Category Archives: Cooking

The Coming of Fall

It is September 2, and summer is over. Although the calendar may tell you that summer turns autumn on September 21, in the United States summer is generally understood to conclude over the first weekend in September–Labor Day Weekend–going out in a haze of barbecue smoke. Labor Day (the Monday of the weekend) is a government holiday from the late 1800s, honoring the American worker by giving him or her a day off. I saw a news article yesterday that called out a certain irony here, given how little paid holiday the American worker takes compared to his western counterparts. In any event, it’s not a holiday that gives people warm fuzzy feelings, but everyone is pleased about the three-day weekend.

In greater Boston, September 1 is the prime moving date for apartment rentals. Furniture season, I used to call it. The streets yesterday were jammed with U-Hauls (many of them driven, Tim commented, by people who should not be authorized to drive large vehicles); and in 90-degree heat (32C), the new residents of Cambridge, Somerville, Watertown, and everywhere were lugging their boxes and mattresses. By accepted tradition–and in contrast to the Netherlands, where this would be ill-received by one’s neighbors–any unwanted objects are simply abandoned on the curb. They are taken away by happy freeloaders or the trash men, whichever happens first. Last night we attended a (literal) apartment-warming party that ended around the time the street’s electricity went out, the grid having presumably been overtaxed by the running of air conditioners. On the way to the party, I pulled the car over in haste to examine a lovely wood-and-glass coffee table, which is now sitting in my living room; and on the way home, we grabbed a full-length mirror.

Today, many teachers (including my mom) and students begin the new school year. Lucky offices that operated on a summer schedule (half-day Fridays) return to their normal hours. The undergrads who swarmed back into this area over the weekend, clogging every store with carts of fans and plastic bins and magnetic chalkboards, will find their way around campus. And I, sometime in the late afternoon, will go out looking for dinner.

Produce at the Watertown Farmers' Market

Produce at the Watertown Farmers’ Market

I have failed to adapt out of my European habit of shopping daily for food. This has resulted in my own consternation: In Delft, the larger supermarket in town (the Bastiaansplein Jumbo) was 500 meters (.3 mile) from my door, and the Albert Heijn even closer (.25 mile). A trip for groceries could take fifteen minutes or less. Here, I can walk to a small Middle-Eastern grocery in about ten minutes, or to a large chain grocery store that I strongly dislike in about fifteen. Either of my preferred grocery stores is about 3.5 miles from home (in opposite directions), and an area with a few specialty food stores about 2 miles. I have been visiting weekly the Watertown Farmer’s Market and was surprised to discover a small local farm, tucked away in suburbia quite close to where we live. Good food can be bought in this area (though at a much higher cost than we are used to), but the spread-out-ness of everything is energy-sapping.

Should I tell them it's spelled wrong?

Should I tell them it’s spelled wrong?

Europe taught me so much about food. I went in as someone who enjoyed cooking, enjoyed being creative and  exploding the kitchen in an artistic mess and ultimately announcing: “I made that!”.  Over the years I cooked my way through new cuisines introduced to me by our friends, and with ingredients brought home from travels or the local markets. I even wrote here about cooking my way out of a funk–which may be what I have been sporadically attempting all summer. I may have moved to the land of Applebee’s and McDonald’s, my kitchen says, but you will not find me eating junk. 

Clams in white wine sauce for Labor Day Weekend

Clams in white wine sauce for Labor Day Weekend

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Toasts with bleu d’auvergne, warm peaches, and fresh arugula, for a BBQ

This summer passed like a cyclone. In some ways it still feels like I just got off the plane. I still wish we were packing to go back, or preparing these foods for one of our Delft dinner parties. But fall is here: the season of pumpkins and roasted squash; of the first stews and of fleeces at night. Yesterday at a party someone passed me a pumpkin ale, and I thought: Is it that time? Already? 

It is that time. And I’m thinking that the fall will taste good.

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Fazant

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The recipe for the pheasant began with instructions to “eviscerate.” Ordering the bird from the butcher pleasantly eliminated that step, although the skinny little thing still had its scaly feet attached.

Somehow Tim had gotten it into his head that he wanted to cook a pheasant. (Maybe it’s because we run or bike past so many of them in Delftse Hout.) My brother is visiting, and as the presence of an extra person always catalyzes these ideas faster (just a day earlier we’d used our oven’s rotisserie feature for the first time), we found ourselves standing in the butcher’s while he asked us if we wanted a male or female fazant. (We admitted our ignorance before choosing the male.)

We’ve eaten pheasant before, most notably at Roger la Grenouille in Paris, and Tim enjoyed it. I mostly enjoy the experience of watching other people embark on extravagant cooking projects. Thus I’ve been pleased a few times this week to sit on the couch with a glass of wine and watch what unfolds at the stove, instead of being the person scrambling around and repeatedly burning her hand.

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The fazant recipe we chose came from Darina Allen’s The Forgotten Skills of Cooking, and you can actually find the whole recipe here. One tip is: if you’re the person sent out to the liquor store to get the gin for the recipe, it’s only THREE TBS., and you don’t need to spend your money on a whole bottle, like I did. (Anyone got any other good recipes that call for gin?) Our male pheasant got browned on the stove with some bacon, and wound up in the oven. Other than that the bird seemed a little scrawnier than we’d imagined (it was just under a kilo), all progressed well, and we moved on to the recommended side dishes: creamy wild mushrooms, and champ.

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My brother and I shamed our Irish heritage by not knowing what champ was; and to be honest, we’re still a little puzzled: it seems like mashed potatoes with some green onions stirred in. We suffered some kind of recipe failure at this point: the recipe instructed us to simmer the potatoes in whole milk for just a few minutes, then mash them. I hadn’t been following along too closely until I saw my brother trying to mash potatoes that were hard as a rock. (Not his fault—he was just following the recipe.) After a brief and frustrating interval, the heavy guns were called in: myself, and the immersion blender. We offloaded a whole bunch of milk, removed the potatoes and chopped them up smaller, heated everything, and I blended it into submission.

The high point here was that we had plenty of occasion to employ the two champ-based insults the Wikipedia page had taught us.

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The final meal was delicious, thanks to the dedicated labor of Tim and Ian. The food-tography is also courtesy of my brother, and there is likely more of it coming. (If you read this blog regularly, you probably noticed these photos are noticeably better than the ones I take. Ian is available to be contacted for all your food- and beer-tography needs.)

My brother has been here for almost two weeks; he’s going home in two days; and it’s his first time in Europe. We’ve done a whole bunch of touristy stuff, but family comes together around food, and so it seems fitting, somehow, to write about that.

Gathering around the rotisserie

Gathering around the rotisserie for its inaugural turn

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Things I Make with Radishes (and also Moqueca)

Fair warning: if you only want the radish stuff, just scroll way down.

At the Haagse Markt deze week, bunches of radishes were fifty cents, or three for a Euro. Note: this is a significant deviation from traditional Dutch pricing, which would almost always be:

Fifty cents, or two for a Euro.

I am not the biggest lover of radishes, but they looked so fresh I thought I could find a use for them. Home came three bunches. The first night I didn’t use any of them, because I had planned to make a salmon moqueca. If you live here you know how rainy and un-summery it’s been, and that morning at the market I’d gotten all soggy and later in the day had a sore throat, so I made myself some hot water with honey. Our tea kettle doesn’t whistle, so I tend to heat water for wildly varying amounts of time: usually too briefly, because I’m impatient; or way too long, because I go downstairs and forget.

This time I did the latter, and as I took my first sip I thought, “Wow, this water is extremely hot.” And then my hand slipped, somehow, and the mug sloshed all over my computer.

[Moment of silence]

I’ve had a couple near misses in the past, but this was no near miss. This was a direct hit on my battleship. There was even a little fizzy noise as the screen went dark. Thinking Stupid, stupid Meghan! I jumped around the room for a couple seconds and then began logical actions like standing the computer in the tent-shape I saw my friend Lori do once after a Diet Coke incident and mopping up what water I could from the table and elsewhere. After consulting a couple friends and (via another computer) Google, I called the Apple Store in Amsterdam and made an appointment with their “Genius Bar” [Tim is extremely interested to know how people qualify for this] for an assessment after 48 hours of dry-time. We didn’t feel totally confident about the more commando DIY options you could find online; maybe in retrospect we should have figured “What do we have to lose?”. But, thus ensued two days of not knowing how bad the damage was.

So, Monday evening I was feeling pretty low and mad at myself for potentially incurring upon us the cost of a new laptop and potentially losing a few days of work [I back up every 10 days or so to an external hard drive via Time Machine].

Let’s just say I no longer felt like making salmon moqueca, but in an effort to not be Debby Downer I forged ahead. I had seen this recipe online and flagged it because we used to go with friends to a restaurant in Cambridge called Muqueca, and eat these warm spicy bowls of fish stew. Plus, the salmon we get from the market is so, so good; almost anything you do with it is guaranteed to be a success.

In the moqueca recipe, you marinate the salmon for an hour in this blender-mixture involving tomatoes and onion and lots, lots of cilantro. Meanwhile you separately cook some sweet potato and vegetables in a large pan so you can ultimately combine the two components. The result was zingy and perfect for a rainy day. I didn’t eat a lot of it, though, because I wasn’t feeling very hungry. We put two huge dishes of it in the fridge, which turned out to be a fatal mistake, because on Tuesday morning we discovered that the refrigerator had broken.

Again.

And everything inside was warm and gross and had to be tossed. Now, our fridge has broken twice since we’ve lived here. Once, a long time ago. And once, just this month; and although it took longer than we hoped, it was “fixed” and good to go again. Except, it turns out, not. And it is really frustrating to dump into the garbage basically an entire meal you spent time and money on the day before—followed, of course, by all the lesser things that were in the fridge.

The first-world injustices were piling up this week.

So what do you do when life gives you radishes?

1. Tuesday night I used nearly one whole bunch of them in a dish that might just be my new favorite thing: a Radish and Pecan Grain Salad from Food52. Wow, was this good. A couple notes: I used couscous because I had some and I like it; and I didn’t wind up using all of the oil/vinegar mixture. I kept it in a measuring cup and poured in the amount that I wanted. Also, I subbed balsamic vinegar because I didn’t have sherry vinegar, and foodsubs.com said I could. Anyway, this was delicious.

I also made brownies from a box that day, which shows how low my spirits had sunk.

2. I tried snacking on the radishes, putting a few in a bag when I went to Amsterdam for my appointment at the Apple Store. Maybe it was just the bitterness of the day, but man, those radishes seemed way less pleasant when I was trying to just eat them whole. There was a bitter flavor that I think is numbed when they’re in a recipe with other things. I ate the ones I brought, but only out of a sense of duty.

Since we got my MacBook Pro in 2009, I have taken it to countless cafes and half a dozen countries, used it nearly every day at home. It was the first piece of technology I ever owned that I felt strongly about. And though its hard drive is intact, the hot water ruined pretty much all its other components.

The MacBook, lying in state.

3. Moving on. Meg’s Marinated Mushrooms, also from Food52, and not named after me.

You put the mushrooms in the pan dry and wait for them to “give up their water.” I was amazed at how much liquid came out. Stir like mad though or they’ll just glue to the pan.

You had me at capers. I specifically love salt capers. The funny thing is, just recently in How to Cook Italian, I read Giuliano Hazan’s blurb on capers, in which he explained that they come either packed in vinegar, or salt. (He prefers salt.) Then he went on to say that if you use the salt capers you should soak them in a few changes of water before use. What? I’ve just been eating them out of the jar, salt and all.

Well, the mushroom side-dish was pretty good. The radishes played backup to the mushrooms and all the flavors  blended well.

4. Roasted Radishes with Soy and Sesame, from the Food Network. This is definitely radishes for people who don’t like radishes. Get enough soy on ’em, and you’re good to go. While these were in the oven, I found myself thinking about ordering Chinese takeout.

I made this dish last—three bunches of radishes: gone, in five days!

5. Simple Summer Salad, from Jamie Oliver. If you search radish recipes, you will get a ton of side-salads. I chose this one because it wasn’t mayo/potato-based. I like mayo, but not as a main ingredient. This salad was, frankly, not that exciting. It used up some radishes and half a cucumber (there are no quantities in the recipe, so apparently it can use up whatever you want), and we snacked on it before dinner. I wouldn’t run to make it again, but it does live up to its name.

Cameo by my burrata cheese!

Formerly…

Things She Makes with Kale

Things I Make with Chickpeas

Things I Make with Rhubarb

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Things She Makes with Kale

The last year we lived in Massachusetts, I belonged to a fantastic farm share. It was my goal to not waste anything that came in the weekly share, and nothing put this to the test like massive bunches of greens. (Also beets.) It was during this period that I discovered kale.

Now let’s back up.

The last year I lived in California, my mom got pregnant. We moved to New Jersey and one night I stayed home with our neighbor Donna while my parents went to the hospital. We watched a movie that was too scary for me, and the following day I rode a bicycle down the stairs in a desperate bid to get someone’s attention. It was during this period that I discovered my sister.

I have always suspected that if my sister Lianne wrote a blog, it would be intelligent, interesting, and probably funnier than mine. She has now launched just such an endeavor. Run Like a Girl deals mainly with (and I quote) “running. And things I do with my running club. Like running.” Today, however, she is guest-posting here on what to do with giant bunches of kale (boerenkool, if you’re Dutch):

Let me start by saying that I have never been much of a cook. I love to eat, but I typically have more beer in my fridge than food. (My apartment is somewhat of a bachelorette pad, I’ll admit.) Meghan and I grew up with tomato sauce in our veins and ate a hearty Italian diet of load-your-plate comfort meals, many of which I still make on a regular basis. (Note from Meghan: I do not.) These meals were usually paired with a green salad: a heap of lettuce or spinach topped with raw vegetables and some lemon juice or dressing. (I did not eat these.)

I had always been a big fan of spinach… until I discovered kale. My last roommate, Stefanie (who frequently contributes items in need of a copy editor), introduced me to kale, but it did not make a lasting impression on me until I stumbled upon it while looking for thyme in the Princeton Whole Foods. (This sounds kind of poetic?) A singular bunch of curly kale leaves afforded me the following simple, delectable, and totally random recipes. Enjoy!

1. Power Gulp, via Health Magazine

I am constantly trying to sneak more water and greens into my day, and the Power Gulp killed two birds with one delicious stone. Notes: Substitute coconut water for water if you want to add more potassium; and, as you can tell by the photo, I prefer “chunkies” to smoothies. If you’re not a fan of pulp-loaded drinks, just blend it a little longer.

2. Miso Soup, with kale and carrots

Although it cannot usually be found in standard grocery stores, unpasteurized miso is worth seeking out. Miso can add an appealing salty flavor to many dishes and salad dressings, but in the US it’s really only known as the soup you sip before eating sushi. Miso soup boasts solid immune-boosting and energizing qualities, and is particularly satisfying this time of year.

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 large kale leaves, de-stemmed and chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped scallions (grow your own “lifetime” supply by checking out Lifehacker) (This is awesome.)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (or water)
  • 1-2 tbsp miso

In a medium saucepan, sauté carrots. Add kale shortly before carrots are tender, as kale sautés much faster.

When the carrots are tender (you’ll also notice the kale has shrunken down), add the vegetable broth, and scallions, cover and simmer for about four minutes. Add miso, and dissolve. Cover and simmer for 10 more minutes.

3. Kale Chips

Kale chips are incredibly simple. De-stem and chop as many leaves as you would like (keep in mind the leaves will shrink down), and lay them on a baking sheet. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle sea salt to taste. Toss, and bake at 275 degrees F until crisp, usually about twenty minutes, turning chips halfway through.

Enjoy! Check out Run Like a Girl while you’re munching your kale chips. If you’re not a runner, be advised: Lianne’s enthusiasm is a bit contagious. And let us know if you’ve got any other takes on kale!

We also make things with chickpeas and rhubarb.

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Things I Make with Chickpeas

A couple weeks ago I made hummus for the first time. I used canned chickpeas, but then at the natuurwinkel I saw bags of dried chickpeas and thought: I will just get those for next time. I looked online for a simple explanation of how long to soak them and dumped the bag in a bowl, soaked, cooked. Done.

So, I threw out the bag the chickpeas came in and cannot therefore accurately report the quantity. All I can say is: they enlarge when you rehydrate them. Overnight, I had a sizable supply of chickpeas to find uses for… which leads us to the kitchen conundrum at hand: things to make with chickpeas. (There was once a similar challenge involving a kilo of rhubarb.)

1. Hummus. (Repeat every time the bowl empties.)

So simple I’ll just spell it out: 2 cups chickpeas (or 1 can), 1 TBS lemon (or lime) juice, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/4 cup olive oil, food processor, go. Add a little water or olive oil if it’s too chunky for your liking.

2. Spinach and Chickpeas, via Smitten Kitchen.

3. Fried Chickpeas with Chorizo and Spinach, via NY Times. I went hunting for a recipe that seemed similar to a restaurant dish I loved in Barcelona: a tapas order of fried chickpeas with spinach and ham. This came close. Why are spinach and chickpeas so frequently paired (other than the surface-level “They taste good together”)? I don’t know. Food chemists, you tell me.

4. Curried Eggplant with Chickpeas and Spinach, via Food and Wine. This looks delicious, and the curry takes the flavor away from the Spanish direction, but I’m going to be honest and say I didn’t bother because my husband is staunchly opposed to eggplant.

5. Curried Chicken Salad with Chickpeas and Raita, via Gourmet. This was fantastic, though I wish I’d had the foresight to have some tortillas or other bread on hand to make it into a wrap.

6-sort of. In Ana Sortun’s cookbook Spice, there is a recipe for chickpea crepes that makes for a great snack. The basis is chickpea flour, so it’s sort of a leap from chickpeas in a bowl, but I have to mention it anyway, because I never get tired of mentioning how much I love Ana Sortun’s recipes. A while back I read Julie and Julia and saw the movie and all that, but I own Mastering the Art of French Cooking and I would never, never have the desire to cook my way through it, item by item. Spice, on the other hand? Cooking my way through every recipe in there sounds like receiving a present.

Chickpeas: finished. Dietary variety: commences now.

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Appelplukdag

One of the things I love about Dutch is that to communicate a concept, the language just makes a long word out of several smaller words. Hence, appelplukdag: apple picking day. Our American friend Anne discovered that September 17 was declared such a day, and many farms would open their orchards to the common fruit enthusiast.

Four adults and one dog piled in a car (a car!) and headed to a farm outside Utrecht in Vleuten called De Groene Ham. A partially rainy day did not mar our experience, especially since we had the website’s helpful advice to wear sturdy shoes….

I don’t suppose I really need to describe apple picking. The farm was lush and green (thank you, Dutch rain); there were children running around, a hayride, a clown painting faces, and rows of skinny apple and pear trees waiting to be picked clean. On the way out we visited the farm’s shop and I bought some fresh milk and butter. All four of us New Englanders were a bit giddy because the activity felt so… well… American. I know it’s not rational to identify the simple act of picking apples with a nationality, but the afternoon of apple picking felt much like something we would have done in New Hampshire or Vermont in the fall, and so it reminded us of home. For the second consecutive year I remain convinced that autumn is actually the season during which I miss Boston the most. The fall foods, the leaves, the crops: fall is the best-smelling season, and my favorite in New England.

 I had plenty of time to ponder this while I answered the question: Wat doe je met zes kilo appels?

1. Eat a few as snacks.

2. Irish Apple Cake from Darina Allen's "Forgotten Skills of Cooking." Apples used: 2

3. Pork brined in rum and cider with apples, served alongside glazed brussels sprouts and apples. Apples used: 3

4. Applesauce. Apples used: kilos

Family recipes can be a little ambiguous. My mom has sent me recipes before when I’ve asked about some delicious dish of my childhood that include quantities like “some onions” or instructions like “you can use whatever you have on hand.” I am not an intuitive enough cook that these instructions always work out well.

So there were some moments of apprehension when my husband requested his grandmother’s applesauce recipe, and the instructions read to put your desired quantity of apples in one or two inches of water, in a pot, quartered or peeled, and cook them until soft, then strain. It sounds simple, but this is exactly the kind of thing that I can ruin.

We hit some anxiety after about twenty minutes of boiling when the apples were getting quite soft, but swimming in a watery mess. Discussion concluded that the one/two inches of water were intended for a much larger quantity of apples than we were dealing with. A two-pronged attack ensued: we added a bunch more apples, and I ladled out a cup of apple-y liquid (I drank it, actually). This got us back on track, and we wound up jarring two large containers of a very tasty applesauce, with no sugar or cinnamon needed. Hele succes!

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The Man Also Cooks

This week was Tim’s birthday, and [why, WordPress, is the look of my posting page all different… this is distracting…] so I thought I should mention that I am not the only person in this apartment who cooks food (although I certainly do most of it).

Tim also cooks, and as befits his character, he has taken one niche and aimed to perfect it, rather than trying recipes from nine different websites and eight ethnic cookbooks and three gourmet magazines (this is what I do).

Tim makes pizza.

He makes the dough, and he makes the sauce, and he assembles the pie. His patience and chemist’s instincts have made him the master of dough, whereas I am the acknowledged master of sticky unmanageable messes.

He investigates equipment and spends time online reading about how to drain cheese, or water-to-flour ratios. It’s very… scientific. And the results are delicious.

Sometimes it surprises me, because it’s so orderly:

The workspace when Tim cooks

The workspace when I cook

People attack projects in different ways. We enjoy the outcome just the same. And always, we observe the golden tradition: whoever cooks doesn’t do dishes.

What’s the cooking style in your home?

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