Tag Archives: beginning cooks

Back in the kitchen with Suzi

Since we last met, some of you have told me that my last post made you want to cook again, and some of the books mentioned have made it onto your library accounts.

I won’t lie: as a writer and a librarian, these words make my heart sing.

I’ve been busy and lazy for the past month. Busy and lazy, you ask? Well, when you work a job from 9:30 to 6, sometimes you just want to spend the evening reading. So I’ve worked my way through Devil Bones, Bones to Ashes, and Fatal Voyage, all by my favorite forensic anthropologist turned bestselling author, Kathy Reichs. As a children’s librarian, I know that children read two reading levels below their optimal reading level for recreation, nothing wrong with that. Summer is a children’s librarian’s busiest season, so I doubt I’ll start reading Anna Karenina anytime soon. I’ve re-read both Devil Bones and Fatal Voyage. In fact, I’ve probably read Devil Bones more than twice, since I own it and it often lives in my car. I require a book when I eat out alone, and more than once, Devil Bones been my dinner companion.

 

 

 

 

 

While I like a good mystery, I read the Temperance Brennan books by Kathy Reichs for character, not plot. Our love interest is usually Andrew Ryan, a Canadian detective, but sometimes Pete Brennan, an American lawyer and Tempe’s estranged husband. Temperance is a recovering alcoholic, mostly comfortable with the crazy life she leads, living sometimes in Charlotte, North Carolina and sometimes in Quebec. I enjoy learning about the geographical particulars of these two locations. I keep reading the books to keep up with where Tempe is in her life. Will she and Ryan get together for good? Will she and Pete finalize their divorce? I’ve also grown attached to Tempe’s pets, a cat named Birdie and a bird named Charlie.

Besides lazing around with books, I’ve increased my kitchen repertoire. I now make a decent vinaigrette (the secret is the olive oil/vinegar ratio) on a weekly basis, and I bought a fancy (read: expensive) chef’s knife at Sur la Table. I used it last night for the first time and it cuts like a dream. It cuts so well that I didn’t even mind the humid heat in my third floor walkup as I boiled water for pasta and cut peppers, celery, radishes and onions.

I picked up some cookbooks and books on budgeting on a recent visit to the Carnegie Library — Squirrel Hill, where I picked up Poor Girl Gourmet. The author, Amy McCoy, worked as a freelance broadcast producer until the economy tanked in 2008. After an introduction to cooking and how to save money buying house brands (but good house brands, like Whole Food’s 365 Everyday Value), Amy starts you off with instructions for making 8 cups of vegetable stock for soup, which you can then freeze. Amy clearly has not seen my apartment-size freezer. But I’m determined to change my eating and cooking ways, so I’m sure I’ll try my hand at vegetable stock soon. I started my collection of vegetable scraps last night.

In another effort to work in the kitchen and economize, I have started making coffee in a French Press. I was going to buy an Aeropress, which was featured on CBSThisMorning last Monday morning, but as I was flipping through books (again, at Squirrel Hill), the author of Bitches on a Budget recommended buying a French Press.

 

 

 

 

 

My first cup was, well, strong. But I got the hang of it, after watching many YouTube videos.

 

Suzi’s Summer Pasta Salad

(based on Betty Crocker’s boxed Suddenly Salads, but with fewer chemicals.)

 

1 pepper (yellow, red, orange)

1 stalk of celery

1 small onion

1 radish

1 cup vinaigrette

Salt/pepper to taste

1 ½ cups Greek yogurt (1 single serve container)

1 can tuna (optional)

½ lb. Fusilli pasta

Start the water for the pasta. Follow the directions on the box, which will probably read something like this: in a big pot, boil lots of water to a rolling boil. Then add the pasta, cover, cook until the pot almost boils over, and then uncover, cooking for about 11 more minutes. Drain.

While this is happening: cut the vegetables into small pieces.

The pasta takes the longest, so while you are in the kitchen, do a load of dishes in your sink, or recycle some junk mail.

Once you’ve drained the pasta, pour some cold water on it. You don’t technically want to rinse the pasta, but you do want it to be cold, since you are adding cold ingredients. Put everything in a bowl and mix. Don’t add the vinaigrette all at once; once you add the yogurt, there is a point where you’re adding too much liquid. However, if you are not eating this right away, it’s okay to add a little more vinaigrette, as the vinaigrette will soak into the pasta while being stored in the refrigerator.

I packed this for lunch today and cut up a radish for garnish and some additional crunch.

–Suzi

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

In the Kitchen With Books

We begin our library blogging week with a guest post from Suzi (not to be confused with Suzy), who will, hopefully, be joining us at least once a month going forward. 

***

Note: this post is not vegetarian. It is gluten-free, nut-free, and soy-free.

In her book, How to Save A Life, Sara Zarr writes, “Everything tastes better when someone else fixes it for you.” I love good diner food and a waitress refilling my iced tea. For too long I was seduced by advertisers who, wanting to sell me their packaged food, told me that chopping vegetables is too much work.

However, at some point, endless club sandwiches for lunch and frozen entrees for dinner dull the taste buds and rob the pocketbook (did I mention tip the bathroom scale?). I started taking cookbooks out from the library, but I still wasn’t cooking, so the books just sat there, silently, on my kitchen table for three weeks until their respective due dates.

It’s not that I never learned how to cook. But for me, cooking is like riding a bike: I do it so infrequently each time I try a new recipe is like the first wobbly time without training wheels. I make three things well: meatloaf, quiche, and scrambled eggs. My mother and I made meatloaf together when I was a child, I have made quiche a thousand times, a thousand ways, and doesn’t everyone know how to make scrambled eggs?

I came across The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks, one day at work. I started reading it and was hooked. Maybe there was hope for me (the subtitle serves as a good summary: a chef works with nine women who for one reason or another have been subsisting on prepared food and the women together learn how to chop onions, braise beef and make tomato sauce from scratch).

I still wasn’t cooking, but my interest was piqued.

In time, I found two more books: Charlotte au Chocolat and Bread and Wine.  I happened to walk past a shelf at work and Charlotte au Chocolat whispered my name. A pink book always catches my eye, and this book happened to be a memoir about a girl whose mother managed a restaurant called “Upstairs at the Pudding” in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The book starts when Charlotte is about five and ends when she is about twenty. It is the story about a girl growing up in a restaurant. It is romantic, well written, and it makes you hungry while you are reading it.

While this book is decidedly not about cooking, and contains no recipes, it is about good food, and the people in this book believe in eating well. I found that by reading about good food, I became inspired to root around my fridge and make something. Before I knew it, I was taking leftover rice and duck and creating a sauce using mustard and marmalade. Do not be deceived: I had not made anything initially with duck—I had leftovers from when my parents took me to The Original Fish Market on their way to Michigan.

Suzi’s Leftover Duck and Rice

Ingredients:

Leftover rice, 1 serving

Frozen broccoli, 1 serving

Leftover duck (or other meat),1serving

1 Tablespoon Mustard

1 Tablespoon Marmalade

Heat the rice and frozen broccoli in the microwave, about 1 or 2 minutes. Pull duck off the bone. While the rice and broccoli are heating up, take 1 T mustard and 1 T marmalade and mix them together, making a sweet and sour sauce. Serve immediately. Pour sauce over rice, meat, and broccoli. May be served with Greek yogurt. Makes 1 serving.

I found myself rereading Charlotte au Chocolat three times, for three reasons: it was well written, it fit in my purse, and I didn’t have another book about food on the horizon. That is when my friend Suzannah suggested the book Bread and Wine.

Bread and Wine is written in the same style as The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, essays with an occasional recipe. Shauna Niequist writes about food, writing, hospitality, and being the mother of small children and the wife of a musician. This was the book that wooed me back into my kitchen. The other night, I fixed chicken. I went to my cookbook shelf, found a recipe for chicken in Cheap Fast Good, and got out my dog-eared copy of The Kitchen Survival Guide to find out how to make rice. Yes, my skills are this basic.

I improvised. Instead of sautéing two onions, I used one, and I used the rest of the mushrooms in the fridge, since they were about to go bad. I forgot to add spices beforehand, so I added them afterwards, sprinkling my rice with dried orange peel, parsley, and basil. I had some salad, some Greek yogurt, and voila! Suzi is back in the kitchen, preparing food.

What are your favorite recipes? Cookbooks? Do you have trouble in the kitchen, or do you have tips for novice cooks? Talk to me in the comment section!

–Suzi

 

 

 

 

 

12 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized