Category Archives: cook

food + (heat) = yum

11 tips to survive a weekly veggie package

Last night, we ate a roasted cauliflower salad with lemon tahini dressing that three out of four members of the family liked quite a bit. This is a significant win and I’m relieved to finally have a go-to cauliflower recipe.

We’ve been receiving a vegetable package weekly from the Lijsterbes in Groesbeek for about a year now. It is, in many ways, a dream come true for me. And yes, I know that’s a weird thing to dream about. But locally grown organic produce delivered to my doorstep once a week is just plain awesome.

It’s also often a pain. I get occasionally get vegetables that I have to google (in Dutch) and then find recipes for (preferably in English). We’ve eaten quite a few dishes that we won’t ever repeat again.

And the potatoes.

For most of the year, we get about a pound of potatoes a week. This can lead to a two or three week surplus. We don’t even get the family size package, we get one for 2-3 people. The family size package, which we had for the first few months, left us drowning in potatoes.

Despite the griping, I’m a huge fan of our veggie package and look forward to it every week. It’s challenged my cooking and the family’s taste buds nearly every week and taught me to become a more flexible meal planner.

I was doing some deep thinking about all this while clearing the dishwasher this morning and decided to pass on some veggie package survival tips to you. Here we go…

  1. Be flexible. There’s a list on-line every week of what we can expect in our package, but things happen on a farm and sometimes we get something different or they indicate a number of options that we’ll get one of. Scan the list and let your mind wander with ideas, but don’t settle on a plan until you’ve got the vegetables in hand.
  2. Store for cooking. Clean and prep your veggies as much as you can when they arrive. Store them properly to make sure they don’t go bad before you get a chance to use them. Fresh vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness. Take good care of them!
  3. Cook the most delicate veggies first. Sturdy veggies like zucchini and cauliflower will store in the fridge for a while. Leafy greens need to be cooked within a couple days of arrival and stored well in the meantime. Cleaning and storing your greens properly will help them last a lot longer.
  4. Find default recipes. The go-to cauliflower recipe is a big deal because it saves me time when the next cauliflower arrives. I know my family will enjoy this and that most of the ingredients are in the pantry. I’ve also got a bok choi default (this one is similar) and if there’s fennel we eat risotto. Find recipes you all like and keep them handy.
  5. Use accommodating recipes. Dishes like quiche, frittatas, omelets, risottos, and couscous can be varied as much as you dare. Once you master a frittata, it doesn’t matter much whether you put leftover roasted veg and cheddar cheese in them or beet greens and feta (image above). The principle is the same, and the shopping doesn’t change much, even if the filling does.
  6. Stock your pantry. It isn’t fun to rush out of the house every Thursday afternoon to get all the ingredients we need for dinner, so I keep a well stocked pantry. There are a zillion how to stock your pantry lists on-line. Pick one or watch your own eating habits and then stock up. I make sure to have different types of beans, canned tomatoes, pasta in shapes and long, rices, nuts, and some grains. We also keep a well stocked spice cabinet and fresh herbs in the garden are a huge plus.
  7. Maintain your shopping list. When the last can of beans comes out of the pantry, it goes on the shopping list in the kitchen before I open it. The same is true for oils, grains, jams, and anything else we stock up on. This habit means we don’t run into emergencies with pantry basics.
  8. Search by ingredients. Working from my pantry and the veggies when they arrive (or three days later, who knows!), search for recipes by ingredient or meal part. I found the cauliflower recipe by searching for cauliflower salad. Yesterday, we also ate roasted veggies with haloumi after I searched “broad beans haloumi.” You’ll find some surprising and surprisingly delicious combinations out there.
  9. Pay attention to prep work. When you find a recipe, read through it and make sure it isn’t going to take three hours in the kitchen to get dinner on the table. Read the entire recipe and calculate how long each step will take you, including cleaning those mud caked potatoes.
  10. Substitute with gusto. Ingredient lists are suggestions. You don’t have to use a particular type of lettuce or cheese to produce a satisfying dish. Learn the properties of the ingredients and then look for a substitute that will work. Chèvre is a soft, salty white cheese. Feta will probably work fine. Swiss chard is a tough green. Beet greens or a bok choi or a delicate cabbage will work fine.
  11. Think in terms of threes. I grew up on meat/starch/veg. Without meat, we enjoy our meals best when there are at least three different dishes, which means three different taste/texture/color combinations. Make sure there’s a bean or nut somewhere, something green, and something with a bit of starch. Eggs are satisfying and infinitely variable. The variation in dishes makes for a much more satisfying meal.

So, in the world of surviving a surprise veggie delivery every week, a cauliflower go-to-recipe is a pretty big deal for me. I just checked what we’re getting this week. After a one week break from potatoes (the winter stock ran out) – we’re getting new potatoes this week. Thank goodness I have a default recipe for them: New potato, tomato, and boiled egg salad. It’s a 4/4, we all love it.

Do you get a weekly veggie package? How do you cope?

Back in the Saddle

Surpise! That's me and Pumpkin at the Open Air Museum in May 2016.
Surpise! That’s me and Pumpkin at the Open Air Museum in May 2016.

In the way that life is full of big and little surprises, it is entirely possible to look up one day and realize you have not written a blog post in over a year. It’s entirely possible that you are unable to recount or even really understand all the little turns life has taken in the time since that last post. So I’m setting all that aside. I love writing, I miss writing, and I’m getting back into it starting… now.

Earth Apple Studio as a one-lady late-night fabric-loving free-for-all is effectively on hiatus. In January 2015, I started a full-time job that has taken a lot of my energy, both with regards to working for someone else again and trying to learn to manage a household and work. Both have proven to be very challenging (no surprise there). While I’m sure it’s fascinating to hear about how I’m balancing those things (or not), frankly I think it’s boring.

More interesting to me these days are the challenging of dealing with my first ever weekly organic farm vegetable delivery. It’s from the Lijsterbes in Beek and I am thoroughly overwhelmed by it and loving it. They have introduced me to green garlic (awesome). They challenge me to find ways for our family to consume a full head of lettuce every week. Once, there were two. It’s harder than it sounds and also tough on a girl who is into her menu planning (me). Now, the main ingredients arrive on Thursday, looking at me and sometimes, I swear, laughing. It’s also a wonderful challenge. It sends me to my cookbooks and the internet, alternatively searching for inspiration or searching for a recipe that fits an idea. The kids are excited to have a big bag of veg every week but also less than impressed with some of the new recipes. It’s a little drama all its own, this veggie package.

As they always are, things are shifting. Lately, I have found myself thinking about this blog and writing and all the things it gives me. Writing has always been an way to work through things – cheap therapy perhaps. It’s a way to clarify and distill thoughts. So I’ve been thinking about what to write. The problem there is that trying to figure out how to do it right got in the way of doing it at all. The result? A decision to just write again. The rest will follow (it usually does).

Sound interesting to you? I hope it does. Drop me a note in the comments. Any encouragement, requests, or bad jokes (I love them!) are greatly appreciated!

In My Kitchen: Reality Check

Reality Check in my kitchen

Reality Check in my kitchen

Reality Check in my kitchen

Reality Check in my kitchen

Reality Check in my kitchen


I’m playing along with Heather over at Beauty that Moves. Here’s a look at what’s going on in my kitchen!

It has been quite the week in our house. We’ve had a bit of illness, a bit of last minute birthday parties in Germany, and a bit of getting ready for a long trip to grandma and grandpa. I’m feeling worn out and excited all at the same time. I’m taking a break from my meal planning series. Now’s a great time to catch up on soup, pantry, and fish days. I’ll do pasta next week.

As much as I’d love to be sharing pictures of yummy food, the fact is that most of our meals came together in a blur this week. Soup never happened, I think we ate leftovers. On Tuesday I made Indian food that only the adults liked. Last night I walked in the door at six, cooked like crazy for 45 minutes, and then at dinner Peanut told us he’d eaten fries and frikandel at the birthday party. In other words, Pumpkin wasn’t hungry after a roll late in the afternoon and Peanut had already had dinner. We could have eaten those Indian leftovers at least half an hour earlier. I could only laugh.

Today’s a reality check, because after dropping kids off at school, this is what I came home to. A kitchen in need of a attention that mirrors pretty much every other part of the house and, to a certain extent, my life just now. There were shoes left on the mat from Pumpkin playing shoe store yesterday morning. There were dirty dishes in the sink and clean dishes in the dishwasher. Our breakfast tray was still on the table (this is how we try to be efficient with getting bread toppings to the table in the morning).

My first move on entering this mess was to make a cup of coffee and attack the situation the only way I know how: make a plan. I used the last of the milk and managed a half-a-cappuccino. The lists have been made and I do believe I’m ready to tackle this day. Wish me luck!


Let me know how things are going in your kitchen, then click that link and go see more kitchens at Beauty that Moves.

In My Kitchen: Fish

First Chestnuts!

Pancakes for School

Fish Day


I’m playing along with Heather over at Beauty that Moves. Here’s a look at what’s going on in my kitchen!

This week started with a considerable collection of chestnuts from our first collection trip ever. It was fun. I haven’t perfected the art of roasting in the oven, but I will eventually. We also celebrated Peanut’s sixth birthday. One of the great things about living in the Netherlands is that pancakes count as treats. The kids love them! Dutch pancakes for kids are thin, pan sized, covered with powdered sugar, and rolled. I modified our American pancake recipe with a bit of extra vanilla sugar and a big wallop of cinnamon. I cooked the sliced apples briefly on the griddle and then popped them on top of the batter cooked side down. After they finished cooking, I rolled them up and held it all together with a toothpick. A relatively easy and relatively healthy birthday treat. Whew!

But the thing I was planning to write about was psrt three of my meal plan series. I covered soup and pantry days over the past two weeks, so now it’s time for fish. For reasons I cannot explain, fish continues to feel like an intimidating food. Maybe it’s because I so rarely have a fish eating experience that really satisfies. I like my fish fresh, light, and tasty. Soaked in sauce or battered and fried do little for me. While I’ve long wanted to do more fish cooking, only this fall have we successfully added a fish day to our menu.

It might be more accurate to call Wednesday market day. There is a market in a neighborhood near us on Wednesday mornings so Pumpkin and I bike down after dropping Peanut off at school. We have two goals; fish and our bread and olive lunch. The Wednesday market is a fairly sensible market. It’s neither organic nor gourmet, just good food and friendly people. There’s one stand with all pet foods. There’s another with sewing notions and a gentleman who fixes zippers. Is that not genius?

So, every Wednesday we bike over and get ourselves some fish. It’s fresh and delicious. We’re big fans of salmon but I don’t want to risk salmon fatigue. I’ve had the food fatigue experience before with both shrimp and crab. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing! We’ve fallen into a salmon every other week rhythm, which means I get to try something different every other week. So far, we’ve also tried tarbot (heavy, the kids didn’t like it so much) and halibut (very light and flakey, I loved it).

We’ve gradually been reducing our meat consumption over the years and are at an all-time low. It’s also usually our only meat-and-potatoes type meal all week. On salmon nights, we have salmon steaks pan-fried with a good seasoning of salt and pepper. I add a Turkish pepper to the adult pieces. A friend gave it to me ages ago and it’s the best spice in my cupboard. After doing a bit of research, I think it’s urfa pepper. Pan fried on a low heat, the salmon turns out beautiful every time. Boiled and broiled potatoes are a scrumptious accompaniment.

Do you have a favorite fish recipe that we should try? I’m always looking for new ideas!


Let me know how things are going in your kitchen, then click that link and go see more kitchens at Beauty that Moves.

Picture: Fish stand & bread & olive lunch

In My Kitchen: Pantry day

Stocking the fruit bowl

Big beans!

Cilantro and Parsley - fall bliss!


I’m playing along with Heather over at Beauty that Moves. Here’s a look at what’s going on in my kitchen!

I’ve been getting a lot of help in the kitchen this week. That little girl likes nothing better than to help, help, help!

This is the second week in my series elaborating on our meal plan. Last week I wrote about soup day and shared two recipes. This week, I want to tell you about pantry day. Pantry day was inspired by an entry on my Flow magazine 2014 daily calendar. One day back in July, I read, “Look in your pantry and make a meal tonight from products that should have found their way to your tummy months ago. Good for your wallet and your overflowing pantry.” The tip came from Els Jacobs’s book Vrolijk huishouden. It’s also good for reducing dinner time stress and saves you a trip to the grocery store.

I keep a pantry and a full freezer for basic, emergencies, and bargains. Keeping basics means when the olive oil runs out during the middle of cooking, I can walk to the pantry and get a new bottle. Crisis avoided. Emergencies arise when a trip to the grocery store doesn’t work out or you get to add a person or four to your dinner table. A well-stocked pantry and freezer means you can put together a last minute meal. Hopefully it will also be an easy, non-thinking, mid-week type meal. Finally, having extra storage space for food means I can take advantage of sales and deals at different stores. Sales here are usually buy one get one free, so you can really save money buy buying when your favorite jam is on sale. I shop at about three different grocery stores regularly, one in my neighborhood for incidentals, one larger shop that has everything we need, and one in Germany that has broader selections of organic products and some great deals. I make the Germany trip once every three weeks and a lot of what I buy there goes into the pantry.

Adding a pantry day to our meal plan was a way to make myself use the staples I’ve bought along the way that I either bough too much of (soup pasta and polenta, of all things) or bought after being inspired by a new cookbook and then put aside (spelt and gerst – what is gerst?!). The good news is that I love polenta. That, however, was one of the easier items on the shelf and I’m going to have to tackle some more intimidating purchases and a whole lot of Chinese food in the coming weeks.

The happy ending to all this is that I’ve got more space in the pantry after just a month of eating out of the pantry once a week. I’m also more careful about what I buy to put on the shelves. That means I’m also spending a bit less at the grocery store every week. With less clutter in the pantry, it’s becoming more and more clear what I need to keep in stock and what can go on a shopping list if I plan to use it. Canned tomatoes in the pantry is good. Eight cans might be a bit of overkill. As an extra bonus, I’m less inclined to let special items sit and get forgotten. We received a delicious tapenade from friends and have been enjoying it shamelessly. There’s a seductive honey and nuts concoction sitting on the edge of the shelf now waiting for it’s turn. Neither of us can wait!

By now, you’re dying to know what actually keep in the pantry, right? Here’s a list of some things I like to keep in stock.

Pantry Freezer
olive oil
sunflower oil
flour
sugar
salt
pasta
vanilla sugar
yeast
jam
honey
peanut butter
tinned tomatoes
corn
beans
onions
garlic
condensed milk
baking soda
extra box of dishwasher tabs
walnuts
raisins
frozen peas
fruit for smoothies
blanched, frozen beans
butter, salted and unsalted
grated cheese
homemade broth
homemade pizza sauce
homemade pizza dough
bread
ground beef
sausage
homemade soups
homemade stews
homemade pasta sauce


Let me know how things are going in your kitchen, then click that link and go see more kitchens at Beauty that Moves.

Twitter: flowmagazine

In My Kitchen: Soup

Frozen broth
Adding frozen broth to a recipe

Freezer containers of "base"

1/4 cup servings of base to add to soup
Soup in the make
Quick homemade soup that’s actually homemade


I’m playing along with Heather over at Beauty that Moves. Here’s a look at what’s going on in my kitchen!

I got a lot of positive feedback on my meal planning post and thought it would be interesting to share a bit about how I fill in my theme days. During the school year, Monday is soup night. We have soup, bread, and cheese. It’s a great meal for us that is comfort food, relatively easy to make, and fun to eat. This week, I thought I’d share some tricks we have for making soup making even easier and a favorite recipe.

With only a few variations, soup making comes down to chopping up vegetables, adding broth, and cooking. Sauteing the vegetables before adding broth adds depth of flavor. Pureeing before serving is another option. Adding pasta, beans, or grains before serving is also good. As an added bonus, kids can usually help with soup making. School is out at one o’clock on Mondays, so it’s nice to have a dinner project that we can do together if the kids are interested. It’s also always cozy to have a big pot cooking away on the stove while we fill our afternoon.

I like to make broth from scratch. It sounds so time consuming, but it’s not and I prefer broth from live vegetables to broth from mystery powder. I’ve done it a couple ways. One involved saving all my “clean-ish” veggie cuttings. Think onion peels, carrot peels, ends of zucchini and so on. I keep them in the fridge until I had a bag full and then cooked it up in water for 15 minutes or so. Lately, I’ve been doing a cleaner version. The tops of a couple leeks that I’m planning to cook the coming week, a couple pieces of celery, a carrot (we get gigantic carrots in the Netherlands called winterpeen that are great for this), peppercorns, and a bay leaf. When I make it, I usually end up with enough for two or three batches of soup.

You can freeze extra broth in one-liter zip-lock bags. Put the empty bag into a liter measuring cup, fill it with strained unsalted broth, close the bag most of the way, squeeze out air bubbles, close it up, label it, and put it in the freezer. It’s a good idea to put something heavy on top of the bag so it freezes flat. A bag left on its own freezes with a bulge in the middle. Flat bags are easy to file in my freezer drawers and defrost just a bit quicker. The bags usually develop get a tiny hole somewhere when they freeze. When I take them out to use, I put them in a large bowl catch the drips. The other alternative is to tear the bag open and drop a big old frozen broth tablet right in the pot and let the stove do the work. It’s liquid broth within 5 or 10 minutes.

I also freeze batches of base and red pepper. The base is sauteed onion, carrot, and celery. The red peppers are sauteed with onion until tender and then whizzed with the hand blender. I put the base in small containers and freeze the red peppers in ice cube trays. In a pinch, I have been known to put together a bean soup with a base cube, a few cubes of red peppers, water or frozen broth, and soaked beans. It’s like magic!

The most popular soup at the moment is beef barley soup. We eat it once every three weeks, the Monday after my butcher trip. It’s very simple: chop an onion, a couple carrots, and a couple celery sticks. Cook them in water with a piece of soup beef (I usually use a shank slice), a bay leaf, and a can of tomato. Cook on low heat for a couple hours until the meat is tender. Take out the meat, shred it, and return it to the pot. 20 minutes before serving, add barley or pasta (alphabet pasts is a huge hit right now). When the past is done, season and the soup is ready.

A couple weeks ago I made a last minute soup came up with a new winner. I haven’t worked it out to a recipe, but I’ll be using the framework again soon! I chopped up an onion, red pepper, bit of leftover raw pumpkin, and carrot and sauteed them. Add one container of base and broth. Once the veggies were tender, I whizzed it with a hand blender. Then, I added a big dollop (3-4 Tbsp) of tahini and whizzed it again. Total nutty creamy soupy bliss.

I’d love to share some new recipe idea. What are your favorite soups?


Let me know how things are going in your kitchen, then click that link and go see more kitchens at Beauty that Moves.

In My Kitchen: Meal Planning

Greens from the Garden

Purple and Green Basil Delight!

Polenta before

Plenta (joy!)

Summer Veg

Sandkuchen


I’m playing along with Heather over at Beauty that Moves. Here’s a look at what’s going on in my kitchen!

So excited that Heather’s back this week! I got all excited about joining in after a long summer ended up writing a rather emotional little post last week. But I also realized that I’ve come to rely on this weekly sharing for some good inspiration for my own kitchen. Cooking every day is a job that requires serious creativity. The ladies who share give me ideas about using ingredients, different combinations, and even meal plans. Most importantly, they remind me what’s in season here and elsewhere and just how beautiful the obligatory time we spend in our kitchens can be – if we let it!

Around here, school is starting here. One of our big shifts from summer into fall is that the after-work schedule picks up and I’m on my own with the kids a couple nights a week. As with all things in my life, this kind of situation requires some kind of strategy and hopefully a list or seven. Over the past few years, I’ve tried different approaches to meal planning and learned a few lessons along the way. My introduction to meal planning was a decision when we lived in Chicago to make pizza on Fridays. It had more to do with a new mixer and an obsession with learning to make a good yeast dough than simplifying our eating. Meal planning has evolved since then. I thought I’d share my current plan and maybe get to hear back what others are doing!

Working with themes or categories has turned out to be my favorite system. It limits my choices when planning a particular day and encourages me to look for meals that fit within the categories and make the family happy. I try to keep an updated list of favorites by category and that can help if I’m not feeling inspired. I plan a week or two weeks in advance, often just before grocery shopping. Sometimes I get to spend some quality time with a favorite cookbook and will fill in days with meals that fit the category. Here’s the game plan for this season with a current favorite for each category!

  • Monday: Soup (beef barley soup)
  • Tuesday: Pantry (polenta)
  • Wednesday: Fish (salmon steaks)
  • Thursday: Pasta (pasta salad)
  • Friday: Pizza (four-cheese pizza)
  • Weekend: one big meal, one easy meal
  • The schedule is flexible. This week, for example, it was just me and the kids on Wednesday but we’ll all be home on Thursday, so we are swapping fish and pasta. The actual plan lives in my agenda/weekly planner. I make a little colored box on each day right over the dinner hours and write the meal plan in there. It works well because any notes about going out to eat are right there. Notes about anyone eating elsewhere are there as well.

    As for this week’s pictures, the garden hasn’t been the massive bonanza I hoped for this year, but look at those beautiful greens! They were delicious, although my attempt at spelttoto (River Cottage Veg strikes again) wasn’t so nice. It may have something to do with using the wrong spelt. Ahem. As for the basil, I feel like I cracked the code this year! We have four happy, healthy basil pots on the window sill and enjoy eating from them once or twice a week. No pesto volumes yet, but this is fantastic!

    We have (or maybe I have) fallen hard for the River Cottage Veg polenta recipe. It is incredibly delicious, rich, and cheesy with so little work! It was divine with the veggies. It’s something about the buttery zucchini and sweet tomato sauce and cheesy polenta… I must stop or find myself in the kitchen making more! I ended up adding quite a bit more milk both times I made it, but that could be due to the type of polenta I’m using. I’d be curious about other peoples’ experiences.

    The cake is Sandkuchen that we decided to make when all other afternoon plans fell through due to first-week-of-first-grade exhaustion. I’ve got a thing for the Dr. Oetker recipes that’s related to a couple childhood years in Germany. The surprise ingredient in Sandkuchen is corn starch, as much corn starch as flour. It gives the cake a nice dense texture. Delicious!

    Let me know how things are going in your kitchen, then click that link and go see more kitchens at Beauty that Moves.

    In My Kitchen

    Beans from the garden

    Lamb Shank

    Stew start

    Frozen broth

    I’m posting along with Heather over at Beauty that Moves. Have a read and then pop on over to see more at her site!

    This week, we’ve had a bit of garden bounty and a whole lot of family bounty. My sister and her husband spent a few days with us and we got to share meals together, which is really one of the best things about having house guests. It wasn’t particularly warm, so I made some stew!

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    In My Kitchen

    Oregon Sugar Snap Peas

    Peas: Kelvedon Wonder & Oregon Sugar Snap

    Lettuce

    Mint

    I’m playing along with the In my Kitchen day over at Beauty that Moves. Go have a look!

    So clearly, I’m a bit obsessed with the things that come out of the garden and pretty much sticking my camera as close to them as I can. What can I say – looking at the world this way is inspiring! It’s so easy to not see the veins on a lettuce leaf or the little knob on a pea when they’re usually in bunches and handfuls. But when I stop and look at those details, I get a little shiver. They are just so beautiful and each piece is unique.

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