Kalamata Bread Solves Everything

What do you do when someone invites you to a potluck within hours of the start time? I think I mentioned in my last post that it takes a lot of idea-churning for me to come up with a dish to bring to a meal when don’t know what everyone (anyone) else is bringing. So a last minute invite is at first heart-stopping, but then, somewhat miraculously, easy. There’s no time to think, so I cut out the thinking. 

I’ve only made this little dish one other time, on a Tuesday or something, on a night when my Dad was out of town and my mom and I were having a simple dinner. It seemed almost too simple during the making, but when we bit into some little toasts with the tangy, garlic-y, buttery white beans, the doubt disintegrated. I remember distinctly eating it alongside some pasta, and thinking “my, so much grain,” and then letting the thought go and taking another bite.

Well, a few weeks ago, a co-worker invited me to a pot luck that night at her house, and I had to think on my toes. I thought I’d go to the bakery and buy one of these delicious little pizzas they make, but when I got there at 30 minutes to closing because it’s a long trip on a bicycle, they were out. So I looked at the bread rack, my eyes landed on a kalamata olive loaf, and I bought it. I was thinking I could just bring that–where I’m from, a kalamata olive loaf is like a hunk of gold, and usually gets devoured. But when I got home, I remembered I had a can of white beans, and this recipe popped in my head. It would only add about a dollar to the five dollars I was already spending, and I figured that was about how much I would normally spend to bring something to a dinner. I sliced the loaf, put it in the oven, then got my fingers super-smelly rubbing a garlic clove all over each piece. I mixed up the white bean-mixture in about 30 seconds, and still had a half hour to let the flavors meld and sit staring into space for a while. 

I really liked laying this dish out on a big wooden cutting board and walking in with it (after putting it all back together in the car). It looked impressive, but was so easy, and it tasted delicious. We ate almost all of it before everyone had arrived! Tell people to take a plate or a napkin with their toast–those holes in the bread are for real. And tell them to enjoy. 


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So Scoooooned

I have a very favorite scone recipe, which I made for the first time in the middle of winter, after getting Molly Wizenberg’s book A Homemade Life for Christmas. Ms. Wizenberg first put the recipe on her blog, Orangette but with the addition of frozen strawberries; in her book, the recipe is “Scottish Scones with Lemon and Ginger.” I love these scones because they are just the right texture: not too dry, not too moist. They break apart in nice, hefty ridges, and they get a little brown on the corners, so you get a sweet, nutty finish as you finish the last few bites. And they are fast, messy, and so satisfying to make.

And then….just a couple of weeks ago, my scone horizons broadened. I regularly read another food (and fashion) blog, Homerun Ballerina, written by Audrey. She has been writing about the food she makes for several years, and she recently became the chef/baker at a coffee shop and bakery in Brooklyn, which makes me want to move to Brooklyn immediately. All of the food she makes looks so delicious, beautiful, and creative. So, a couple of weeks ago, she posted these gorgeous photos of sssssavory scones she makes at her shop, and I knew I had to make them. I love food that can be made both sweet and savory. I decided, since my first time making them would be for friends, to combine the two recipes, because I wanted to try to retain that particular texture I like so well. (I’ll be trying Audrey’s original recipe soon, though.)

The time came when my friend Cora invited myself and several friends to a birthday barbeque last weekend. Scones may seem like sort of an odd choice, but here was my reasoning: I could make small scones, resulting in more scones and less worry about getting overly full at a pot-luck, which drives me crazy; I had all of the ingredients already, because you can put basically anything in them; and I had been itching to make them! So, scones it was. And they were a hit. I stuck with Molly’s liquid-to-flourproportions, but I used Audrey’s salt/sugar/add-in proportions. I made two different kinds, and put cheese in both of them. This added even more depth to the texture, making them layered like a biscuit, but still dense and chewy like a scone. They were salty and just a little dry, which made them great to eat alongside a good beer. And this is Colorado, so that’s exactly what we did.

{How I Ate the Leftovers}
I did take quite a few home from the potluck, so I put half in the freezer. I didn’t do anything very creative with them….just ate them as an afternoon snack at work. I just ate all three of the frozen ones this morning for breakfast, microwaved for a few seconds. I think these would be great next to a sweet or savory salad, though, or as I suggest in the recipe, toasted and smeared with a savory jam.

Cora (and roomates)’s garden and chickens! We didn’t eat them, but we did work as a team to herd them into their coop at bedtime.

Savory Scones

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s “Scottish Scones with Lemon and Ginger” (A Homemade Life, 2009), and Audrey’s “savory scones” (www.homerunballerina.blogspot.com)

One of the main reasons I think these scones are so awesome is because they are great way to make something really special out of not a lot. I made two versions, Bacon/Green Onion/Gruyere, and Lemon/Sage/Parmesan, because I just happened to have half a lemon leftover, a couple slices of bacon, one green onion, and some cheese. You can use up extra ingredients, or only make a small dent in another ingredient, and still come out with something great. You can use fresh or dried stuff. The amount of flavorful ingredients you add is also really flexible–I added 1/2 c cheese in one variety, and 1/4 c in the other, for example. The flavors may not stand out as much, but the flavor of the scone batter is so good, that the result is just a different focus. Check out Audrey’s blog for more ideas about ingredient combinations.

2 c unbleached all-purpose flour

2 t baking powder

1 1/2 t salt

1 T sugar

4 T unsalted butter, cut into cubes and refrigerated until needed

1/2 milk ( or 1/2 and 1/2, or cream)

up to 1 c fillings

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Butter or oil a baking sheet. Whisk together the milk (or 1/2 and 1/2 or cream) and egg in a small bowl. In a separate, large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and rub into the dry mixture with your fingertips, until you have a course meal. Add to this the sugar and any fillings, and stir to combine. Now add the milk/egg mixture, and stir gently to incorporate this, just to the point that all the dry ingredients are now wet. I used a big flat spatula to kind of drag wetter dough along dryer parts. As soon as everything has been mixed, gather the dough as best you can into a ball with your hands (the batter will be fairly wet, and you will inevitably lose a little) and turn it and any excess onto a countertop or cutting board, and knead it a few times, until it comes together. Flatten it out into a circle with your hands, until it’s about an inch thick. You can cut it into wedges (8 makes a good size) or you can do what I did, which was cut it into small squares about an inch on each side.

Place the squares on the baking sheet with a little space between them. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until the little peaks and corners on the surface of the scones are turning golden brown. Remove from the oven, and let cool on a cooling rack. These are good served warm or at room temperature, or reheated in the microwave. Molly suggests toasting them, and I bet they would ridiculous with some sort of jalapeno/fruit jam or tomato jam spread on them!

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How to Never Waste a Baguette

As you will come to know, bread is really important to me. Sometimes, I work (hard) to think of a different starch to accompany whatever else I’m cooking, but bread gets worked into my day usually two or three times. I spent most of my childhood and adulthood near one of the best bakeries I’ve ever come across: Wheatfields, in Lawrence, KS. So for a long time, I have been convincing myself that really good bread from a local bakery is worth the money from time to time. I think it is because

  • it puts money back into the local economy directly, and often indirectly, because bakeries often source their wheat from a regional farm.
  • just GOING to a bakery is such a joyful experience, at least to me. The pastries and bread are so beautiful, it smells like yeast and flour, the customers are in a good mood because they’re about to eat something good, and the people working there have friendly, familiar faces. Bread Bakery, in Durango, has an open kitchen, so you can watch them kneading dough, and loading it into the ovens–an added thrill! Or maybe I’m just weird.
  • it is AWESOME. It tastes delicious, and crustier bread is better in some instances because it is sturdier. It doesn’t have preservatives or high fructose corn syrup, and often it doesn’t have any dairy in it.

So, I know that it is not the best thing to spend money on, but I still try to make it work.

My Tactic for Making Good Bread a Practical Option for M’self

{Baguettes and Ciabatta}

In Durango, you can buy day-old baguettes and ciabatta loaves at one of the local grocery stores. You could also try going to the bakery late in the day and see if they are selling them for a discounted price. Cut them into sandwich or toast size pieces, and put in the freezer. If you put them in right away, you can thaw them out and use them just as you would a new baguette. If they get slightly hard, put them in the freezer at that point, then thaw them out and use them for bread pudding or french toooooast! If the baguette turns to rock before you freeze it (be sure to check the whole thing, sometimes just the end is dried out, and the rest is still tender) keep it in your cupboard, then pound it into 1/2 inch cubes, coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake for a few minutes for homemade, awesome croutons.

{Other Loaves of Bread}

If I don’t have a plan to use a big hunk of the loaf right away, I ask the bakery to slice it, then store it in a plastic bag in the freezer, and take slices out and use them for sandwiches, toast, etc, as I do with baguettes. In fact all of those tactics I use for baguettes, I also use for other types of bread. But loaves usually last longer in the cupboard before drying out, so finding a way to use it or save it isn’t quite as urgent. If I don’t get it in the freezer, and it does dry out, I just save it for croutons.

And that’s about it. I’ve been freezing a lot of things since I started working as a VISTA–scones, cookies, herbs…and I have become pretty nerdy about it. But I do not like waste, especially food waste, so putting excess stuff in the freezer and knowing it will be there in a week when I don’t have anything else makes me feel like I always have a care package headed my way. It also makes leftovers, extra food at work, and bulk deals much more exciting!

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Eggplant for days!

Last week, I bought one tiny (fist-sized) speckled-y eggplant that had been raised not far from here, and came home and sifted through cookbooks looking for a simple way to make it taste delicious.  I love eggplant, but I have grown weary of experimentation with it. One thing that frustrates me a lot as a young person cooking only for herself is that I don’t have a lot of extraneous ingredients just hanging out. With eggplant, because it gets so much of its flavor from the flavors you put near it, I hesitate to leave out something because I don’t have it. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find a recipe that would work….but then I did!

I was doubly excited because this recipe is from a cookbook I have had for a long time, but never used, The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, by Anna Thomas. I have a used copy my mom bought me, for $1 according to the front page. The cover is so beautiful and bohemian, and on that same front page is a magical inscription:

“Let the wind of the spirit blow between your shores.

               The great oaks in the forest

        Do not grow in each other’s shade.”

“O for a friend to mingle all his soul with mine.”

for Carolyn

                  on the day which saw her birth


I have taken this book with me many places, and read that inscription over and over again. It is always talking about a different part of my life, and I appreciate that. It pains me to think what may have brought Carolyn to part with it.

The recipe is a spanish “tortilla,” which I ate many times in tiny kitchens throughout the town of Tarbes, France, with my Spanish friend Marta standing by, loudly telling us how it’s done. I’d never made one myself, though. This was perfect because it was very simple, quick, and would last well. I changed the proportions just slightly, because I didn’t have the right number of eggs. I ate it with an improvised salad–carrot tops and cucumbers in a light vinaigrette. I had no lettuce, and lots of beauitful looking greens on top of my carrots, so I decided to try it. It was actually….quite tasty! Next time, I would put the dressing on about 15 minutes before I was going to eat it, so that the carrot tops would soften up just a little bit. Now that’s a good way to get some extra value out of food–I had another vegetable I didn’t even know about!

{How I ate the leftovers}
I only ate a quarter of this tortilla, so I saved the rest. Each day this week, I pulled two frozen pieces of baguette out of the freezer (more on this later), slapped another quarter of the tortilla between it, and put it away for lunch. By the time noon rolled around, the bread had thawed, and the oil from the omellete had soaked into the bread just slightly. It mad e a really delicious sandwich, and if you had roasted red peppers, bacon, tomato, arugulua, feta, goat cheese….or any number of other accompaniments to add, it could turn out pretty darn fancy!

Eggplant Tortilla

from The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, by Anna Thomas. Copyright 1978. 269 and 270.

I changed the proportions slightly on mine, and made a couple other small adjustments. See below for details.

3 T olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 large onion, chopped (I used red, the book doesn’t specify)

2 1/2 c small eggplant, cut in 1/4 inch dice

1 tsp lemon juice

salt to taste

pepper to taste

5 eggs

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet [I used an 9-inch pan] and add the garlic, onions, and eggplant. Saute the vegetables, stirring often, until the onions are transparent and the eggplant tender. Season with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Beat the eggs lightly, seasoning them with salt and pepper. Pour the beaten eggs over the eggplant mixture in the pan and spread it around evenly. The eggs should barely cover all the eggplant.

Cover the pan and turn down the flame. Cook over very low heat until the tortilla is firm on top [I think this took almost 30 minutes for me]. Gently slide a spatula around the edges and underneath it to be sure it is not sticking. Take a large plate and turn it upside down, placing it over the skillet like a lid. Holding the plate in place, overturn the skillet.

Slide the tortilla from the plate back into the pan and allow it to brown on the other side for a few minutes. Employing the same technique, flip the tortilla back onto a large plate for serving.

The tortilla may be eaten hot, cold, or at room temperature. One of the more convenient aspects of Spanish tortillas is that they really are delicious at any temperature.

Serves 3 to 4.

I used 2 T olive oil, 1 garlic clove, about 1/2 an onion, 2 c eggplant and 2 eggs. I didn’t have a lemon, so I left that out ( amazing considering my opening comments). I have a little thyme growing in a pot, so I grabbed a sprig of it and threw the leaves in, which was a tasty addition. Lots of other herbs would have worked great, too, I’d imagine.

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Carrot Tops

Hey everyone. This is the very first post on a blog largely based on a love of taking photos of my food. I also have recently started a position as an Americorps VISTA, which means I am living on a very small stipend (The VISTA program’s overarching mission is to fight poverty, so VISTAs live on a salary just above the poverty rate in their area), and constantly think about how I can turn these dollars into foods that are satisfying to buy, cook, and eat. For me, this ideally means a lot of whole foods and produce that are bought from local producers, if possible. This ideally means foods that are fairly simple to make, but use new ingredients or new ways of cooking that I can apply again in other ways. This ideally means foods that are full of brigtness, spice, nuttiness, and something that makes me feel like I am eating with friends, even if I am not.

So….here we go.

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Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com! This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.

Happy blogging!

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