When I was a kid I spent a lot of time with our next door neighbor Mrs. Stemple who was the most wonderful old lady that all the neighborhood kids flocked to. She would feed me cookies and tea with milk and sugar (something we never did at my house – all herbal tea for us) and we would chatter or watch some tv or just sit around together. She always had time for me and never told me to stop talking so much. Every once in a while she would feed me something other than cookies. One afternoon she fed me a bowl of baked beans from a can. My mom didn’t buy much canned food so it was pretty novel for me. Those beans were amazing! I happily ate that magical dish until I got something in my mouth that was not food. It was kind of slick and meaty and I reflexively spat it out and asked what else was in the beans.
Pork. Of course. This was in the early 1980′s and being a vegetarian wasn’t as mainstream or common as it is today. Mrs. Stemple knew I didn’t eat meat but like most people back then she didn’t count pieces of pork as “meat”. The dish was mostly beans so who cares if there’s some funky globules of lard and a bit of flesh or cartilage in it? It’s not like she gave me a hunk of steak. I loved the flavor and texture of those little navy beans and the tomato-y sweet and sour sauce they were cooked in. I wished very much I could have those beans without the pork.
Many years later, I saw canned vegetarian baked beans at Trader Joe’s and bought some. They were so much like pork and beans but without the meat they became a favorite of mine, so when I opened a can up one day and discovered they tasted different (and not in a pleasant way) I hoped it was just a fluke. It wasn’t. Every once in a while I’ve tried another can of them and been disappointed. I realized that they must have changed something in the recipe. At last I decided I was going to have to learn to make my own baked beans. So I’ve been working at making a recipe for baked beans for a couple of years now.
I started with Deborah Madison‘s recipe in “The American Vegetarian Table” because she’s one of my favorite cookbook authors but she used soy beans and chipotle peppers and it was too dark and smokey. It just wasn’t what I was looking for. I have looked at many many recipes and most of them depend on some cut of pig for the flavor and the other vegetarian ones generally have too many exotic or weird ingredients that baked beans shouldn’t need. So I decided to use the ingredient list on the Trader Joe’s can as a starting point.
This version I’m sharing today is really good – but it’s not quite where I want it to be yet. I decided to put it up here because I lost all my notes on my previous versions – which I wish I could reference. I won’t lose it here and I can tell you that my mom thinks these beans are perfect as they are. I want something more from them. I will post my next good version here too so I can keep track of the development. If you try this version, please please let me know what you thought of it and what you would change. This is a food quest and takes time to reach excellence.
Incidentally, David Leite is writing a new cookbook and said he’d consider working on the ultimate vegetarian baked bean recipe but I think I just might beat him to it. (I am a David Leite fan – he’s really kind and funny and responds to his commenters on his blog which I find charming)
The herbs in my garden are lush in mid spring and so are the dandelions, ingredients for a simple lunch. I used to walk my garden every day to see what was happening in it, to see the minute changes that occur from day to day. The side effect of this routine is that I become relaxed and breath more deeply as I examine the plants for insect life and general health. The noise in my head and all around me grows more quiet as I cut some herbs or spy a small rogue white violet that made its way into my yard without my help.
I’ve been out of the habit of making my garden rounds for the last year but I was reminded to go out there yesterday when I found myself hungry at lunch time with two eggs and no will to make something fancy or time consuming. I realized that dandelion greens will be growing tougher and more bitter soon and I hadn’t eaten any yet this year. So I took a small bowl and some scissors and did my rounds.
I discovered that my currants are covered in tiny green fruits. I will be taking these two bushes with me to California if they’re allowed in the state (white pine rust is an issue in some places). If not, I’ll give them to a friend. This is the first time they’ve really put out a respectable number of fruits and it made me happy to see the promise of currant sauce. I noticed that my comfrey has gone to flower – comfrey that I’ve finally got to settle in my yard after several failed attempts in previous years. Little wild daisies are sprouting in the pathways and I enjoy the scattering of their seeds in random clumps though my neighbors will not appreciate this chaos. My elderberry is budding out and has so many strong new shoots they are ready to be permanently planted out. I have one to give a friend and one to take with me to California. It reminded me that I want to take a cutting of the native elderberries.
There’s a rogue potato plant in my herb bed which reminds me of myself living in McMinnville, out of place and thumbing my nose at the natives who try to muscle me out. The garlic my mom planted is getting strong and tall and I wonder if they’ll be close to ready by July though I know they won’t and it bothers me to leave them. I cut a handful of small dandelion greens, some parsley, thyme, and oregano and head back to the kitchen where I made this two egg omelet with cheese and a half an avocado, a simple fresh light lunch.
a handful of fresh herbs and dandelion greens, minced
a few shakes of salt
a few grinds of pepper
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
a handful of grated cheese
half an avocado if you have one
In a small bowl whisk the two eggs together with the herbs, salt, and pepper using a fork.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan on high. When the oil is hot turn the heat down to medium.
Pour the eggs into the pan and let the bottom cook for a few minutes.
Flip the eggs over in one piece and cook for a few more minutes.
When the eggs are cooked through add some cheese to one side and fold the other side on top of it. Turn the heat off and put the lid on the pan for a couple of minutes to melt the cheese.
Put it on a plate with sliced avocado and eat it. If you're a philistine like me, add ketchup.
I like my eggs to be well done but if you're more French in your tastes you can leave them much softer by not cooking for as long. It makes me shiver to think about but I believe if you want the insides to be runny like they sometimes served my omelettes to me in Paris, you don't cook both sides of the omelette. Just cook longer on the one side and then fold over with the cheese inside. You're on your own with that.
Any combination of herbs will work. Just walk your garden and cut what you like. A handful of anything will do. If you don't like your omelette to have such a strong herb flavor, use less. If you cut dandelion leaves, choose the newest smallest ones because they'll be less bitter and more tender. By the time June comes, it's too late for those.
I can’t get enough mushrooms right now. I haven’t been seeing the wild ones at the farmer’s market yet but I’ve been buying a whole lot of cultivated white button and Crimini mushrooms. I love them almost any way except for raw. I love to roast them on the grill, sautee them thinly sliced with onion to put in omelets, and of course I love to make tofu stroganoff. But this is by far my current favorite way to eat mushrooms: pan roasting them with onions and thyme in olive oil and then finishing them off with some red wine vinegar. I’d use wine but I never happen to have any sitting around. When they’re still warm but not hot I put them on a bed of lettuce with some feta cheese and dress with vinaigrette. It’s a simple but satisfying salad.
Heat up the olive oil in a large saute pan and add the mushrooms and onions.
With the heat on high saute the mushrooms and onions until they start to brown, stirring frequently to prevent them from sticking to the pan or burning.
Add the thyme and salt and turn the heat down to medium-high.
Add the vinegar and cook with a lid on for about five minutes to get the mushrooms to release their juices.
Remove the lid and continue cooking until all the juices have cooked down, stirring frequently.
Grind fresh pepper over them and serve.
You can serve these mushrooms as a side dish, add to a salad, or add them to eggs. These are just the ways we've enjoyed them - I'm confident there are many other ways to enjoy this dish. If you have some red wine on hand I suggest using that in place of the red wine vinegar. This recipe can be easily halved. I do a big batch because we can't get enough of them.
I love winter squash and don’t get tired of eating it. I love it roasted, made into smooth soups, or made into chunky Thai soup with tofu and curry, and I love it mashed up with butter, salt, and pepper. This pasta dish is my new favorite to eat winter squash. One of its charms is that it doesn’t call for a lot of ingredients and another of its charms is how fast and easy it is to prepare. I have made it several times in the last few weeks and always in a huge batch because I need leftovers for lunches for three adults. I give you the recipe for a regular sized batch but if you want a giant pot of this just double the recipe. The sauce will become very thick after cooling so you can add a little water when reheating if you like.
Heat the olive oil in a pot on med/high heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent and browning slightly. While sauteeing the onion, fill another pot full of water with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil, then add your pasta.
Puree the winter squash, ricotta, water, and all the seasonings in a bowl using an immersion blender (or you can use your food processor for this). When it's completely smooth add it to your onion and let it come to a boil and then turn the heat down to med/low while your pasta is cooking. Stir frequently. Take off the heat when your pasta is done cooking.
Drain the pasta, add it to the pot with the sauce and toss it well.
This whole recipe comes together within fifteen minutes for me. I suggest having all your ingredients measured out before you begin so you don't have to mess with it while everything is cooking. If your onion is done but you aren't ready to add the sauce to it - be sure to take it off the heat so it doesn't burn. If you want your sauce to be thinner - just add more water. You can use broth, of course, but this recipe doesn't require broth for flavor. One other thing - I've played around with the cayenne amounts and I like it somewhat spicy. If 1/8 tsp seems like too much for you then start with less.
What kind of winter squash you use is up to you. I prefer rich dry squash varieties such as butternut, buttercup, hubbard, or Queensland blue. To bake squash you cut them open, gut them of seeds, halve or quarter them and put on a baking sheet and cook in an oven at 375 degrees until soft. There is no need to cover in foil or oil the baking sheet or the squash.
This soup post is dedicated to the three animals that make our every day life incredibly rich and funny: Pippa, Penny, and Chick. We love all three of them in spite of the fact that they wake us up in the wee hours for various reasons, they shed, they get fleas, they create enormous inconveniences… and yet: every single day we have them in our lives they make us laugh, they repay us in kind for the things we do for them, they curl up and keep us warm on cold winter nights, they cheer us up when we’re depressed for no reason. And Pippa, most especially our funny bow-legged, silly, sweet Pippa who helps Max get to sleep every night and suffers our stifling affections for her and her antics which we know she can’t help, being a little weird in the head from being abandoned at 4 weeks old by her mother and suffering malnutrition (also the cause of the bow legs). Without Pippa we would be so much less than we are.
I’m linking this post to Branny Boils Over‘s ASPCA donation challenge (for every soup post that’s linked up to theirs dedicated to a loved pet they will donate $1 to the ASPCA). The deadline to participate is January 31st so there’s plenty of time for you all to join in and raise some money for the care of animals! Please note that you don’t even have to have a blog (or if you have a blog but it’s not a food blog – no problem) please go over to Branny Boils Over to read how you can be part of this too.
Most people know split pea soup as a smooth porky flavored comfort food. Not in my house. Being brought up vegetarian, my mom had veg versions of most of the classics and this is roughly based on the version she made for me growing up. It’s the first soup I ever mastered on my own. It has chunky vegetables in it but the peas become smooth as it cooks for a long time. I prefer to use fresh dill whenever possible but I’ve failed to get it established in my current garden and no one local sells it here. So I use dry these days. If you’re looking for something that mimics the taste of ham-hock, this is not the soup for you. But for everyone else – this is an amazing split pea soup!
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot and once it is hot add the onion, celery, and carrots. Saute them until the onions are translucent and the edges starting to brown.
Add the stock and stir in the split peas. Bring the stock to a boil and then turn it down a little to med/high heat. Add the potatoes, garlic, dill, salt and pepper.
Cook the soup for a long time, stirring every five minutes. When the peas begin to break down you need to pay more attention, stir more frequently to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat down to med/low. It usually takes a minimum of an hour for the peas to start breaking down. It will take a minimum of a half an hour after that for them to get silky and fully cooked.
Once the split peas are completely soft add the cauliflower. This will not take long to cook. When the cauliflower is just tender the soup is done.
It is very important to note that you must be intuitive about the amount of water/stock needed. I've given the minimum amount that I find I need every time I make this. Depending on how quickly the peas break down you may need to add more water. You add more water when it becomes thick and the peas aren't yet done cooking (that means they need to absorb more water to be done or they'll stubbornly adhere to the bottom of your pot) and you add more water if the soup is thicker than you like it once the peas are done cooking.
The smaller you chop your vegetables the more quickly they'll break down and blend with the split peas. If you want to have chunks of vegetables when the soup is done, cut them into larger pieces. This soup usually takes 2 hours to make. I realize that's hard to fathom in this day of FAST recipes. It isn't fast and it's completely worth the time it takes to cook. You can, of course, cook this in a slow cooker but I'll be honest - I've done that and I hated it. So I obviously can't personally recommend that you do that. I add the cauliflower last because it doesn't take long to cook and I like to have whole cauliflower pieces in the soup.
If you want to make a cauliflower garnish as I've done for the picture - cut a 1/4" cross section from the middle of the whole head of cauliflower before cutting it into florets. Brush the cross section with olive oil and broil it in the oven on both sides until browned.
I have made this dish for over 20 years. I never had a recipe to start with. I was inspired to make this by the amazing bowl of rosemary polenta I once had at Kuletto’s Italian restaurant (on Powell Street in San Francisco) back when I was still a fashion design student. It is almost single-handedly responsible for making me get into the kitchen at a time when most of my friends and myself subsisted off of cheap diner food and boxed pasta. This is the perfect warm sustaining dish to eat on cold fall and winter nights. Served with a big pile of sauteed greens or a salad it is absolutely perfect. Obviously, for those of you who eat meat, it can be a great side to a meat dish as well.
The quest to make Max things he’ll like that have less sugar and more protein in them continues. This cookie used to be a sugar cookie. But then I halved the sugar in the recipe. I added quite a bit of almond flour (Ca-Ching!) to it which lends this cookie a subtle almond flavor. Alas, it did not meet with Max’s approval but the rest of us loved this cookie enough for me to offer the recipe up for you to try. I don’t have a big sweet tooth. I don’t really love cookies, in general. But this one, well, it’s pretty much perfect.
In a medium sized bowl whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In another medium bowl beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fully combined.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well.
Chill the dough while the oven preheats to 350°.
Make balls of dough using a heaping tablespoon and flatten slightly.
Bake for 12 minutes (or until the bottoms are golden, the tops will remain very pale).
Put 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar into a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of milk, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and stir vigorously until the sugar is completely dissolved, . If it gets too thin, add a little more sugar, if it’s too thick add small amount of milk to thin it.
When the cookies have cooled, drizzle the glaze over them generously.
This recipe started off as a sugar cookie that I adapted from America's Test Kitchen (Family Baking Book) but it now bears no resemblance to it at all. You can easily double the recipe, I don't like having lots of cookies sitting around so I made it a one cookie sheet recipe. I called these "hundred dollar vanilla cookies" because almond flour costs almost as much as gold teeth.
Potato leek soup is wholesome good cheap food. It also happens to be easy and pretty fast to make. Everyone has their version. Most versions are ultimately the same. Variations include whether or not you use butter, olive oil, or a combination of the two. What type of potato you use and whether or not you put cream or milk in it are other variations. Proportions of leeks to potatoes as well as thickness and choice of garnishes (if any) are just about the only other variations I can think of.
I didn’t plan on putting my version on this site until I started thinking about the price of food and how useful it is to show people what home cooking really costs. It is ridiculous (but widely believed) that eating fast food is cheaper than eating home cooked food. Obviously, if the food you’re cooking at home is lobster and steak all week, and if you garnish your food with gold, that might be true. But then you have to compare eating at a pricey restaurant to your cooking. Fast food is basic food. There is nothing fancy (or healthy) about it. It’s frozen beef patties, cheap cheese, out of season never really ripe vegetables, and the cheapest kind of bread imaginable. Still, you generally pay $3 to $7 for those meals, right? Can people really suppose that simple home cooking costs more per serving than fast food?
A while ago I priced out one of my favorite bean and vegetable soups to see what it cost me per serving to make. The Tenement Stew was .53 cents per big bowl. With some toast it is easily as filling as a flimsy fast food burger and regular order of fries. Two slices of toast might add about .50 to your meal. Plus a pat of butter would add .10 cents (or let’s be generous and say you need two whole pats of butter) so for one wholesome and filling meal of homemade soup and toast you spend $1.23. That’s a cheap meal. Considering how much better it is for you than fast food your money is going a lot further nutritionally.
I’ve been seeing more food writers costing out their recipes and I really like that, I find it useful, especially for people who are just learning to cook from scratch. It’s also great for making comparisons like these – to show people that if you want to eat fast food, that’s your business, but don’t say it’s because it’s cheaper than cooking from scratch.
3 leeks, sliced thin (the white and pale green parts)
8 round potatoes, cut in half then sliced thin
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Heat olive oil in a soup pot and add the leeks. Saute the leeks for a few minutes by themselves, just until they are slightly browned. Add the potatoes and saute for a few more minutes. Add 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil.
Add the salt and pepper. Turn heat down to medium and cook until the potatoes are falling apart (about 30 minutes). Take off the heat and puree with an immersion blender (or you can blend it in an actual blender).
In the past I used to add a little cream at the end to finish this off but I haven’t done that in ages. I love to eat this soup with buttered toast. I suggest, if you aren’t already a master with your own potato leek soup recipe, that you play around with the salt and pepper. It’s the only seasoning in this soup and it matters. Sometimes I use butter instead of olive oil, and sometimes I even use a combination but it’s always a quarter cup of whatever fat I’m using to saute.
I recommend you use dried beans. You don’t have to. But you should. Why? Because they’re cheaper than canned, because you should not be making your food in a hurry. If you don’t like to be bothered, you can always make this in a crock pot. Though I doubt it will all fit in one. So don’t do that. Really, bother with it. This soup is so easy on the budget, so wonderfully healing and warming, and stirring soup over the stove for two hours settles nerves, makes you slow down, and if you like you can read a favorite book while you stir, or talk to your pets (or children). Or read them your favorite book. Unless your favorite book is Anna Karenina. No one needs to read that when the fall hours grow dark, unless you have a pack of Galois cigarettes and bitter black coffee at your elbow.
This soup has everything you need in a meal if you can’t pull anything else together. It isn’t heavy but it’s substantial enough to hold you up. The cabbage cooks so long that it becomes unbelievably tender. It’s excellent with some Parmesan and toast.
3 quarts water (or vegetable, beef, or chicken stock)
6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
5 med. potatoes of any variety, diced into 1/2? cubes
1 cup navy beans (or 1 can prepared navy beans/northern beans)
1 head of cabbage, cored and chopped to 1? size pieces
2 tsp dried dill
2 tsp salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper
In a large soup pot warm the olive oil and add the onion and carrots. Saute them until they begin to brown a little.
Add 3 quarts of water, bring to a boil.
Add everything else. (If you’re using canned beans you can add these near the end).
Cook for a really long time, stirring occasionally and making sure nothing sticks to the bottom. Keep your eye on the thickness of the soup, the water will cook down and you may need to add a little water from time to time. You want the soup to have some body so add water two cups at a time, as needed.
This soup took two hours to cook. (If you use canned beans it will take only 45 minutes.) The soup is done when the beans are tender.
If you aren’t used to winging it with water quantities in soup then I think you should read my post about soup philosophy. It will help you. Soup is a flexible and incredibly personal dish. There is no soup recipe that can’t be altered to your personal tastes. All soup recipes are merely suggestions. Guidelines. Never be afraid to adjust it.
In my search to find things my son will eat that I can make from scratch I’ve tried all sorts of recipes for tea breads and quick breads. He likes cornbread, which is great, but nothing else passed muster until I made the gingerbread cake from “The Family Baking Book” by America’s Test Kitchen. This surprised me, actually, but pleased me. I made changes to the recipe based on my own tastes such as omitting allspice which I don’t care for. I reduced the sugar a bit and also used blackstrap molasses instead of light molasses because blackstrap is more nutrient dense. I also played around with using whole wheat flour but the result was not good – it was slightly bitter, so I went back to using all purpose. The original recipe calls for buttermilk but I never have that sitting around so I use regular milk. I offer you my version of gingerbread, Max approved.
Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.
In either a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer (I use my stand mixer for this one) beat the molasses, sugar, and melted butter together. Beat in the egg until well incorporated. Add the milk and mix until combined.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until well combined, don’t beat into a pulp. Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and shake gently to distribute the batter evenly.
Bake the bread until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes. Let it cool completely before removing from the pan.
If you’d like to ice the gingerbread, as I have done in the picture above, put 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar into a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of milk, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and stir vigorously until the sugar is completely dissolved, . If it gets too thin, add a little more sugar, if it’s too thick add small amount of milk to thin it.