As the weather flows between days warm and sunny enough that I need to shirk my sweatshirt while on a bike ride and others where the rain hammers down and the chill is enough to freeze my hands into immobility, so too do my cooking moods vary. The sky is bright and clear and we’re breaking out the grill and my mind is wandering to the possibility of trying homemade ice cream. The next day of precipitation and cold have me wanting a simple grilled cheese and a hot chocolate with something warm and baked to go with it. The unpredictable weather of spring also perfectly mirrors the unpredictable mood swings of crisis coping. Some days there just isn’t enough energy left in me to bust out a complicated bake. But others I am driven by hope and optimism for the future to dedicate multiple hours to roasting, proving, toasting, and layering. But either way, the kitchen has been there for whatever energy I’m willing and able to give. Here are some of the projects and food thoughts from the past week of varying culinary effort!
For some reason, I have always had it in my head that homemade tortillas were one of those things that everyone insisted was waybetter than store-bought, but wasn’t worth the effort. I think it’s an opinion with origins in a Good Eats episode. Alton Brown is a beloved figure on my house hold and has given us many a valuable recipe and food tip (See Alton Brownies), but sometimes the things he would insist should be home made just seemed a step too much. And despite many an insistence from friends well versed in tortilla making, I never gave it a try. But as I seek to explore the wide world of homemade bread, the inevitable time of trying tortillas finally came. So with the guidance of this King Arthur Flour recipe, I finally gave it a try for that night’s burritos.
I am now a homemade tortilla convert. Because they are the easiest thing in the freaking world, with indeed, a noticeably better result than store-bought. With just flour, baking powder, salt, butter, and water in a food processor the dough comes into a ball in minutes with no effort. After sitting to rest (not rise) for just an hour, it’s ready to divide, roll out, and cook on a dry skillet for just roughly 30 secondsa side until browned and bubbly. The resulting tortilla is both soft and crispy, with none of the gumminess that you get from a packaged tortilla. And as I was able to control the salt, there was a little more flavor.
While I’m likely not going to be making my own tortillas everytime I’m planning on using one, if I know we’re planning on having a tortilla-using meal for dinner, I’ll definitely be making tortillas for it more regularly. And if I can get my hands on some masa I might even try my hand at corn tortillas despite my typical flour tortilla preference. Because sometimes making it yourself really is all the difference.
Gadget: Food Processor
There were a handful of years where my Mom went back and forth between whether or not to get a food processor. When it seemed useful, it seemed reallyuseful. But how much would we really use it? Would it just be one of those other bulky gadgets taking up storage space brought out twice a year for niche uses? Isn’t our immersion blender enough? But after seeing enough mentions of it in recipes and food network viewings, we became a food processor household.
This was perhaps one of the most impactful purchases on my culinary life. For the hummus and guacamole alone it’s been worth it. But perhaps the biggest impact it’s had has been with doughs. It was a game changer in my pie crust journey – cutting the butter and keeping it cold far more efficiently than I ever could by hand. And I already talked about its help in tortilla making. These are things for which a blender – immersion or stand alone – would be wholly inappropriate. Because the blade action of a food processor is different than a blender! It’s a different gadget because it does a different thing! While a blender blends, the food processor chops and cuts. What the food processor is really more of an alternative-tasker for are things that do a similar action – cutting or grinding. So while it is not entirely necessary – there were of course times when hummus was made and food processors were not a thing – it sure does cut down the time and effort and makes such dishes waaaaaaay more doable. Sure, I could cut butter into flour by hand, trying to manage ideally cold butter cubes, inevitably spilling flour over the sides of the open bowl because of course. Or I could do it all in the bowl of the food processor and contain the mess and do it much quicker. And if having a food processor is the difference between having homemade pastry and not, I’ll be making homemade pastry.
Drink: Afternoon Tea
Between the hours of 12pm and 10pm I average anywhere between 1-4 cups of tea a day. Some days I only emerge from my afternoon work for a single cup around 3:30pm. Others I will have a post-lunch finishing tea, a mid-afternoon power tea, a late afternoon tea while I read, and a tea after dinner with dessert. Occasionally it’s used for its caffeine to keep me going and focused as I spend my work hours stationed at my desk in front of my laptop. Other times it’s a good excuse to get up from said desk, stretch the legs with a walk down stairs, and rest the eyes from the eternal cells of google sheets. Whatever the reason, a warm tea in the afternoon has been a daily treat, especially on the more cozy-inclined days.
While we have a pretty diverse variety with a range of herbal and fruity available, I tend to enjoy a cup of green tea with some lemon and ginger. Every once and a while I throw some honey in there. I bring the cup back to my desk and enjoy the sensory pleasure of the green tea steam wafting up as I continue to type. Enjoy intermittent sips. It inevitably gets cold about halfway through, just allowing me to emerge from my work to pop it in the microwave. While taste and caffeine are part of the thing, it’s just as much about the ritual. My afternoon tea is one of the important ways I manage my time in a way that keeps a semblance of normalcy, and gives me a bit of time (or a bunch of time) to come back and get centered again in the middle of a self-structured day.
Spring is typically the time when farmer’s markets begin to once again pop up in parks and parking lots across the town, the farm stand opens its doors again, and home cooks and restaurants alike showcase the vibrant fresh produce they can get their hands on after a winter of canned tomatoes and root veggies. But this spring fresh produce is at an especial premium. Even if you are able to get a good head of lettuce or bag of fresh snap peas, infrequent trips to the grocery store mean you wanna savor that fresh produce while it’s good, and for at least some of the time you’ll be relying on those canned and frozen goods to get you through.
Luckily, my Mom was able to get her hands on some good produce on her last round of stocking up. With a quality eggplant and a handful of baby zucchini, we were itching to showcase them in dinner that night in a veggie-forward dish. And while grilled zucchini is a delight and it’s difficult to go wrong with eggplant parm, we decided to savor the veggies pure in a ratatouille. A little olive oil, some seasoning, and a HECK TON of chopped eggplant, zucchini, tomato, onion, and garlic thrown into the trusty Dutch oven cooked until tender, while simple, was a great way to feed the body and appreciate the valuable veg we had. While some (a lot) of these days I just want to curl up with a load of grains and cheese, a big bowl of pure cooked veggies (over a smattering of butter noodles) can be just as valuable to the spirits, not to mention the body.
Dessert: Salty Chocolate Chip Cookies
If Alton Brownies have a chocolate chip cookie cousin in decadence, it’s this recipe for chocolate chip cookies from Binging with Babish. These Levain-like behemoths are the essence of salty and sweet greatness. A whole tablespoon of kosher salt in the dough may seem excessive, especially when you remember its presence as you sprinkle sea salt on top after baking. But it’s just the right amount that, when mixed with the touch of cinnamon and the ample proportions of brown sugar and browned butter used, provides the sensational pleasure that made salted caramel popular. And have you seen unsalted caramel since? Yeah, there’s a reason for that.
If my patience allows me I somehow waitthe three days of fridge time Andrew Rea suggests. Because while tasty with no fridge time, and an hour or two lets the flavors meld noticeably more and let the mounds retain some height while cooking, a bake after the three days’ rest produces tall, golden brown, chewy, gooey-on-the-inside-when-warm cookies that no other recipe has yet been able to rival. With toasted walnuts and a combo of chocolate chunks and chips of semi and bittersweet added to an amount of my preference, I can do my best to make sure when scooping that no cookie is short changed. No one will be without some nutty bites. No one will be wishing for more chocolate. But there will also be no woes of wishing there was more of the incredible dough itself. It is the ultimate in celebrating the classic American cookie.
And while best right out of the oven (after letting them cool to a state where they won’t fall apart), they’re just as stellar after being wrapped and sent in a care package for a loved one. Some might say that’s when they taste best of all. Give it a try for yourself! We may not be able to have dinner parties and baking get togethers right now, but those of us who are big “acts of service” love language people can still send some homemade love via the USPS (with safety precautions taken when attending).
What have you been making that’s fueling your body and soul? What sort of food rituals are helping you manage your day? What tools have you been especially appreciating that are getting you through those new, trickier recipes? Let me know and we can commune over food feelings from a distance!