The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes. -Julia Child

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spinach and Brown Rice Pilaf with Feta


My kitchen is full of printouts of recipes I discover when I'm at work. I print them out and save them for when I'm ready. Some I get to within the week; some I've had for months. This recipe didn't even make it 24 hours.

Silky spinach meets hearty brown rice and tangy feta in this Greek-inspired dish. You'll have doubts when this first goes in the pot - it looks like a giant pot of watery spinach filled with rice that will never cook. But it will cook. And it'll be quite tasty when it is done, I promise. I served this as a one-dish meal with some chunks of lemon pepper baked tofu on top.

Modifications from the original: The original called for jasmine rice and fresh spinach. I used brown rice for the health benefits as well as because that is what I had in my pantry. I also used a mix of fresh and frozen spinach, in an effort to test to see if this recipe could be made using either one. In the end - I don't think it matters. This dish cooks for a good 40 minutes, so using fresh doesn't really seem to matter. Use whichever is available; obviously starting with frozen chopped spinach rather than fresh will save you the cleaning/chopping time.

Spinach and Brown Rice Pilaf with Feta
Inspired by Kim O'Donnel

1/4 cup olive oil
3 small onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup brown rice
1 pound spinach, chopped (frozen or fresh)
Salt and black pepper
1 cup chopped fresh dill
Dash of nutmeg
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 pound feta, crumbled

In a 4-quart saucepan or other large pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat.
Add onions and garlic and cook until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes.
Stir in rice and cook for about 2 minutes, allowing the rice to absorb some oil.
Stir in spinach in small batches, waiting for each batch to wilt a bit before adding more. (If using those bricks of frozen spinach, just toss the whole brick in and break it up as the contents reach a boil.)
Stir in 1/4 tsp salt and a generous pinch of fresh ground black pepper.
Add 2 cups of water and turn up heat to bring mix to a boil.
Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 30-40 minutes (or until rice is almost cooked), stirring occasionally.
Add the dill and nutmeg. Cook for another 10 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed, and the rice is thoroughly cooked.
Add another generous pinch of salt (up to 1/4 tsp) and more fresh black pepper to taste.
Stir in the lemon juice.
Transfer to serving dish and crumble feta on top.

Verdict? Wonderful. The spinach got nice and creamy, the lemon juice and feta imparted a nice contrasting tang, and the dill gave the whole thing an extra "fresh" taste. Serve as a main dish topped with a protein of your choice or as a great side.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Beet and Potato Hash


Beets have been a relatively new addition to my diet. I don't recall them being around when I was a kid. As an adult I always just thought of them as those red things in salad bars. I liked them well enough, but that was about it.

One day I decided to buy some on a whim when I was food shopping, because they looked so pretty - in a happy earthy way. I just roasted them in olive oil with salt and rubbed the skins off when done. I ate these sliced over some mixed salad greens and was hooked.

My beet adventures have since continued, bringing us to this recipe. This comes to us by way of, originally titled "Red Flannel Hash." It was intended to be a breakfast recipe, but it made a wonderful dinner alongside a green salad with vinaigrette.

What's great about this recipe is that the ingredients store very well. This is the sort of recipe you can shop for a week or more ahead of time. Another thing that was great about this recipe? Eating it. I really enjoyed the homey feel of the pan-cooked potatoes mixed with the different texture and slightly sweet flavor from the beets. And everything is better with an egg on top, in my humble opinion...

Oh - I almost forgot! I made a special purchase for this meal: my first cast iron skillet. Unfortunately it isn't quite up to snuff as far as seasoning and having that lovely natural non-stick coating, so I experienced quite a bit of sticking. A way to avoid this would be to stir the hash more often, but don't do it so often as to prevent the potatoes from forming nice crunchy crusty bits; that is part of the point. If you don't have cast iron, any oven-proof skillet will do. Avoid rubber handles (that probably goes without saying) and non-stick coatings (which can become toxic when exposed to high temperatures such as used here). Look for more cast iron recipes soon, as I've been saving them up for when I finally got one!

Modifications from the original: I just used whatever kind of potatoes I had on hand - Russet, I think. I mixed red and golden beets. The color from the red beets still dominates everything, but there now are a few lovely yellow undertones as well. The original also calls for a half cup of chopped parsley to be stirred in just before the eggs - to be honest, I just forgot to do this and don't feel as though the dish suffered much. So if you have the parsley on hand, go for it (or any other fresh herb you're a fan of), if not - don't sweat it. Also - I added some other seasonings as detailed below. Unfortunately I neglected to measure these out. So - taste as you add. But it will be hard to go wrong with any sort of salty/peppery/herby combination on this; even seasoned salt would do nicely.

Beet and Potato Hash
Adapted from

1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 medium potatoes, diced to about 1/2" cubes
2 red beets, diced
2 golden beets, diced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
dash of paprika
dash of cayenne
dried oregano
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 450.
Add vegetable oil to skillet and place in preheated oven for about 5 minutes, until the oil is shimmering.
Remove skillet from oven and stir in the potatoes, beets, onion, and garlic. Add salt and pepper. Put skillet back in oven and roast for about 50 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time (or more if your skillet is not non-stick). Add the remaining spices at the halfway mark. Taste for salt.
When the potatoes and beets are cooked through, remove the skillet from the oven and stir the hash. Create four indentations in the hash and crack an egg in each. Return skillet to oven until eggs are cooked to desired level, about 6-9 minutes.
Serves 2-4.

Verdict? Loved it. I'll be eating this again for sure. I love savory breakfasts, I love eggs, I love beets. I wish I still had the leftovers...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

New blog name - Commonplace Kitchen


I'm really not as self-deprecating as the original "Hello world!" post (in conjunction with the blog name) suggested. I think this will work better: Commonplace Kitchen.

"Commonplace" because I'm not doing anything super special (in the kitchen or in this blog); I think everyone is capable of doing the same, if not much better. As I said - I'm no pro.

But I also like thinking of "common place" i.e., how the kitchen becomes a gathering spot for all in the house. You know how it goes at parties; despite the fact that the rest of the house is cozy and inviting, everyone winds up hanging out in the kitchen. It has its own draw.

So - Commonplace Kitchen it is. Let's go!

Quick detour - I thought I'd explain a bit more about what it is I plan to do here. Most of the content will be recipes, usually falling into one of three categories: 1) non-recipe: These are simple recipes that usually don't need any sort of measurements.
2) re-recipe: These are recipes I saw elsewhere. I will post a review of the recipe as well as the recipe itself. I will cite the original source so if you like the recipe you can find more like it.
3) me-recipe: These are my own creations.

I will also discuss related things such as specific foods/food products, kitchen equipment, etc. And, of course, there will be some digressions. Welcome again.

Brown Sugar Carrot Bread


I made some Bahn Mi the other night and shredded WAY too much carrot. I did a bit of cookbook surfing to try to decide what to use the leftover on. I was thinking carrot souffle, pudding, maybe cake... When I stumbled across this recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman I had to try it.

Modifications from the original: less lemon zest because I couldn't bear to make more than one lemon naked, no nuts because I'm allergic, shredded instead of grated carrot because that's what I had, golden raisins because they seemed like a good addition and I had them on hand.

Brown Sugar Carrot Bread Recipe
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

4 Tbsp butter
2 cups flour
1 cup dark brown sugar (okay, I was a bit short so it was more like 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/8 white sugar, 1/8 Splenda for baking).
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup fruit juice (I used a tropical mix - pear, pineapple, papaya, guava, mango, etc.)
1 tsp lemon zest
1 egg
1 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 9x5 loaf pan.
Mix together dry ingredients. Cut in the butter (either by hand or using food processor).
Beat juice, zest, and egg together. Pour wet mixture into dry and stir just until blended.
Fold in carrot and raisins.
Pour into loaf pan and spread into all corners.
Bake for an hour (was 65 mins for me) or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool in pan on rack for 15 mins, then remove from pan.

Verdict? Pretty good. I'd stay closer to the hour cooking time if you're using a metal baking pan, as my crust was fairly thick considering how moist the inside stays (meaning it was tough to cut a pretty slice). Then again, that could have been a result of me slicing it while still warm because I couldn't wait. It was pretty sweet but in a nice, earthy way. I probably could have gotten away with just the 3/4 cup of brown sugar just fine.

Edit: After letting it cool fully, the bread sliced wonderfully. So don't be impatient like I was. The crumb also looks/feels better in the cooled-off version than it does in my close-up pic. But I think it looks yummy either way...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A first/the first: Stock


Where to start? Stock. It seems appropriate. I've been cooking for a while, developing skills. But this is the first time I've made my own stock. an important step.

Stock, I've come to learn, can make or break a lot of recipes. A risotto, for example, made with bad stock will largely taste like...bad stock. Buying stock/broth/whatever is expensive. A quart of stock can easily run a few dollars.

So - I decided to make my own. You should try it too. Veggie stock, because, as you'll come to know, I don't mess with meat.

What I did - collected scraps of veggies I cooked with in a gallon size zipper bag in the freezer. By the time the bag was full this included broccoli stalks, cabbage leaves, the woody parts of asparagus, brussels sprouts leaves, carrot peelings, portobello mushroom stems, onion cuttings, swiss chard stems, and probably a few other things in there. I put the bag in my largest cooking vessel - an 8 quart stockpot (wow, it actually got used for stock for the first time in its life!). I threw in a half head of garlic (whole, with as many of the outer papery layers removed as could be done in five seconds), half an onion I had in the fridge, some white button mushrooms, a handful of peppercorns, and some dried herbs (thyme, rosemary, parsley, basil, oregano - in decreasing order of amount of use). I added a few tablespoons of soy sauce because I read somewhere that that was good for flavor. Oh, and 5 very small bay leaves. And salt, lots of salt - I used a few large pinches of some pink jurassic sea salt I've had for a while. That's pretty much it, boiled that for an hour and a half, and done. Strain it, cool it, store it. I probably will freeze mine in small containers, about a cup or two each, for easy use. Some recommend freezing the stock in ice trays so you can just use as much or as little as you'd like at once. Yogurt containers are great for this, too. Discard/compost the leftover veggies.

Note that a lot of people will tell you to avoid using anything of the cabbage family in your stock - such as, well, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. - because it will allegedly overpower the taste of the stock. The same goes for asparagus. I used them and am happy with my stock taste, but your mileage will vary.

Non-recipe for veggie stock:

Scraps of vegetables (enough to fit a 1 gallon bag)
Handful of peppercorns
A couple of shakes of favorite herbs
Enough water to almost fill the stockpot

Boil for 1-2 hours.
Save (money).

All my little containers of stock in the freezer. I made about 10 cups, but you can make more or less depending on how much water you start with and how long you boil it.

Hello world!


Ignore that title. That is something I learned in that intro programming class that I barely passed (thanks, tutor Kate!). (Apologies to Prof. S.)

The world is ending. I created a blog. I kind of hate them, but a wee bit of self-loathing never hurt anyone, did it?

Anyhow - why are we here? I have little special to say. But I read a lot of other people's food blogs, and some of them are great, and some aren't. I figure I can make this a pretty mediocre effort and still someone might like it.

Who cares kitchen?
1) That is my general thought about blogs. Who cares? I'm not interested in what you think the sexiest bath product is or why you're too cool to own a television or...whatever.
2) I don't expect any of you to think that I have anything amazing to say. I expect a lot of you to read my posts and think "who cares?" (And by "a lot" I mean the three people I'll probably share this with.)
3) I plan to post a lot about my kitchen experiments. For a lot of you, food is irrelevant. So you'd also probably think "who cares?" when reading this.
4) They will indeed be kitchen experiments, because I'm no pro. And for that reason, a lot of you will wonder who cares about what a kitchen novice has to say. There will be some recipes. There will be a lot of non-recipes. There will be randomness about which many of you will not give a crap.
5) But hopefully at least one or two of you will care. And for that reason, I titled this "who cares" instead of "nobody cares kitchen."
6) I'm not a writer. The prose here will not be good. So if you're looking for a beautifully written blog - surf on.
7) There are a few things I do care a great deal about. They will make appearances here from time to time. Who cares? Well, I do.