lunch you actually like eating — something that’s healthy and makes you feel full and satisfied and happy —but it also has to be easy to make. I usually go with a salad with plenty of protein and a “surprise” ingredient, which is mandatory.

Sometimes I top my salad with sweet potato fries; sometimes it’s the chicken I didn’t finish at dinner the night before. Sometimes I add salsa and also pack chips, or it’s even weirder, like a scoop of leftover Indian food. I also build in other treats: cheese sticks, chips, Oreos, whatever you want. Lunch dessert is important. — Amelia Harnish, Senior Health Editor

I’ve been on a salad kick for the last couple of months, and have already been making plain garden salads more interesting with toppings like rice salad, hard-boiled eggs, assorted cheeses, seasoned/dressed canned beans, capers, toasted sunflower seeds, and slivers of sundried tomatoes. Also adding torn leaves of basil, parsley, and/or mint to the mixed greens, and always remembering to pack a little bottle of homemade salad dressing!

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But after reading Tip #9, I tried putting leftover Chinese food on salad greens for lunch, and it was pretty good!

Lunchtime! Just starting Tuesday Nights in 1980, but have heard good things about it!

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The other day I finally thought of returning the favor and made a salad for my husband’s lunch (He works from home.) when I made my own in the morning!

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Some of our best recent salad efforts:

Don’t forget fruit salads!

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking badgeLinked to Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click/tap image for Weekend Cooking posts from other bloggers.

 

Rhubarb! #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

Rhubarb in the Garden

Although I am fond of it and it’s a perennial, which makes it easy to grow, rhubarb is an ugly plant, takes up a lot of space, has a short harvesting time, and last spring we didn’t do much with it. So, this year, I tried to pick some and use it in early spring when rhubarb, asparagus, and the ubiquitous mint are the only plants growing in the yard. (Raspberries soon!)

Here’s a picture of our two rhubarb plants after I hacked off many of the edible stalks, making it look even uglier than it already was:

Two rhubarb plants after hacking off many of the edible stalks

I killed our third rhubarb plant last year cutting it back too drastically, and I have also just found out that we shouldn’t be cutting the stalks off the plants, but gently twisting them off, so I hope these hardy perennials are hardy enough to withstand this additional mistreatment, and we’ll harvest our rhubarb correctly from now on.

Also, not all rhubarb is red! Did you know that?

I always thought rhubarb was a New England native vegetable, but it turns out it’s an Asian plant, according to Merriam-Webster.

Full Definition of rhubarb from Merriam-Webster

  1. any of a genus (Rheum) of Asian plants of the buckwheat family having large leaves with thick succulent petioles often used as food; also :  the petioles of rhubarb

  2. the dried rhizome and roots of any of several rhubarbs (as Rheum officinale and R. palmatum) grown in China and Tibet and used as a purgative and stomachic

  3. a heated dispute or controversy

Rhubarb Recipes I Tried

Fresh Summer Fruit Salad (AllRecipes)
I didn’t really follow this recipe, but wanted to see if I could use rhubarb in a fruit salad, so found out from this recipe that you can cook up chopped rhubarb in sugar water (just as you might do with cranberries) to make a sauce, and add then add it to fruit salad. Tasty!

Rhubarb Custard Ramekins (Nancy Guppy, Registered Dietician)
I used smaller custard cups to bake these, so came out with six instead of three. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly, except for maybe adding a little bit more nutmeg, and they were a hit. Even better warm, with a little whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on top.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars (Smitten Kitchen)
I substituted gluten-free flour in this recipe and had to use a larger-sized pan than called for, so they were a little thin. I also used a higher proportion of rhubarb to strawberries and added a little extra sugar to account for that.

Rhubarb Recipes I Want to Try

Almond Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote (Smitten Kitchen)

Gluten-Free Rhubarb, Lemon and Almond Cake (Food52)

Rhubarb, Cranberry and Thyme Crumble with Coconut Flour Oat Topping (Nancy Guppy, Registered DIetician) – Gluten-free

Rhubarb Frangipane Pie (The Splendid Table)

Vanilla Rhubarb Custard Bars (Cakes ‘n’ Bakes) – Gluten-free

Rhubarb is one of those plants that’s usually heavily sweetened and used as a fruit, often paired with strawberries for sweetness, in pies, jams, sauces, etc., but is actually not a fruit. (See rhubarbinfo.com for more about rhubarb.) I plan to investigate ways to use rhubarb in main dishes sometime, though. Maybe next spring!

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking badgeLinked to Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click/tap image for Weekend Cooking posts from other bloggers.