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.
Once upon a time, I did not like cabbage. That’s actually an understatement. I didn’t just not like it, I loathed it.
I had limited experience with cabbage, but enough to make a sweeping judgment against it. The cabbage of my childhood was cole slaw – deli cole slaw — the kind that oozes with thin, milky mayonnaise. My mother adored it! She mixed in ketchup, or something equally vile, slathered it on sandwiches, and called it Russian dressing. I was not convinced.
In college, I lived in a dorm with kitchens. The students came from varied culinary provenances. We sometimes cooked individually and sometimes in groups. Sharing was the norm. I tried many new foods, most of which I liked. This is where I was introduced to sauerkraut. I had no idea it was cabbage, but I knew I didn’t like it. This was served warm – stringy, acidic, bitter, and stinky. I could find nothing redeeming about it.
Fast forward to the first time I tasted homemade cole slaw, marinated in a vinaigrette. Freshly shredded cabbage was a revelation. It didn’t have much flavor of its own, but the crunchy texture combined with other freshly pickled vegetables caused me to reconsider earlier opinions. Though I usually shied away from creamy dressings, various cole slaw recipes earned spots in my picnic salad repertoire.
I was not as accepting of cooked cabbage. I equated cooked cabbage with the sauerkraut that repulsed me. I can’t remember the first time that I ate something with cooked cabbage in my post-collegiate life. I’m sure it was served to me at someone’s house and I just thought “vegetable”. Little did I know that the natural flavor of cabbage was mild and the texture somewhere between silky and pleasantly chewy. It took work to ruin it by turning it into sauerkraut. I willingly started to cook cabbage in savory dishes.
For the past several summers, I’ve been perfecting homemade sour dill pickles. I grow my own pickling cucumbers for a ready supply and make half a dozen large jars to enjoy throughout the rest of the year. I love the tang of lacto-fermentation. Over the same several summers, I also make a jar of kimchi every summer when my CSA share has a head of Napa cabbage. In my mind, Napa cabbage is a completely different vegetable than regular old green cabbage.
During these kitchen experiments, my friend Jackie suggested I add sauerkraut to the mix. My response: NO WAY! I HATE SAUERKRAUT! She couldn’t understand why and tried explaining that the fermentation tastes similar to the pickles. How could I like one and not the other? She couldn’t fathom my logic, and I was completely close-minded. Shortly afterwards, I visited a farmers market where a small batch producer of sauerkraut displayed their wares. When offered, I tentatively tasted the smallest nibble. Hmmmm… Jackie was right! The brine was reminiscent of sour pickles with less seasoning. I took another bite. It was actually good. I bought a jar. And now I make a large jar of sauerkraut each summer. I think the stuff I had back in college was out of a can. Quality makes such a difference.
It’s been a long road, but I’ve become a fan of cabbage. Who’d have ever thought that possible? Certainly not me. It must be said. Cabbage and I, we lived happily ever after.
This week for Cook the Book Fridays, we’re making Pasta with Cabbage, Winter Squash, and Walnuts from Dorie Greenspan’s Everyday Dorie. I was unfazed. In an intriguing twist, shredded cabbage stands in for some of the pasta. Long strands of toothsome linguine contrast with the silkier shorter strands of cooked cabbage. Sautéed chunks of butternut squash and sun-dried tomatoes (the original called for dried cranberries, taboo at our house) give the pasta some color. Walnuts and grated Parmesan cheese tie the flavors together.
This dish was simple enough for a weeknight, but we thought it lacked pizazz. The combination of ingredients should have tasted more interesting. Maybe cooking some onion or garlic with the squash would have added the missing oomph. We were disappointed.