I think it was January 2019 when Epicurious launched the Cook90 challenge, challenging home cooks to prepare 3 meals a day at home for an entire month. I’m not one for that type of challenge so I never participated. However, this morning, as I updated my kitchen chalkboard where I keep track of the day of the week, date, number of days/weeks/months “safer at home”, and the recently added election countdown, I realized that as a result of the pandemic, I’ve been doing that challenge unexpectedly. As of yesterday, I’ve successfully completed Cook166 and will continue for the foreseeable future.
That’s almost 500 meals! I’ve ordered takeout 5 times (our favorite BBQ restaurant in Boston, the local Thai and Chinese restaurants, lunch from the local Italian place, and a fancy dinner from a place in Cambridge), but Howard or I have prepared the rest. Fortunately, we both enjoy cooking. We started with a well-stocked pantry and freezer, and we haven’t experienced food shortages in our area. Since June, we’ve been well supplied with fresh produce from our CSA share and our backyard garden. Cooking is a great diversion: conversations about what to eat for the next few meals and creative substitutions to avoid shopping, togetherness as we prepare and eat the food, and the satisfaction of being able to take care of ourselves.
Anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows, Howard and I don’t always agree on what to eat. He has lots of rules about what he does and does not consider edible combinations. The zucchini and eggplant in our CSA share present a challenge because I enjoy them and he absolutely will not eat. I’m running out of easy ways to prepare these vegetables that will last a while. Suggestions anyone?
Fruit has its own set of rules that seem to change constantly. Blueberries used to be on the “do not fly” list. That started to relax when we had wild blueberries on our property in Maine. And now that the bushes we planted in the backyard have started to produce, fresh blueberries have become acceptable for breakfast. They also moved up a rung as an acceptable addition to a baked fruit tart, though not when featured as the main event. However, I don’t see cake, such as this week’s Cook the Book Fridays recipe for Blueberry-Buttermilk Bundt Cake, as ever passing muster.
I, on the other hand, enjoy cake with fruit. I don’t make it often because, without an off-site occasion to share, I’d be eating the cake singlehandedly. Some would find it hard to believe, but I like a cake with fruit much more than a chocolate cake.
I considered making a half-batch as mini-Bundts. However, this recipe had an odd number of eggs, which is not an insurmountable problem, but a deterrent. Also, Dorie mentioned that the cake is prone to sticking to the pan. I didn’t really want to multiple that issue by six (for each mini cake). So I made the whole thing.
I’m so glad I did. Blueberry season is over in my yard, so I had to buy the berries, but everything else is always on hand. This cake came together so easily. I greased the pan VERY GENEROUSLY and had no issue with it sliding right out. The crumb is tender and moist, and the underlying flavors (butter, vanilla, and lemon) along with the berries scream of summer. I think this cake would be delicious made with other berries as well: raspberries, blackberries or a combination. I still can’t eat the whole thing myself, but I’ll freeze some in chunks for later.
I also made the Ricotta Spoonable, the selected recipe for Cook the Book Fridays from earlier in the month. I made it on time but didn’t get around to writing about it. I need to remember to use Instagram for weeks like those. This creamy spread reminded me of recipes I’ve made before, maybe even as part of this cooking group. Ricotta is enhanced with lemon juice and zest, shallots, scallions, and fresh herbs. It can be used as a spread for crostini. I intended to dollop most of it on pasta I made with cherry tomatoes and corn and serve the rest as crostini the next day. Unfortunately, the container dropped and cracked (OK, I admit that I dropped it), and I was only able to rescue enough for the pasta. It was nice, but not a definite repeater (though maybe).
If you’d like to try either of these recipes, they can be found in Dorie Greenspan’s book Everyday Dorie. The ricotta is on page 22 and the cake on page 254. You can’t go wrong with either. Impressions on the recipes from my Cook the Book Fridays friends can be found here for the ricotta and here for the cake.
I’m a huge fan of beets, especially when they are roasted. On the other hand, I am not a huge fan of quinoa. That means that I had mixed feelings about this week’s recipe for Cook the Book Fridays, from Everyday Dorie.
Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for Ginger Beet Salad Bowls offers a composed salad with greens, quinoa, beet wedges and a honey-ginger dressing. I tried hard, but I just couldn’t get excited. In the end, I opted to dice roasted beets, add some sliced spring onions, and toss them with the dressing in the recipe. The dressing was a lively combination of sweet and sour with ingredients like fresh ginger, honey, and harissa paste. My result was less elegant than a composed salad but gave me a taste of the flavors she envisioned.
I make a variety of beet salads all year long. Surprisingly, Howard liked this one more than I did. While it wasn’t bad, this version is unlikely to take a spot in my repertoire.
(Apparently, I was so ambivalent about this salad that I forgot to take a picture of it. Instead, I offer a glimpse of the flower garden outside my front wall. I used to plant a variety of cosmos seeds each June. Now, they self-seed, and the garden is self-perpetuating. The varieties have crossed so many times that many of my flowers have unique color combinations and petal shapes. When I am out there, passersby often compliment the riotous colors and tell me this garden makes them smile!)