I have been trying valiantly, lately, to diversify my childrens’ evening meals.
(I’d been meaning to deal with the lack of inspiring cuisine in their diets for ages, but I hadn’t realized that it had reached a crisis point until my daughter had lunch at a friend’s house this week. Afterward, the friend’s mother confided to me that my daughter was the fussiest eater she had ever seen.
Friends, you can imagine the humiliation.)
It’s not that my children don’t eat healthily, but there is admittedly a certain lack of variety in their choices.
And of course, I am complicit: I am not often inspired to shake things up when I know that my attempts are likely to be met with the worst kind of childish scorn.
Still, when a rainy night like this one pulls me to the stove, the joy of cooking can easily make me forget that anyone could possibly not like a dish of early autumnal vegetables, melted slowly over low heat with plenty of butter and garlic and handfuls of herbs from the garden.
A leap of faith is required from all parties, and a side of cheese toast for the kids is a distinct possibility here, but this ratatouille-ish dish will be the main event.
And if I have to eat most of it myself (which is likely), I won’t mind a bit.
Rainy Night Ratatouille (ish)*
This is lacking cheese and tomatoes, so not exactly your traditional ratatouille. But the basic delicious flavours are there, and sometimes, at least with my children, simpler is better.
3-4 tbsp butter
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium red pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground rosemary
a handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
In a large, deep frying pan with a lid, melt butter over medium heat. Add eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper, and cook, stirring, about 10 minutes, or until fragrant but not yet beginning to colour. Add garlic, salt, oregano, and rosemary and stir well. Cover and reduce heat to low.
Cook, covered, 15 minutes, until vegetables are very tender and looking a little soupy. Remove cover from pan, increase heat to medium, and cook a further 5 minutes, until excess liquid evaporates.
Stir in fresh basil and serve.
Serves 2 adults, or about 47 picky children.
*I have to tell you that I cannot wait to try this dish with the best steak ever.
You’ll have to forgive the questionable photo – it was late and there was no light save the horrifying (in this context) task lighting in our kitchen.
But I find myself needing to tell you about this hyperbole-worthy steak.
I used the same method I have employed for cooking steak my entire adult life, but with the crucial basting step taken directly from our friends at momofuku. It’s the basting that takes this steak over the top, so all credit goes to genius David Chang.
Here’s what you need:
2 ribeye steaks, about 375g each and 2″ (or so) thick (and get the best “happy meat,” ie. local, grain-fed etc., that you can afford)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4c unsalted butter
4 fat cloves garlic, cut lengthwise into quarters
Remove steaks from the fridge at least an hour before cooking, if possible.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set a large cast iron or other very heavy skillet on a burner set to medium-high heat.
Turn on an extractor fan, if you have one, or open a window.
When oven has preheated and pan is very very hot, generously salt and pepper both sides of both steaks. Place steaks in pan and cook, without moving them, for two minutes. Flip steaks and cook another two minutes.
Transfer steaks, in their pan, to the hot oven and cook 2 minutes.
Return pan to stove and immediately reduce heat. Throw butter and garlic in the pan and, holding the pan at a 45-degree angle, baste steaks constantly for two minutes.
Remove steaks to a warm plate to rest until ready to serve, 5-8 minutes. Remove pan from heat, leaving garlic and butter and steak juices right where they are.
(I used the steak resting time to cook some green beans, light some candles, and open some wine, but of course what you do in those 5-8 minutes is up to you.)
Just before serving, pour pan contents over steaks.
I can scarcely believe that, in effect, an entire season has just passed without my contributing a thing around here.
I have been trying to figure out how to address this last epic silence from my end; as these things go, the longer I thought about it, the more ambivalent I was about addressing it at all, and then the silence itself started to feel so insurmountable that I nearly gave up on the idea of blogging altogether.
But then, December arrived, and my husband returned home after months of (more and less) lengthy absences.
And, just like that, the festive season began around here.
My children woke up this morning to the first real snow of the season, and I woke up to the promise of a long bath, a new magazine, and coffee drunk while it is still hot.
Friends, we have so much to catch up on!
Even while single-parenting, I can’t resist the outlook-changing lure of a fresh-baked breakfast. I have been using spelt or light spelt flour of late, but for these I tried a combination of light spelt, coconut, and whole wheat flours, because that is all I had on hand!
1c large flake oats
1 1/2c flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 stick (1/2c) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/4c brown sugar
1 large ripe banana, mashed
1/4c chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Combine oats and buttermilk in a glass measuring cup, stir well, and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and a pinch of salt, if desired. Cut in butter and brown sugar until mixture is fairly uniform and resembles small peas.
Add oat mixture, banana, chocolate chips and craisins to bowl and stir just to combine into a sloppy dough. Turn out onto a well-floured piece of parchment and knead 3-4 times to help the dough come together a bit.
Roll (using a well-floured rolling pin) or pat dough into a round about an inch thick. Cut out shapes using an approximately 3″ cookie or biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on prepared baking sheet; re-roll or pat the dough and cut out more shapes, until you’ve filled the baking sheet – I usually get somewhere in the neighbourhood of 16-18 biscuits.
Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Cool a few minutes on pan, then transfer to a rack and serve very warm, while the chocolate is still gooey.
I have been managing to cobble together some decent – even inspired – dinners, which isn’t hard to do given the bounty of seasonal produce; and I have banished the cereal supper for the time being, which makes me disproportionately pleased with myself.
But on full, full days like the ones I’ve been having (and will continue to have for the next couple of weeks, I expect), the evening meal isn’t what keeps me going.
Most of my good times in the kitchen have been happening in the earliest part of the day, before it gets too hot and muggy and while what is required of me for the next twelve or so hours seems almost reasonable.
I have been using the fact that my baby is still nursing as an excuse for waking and baking relentlessly, and I have also been getting a lot of mileage out of these pancakes – wonderful for breakfast, a decent mid-morning snack, and not bad slathered with peanut butter for lunch or late at night, either.
adapted from Orangette
You must start these the night before, which I find more thrilling than onerous, but I recognize that not everyone may feel that way…
1 1/2c whole oats
2 1/4c buttermilk
1/2c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2c butter OR coconut oil, melted and cooled
Combine oats and buttermilk in a mixing bowl; stir well, so that all of the oatmeal is submerged in the buttermilk, then cover and refrigerate over night.
The next day, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl.
Whisk together brown sugar, eggs, and melted butter (or coconut oil) in a small bowl. Add egg mixture to buttermilk mixture, and stir well to combine.
Fold flour mixture into wet ingredients – do this gently, but make sure everything is well combined.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Brush lightly with a little oil, and then, when the pan is hot enough, add the batter by 1/4 cupsful (I get two pancakes per batch in my pan). Flip pancakes when they are looking dry around the edges, after 3 minutes or so. Cook a further few minutes, until golden, then transfer to a plate and place in the warm oven while you get on with the rest.
Makes 14 pancakes.
I went to a friend’s house this past weekend to enjoy a rare afternoon’s gossip and glass (or two) of wine, unfettered by the requirements of my family (who were, all three of them, safely ensconced at our house just across the street). I had a marvelous time, greedily making my way through several truffled olives and more than my share of a luscious cheese fondue; and when I got home, I made a thrilling discovery:
Dairy does not seem to be the problem it once was for my nursing baby.
I was, besides being thrilled, also a little relieved – had things gone the other direction, and my reckless cheese-eating resulted in hours of pain (for the baby) and misery (for the rest of us), I’d be too busy feeling like a terrible mother to blithely blog about it.
But as I was also very, very grateful for the opportunity to start eating butter again, I cooked this simple dish almost immediately. The broccoli component is enough to make you (well, me anyway) feel okay about the rest of the ingredients; eaten with brown rice, it could almost be considered virtuous.
Broccoli Bagna Cauda
2 small heads organic broccoli, separated into florets
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1/4 c unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 anchovy fillets, minced
a large splash of white wine
a generous squeeze of lemon juice
1/3 c toasted pine nuts
scant 1/4 c freshly grated parmesan
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Toss broccoli florets with 2 tbsp olive oil and the salt and pepper, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast about 20 minutes, until broccoli is quite tender and beginning to brown.
In a large skillet, melt remaining 2 tbsp olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add garlic and anchovies and saute until garlic is colouring slightly, about 2-3 minutes; add wine and lemon juice and simmer a few minutes.
Transfer broccoli to the skillet and cook a few more minutes, tossing the broccoli and letting the sauce reduce a little. Add pine nuts.
Sprinkle parmesan over top and serve.
Serves 2 as a main course (with rice), or 4 as a side dish.