Category Archives: Pantry cooking

OIive Oil & Yogurt Cake with Strawberries

It was snowing like hell on Sunday and I needed CAKE.   I’d wanted to make this one from food52, but I didn’t have an orange or unsoured milk (I had the Grand Marnier though, hah, just not the real food staples), so I had to look elsewhere, because it was messy and I was in serious nesting-hermit mode. I also had a pound of strawberries frozen from a sale at the store over the summer so I said, hmm, strawberries & cake, and then started googling.

I found this recipe, a variation on ones from Chocolate & Zucchini as well as Smitten Kitchen, and then took inspiration from this recipe to add strawberries in. 

I tweaked the first recipes thusly:  I added an extra 1/2 tsp of vanilla, a 1/4 tsp cinnamon because I think cinnamon and strawberries go well together, and the cake took another 20 minutes to bake because the strawberries were still frozen when I stirred them into the finished batter.   I should have probably let them come to room temperature, but I was also afraid they’d bleed into the batter at room temperature and make the batter too soggy.

The cake still looked good, though, in a homely, craggy, fragrant, quick, brew some tea and cut into it NOW kind of way.  It’s moist as heck because of the olive oil, and could have stood another 5 minutes of baking, but olive oil cakes have a wonderful flavor in general, and I’ll be making this one again soon with the rest of the berries lying around in the freezer.  I didn’t bake this one gluten-free, because I wanted to try the recipe as written (ish) first– but next time, I’ll try it with the Bob’s GF blend and see how it goes.


The best use & reuse of accidentally-purchased shell-on shrimp

The use of the word “best” here comes with a caveat, namely, what I could think of without resorting to looking up a recipe, and just sorting through memories of dishes eaten and cookbooks and magazine read in the past.  The “accidentally-purchased” part comes from the fact that I was dead-tired, and snagged the wrong bag of frozen shrimp out of the freezer at work– I bought the jumbo shell-on, instead of the large shelled shrimp.

Still, I had a whole tub of pre-peeled garlic at home, and bless the inventor of that nifty device, not because I care about the smell of garlic but because peeling garlic is fussy and I always end up nicking myself.

Garlic + shrimp + a pantry like mine (here, Aggi shrimp bouillon, fino sherry, olive oil, generous amounts of fresh-ground black pepper, plus a big sprig of the rosemary growing out in the garden) equals Spanish-style shrimp in garlic sauce.   I used the fino sherry (this recipe uses an equalish amount of brandy) because I had it, but I could have used lemon, like this recipe.

Messy to peel?  Yes.  Delicious to lick off your fingers?  You bet.

To go with/alongside, because I don’t think the Spaniards go much in for corn, but when in New England in summer, it’s corn, corn, corn, corn, I did a simple saute of corn sliced off the cob, whole cherry tomatoes, sliced onion, lots of butter, a little bit of salt and pepper, and a large sprig of windowbox thyme, sauteed until warm and the tomatoes a little bit collapsed.

I had shrimp leftover.  (They were a pain to peel.  I won’t make the mistake of not reading the bag ever again.)  And for some recipe I’d made in some variation before, I had a half-bottle of mild(er) kimchi, which I dumped into a big bowl and chopped roughly with my mezzaluna. I’d bought a small red cabbage, so I chopped that into half and then into thin slices, peeled and chopped up the shrimp, beat three eggs, chopped a huge handful of chives from the garden (are we detecting a theme here?  my herbs are in luxurious growth, super-abundant, and I use them as such) and spooned in enough Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour mix to make it bind together but still be a little bit wet.

And then I fried the hell out of it in one big cake in my 12″ nonstick skillet, slid it onto a sheet pan, then, taking my life into my hands, used potholders to flip the whole thing over and fried the whole other side until it was brown.  I chopped purple basil from the garden and cut up some limes to squeeze over the top, and did add some sriracha and fish sauce to my serving, though it was plenty seasoned already.  (You could have added lime zest or ginger or sriracha to the pancake batter if you were so inclined.)  It was beautiful.

I had the kimchi around from a white cabbage/kimchi/scallion pancake not unlike this basic recipe and which I think I also used shrimp to proteinize… that I fried into small fritters, and if you’re afraid of burning yourself flipping el grando shrimp pancake, the little fritters are equally tasty, just keep the heat up to get that good brown crust, and use a spatter screen.

For a vegetable (what, two cups of cabbage isn’t enough?) I had garden-fresh green beans.  I steamed and cooled them, then dressed them while they were still warm with sesame oil and a sauce called Bone Suckin’ Mustard, sriracha, and a bit of soy sauce.  A strong yellow mustard (not dijon-style) with a bit of cider vinegar, some hot sauce, and a little sweetener (I’d use agave, probably) would stand in for the Bone Suckin’ Mustard– you want it to be on the zippy/sour side of sweet & sour & tangy, but you still want a little sweet to balance the chili sauce.  And then I dressed them with toasted sesame seeds.

Good thing I wasn’t paying attention when I bought those shrimp.

If you can’t stand the heat…

Sometimes on hot summer nights, the best thing to cook for supper is nothing at all.  That doesn’t mean you don’t eat, though.


Last night’s supper was La Quercia prosciutto, fresh mozzarella from Wisconsin, cherry tomatoes from Hopkinton, MA (a hydroponics place, since they’re not yet in season) and basil from the same place.  Dressed with fleur du sel, freshly-ground Penzey’s (WI) pepper, Spanish olive oil and real Modena balsamic, a present from my brother and sister-in-law from their honeymoon.  It can’t all be USA-made or sort-of-local.  We also had an onion focaccia from the local Whole Foods bakehouse that I shouldn’t have eaten because of the gluten but they were out of their good gluten-free bakery loaves and I needed something to soak up all that balsamic.  (It’s food.  You can’t waste it.  And while yes, I could lick my plate, that’s not precisely genteel.)

Tonight, though, I felt like cooking.  And using up the cheap chicken thighs I’d gotten on sale at the grocery store that have been taking up space in my freezer.  On the theory that millions of people in India can’t be wrong, I fought fire with fire, and made Chicken Under a Brick with Pickled Peppadew Peppers from food52.  (I love Amanda Hesser so very much.) And the recipe was just what I wanted: savory, piquant, spicy, hot, crispy, delicious– I sweated a bit as I ate it, then cooled myself down with my bourbon and ginger beer.

Chicken Under a Brick with Peppadew Peppers

Tweaks to the recipe included:  I used chopped scallions (leftover in the fridge) instead of garlic and dried herbs rubbed onto the chicken instead of fresh, and then dressed it with some of the rest of last night’s fresh basil.  (It wouldn’t do to waste good produce, after all.)   I “made” a rose-ish wine with vermouth and some of the chianti-style red left over from last night’s supper.  Served with jasmine rice mixed with some leftover peas, it was just right.  My only complaint/permanent tweak would be to make more of the sauce because I like sauce and it was too delicious not to just have a lot.

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker

These last two weeks, I’ve been wearing my baker’s hat.  I made some lemon yogurt muffins from Marion Cunningham’s Breakfast Book, a cookbook everyone should have if only for her Fresh Ginger Cake and Nutmeg Muffins, and then made the (gluten free) Chocolate Chip Cookies in Cooking for Isaiah.  The latter were excellent, and no one at work noticed they were GF.  The texture was a bit different, but I made them with butter and not the shortening option (completely tested & approved by the author) and they were delicious and toll-house-y, which is really the departure point for all chocolate chip cookies.  And they did not make my stomach upset, always a bonus.

But as tasty as these things were, they couldn’t beat two real standouts.

First:  Melissa Clark’s Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake.  I love Clark’s column, “A Good Appetite,” at the NYT, and I own her book.  Twice.  In hardcover, and also on my Nook Color so I can shop from it randomly in the supermarket when I have no idea what to cook.  I’d never made an olive oil-based cake, and I hadn’t had this winter’s serving of blood oranges, so….  I used yogurt, not buttermilk, an either/or option in the recipe, and though Clark calls for whipped cream on the side, I wanted creme fraiche.  And my blood oranges were a little dry and tart, so– I heated my honey-fruit compote in the microwave with a little more honey than called for to give it more sweetness and oomph.

Melissa Clark's Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake

It was gorgeous and moist and a lovely, citrusy, midwinter cake.

And then there is Impossible Pie. Today’s been an Impossible Day, for various reasons that aren’t boring or unbloggable but which, well– I just don’t feel like discussing the reasons. So I won’t. But I did make Impossible Pie, which gets its name (so says the March 2011 Food & Wine article in which it’s contained) because it forms its own crust from the one-bowl battery mess of dried coconut and other pantry and fridge staples (um, if you keep coconut in your pantry, that is) that is totally worth making if you feel like– I need something custardy-sweet and comforting.  Now.  I did tweak the recipe thusly: I didn’t have sweetened coconut, only un-, and I had coconut milk, so I used 1 cup coconut milk (all the liquid in the can and then enough of the sploogy-clotted coconut cream to make one cup in a two-cup measure and 1 cup whole cow’s to fill) plus 2 cups dried unsweetened coconut– then everything else as called for.

It’s not gluten free– it calls for 1/2 cup of self-raising flour (cheat recipe here)– and the next time I make it, I’m going to try subbing in the basic gluten free blend from Cooking for Isaiah with the self-raising adaptation of baking powder and salt and see how I do– but it’s not so much that I think I’ll get a rumbly tummy from one slice a day.  Or two.  Maybe three?  Why not.  I deserve it.

Impossible Pie

It’s awfully good– enough to turn an Impossible Day into a possible one, even.

Minestrone with Almond Pistou

I have, in the past, pooh-poohed the idea of things like fancy-shmancy herb toppings and such.  And then I discovered gremolata and learned the errors of my ways.

I have now learned that yes– putting pesto, or, as the French say, pistou, or your minestrone?  It’s a mighty fine thing.

Last night’s soup, interpreted to use what I had in my pantry and fridge from this Melissa Clark recipe here at the NYT (quickly becoming my go-to gal, even more so than Bittman), was topped off by a dollop of almond pistou.  It was mighty delicious, even with my fiddling about and omissions, the which you’ll see when you compare my bastardized version to Clark’s, which no doubt is better– but I didn’t have leeks, fresh tomatoes, or fresh beans of the kind she called for on hand, but I still wanted soup.  So I winged it, because I did have fresh basil– and really, when you’ve got fresh basil, pistou just must be made.

Look at that photo and see if you disagree.

And now the important part:  the recipe, such as it is.

1 32 oz. can chef’s cut tomatoes, with or without basil.
1 small can chickpeas
12 baby carrots, appx. or 1 large peeled carrot
1 large onion, chopped
1 med. zucchini, chopped
large handful green beans
1 sprig rosemary
large spring parsley
2 cups chicken broth made from Knorr bouillon (Yes.  I am really that lazy.  All the time.  I do not use stock, pretty much ever.)
tsp. salt
3 tbsps. extra virgin olive oil, because that’s all I ever keep in the house
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the flat of a large knife

Large bunch basil, appx. 2 cups
1/2 cup unsalted roasted almonds, skin on
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
salt, 1 tsp
extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Tie the herbs together with butcher’s twine, put them in a tea ball or cheesecloth, or decide you don’t mind fishing them out or picking out pieces of rosemary from your teeth (or finely chop the herbs and add them to the sauce that way).

Saute the carrots, onions and herbs over med-high heat in the olive oil with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes until softened, appx. 5 mins.

Add garlic and other vegetables, except for tomatoes and beans, toss to coat in oil and lightly golden, appx. 10 mins. more.  Do not let the garlic get too brown.

Add the tomatoes, beans, chickpeas, and a can of water from the tomato can, lower the heat and set the whole thing to simmer 30 mins. with the lid on.  (I only added one can of water from the chickpeas and now wished I’d added just a bit more, so I’m saying that I should have added from the tomato can and not the chickpeas as I look back.)

When the soup is done, make the pistou in your food processor or blender or mortar and pestle or other wham-bashy thing (I know.  Highly technical, here.)  Whiz the basil with the remaining ingredients and just enough olive oil to make a thick paste that coheres to itself but isn’t too liquid.

Put a teaspoon-sized dollop on top of your soup, serve with a hearty red wine like a petite sirah from Bogle or a Rioja or somesuch, and enjoy the vegetable, herb-almond-cheesy goodness.

I think if you had a lactose allergy or didn’t eat cheese you could well leave out the parmesan in the pistou, up the salt slightly, and still have the same overall tasty effect.  I’d probably add more oil and almonds to up the fat content as well.

Shakshuka and more of the poached egg chronicles (but Jenn, just add more feta)

Deb at Smitten Kitchen had this recipe for Shakshuka, an Israeli Spicy Tomato Stew with Poached Eggs that I really wanted to try.  See, it looked really easy, a one pot dish that you built by layering flavors, and when the stew was basically done, you popped in a few eggs and poached them in the cooked liquid, then spooned them out into bowls, sprinkled them over with feta and parsley and voila, BOOM, dinner.

See?  Doesn’t it look just yummy?

It was just that easy, and ooh, it was awesome.  Especially because I tried this new Rhode Island feta that I bought at the Dedham Whole Foods.  But for those of you who don’t like poached eggs, the stew base is delicious and spicy and yum.   I made it with 2 jalapenos, not three, and did the jalapenos, not the Anaheim Chiles.  If you’re not a fan of poached eggs,  you could totally poach some fish or scallops or shrimp in the liquid, or just add more feta.  (Yes, Jenn, I tried it without the egg for breakfast this morning.  It’s awesome without the egg and just a little more cheese.)

I did deviate from Deb’s recipe in one way.  She suggests you serve it with pita, and I didn’t do that since I’m trying to get back to gluten-free eating.  What I did instead is make socca.

Socca?  What’s this?  It’s chickpea-flour flatbread, made from Bob’s Red Mill chickpea flour I bought at my co-op.  Bob’s rocks, plain and simple.  I keep the open packages in the freezer in a ziploc after they’re open, since the bean flours tend to go rancid.  Here’s what it looked like, after it baked.

My recipe is based on the one in Fran McCullough’s Living Low Carb, page 135.  Since I modified it a bit, I’ll post it here.

1 cup room temperature water
2/3 c chickpea flour
3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
5-6 grinds fresh black pepper
Penzey’s rosemary powder and/or finely chopped dried or fresh rosemary needles, at least 1/4 tsp.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, whisking until all lumps are gone.  Let sit for one hour.

Preheat oven to 500F.  In something smaller than a sheet pan (this is why mine looks uneven and ragged, all the right pans for this recipe happened to be dirty last night)– you want something more like a round pizza pan or a 10-12 inch oven-proof skillet, oil the pan with more olive oil, pour the batter, then put it in to bake until set, approx. 6 minutes.

Turn on the broiler, take out the socca and spray/drizzle the top with more oil before putting it under the heat to crisp until golden brown, 3-5 minutes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper if you like (I didn’t, because I like my batter pre-seasoned, I don’t think it needs any more), cut into wedges, and serve.

Pretty tofu confetti: cleaning the pantry

Okay– I admit that my fridge and pantry contain ingredients that are not “average.”  But I still have to clean the sucker out and use food up before it goes bad.  Times are tough, starving children in Africa, it’s a sin to waste food, or you’re just a cheap Yankee like me– any way you slice it, there’s always something that needs using up.  This time it was some teriyaki baked tofu (don’t knock it, it’s great cold for breakfast) and some cilantro.  I always have limes and lemons, and ginger, garlic and onions are also staples.  So … I put on 1 cup of sushi rice to cook (nothing fancy, I just followed the package directions) and set to doing something with the rest of it.

Here’s how it went.

I piled all my “got to get rid of this” stuff on the counter with the other possible ingredients.  The French call it mise en place.  I call it “put it where you can’t forget to add it.”  Or “ducks in a row.”  Or “set the shit out in front of you.”  Whatever.

Please to forgive the bad lighting and fuzzy exposure.  It was 8:30 at night and we have crappy light in the kitchen.  Anyway– soy sauce, Sriracha hot sauce, rice wine vinegar, cilantro, tofu, garlic, onion and ginger.  And limes.  You might think this is not very veggie-heavy except for the onion and garlic, and that it’s a problem in the depths of winter in May, but I will have you know that anything colored green counts as a vegetable.  Lime jello?  A vegetable.

Next, there was choppage of red onion, approximately 1/3 cup.  I also decided how much ginger and garlic I wanted– one peeled chunk about 1 inch around and two cloves of garlic.

Next, I sauteed the onion in some neutral oil (I used cold-pressed grapeseed) over medium high heat until it was soft.  At that point, I added the ginger and garlic.

Soft red onions, chopped garlic and ginger?  Mmmm.  Layers of flavor.  Repitan se: Layers of flavor.  Toss the ginger and garlic (aka “aromatics”) over medium low heat with the onion until they are fragrant.

Before you add the ginger and garlic, but while the onion’s still cooking, chop your baked tofu into smallish cubes.  I really can’t extol the virtues of baked tofu enough.  It’s firm and has a totally different texture from regular tofu.  It usually comes in flavors like lemon pepper or teriyaki.  Me?  I love the teriyaki flavor, and not just because the BH says my favorite food group is salt.  So– cubed tofu.  Mmm.  Really.

Again.  I need to get brighter lights in the kitchen, or get more serious about lighting the kitchen for nighttime food blogging action shots.

Add the tofu to the frying pan, stirring it gently over low heat with the other ingredients to make sure the layers of flavor amalgamate.

Mmm.  Brown food.  Well, brown and purple.

Your sushi rice has been cooking while you’ve been playing with all your brown food.  When the rice is done, you can turn it off and let it sit with the lid on while you prepare color for the meal.

Chop a good handful of cilantro and quarter a lime.  It’s up to you if you want to be a food design dork and put them in a glass bowl on your table with all the condiments artfully displayed behind them.

That fancy shmancy camera angle is thanks to a highly specialized technique called tilting your camera.  Oooh.  I know!  Gourmet magazine, here I come.

Notice the little candles?  Those are Oxo Candelas– I bought them for the BH last year for his birthday.  He’s a design geek.

For the purposes of food porn shots, put your rice and your tofu saute side by side in a large glass bowl.


Now here’s the very, very, very bestest part of all.  Remember how your mother used to say “Don’t play with your food?”  Ptooey.  Play with your food all you want.  Sprinkle cilantro.  Drizzle soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.  Dot with Sriracha.  Squeeze as much lime as you want all over.  You know why?  It’s your food and you can season it however you want.  (And … erm … layers of flavor?  Yeah.  That.)

Call it mudpies, call it the prettiest edible confetti you’ve ever seen in your life, call it Hortense.  Just don’t forget to call it dinner.

Total time: 30 minutes.  2 servings for one hungry food blogger who missed lunch.  3 for people who take human bites.

Next up in our ongoing adventures in Layers of Flavor: cooking from the incredibly excellent cookbook  Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy— I cook a recipe, take pictures and blog about it, you comment, and I send the book to a randomly-drawn winner.  You cook, you photograph, you post, you continue the trend.  (Yes, Jenn, Hen, I’m actually, finally, finally going to do it!  I actually did it twice and lost the photos both times.)

Bon Appetit, y’all.