Bakers Gotta

It’s been hot. This is Seattle and it’s been hot. Record-breaking, sleep-interrupting, Why-isn’t-everything-air-conditioned hot. The garden needs more water and extra shade. The lawn is already August-brown. The rhubarb and raspberries are in complete denial. My looks-great cement-everything patio radiates warmth well after sundown. We’ve filled the house with box fans. I can barely produce a meal. However, I love to bake. I miss baking. I am happy when I bake stuff. So I did. On the patio.

With this. IMG_6991

I made these.

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Quarter-size sheet pans, raspberries, blueberries, same old recipe, and a convection toaster oven. Life began to feel normal, less record-breaking, more me. Otherwise, I’m making a lot of kids-class versions of Doro Wat, Injera, Tomatican, Empanadas, and Picnic Chicken. In an air-conditioned, well-appointed, kitchen classroom.

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Happy July!

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So It Begins

Another quarter of creating with young bakers starts tomorrow. Another quarter of leaving the house earlier than we’re used to, hauling equipment and ingredients to a ungainly kitchen, sanitizing and setting up. While we have an additional half-hour this go-round, recipes still have to be thoroughly thought through to fit within our frame. I’m expecting to see mini double-crust pies, cream puffs, pastry cream, cheesecakes, and crackers; pita, pizza, and a daring roulade. Things may be over-mixed, rolled too thin, or unevenly baked, but I’m betting on delicious. These bakers dive in, anxious to try, anxious to touch, smell, and taste. There’ll be a lot of hand washing. I’ll try to take photos to show you our process and results.

Over the past 4 years, the venue has not been ideal, some of the relationships have been uneasy, the initial learning curve was steep, and the resulting day has always been exhausting. Filled with gratitude as I set out to start, what will probably be my last quarter in this kitchen, I think of everything I’ve learned from the students, what I’ve learned about myself, all the tricks and tips I’ve picked up from the place itself; I am grateful for the parents who let me work with their kids; I am grateful for Junior plugging along with me. I have been transformed by this funny little class I dove into 4 years ago.

If there is anything you’d like to do, something you’ve thought to try your hand at, I don’t know how to encourage you enough to take the plunge. I hope you do. Cheers!

All hands
All hands

In Season

I love my Farmer’s Market. My market runs year round and only supports first-hand food growers and producers. I don’t get there every week-I often work weekends with shifts that conflict with market hours. I don’t always have market money in my budget-but do try to go for the pre-freeze enormous bunches of greens, always better tasting and a better price than anywhere else, and the kombucha, not (yet!) available at my usual brick-and-mortar market.

More kale than the fridge could hold!
This is late sumer

Beside knowing the faces and names of the people I buy from, the thing I love best about the market is the grounding effect it has. If I only shop at a conventional grocery store, even if that store is a co-op, organic, with goals of supporting local produce and products, there will always be items on hand, far out of our local season, every day of the year.

Shop
This is beauty

Shopping in the grocery store vacuum, seeing 3 kinds of bell peppers, cilantro bunches, corn-on-the-cob, and strawberries during January in the PNW can start to seem “normal”. I begin to feel numb to the when and where and who of the food I buy. Bundling up with scarf, hat, gloves, and warm coat early on a January Saturday morning brings everything back to real: there’ll be root vegetables minus carrots, there’ll be some little bunches of always-hardy kale, there will still be apples, there will be fruit and chilis dried by the growers, there will be the bakers, the butchers, the kombucha, and cheese makers, but it will be slim. There will be camaraderie and smiles, the summer poet’s fingers perhaps too cold to type, but the tamales, salmon slider, or cup-of-soup will be warming.

This is Seattle
This is Seattle

I don’t have a root cellar or even a second fridge at my house. I store some squash and potatoes in the barely heated basement, but I will be buying carrots and kale from California.

This is Fall
This is Fall

I will buy Washington-grown fruit until it’s all gone, or too musty from storage, but won’t buy apples or pears from Chile or New Zealand or  whereever else they might come from. I will use the seasonal fruit captured in my freezer rather than that shipped fresh across the planet.

This is November
This is November

In January, I’ll be teaching new groups of kids how to make a soup and a few other things. I will be emphasizing ingredients that might still be available at a Farmer’s Market, though will be using some that won’t be. Things like celery, local only for a moment, are so integral to the flavor base of every soffritto or mirepoix. Celery seed can be used as a substitute, and I will include the seeds in our conversation, but first learners need to mess around with the whole food before experimenting with stand-ins. For this reason, I do buy celery out-of-season. I buy it intentionally. Having taken many road trips to central California, I can imagine the trucks, the stops, the last In-N-Out of Redding, the low water levels of Lake Shasta, the relief of Portland, the amazingly boring (no offense!) highway between Vancouver and Olympia. Yes it’s more than 100 miles away, but I can reasonably drive to celery. I know the trip it will take, and I will be grateful.

This is me
This is me

As for the soup, it’s a minestrone I’ve tweaked, and, yes, the celery makes a difference. I make this with Junior, both of us practicing our knife skills. The rosemary comes from my garden, nestled where it is, protected from the coldest our PNW Winter can muster. For economy, I usually use the small white beans available where I buy bulk, cooked, then frozen in recipe-ready quantities. If I cooked the beans, I add their liquid to the soup. Take care with canned tomatoes. Always buy whole, it’s good to know what really might be in the can, and buy from companies that care about canning practices, limit toxins whenever possible. Frozen vegetables are a good winter substitute for from-across-the-planet fresh. The green beans can be happily exchanged for strips of kale or any other vegetable you prefer. The touch of green makes me happy.

This is simple food. Each time I start a batch, I have doubts about the meal to come. But each time I sip a spoonful, I marvel that such few ingredients turn into something as comforting, satisfying, and tasty as I find this soup to be. Cheers!

Minestrone • Serves 4-6

Preparation time: 15 minutes • Cooking time: 30-40 minutes

 Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

1 large celery stalk, diced

1 pinch of red pepper flake

1 garlic clove, minced

1 ½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 large potato, diced

1 14.5-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained (save liquid) and finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced

About 5 cups of water

1 10-ounce bag frozen green beans

Optional: ¾ cup grated Parmesan for serving

Method

Place a large pot onto the stove. Turn the burner onto medium. Pour the olive oil into the pot. When the olive oil is warm, add the onion, carrots, celery, red pepper flake, and garlic.

Stir the vegetables to coat with oil. Stir in the salt and pepper.

Cook for 5-8 minutes, until the onion begins to turn golden.

Add the tomatoes, potatoes, cannellini, rosemary, the saved tomato liquid, and about 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Let soup cook for 15 minutes, gently boiling. Test the vegetables for tenderness.

During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the frozen green beans. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. While the soup is cooking, grate the Parmesan, if using, and set aside.Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan, if using

Hamburger Helper

When my mom returned to nursing two days a week, my sisters and I received the commission to make dinner. We loved our New Boys and Girls Cookbook from Betty Crocker. It was chock full of hints for making mealtime memorable.

Yes, the marveling female
Yes, the marveling female
Helpful tips
Helpful tips

It was also sprinkled with testimonials from other Real Life kid cooks, offering opinions or encouragement to their non-published peers.

Real life kids!
Real life kids!

The recipes were basic and worked hard to be appealing to young cooks-we did make the bunny-shaped canned pear salad with cottage cheese tails:

Bunny goodness!
Bunny goodness!

When we weren’t using a cookbook, we turned to the pantry for assistance. Mom kept a supply of Bisquick, those little blue boxes of cornbread or pizza dough mix, the brand I don’t remember, hard taco shells along with packets of seasoning, and boxes of just-add-meat convenience, Hamburger Helper.

Ground beef was the meat of economy. Finding new ways to funnel ground beef into our dinner menus was tricky. God bless the food industry for making life easier! Hamburger helper was a favorite of ours, all of those flavors scientifically engineered to please each and every sensor of the human tongue, a kind of meaty creamy pasta-y mess. An almost instant hotdish, the memory of which makes me shudder. When my dad developed colon cancer, red meat disappeared from our home. It would be years of remission later before burgers and beef tacos returned to the dinner table.

These days, Marcella Hazen’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is my hamburger helper. Better yet, it is my local, grass-fed, definitely not economic, chuck-roast-ground-as-needed helper. I love making her version of Bolognese. Beef with some vegetable simmered in milk, then wine, then tomatoes, cooked slow for over 3 hours, finishing with a little butter and hand-cut tagliatelle. Sometimes I make the sauce a day before, letting the flavors mingle and mellow, before marrying it with pasta.

My mom, growing up in a time where those in the kitchen produced everything by hand, from scratch, appreciated the time and money-savers provided to her in almost every aisle of the grocery store. A Hamburger Helper dinner would be ready in 20 minutes. This Marcella Hazen version takes significantly longer with its “just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface” simmer, but it doesn’t need attention during the entire cooking time. The shortlist of simple ingredients requires careful choosing for quality. The slow cooking process brings out all that the whole food, real ingredients have to offer. With the comfort of time-taken, a unrushed cook can bring a meal for savoring to the table, connecting participants to the ingredients, to the process, to the person who brought the process to light. Gracie Mille, Marcella!

Bolognese Meat Sauce

Marcella Hazen, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Yield: 2 heaping cups

Ingredients

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon for tossing the pasta

1/2 cup chopped onion

2/3 cup chopped celery

2/3 cup chopped carrot

3/4 pound ground beef chuck

Salt & pepper

1 cup whole milk

Whole nutmeg

1 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta

Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese at the table

Method

Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in the pot, turn heat onto medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.

Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well, and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.

Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating-about 1/8 teaspoon-of nutmeg, and stir.

Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, continue the cooking, adding 1/2 cup water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding the tablespoon of butter, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

Note: Once done, you can refrigerate the sauce in a tightly sealed container for 3 days, or you can freeze it. Before tossing with pasta, reheat it , letting it simmer for 15 minutes, stirring it once or twice.

Something New

A new year is about new things. I may resolve to change an undesirable behavior, start a new project, learn a new skill. 2012 has found me showing a small group of 6 to 9 year olds how to cook and bake. This group does not meet in my kitchen, but rather at the kitchen of a Seattle neighborhood community center. The foot print of the kitchen is larger than mine, but after moving in a folding table, 6 folding chairs, and the moving-talking-laughing-poking-joking bodies to fill those chairs, the kitchen shrinks to ridiculously tiny proportions. The kitchen is poorly equipped for real cooking/baking, so I carry in most of the tools and equipment we use each week. The small space, the lugging around of equipment might give notion that this new experience is unpleasant. On the contrary! Meeting the kids, discovering their love of food, seeing their desire to make and create stuff has given an energy to this project that I didn’t foresee. I initiated the idea from my desire to share, but the physical circumstances would have quickly extinguished that wish. Working with these young humans, sharing what I know, showing how to use the tools, seeing their delight and frustration when rolling pie pastry, getting the reviews upon tasting the day’s project, getting after them when the exuberance for life turns into a potential kitchen safety hazard-this is where the sustaining energy comes from.

So far we’ve cracked and scrambled eggs, made tiny apple pies, blueberry muffins, pretzels, tomato soup and biscuits, scones which we turned into strawberry shortcakes, and pasta by hand. We’ll continue on with vegetable pot pies, pancakes, crostada, moon pie, and pizza. The kids measure and stir, add liquid to dry, knead, roll, slice, chop, and eat.

The planning for each week, the recipe packets, writing the information pages on pie dough or kinds of apples, the lists of what to bring,  this has kept me from writing anything about my own kitchen or my garden. My brain is busy and happy with this activity. I urge any of you to pick up a new thing and do it: dig up some yard and plant some lettuce seeds, try braising a cut of beef, thread a needle and sew a few pieces of fabric together, gather a few people in your home and show them how to do something. Newness is life-giving. The year is still young, give yourself some new life.