Midday risotto

I have what I consider built-in midwestern guilt (or perhaps a lingering case of Protestant work ethic) that makes me feel guilty for taking long breaks in the middle of the workday. This, even though I know I get plenty done and have a job that thankfully gives me flexibility in my work hours.

So it’s rare that I take the time to actually cook something from scratch for lunch. Today, though, I didn’t have much prepared and I happened to have everything I needed for Jacques Pepin’s Risotto with Broccoli Stems — only, in my case, using asparagus instead of broccoli (a substitution I have enjoyed in the past). It only took 30 minutes and was totally worth it.

Experimenting with bread

After hearing multiple people bring up sourdough bread in the past week, I decided it was time to give it a try. I’m not sure why I had avoided it before. So today I pulled out Beard on Bread and threw together the starter — so far so good, and I have tucked it in a warm spot in the kitchen to do its thing. Now I wait.

The satisfaction of a home-cooked meal and a full stomach

There is a simple pleasure in spending two unhurried hours preparing dinner from scratch. Thank goodness for weekends! Tonight’s dinner was three dishes from Ottolenghi that didn’t end up meshing all that well flavor-wise, but were each tasty and I’ll certainly be cooking again. (And with some tweaks they could be really versatile!)

I made a simple turkey with sauce, beans with hazelnuts, and a butternut squash and celeriac mash. The mash also had fried onions on top, which were super easy thanks to a microwave trick I happened to read on Food52 the other day. My stomach is very happy.

Writing in cookbooks

I get bizarre pleasure out of writing in books. Years of writing in the margins of textbooks never quite erased the years of being told to respect books by never, ever writing in them.

Taking notes in my cookbooks is an essential part of getting to know a recipe, making it work for me. Tonight I added some notes on the gilded pages of Nopi: Cut the lemongrass in bigger pieces, use a bit less five-spice, take it easy on the tomato sauce while serving, and try eating it with low-carb noodles. Details I’d otherwise forget the next time around.

But my favorite note happens on the recipes I really like — a little smiley face in the corner for quick reference. 🙂

Cooking throughout the day

I started working my way through some of the new recipes I chose the other day. We had turkey and courgette burgers last night (not actually new, but I’d only made them once before) with roasted brussel sprouts and salad. For today I decided to make the aubergine-wrapped ricotta gnocchi with sage butter. The recipe says it serves 2 as a main course, but just in case it isn’t enough we still have some of last night’s burgers to serve on the side. 🙂

This is one of those recipes that can trip you up if you (like me!) tend to pick out recipes without reading through them. Thankfully, I’ve learned that Ottolenghi recipes sometimes take prep ahead of time — I’ll always give them a quick skim and underline anything that needs to be done ahead so I don’t forget! In this case, the gnocchi can be almost entirely created a day ahead of time, which means if they’re tasty I’m going to keep track of this as a possible party food. But they have to be started about 4-5 hours before you want to eat them, so it isn’t something to make last minute.

I was planning on throwing together the gnocchi batter last night so it could chill overnight, but I forgot. Instead, I woke up this morning and assembled the batter before starting work. After lunch, I grilled the aubergine, boiled the gnocchi, and assembled everything on a baking tray. This evening it’ll be 10 minutes in the oven (and throwing together the butter sauce) and dinner will be ready. When you spread it out like that, it hardly seems like any work at all!

Meal planning with a purpose

My husband and I have decided to try eating low carb again (or at least he has — I might eat high carb lunches to avoid becoming a perpetually hangry monster). But changing our diet means looking at our meals in a new way, without sides of bread, rice, and starchy vegetables to fill us up.

So today I pulled out my favorite cookbooks to pick out some new side dishes (and a few mains that called to me!) that are mostly low carb.

It’s fun to look through recipes with a new goal in mind — foods that previously looked uninteresting or that I had just overlooked suddenly stood out as appealing choices. It also cut down on the overwhelming feeling I always seem to get when I’m trying to choose a new recipe to try.

If you’re curious, here are the dishes that made the list:

  • Aubergine-wrapped ricotta gnocchi
  • French beans, mangetout, and hazelnuts
  • Broccolini with tofu
  • Chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic
  • Parsnip and pumpkin mash (but I’ll use celeriac and butternut squash)
  • Burnt green onion dip with kale
  • Mixed Chinese vegetables
  • Whole roasted celery root
  • Zucchini and manouri fritters
  • Beef brisket croquettes with Asian coleslaw
  • Five-spiced tofu, steamed eggplants, and cardamom passata
  • Kohlrabi salad
  • Fried tomatoes with garlic
  • Sabih
  • Turkey and courgette burgers

What do you think? If you have any favorite low carb side dishes, please share! (Just no cauliflower … it smells and tastes rotten to me.)

Colorful salads

We enjoyed two beautifully bright Ottolenghi salads over the past two days: Sweet and sour celeriac and swede (rutabaga), and Chargrilled asparagus, courgettes (zucchini) and manouri. I made a few tweaks based on what ingredients were more accessible (zereshk instead of sour cherries, and haloumi instead of manouri) but otherwise stuck pretty close to the recipes. Both salads were as tasty as they looked!

Sweet and sour celeriac and swede
Chargrilled asparagus, courgettes and haloumi with sangak bread