single-handed in the kitchen

My injured finger is healing up just fine, but the odd position and length of the cut (and the swelling and pain from the tetanus shot) means my right (non-dominant) hand was useless for a full week, and not much better the second week.

This long stretch of one-handedness fell inconveniently during a busy celebrating season, with two birthdays and several other parties to cook for. To my delight, I discovered that a little ingenuity and planning makes it easy to entertain one-handed; a trip to Trader Joe’s makes it even easier.

These are recipes — heck, not even recipes, just templates and ideas and products — that I plan to use again and again when time is tight or inspiration is lacking. Here’s just a few of the festive dishes I whipped up with one hand tied behind my back.

for The Fella’s birthday party, a twelve-hour open house:
- goat cheese with store-bought tapenade, served with grape tomatoes, roasted red peppers from the grocery store’s olive bar, and crackers.
- store-bought hummus topped with Trader Joe’s eggplant & garlic dip, served with pita bread, cucumbers, and olives.
- brie topped with a palmful of brown sugar and a sliver of butter, then baked until bubbly and served with baguette, water crackers, and cold grapes. Also good with dried cranberries.
- Trader Joe’s spanakopita triangles, spread out on a baking sheet, not crammed into their tiny tray, brushed with olive oil or melted butter, sprinkled with coarse salt, and baked much longer than instructed, until deep golden brown and crispy. They weren’t as delectable as homemade spanakopita, and no reasonable person would expect them to be — but they were pretty darned good.
- pulled pork. The Fella diced up the fixings for a taco bar, and I contributed a big mess o’ pulled pork, which required me to open 1) a butcher’s packet; 2) a bottle of BBQ sauce; 3) a tetra pack of cheap red wine. It is fannnnnntastic.
- marble cupcakes. (Yeeeah, this one was tricky to do one-handed, but it’s not a birthday without cake. I didn’t make the cake from scratch, just bought one packet of chocolate cake mix and one packet of yellow cake mix, whipped them up with cooled melted butter in place of the oil, and spooned them into the cupcake tins, then swirled with a skewer for delicate marbling.)
- ganache for frosting: just heavy cream brought to a boil and poured over good chocolate, then stirred until smooth. My professional-baker fancy-pants sister even gave me instructions for whipping it (much better instructions than Cooks Illustrated cookbook, by the way), but in the end I realized that dipping cupcake tops into the warm ganache would be faster and easier than any other method.

For a birthday dinner:
- baked brie again, because WHY ON EARTH NOT?
- more store-bought hummus spiked with lemon, topped with eggplant spread, and then sprinkled with the last of the tomatoes from the taco bar, seared with olive oil and chili powder, served with pita.
- my simplest, best black bean soup. (Instead of mincing an onion, I whacked one up roughly and processed the entire pot of soup, then added some reserved beans at the end.)
- oven-baked frittata with frozen spinach and caramelized onions, using up the last of the onions from The Fella’s taco bar.
- a perfectly simple salad: greens topped with cranberries and toasted almonds and tossed with good balsamic vingar, superb olive oil, cracked pepper, and Polish finishing salt.
- a half-baked loaf of bread (from TJ’s again), finished in our oven.
- buttery cake (on The Fella’s birthday, I baked the excess yellow-cake batter in tiny loaf pans and froze it), stabbed with a fork and soaked with orange syrup (simple syrup spiked with OJ and triple sec, reduced until thick), then glazed with the last of the ganache. I served three tiny slices on each plate, fanned out and drizzled with another spoonful of orange syrup… and I am converted: syrup-soaked cakes from now on!
- a final dessert garnish: chocolate-covered orange jelly sticks.

for assorted other events:
- goat cheese with good balsamic vinegar —the thick, expensive syrupy kind — and toasted slivered almonds, served with crackers or baguette. I made this twice, and not the same evening as I served the goat cheese with tapenade.. and by “made it,” I mean “tore open a packet of goat cheese, poured balsamic over it, and toasted some nuts.” It’s crazy-easy and crazy-good — so crazy-good that I made it twice in the last two weeks to take to some pretty ritzy doings.
- various permutations of hummus-with something: hummus with lemon and roasted red peppers and olives, hummus with tapenade, hummus with eggplant spread and tapenade, and so on.

and a few ideas I brainstormed up but never did try out:
- mushroom caps rolled in olive oil, filled with spoonfuls of frozen spinach souffle and baked.
- Whole Foods dumplings or gyoza warmed in sesame oil and scattered with scallions.
- vegetarian meatballs heated with chili sauce, red currant jelly, and white wine. (I’ve made these retro darlings with frozen actual-meat meatballs and people go INSANE for them.)

These last few ideas sounded so good it’s a shame we didn’t get to try ‘em. Oh, well, maybe the next time I inflict a horrible injury upon myself, we’ll get around to these.

topsy turvy stuffed squash

Every year, our referral logs show that visitors arrive at macbebekin searching for vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving dishes. (And sometimes not-so-vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving searches end up here, too.) Last year, I jotted down some tips and suggestions for a vegetarian-friendly holiday table, and in the same entry I outlined our proposed Thanksgiving menu, which centered around The Fella’s gorgeous roasted butternut squash galettes.

This year, I have one more vegetarian Thanksgiving entree to suggest, and boy howdy, it’s a doozy! Inspired by The Kitchn’s rendition of Dorie Greenspan’s stuffed squash, I whipped up a vegetarian version of my own. You’ll notice that the recipe at the link includes bacon, but don’t get hung up on that: the key here is the technique, not the ingredients.

I’ve never been a fan of baked stuffed squash, which too often comes out of the oven pallid and limp, slumping and drooling its thin juices onto the plate. But this simple, brilliant idea turns that bland, pale stuffed squash on its head — literally. The trick: hollow out the squash and fill it with cheesy, bready, aromatic stuffing…

And then flip it upside-down to bake.

Elsa's topsy turvy stuffed squash

It’s so simple and so obvious: get the stuffing in contact with the pan, let the oven’s heat and the roasting pan’s surface work their alchemy upon the ingredients. Here’s a photo of the squash halves, one still resting in the pan, the other flipped up to show off the crispy underside. As you can see, cooking them face-down results in tender roasted squash with a deeply browned, richly crisped crust over creamy soft stuffing.

The fabulous contrast in textures and flavors makes this a dish you’ll groan over. Our dinnertime last night was a chorus of “OOOOOH”s and “AAAAAAH”s and other, less polite expressions of delight. I urge you, urge you, to try this topsy-turvy stuffed squash soon. Continue reading

the Ploobwich

The Bitwrathploob has sampled sandwiches around the world, but that doesn’t mean he turns up his battered red replacement nose at humble homemade fare.

During this weekend’s Sandwich Party, Ploobie and I enjoyed this easy, cozy meal: a hot sandwich of cheddar and tomato on beer bread, served with a brimming bowl of simple black bean soup. Continue reading

Sandwich Party #5

The Sandwich Party is underway! Friday night, The Fella and I kicked off the weekend with grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches stuffed with garlicky spinach, served with cream of tomato soup.

The sandwich looks a mite sloppy, but I assure you it was just sloppy enough: the gooey cheese held the glistening, gorgeous spinach inside the crispy bread, and the whole thing made a perfect foil for the mild, creamy soup.

Jagosaurus did some work ahead of schedule:

I made some (cucumber and honey goat cheese) sandwiches a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of this, but I might do more this weekend.

Redfox from The Hungry Tiger joined the Sandwich Party with a luscious-looking warm weather entry:

The version you see before you is a little duded up, with those sprigs of cilantro. Occasionally it might instead be topped with a very few slivers of thinly sliced red onion, or slices of tomato. But the basic scheme is:

* Slice of kalamata sourdough bread
* Butter
* Avocado
* A tiny sprinkle of salt
* A drizzle of this here chile oil

In the comments here, T.R. tells us about a sandwich with old friends!

Mmmm. Good! I had tuna steak sandwich w/ red onions, grated carrots and lemon sauce to top it off. I did not get to make it…Hobbit Cafe did where I was having lunch w/ old friends (-:

Erik went with:

a family favorite: The Beltch. My mother, the polite lady that she is, chooses to put the vowel after the L, making it a Bletch (as if that’s a polite sound!). As you might have guessed, it’s a variation on the famous BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato), but adding cheese (CH). For proper BELTCH construction, a fried egg should be added to achieve full letter representation, but circumstances did not allow for an egg in this production.

Carlarey has the breakfast of champions!

So here it is, nothing fancy. Just a plain old working class turkey, salami, pastrami sandwich with shredded habanero cheese and jalapenos. It was what my kid wanted for breakfast yesterday morning, and it sounded so good I made one for myself.

Macbebekin’s own Elli had a luscious-looking pita:

I had a chicken pita sandwich. I cheated* and bought it at a shop, but I did get to choose my ingredients which was easy: “All the veggies, please.”

*Elsa’s note: NOT CHEATING! Bought sandwiches welcome!

Just before the power went out, the Bitwrathploob and I enjoyed:

a hot sandwich of cheddar and tomato on beer bread, served with a brimming bowl of simple black bean soup.

J made a lamb ragu-wich capable of changing a mother’s mind:

I discovered one day that if I took some of the sourdough bread that we had, slathered it with butter and garlic powder, and fried it, it made a delicious garlic bread, which is the perfect place to put a bunch of warmed spaghetti sauce. It’s a lot like a sloppy Joe, actually, though I like the flavors of spaghetti sauce better. My mom thought this was a disgusting idea, until she finally gave it a try, and became an instant convert. She always said that sane people are willing to change their mind when they are given the proper evidence, which this sandwich clearly is.

Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Join the fifth Sandwich Party — you still have time! Around these parts, we had a few hours without power and a looooooong stretch with no wifi, so I’m giving myself (and you!) a little extra leeway to get those last posts and links in. I can’t wait to see what sandwich you make!

Thanksgiving at home

It’s official: this year, The Fella and I are celebrating Thanksgiving at home, just the two of us. We’re having a modest vegetarian feast, and because many omnivores wonder what the hell to serve to vegetarians at traditional holiday meals, I thought I’d outline our menu here. Continue reading

agrodolce

Some time ago, my mother lamented the depletion of her jar of sweet-sour cippolini, which she’d brought back from a trip to (Italy? Slovenia? somewhere). After scouring the local shops of my small city to no avail, I took a critical tasting and a casual (and no-doubt inaccurate) translation from the original jar and thought “Gee, I wonder if I can make these?”
Turns out I can, and so can you.

Continue reading

huevos con whatnot

It’s time to document an embarrassingly simple dish. I I threw this together in desperation some months ago, and it’s become a staple dish ’round these parts. It’s not remotely authentic, it’s so easy that it barely qualifies as cooking, and it’s not even got a proper name. I’ve taken to calling it “huevos,” purely to distinguish it from the simpler egg dishes we eat daily.

Uh, except that lately, “huevos” is what we eat daily. It’s a great hearty breakfast, a fine simple dinner, or an easy lunch. We always have the few ingredients on hand, and even if we didn’t, we could pick them up in any corner market. I like it with warmed tortillas (corn or flour) on the side, or arepas, or a handful of corn chips, or a piece of toast. Garnish it with a scant palmful of grated cheese, a spoonful of diced tomatoes, a scallion quickly cut up with kitchen scissors, or nothing at all.

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sandwich party: pantry roulette

When our town was hit by a snowstorm and subsequent parking ban early this week, The Fella and I cheerily decided to stow the car somewhere safe and not go out anymore. Instead, we huddled down in our cozy apartment, watching movies and playing Trivial Pursuit.

Among the places we did not go: the grocery store.

Accordingly, I discarded my plan to browse delicacies and craft some luxurious entry for the sandwich party. Instead, I find myself playing one of my favorite games: pantry roulette.

I regularly play this game when I’m staying with friends, and especially when visiting my mother: I offer to make dinner out of whatever ingredients they have on hand. The barer the cupboard, the greater the challenge. I rarely get to play it in my own (usually well-stocked) larder, but by the end of this week, our supplies were running pretty low, and the challenge felt almost daunting.

Digging through the cabinets for any scrids and scrads of goodies hanging around the dark recesses of the pantry, I found a jar holding a fistful of old, scabby-looking sun-dried tomatoes. That sparked the idea:

sandwichpartywithnapkin.jpgopen-faced sandwich of sun-dried tomato neufchatel with apple, onion-garlic jam, and shaved parmesan.

As the idea bloomed, I thought I could imagine the taste with some clarity. Boy, was I wrong. It is better than I thought, and though each component loses some individuality, they meld together surprisingly well. It’s sweet and tart, silky and creamy, warm and cold, and altogether surprising. ‘

On the side (and everywhere else) you see oven-baked russet potato chips (crisps). The instant I saw the Utz chips (crisps) accompanying Jagosaurus’ tuna sandwich, I knew I needed chips, but after a brief internal struggle, I simply could not face the arduous task of first finding and then donning shoes and a brassiere* so I could walk two blocks to the nearest store to buy chips.

Incidentally, that telling detail illustrates the peculiar brand of laziness that shaped this whole exercise: note that I’m too lazy to dress and walk two blocks, preferring to spend forty minutes making oven-baked potato chips.
*And other requisite garments, but it was the shoes and brassiere that proved onerous.

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onion-garlic jam

Inspired by Ximena and redfox, I started making batches of onion-garlic jam.

Whoo doggies, this is good stuff, miles better than the onion jam I used to buy, and once you’ve sliced all the onions, it can be knocked off on any evening you’re staying in. Just wander by the pan once in a while to add ingredients and stir, and otherwise let it bubble away happily until it’s time to scoop it into little glass pots. We’ll get to the recipe in a minute; first, let me tell you why you want to make this at the first opportunity.

Onion-garlic jam makes a simple and sexy last-minute cocktail snack: alongside a stack of crackers on a pretty plate, pair a big glob of onion-garlic jam with a generous blob of softened cream cheese or yogurt cheese.

Smear schmear a cracker with cream cheese, then top it with jam. Each bite is a little sensory overload: creamy, crispy, buttery, tangy, pungent, and sweet. Goat cheese and homemade crackers doll this up for your uptown friends, but truthfully, cream cheese and Ritz suit onion-garlic jam just fine. Onion-garlic jam isn’t snooty like some hors d’oeuvres we could mention. Onion-garlic jam also makes a fine addition to sandwiches: tomato and avocado; cheese (grilled or otherwise); cream cheese with anything; grilled vegetables and bean spread.

Biscuits or popovers with this suave, tangy jam will smarten up one of our favorite winter suppers: potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots tossed lightly in olive oil, dusted with salt, pepper, and chili powder, then roasted until they’re soft in the center, caramelized around the edges. A pot of onion-garlic jam and a dish of goat cheese alongside a basket of hot, flaky biscuits would make me happy to serve this menu to guests.

For meat-eaters, its complexity is just the thing to complement the salty smack of ham, or to punch up chicken or turkey. As a relish alongside a grilled chicken breast or a lamb chop, onion-garlic jam elevates an after-work dinner into something a bit special.

As redfox points out, it’s a marvelous addition to scrambled eggs. I imagine it would make a superlative omelette filling, or as addition to, say, mushroom crepes.

As the latest batch bubbles away, wafting its irresistable savor through the apartment, I’m planning to try:
- mashed sweet potatoes seasoned with salt, pepper, and a sliver of butter, topped with a blob of onion-garlic jam. I dread the gussied-up sweet potato monstrosities that haunt so many holiday tables, with their brown sugar and citrus or marshmallow, and always drenched with butter. To my palate, sweet potatoes pack so much flavor and such a luxurious mouthfeel that they’re best when treated simply. But this might be a fine compromise: a bit sweet, a bit sharp, a rich flavor that doesn’t obscure the flavor of the sweet potatoes themselves.
- baked potatoes with sour cream and onion-garlic jam.
- potato pancakes topped with onion-garlic jam.
- frittata a la anything at all topped with onion-garlic jam.

Now, who wants to give me a recipe for hot pepper jelly?

Continue reading