Resolution for January 2

I do resolutions throughout the year. Last year, I had a New Year’s Resolution for December 27, 2015. It didn’t have anything to do with cooking. My resolution for today does: plan better lunches for the weekend. Guess what? I resolved for today and I achieved my goal!

Saturday Lunch
Saturday Lunch

How pretty is that? During the week, Spouse usually takes dinner leftovers-don’t worry, they are really good and I’m usually jealous-while Junior & I get what I’ve foraged from the fridge or freezer or from stopping by PCC after karate, or I forage and he makes himself some Annie’s Homegrown Mac/Cheese. Weekday lunches will get their own resolution to improve, but it’s the weekends that are the most problematic. We’re all home doing projects, I’ve thought about food all week, I’ve managed something for breakfast, and I’m planning something maybe more labor intensive for dinner and I’m asked: What’s for lunch? A simple question. Drives me batty. I don’t want that negative energy, don’t want remodel monies going to take out, I’m here, I love to cook, so plan for it. This minestrone is so easy & I already was baking bread that could go with. Having the pantry items of cannellini & tomatoes, the fresh onion, garlic & carrot, and the celery seed pounded with salt are standard, why not eat this for every winter Saturday lunch? We just might! Cheers!

Minestrone Soup                               

Preparation time: 15 minutes     Cooking time: 30 to 40 minutes        Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

1 large celery stalk, diced (or about 1/4 teaspoon pounded celery seed)

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1 clove garlic, minced

1 ½ teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 (14 ½-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and finely chopped (save liquid)

1 large potato, diced

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

5 cups water, as needed

1 (10-ounce) bag frozen green beans (or anything green-kale is awesome!)

¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Place a large pot on the stove over medium heat. Pour the olive oil into the pot. When the olive oil is warm, add the onions, carrots, celery, red pepper flakes and garlic. Stir the vegetables to coat with oil. Stir in the salt and pepper. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until the onions begin to turn golden.

Add the tomatoes, potatoes, beans, rosemary, the saved tomato liquid and about 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let the soup cook for 15 minutes. Test the vegetables for tenderness.

During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the frozen green beans. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan.




Mix Up

I am a saver. I am not a hoarder, I have full ability to clean, purge, recycle, and toss, but I do hang on to things that I might need. I am currently reducing this collection of Might Need Someday, clumsily inching my way toward minimalism. My fridge and freezer reflect my attitude toward saving. Any usable leftover, be it tomato sauce, pinto beans, grated cheddar, or small chunks of mozzarella, can be found squirreled away in my freezer, a myriad assortment of Pyrex & Kerr & Deli containers. Items stay in the fridge if I know I’ll use in a day or two. This system usually works for me, but confusion or misidentification can happen.

My favorite story of incorrect freezer ID, was the lunch I sent to work with Spouse a few years back. It was post Thanksgiving and there were turkey leftovers in the fridge and I was certain I had mashed potatoes in the freezer. Still jammied in a dimly lit kitchen, I pawed around the freezer until I found that container with the frozen white mass inside. Success! I opened it, threw some turkey on top,  and packed it, the last item in Spouse’s lunch carrier. Later that day, Spouse sent what I thought was a rather cryptic email regarding his lunch, so I ignored as one of his less-than-better jokes. Pizza was on the menu for dinner and I readied my longer-rise partial Emmer pizza dough. When it came time to assemble ingredients, I pulled items from fridge and freezer: strained tomatoes-frozen, mushrooms-fresh, pesto & pepperoni-frozen, arugula-fresh, but I could not find the made-by-me mozzarella that I knew I had saved, the reason we were even having this meal, it was not in the freezer. A quick drive to QFC allowed me to purchase an inferior replacement, and pizzas were baking when Spouse returned home.

Ever so smug, Spouse quipped about more mozzarella, and described to me his lunchtime experience. He had heated up his lunch, but the mashed potatoes weren’t responding as they usually did. They were remaining pretty solid and frozen. He removed the turkey and heated the rest for a bit longer. When it was finally pliable, he realized instead of potatoes, I had given him a large, healthy portion of mozzarella cheese to eat with his turkey. Delicious. He ate it, finding it completely hilarious. I was mad that I didn’t get to use my beautiful cheese on the pizza, but eventually found myself laughing out loud at the faux pas.

Ok. So fast forward to this morning. In my fridge I had a baggy of butter bits, leftover butter from my current class, butter still papered but handled by kids so my assistants didn’t want it for themselves. I had taken it home, knowing I could use it in something baked. In the same fridge compartment as the butter bag, I had found another bit of something that I assumed was more butter, so all of it, plus a little more to reach 6 ounces, went into the bowl of fresh-ground Einkorn, orange zest, currants, kefir, and the leaveners. Scones for Junior on Veteran’s Day.

The scones mixed and baked up beautifully. I did however notice a small anomaly: some of the butter seemed to be coagulated rather than melted-how weird! I sampled a scone and the light crisp butter/flour magic was there, along with the slight of orange, the bit of currant-sweet and…what was that? The coagulated something was cheese! That extra bit I threw in? Parmesan. Not butter. It was a tiny amount so the scones aren’t so much savory as they are confusing. I’m hoping the jam Junior adds will cover my crime, an offense his taste receptors, if detected, will not appreciate. Oh well. Perhaps it’s time for a fridge system overhaul!

ps: this is the same scone I always make!

Mmmm sweet cheesy goodness!

School Lunch

I don’t know the quality of school lunches in my day, of how they might be rated by today’s *ahem* standards. I don’t know if they were full of textured vegetable protein, if any of it was fresh-made, if the dietitians considered ketchup a vegetable. I do remember the lunch carts being wheeled through the hallways, the Lunch Ladies that commandeered them, the red tokens we handed over, and the 75-cents that faculty paid, in cash.

I didn’t take part in those hallway procured meals very often. I remember when I did, it felt exotic and very inclusive. My lunches were usually a sandwich (woefully so on tuna salad day,the white bread overly saturated with the mayonnaise and pickle juice), a piece of fruit, and a cookie or other small yum-yum. Mini bags of chips and Hostess desserts were the hallmark of a Field Trip Sack Lunch, always the best brought-from-home lunches.

Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese was one of the few lunches I did get to buy on occasion. Carrying the tray hosting the divided melamine plate, with the square, cardboard-like, overcooked, hot-held grilled American Cheese sandwich in one section, a small bowl of water-based from-a-can tomato soup in another, some unremembered fruit, and the finale: a serving of full-sheet pan chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Perfection.

We often had tomato soup and grilled cheese lunches at home, so I don’t know why this school menu was such a favorite of mine. It could have been the comfort factor, it could have been the power of that chocolate cake. What I do know now, tomato soup and grilled cheese it still one of my favorite comfort lunches, except no more canned soup or American Cheese or wimpy bread.

Tomato soup is easy to make. This batch started with some onion & garlic, gently cooked in a combination of butter & olive oil. Shallots are my first choice for this soup, but I don’t always have those on hand. When the onions are translucent, the organic canned tomatoes, some fresh thyme, and a few cups of water or chicken broth join in, then the covered pot simmers for 20 minutes or so. Adding salt is always dependent on the tomatoes used-some canned tomatoes are laden with the stuff!

Set to simmer
Set to simmer

After the simmer, the soup needs to be blended, which can be done in a standard blender, but I forego the mess and danger of traditional method and always use my immersion blender. The original recipe calls for a bit of baking soda to help balance the acidity of the tomatoes. If I’m using cream to finish the soup, I will omit the baking soda, letting the dairy fat mask any startling acidity, but leaving enough to make the soup interesting.

Ready to blend
Ready to blend
Baking soda fizz
Baking soda fizz

Grilled cheese at my house is always on my Tartine 60-70% whole wheat Country Loaf, with Tillamook Cheddar. Tillamook is not the greatest or most sustainable cheddar in the land, but Junior eats it so that’s what I have on hand, cooked with butter on cast iron.

Sturdy bread
Sturdy bread
Perfect on a rainy day!
Perfect on a rainy day!

Food memory, food as comfort, the taste preferences of any individual are all very mysterious. Why do I like this lunch? The slight acidity of the soup? The crunchy whole wheat nuttiness of the bread? The decadent nature of the full-fat, full-dairy cheese? How all three elements play together? I will ponder these, perhaps unanswerable, questions while I eat my lunch, remembering that there will be some chocolate at the finish. Bon Appetit!