Category Archives: Recipe

biography of a simple dinner

My cooking style these days often strays far from recipes and sticks close to the desires of my eyes, stomach, and mind. My ingredients also speak to me: that cabbage is finally getting old, I have way too many eggs (is there such a thing?), the hidden apple butter was suddenly noticed after months of unintentional neglect, or I take a whiff of Chinese five spice and all neurons fire “YES.” Since the messages from my mind’s eye and kitchen’s pantry change every day, I rarely replicate meals exactly.

But two nights ago, I had a simple, rustic meal for dinner that I repeated tonight and will repeat whenever the I have all of the ingredients at once:  a heaping pile of warm greens over country bread and ricotta, a celestial combination of some of my favorite Maine eats so far.

I caramelized leeks in a trifecta of butter, rendered bacon fat, and olive oil. Then, I threw in several handfuls of chopped kale that I had previously de-stemmed. This helps prevent kale from wilting, similar to how removing carrot tops keeps the root firm. (Important: I threw the stems into a jar  with garlic, fenugreek, and a dried chile and covered them with a boiling mixture of water, apple cider vinegar and maple syrup for an impromptu refrigerator pickle.)

While the kale was wilting, I toasted a thick slice of country bread from Scratch Baking Co. in South Portland. This bread is baked in huge 18-inch rounds at least 6 inches high, so the folks at Scratch sell more manageable quarter- and half-loaves as well. On my way back from visiting a friend in Portland for the weekend, I picked up a quarter loaf in addition to a dozen  perfect bagels, this establishment’s claim to fame and key to my heart.

After the bread was toasted, I rubbed both sides with raw garlic, a move that elevates toast from plebian to glorious, and smeared a generous portion of Lakin’s Gorges Cheese Basket-Molded Ricotta, a Rockport-based artisanal cheese made using organic Maine milk. I saw owner Allison Lakin speak at the Camden Library about her transition from museum jobs and an anthropology degree to owning her own cheese-making business, and I have been wanting to support this soul-sister financially ever since. Her ricotta is different, as it is left to drain to the point where it is sliceable. I opted to smear it (heavily) on the garlic-rubbed toast and never look back.

I poured the kale and leeks over the ricotta-smeared toast, and topped the whole thing off with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Voilà: a dinner that managed, with each bite, to evolve through light, sweet, smokey, spicy, creamy, crunchy, salty, and chewy. And everything except the olives in the foreground and the olive oil was produced in Maine, within about 30 miles of my house. I’m real into it.

when nothing else will do

After work, I rode to the Rockland Public Library to see John Piotti of the Maine Farmland Trust give a talk called “Are Farms the Key to Maine’s Future?” The short answer: Yes. The long answer: If $50 million dollars doesn’t get poured into agricultural conservation easements,  property value will force farmers (more specifically, family of deceased farmers) to sell their property to developers instead of other farmers. Luckily, the Maine Farmland Trust, which was founded 12 years ago, is optimistic about raising these funds and achieving their goal to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland by 2014.

One the drive home from this talk, my coworker shared that Waldoboro, the town where my office lies, used to be the pumpkin capital of New England, growing the majority of the pumpkin for canning by One Pie. As far as I know, nary a commercial pumpkin patch exists in Waldoboro anymore, but all this talk of pumpkins got my stomach screaming for pumpkin gnocchi.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Gnocchi
Adapted from this recipe on Tastebook
Serves 2

I lost the recipe I used to use to make these, but after going through ten or so Google search results, I settled on a recipe that called for whole wheat flour. Normally, I look at whole wheat pastas in disdain because the larger flour grains fail at mimicking the texture of white or semolina flour, but I was running seriously low on all-purpose flour, so whole wheat would have to do. These gnocchi turned out so light and lovely regardless, and the choice of grain made me feel a little better about eating a bowl of (basically) flour and cheese.

When I made these in the past, I would pan-fry them in browned butter after a quick boil to add a contrasting textural element to the edible pillows, then serve them with fresh pesto. (Sometimes, I even opted for cilantro pesto with pumpkin seeds and red onion and cumin to make my Italian relatives turn in their graves.) This time, I had pesto butter (!) in the refrigerator from Borealis Breads, so I used that to cover my butter and pesto bases then topped my dinner with grated cheese and pumpkin seeds.

1 cup canned pumpkin puree (or homemade pumpkin puree, drained thoroughly)
1/2 cup Parmesean or Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg white, whipped until frothy
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons of your favorite butter or oil

Fill a large pot with water (and some salt) and let it get boiling. (It takes about as long for a large pot of water to boil as it does for this dough to come together. Amazing!)

In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, cheese, salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Carefully fold in the frothy egg whites. Next, fold in the whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup at a time. Add the all-purpose flour until just incorporated. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a rectangle about 1-inch high. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into 1-inch pieces, as shown above. (Another method is to roll the dough into 1-inch-wide snakes and then to cut each snake into 1-inch pieces.)

Put some butter in a frying pan and set it to medium heat. Add your gnocchi to the boiling water, give a quick stir, and leave them be until they rise to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the buttered frying pan. Toss a few times until they are at your desired level of doneness, transfer to a bowl, top with more cheese, and enjoy.

I was cooking for one so after I finished eating, I shaped the rest of the gnocchi and went at them with a fork to get a more traditional gnocchi look. (With the job I did, I think I caused my Italian ancestor grave-turning, but taste matters more than presentation, right?) I placed them all on a cornmeal-dusted cookie sheet, threw them in the freezer for about 90 minutes, and then transferred them to a bag. They will be ready to greet my tongue and tum in the ides of March when I am as likely to find pumpkin as I am to find gold at the end of a leprechaun’s rainbow.

crusty whole wheat bread

My quest to find the best bread recipe is slowly progressing. I made a couple of loaves this past semester at Haverford, one of which approached perfection. Last night, I decided to venture into the land of baking bread in a pot, and I  mixed dough that would be baked 18 hours later in a soup pot in my oven.

Crusy Whole Wheat Bread (Adapted from the Mark Bittman via Serene Journey)
Yields 1 loaf

3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups water

Combine whole wheat flour, yeast, and salt in a bowl. Stir in as much of the water as you need to make a sticky dough.

Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 12 to 18 hours. After that time, pour the dough out onto a floured surface and fold it twice onto itself. Let rest for 15 minutes under plastic wrap.

Heavily flour a cotton towel, but not terry cloth. Place the dough on the towel, and drape with another. Let rise for 2 hours. Thirty minutes before the rise time is complete, preheat the oven to 450° F. Place your heaviest pot in the oven, ideally cast iron or enamel.

When the dough has fully risen, it will have doubled in size and not spring back to the touch. At this point, remove the pot from the oven and turn the dough over into it. Shake it around a bit to even it out. Place the pot back in the oven, making sure the lid is on. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on and 15-30 minutes with the lid off, to ensure a crispy, browned crust.

lemon lavender cookies

My first act as a college graduate was to sleep until 3:45 pm. My second was to get a new iPhone. My third, to prepare a hot dog dinner with an absurd amount of condiments for my family. And finally, I made some cookies.

Despite my efforts to use up everything in my kitchen before graduating, the contents of my college kitchen nearly doubled the mass of stuff in my home kitchen. My mother and I have spent the past hour or so consolidating our flour, crushed red pepper flakes, and other normal ingredients, and moving all of my “weird” ingredients (i.e., rosewater, turmeric, chow chow, Indian pickle) to the basement fridge.

Lemon Lavender Cookies (Adapted from a Feed the Editor recipe)
Yields 2 dozen 3-inch cookies or 3 dozen 2-inch cookies

These lemon lavender cookies drew equally from my ingredients and my mom’s, and what a wonderful marriage they are.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender buds
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Juice of a small lemon
Zest of a small lemon

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Combine flour, almond meal, baking soda, baking powder, lavender buds, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Microwave butter in a dish for 15 seconds, until slightly softened. Whisk together with 3/4 cups of the granulated white sugar in a large bowl for about 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla extra, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Stir until combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing between additions.

Spoon a heaping tablespoon of cookie dough into a small bowl that has the last 1/4 of the granulated white sugar. Toss the dough ball around into the sugar to coat. Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat. (Oh, the joy of being at home and having access to my mother’s Silpat!)

Bake for 8-9 minutes. They are done when they are golden brown around the edges.

brunch: pumpkin pancakes with ginger maple syrup

As a continuation of my manic obsession with taking home as little food as possible from school, I chose a can of pumpkin, the tail end of a box of crystallized ginger, and the last quarter of a bag of whole wheat flour as my victims for yesterday’s brunch. I woke up early (10:00 am…) and had a morning yoga session outside. My body hasn’t been physically challenged in a couple of months, so it was a little surprised with some of the stretches and strength exercises. I didn’t eat before it because I didn’t want a stomach full of food getting in the way of my warrior pose, but by the end, I was quickly approaching a ravenous state. Pancakes to the rescue.

Pumpkin Pancakes (adapted from this recipe)
Yields 15 4-inch pancakes

The batter of these pancakes ended up thicker than most other pancake batters I have encountered so they took a little bit longer to cook, but the end result was pillowy and fluffy. I think the secret ingredient is 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, which interacts with the baking powder and baking soda (and maybe the milk) in a magical way. I ate them with a smothering of apple butter, butter butter, chopped walnuts, and maple syrup that I had simmered with some chopped crystallized ginger. If you like ginger but not too much, you can boil the syrup with ginger and then strain it out. As I was eating these pancakes in all of their sweetness, I started thinking about how good the same pumpkin pancake recipe would be with garam masala, or even garlic powder, instead of pumpkin pie spice, no sugar, and twice the salt. It would be a really interesting, last-minute alternative to naan.

1 3/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Slowly whisk into the pumpkin mixture until the two are just combined.

Heat a lightly buttered frying pan over medium high heat. Pour 1/4 cup of the batter onto the pan for each pancake. Brown on both sides, approximately 3-4 minutes, and serve hot.

instead of packing

Look at that face!

Tonight is one of four nights between my San Diego stay and my Haverford departure, so spending time with my brother was also a priority. Solution? Make goat cheese with Johnny. kiss my spatula has an absolutely gorgeous blog post about making homemade goat cheese that inspired me to make some myself. I made some in the past with condensed goat’s milk – mistake. This one came out so much better.

As we looked at the recipe on, we found out that the blogger pairs her recipes with songs. The goat cheese pairing was a Yann Teirsen song from the Amelie soundtrack, one that my brother is learning how to play on the piano. How perfect!

Goat Cheese with Lemon, Herbs, and Pine Nuts

1 qt. goat’s milk (we got ours at Trader Joe’s)
1/4 c. lemon juice, or the juice of three medium-large lemons
2 tsp. lemon zest
2 tbsp. pine nuts, finely chopped
1 tsp. herbes de Provence
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

Place several layers of cheese cloth in a medium-sized mesh strainer resting in a bowl.

Heat the goat’s milk to 180° (measured with a candy thermometer) in a saucepan over low heat. While it is heating, zest the lemon, and squeeze the juice into a measuring cup until you have over one-quarter cup. Be careful to attend to the milk, though, because you don’t want it to surpass that temperature because it may start to boil or even caramelize. Once the appropriate temperature has been reached, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Let it sit for 15-20 seconds. This time allows it to curdle. You can let it sit for more time; in fact, I chopped the pine nuts together with the lemon zest, herbs, and salt for about a minute while letting the lemon juice and the warm milk mix n’ mingle.

Pour the liquid conglomerate into the cheese cloth-lined strainer. As it strains, a very watery, clear liquid should strain, leaving the curdled cheese behind. If it strains through very fast and cloudy, you can return the mixture to the saucepan and repeat the process, adding more lemon juice once the temperature has reached 180°.

Let it sit for 1-2 hours, or until it reaches your desired consistency. Gather the cheese cloth ends in a bundle, and squeeze the remaining water out. Then, transfer goat cheese off the cheese cloth into a bowl.

Mix in the flavorings, and eat.