America's Test Kitchen

In the interest of time.

Sometimes I feel like I'm floating through the days and weeks somehow just elapse.  It's garbage day, it's laundry day, it's library day, it's pizza night.  It's a blur.  All the time I hear my Mom's echo: "my 30's came in clumps", and my 30's were no exception.  Now that I'm at the tail end of them, the elusiveness of enough time seems more than ever present in my thoughts.  If I had extra time, I'd start croissants, I'd nixtamalize some corn to make homemade masa for tortillas, I would sit in the backyard with a book.  Maybe not even a cookbook, maybe a full-fledged novel.

And I'd definitely make more recipes that I'd make time to share with my (hopefully not dwindling) group of readers.

vegetable torta

Meanwhile, I've got a new batch of cookbooks that I've been cooking heavily from.  My time in the kitchen is not as full as I'd like it to be, and yet I still make the time to delve into new recipes.  My new crush is the America's Test Kitchen The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.  The day I picked it up from the library, I made the cover recipe - a simple tomato tart with a food processor butter crust.  Last night, I made the vegetable torta (above).  I shouldn't be stunned that these were so wonderful but somehow ATK always makes me feel that way.  I know the one thing you should never do when entertaining is cook something you've never made before, but I frequently use their recipes to do just that.  

The tomato recipes were perfect for my handfuls of garden tomatoes - the precious few that the fusarium wilt didn't get.  Both recipes I tried instruct you to dust 1/4 inch thick slices of tomato with a bit of salt on paper towel for a half hour and then blot them carefully to remove some moisture.  The result is a super-tomato, meaty with the full summer flavor that by this time of the year you are trying so hard to eat enough of - to sustain you until next tomato season.

It's almost difficult to remember the days before homeschooling now, the ones where I spent a good amount of time in my day procuring and preparing food.  I remember the canning projects that I didn't need to sneak in just before bedtime, or just before suppertime.  Last week my parents brought me a bushel of tomatoes (1/2 Roma and 1/2 regular "canners") and I had no idea how I was going to get them preserved.  My Mom washed them all when we were visiting, and arranged them by ripeness on sheet pans, pans I needed to keep moving to ward off my toddler who will eat any ripening fruit or vegetable left on the counter.  The ripest 12 pounds I pureed right away in the Vitamix.  I left it stashed the puree in the fridge for a couple of days for (Local Kitchen) ketchup.  That lazing about in the fridge trick also worked well for the (Food in Jars) tomato jam: 5lbs. of tomatoes that I cooked mostly down before letting it wait in the fridge for awhile.  The last 26 lbs. of fruit I determined to roast, puree, and just can in pints.  The roasting and pureeing I did on Sunday afternoon and I finally got the canning done yesterday afternoon.  13 jars doesn't seem like all that much when it's resting on the counter.  But it is 13 weeks of pizza sauce.  I am immeasurably indebted to my Mom for canning me quarts upon quarts of whole tomatoes for the rest of our tomatoey needs!

tomato puree

The 35 minutes of general monitoring and kitchen cleanup when the tomato puree was in the water bath allowed me some thinking time.  When I have this time to think, I think of what things I could make to eat, what things I can make quickly and with pantry staples.  I think of all the things I wish my picky boy would eat, and how if he would just eat, it would be so much less stressful for me.  But there are tacos and pizza, both of which I make at least once a week and fully from scratch.  I have mastered a dozen, maybe more, pizza doughs - and I know which ones to use for the time frames I have to work with.  I can make tortillas in my sleep, and short order breakfast for dinner on a whim.  I seem to have developed all kinds of kitchen nuances that save me time and put food in our bellies.  Here are a half dozen recent time savers:

1.  Make extra rice.  Leftover rice seems to be better than rice made for the day.  It was Tamar Adler who first made me aware of this and just two days ago I turned the last of some Indian-spiced basmati into a small amount of rice pudding with currants.  One boy ate some for dessert, the other happily ate the rest for breakfast. 

2.  When grating cheese, grate the whole block.  You will use it in omelets, on tacos, for a grilled cheese, and you won't have to be bothered to stop and grate it on demand.  (Or better yet, if you have the food processor out to do something else that can stand a bit of cheese, drop large, hastily cut cubes of cheese into the running S-Blade.  It's not grated or shredded, but it's perfect for melting, sprinkling, using in general.)  If you don't think you'll use it up within a week, it actually freezes well too.

3.  Slice, dice, or chop extra vegetables.  Whatever the vegetable, onions and carrots for soup, peppers for frying or sautéing, extra prepped veg means less chopping later and more chance that I'll include them in something fast.

4.  Cold Brew Coffee.  It's definitely something I relied on all summer, but I think it will have a moment this fall as well.  I am the only coffee drinker around here, and some mornings a pause to make myself a moka pot or a cup of Aeropress is just too much to ask of me.  For mine, I coarsely grind 4 oz. of beans, soak it in 4 1/2 c. (36 oz.) filtered, room temperature water for 20 hours, then strain through a double layer of nut milk bag and decant to a quart jar.  It keeps a week in the fridge.  It's marvelous with heavy cream and a splash of maple syrup.

5.  Extra scrambled eggs.  Scrambled eggs are actually pretty good cold, and make good additions to sandwiches, tacos, and my gut when unexpected "hanger" strikes.

6.  Always soak a pound of beans.  I just recently got smart on this one.  We generally eat a half pound over a couple of days, no matter what the variety.  Making more leaves a batch for the freezer, which is good in a pinch or when I haven't planned ahead.


I could also add bread.  Always bread.  Earlier this year I was feeling bad about my lack of sourdough experimentation and a Flickr friend commented back that so many people buy the same cereal or ketchup for years and think nothing of it - and that really changed my perception of the joy of repetition.  This is my bread, it's always kind of the same, but always just a little different.  And it's good for and in everything.  In fact, America's Test Kitchen told me to use white sandwich bread in that vegetable torta, but I used my own bread to wonderful effect.  I never want for croutons or bread crumbs and when I sometimes feel sad that I don't have the time to devote to long and drawn out kitchen projects, I rest on the bread that I still can't believe I can make myself.  The moments devoted to good bread have given me back so many more minutes than I can count, and made them filled to overflowing... Reminding me all the more the reason it is a stable staple and spirit-filled entity.  If you have a good slice of bread, you have the whole world.

The flying time. (Bigger Batch Ginger Granola)

I can't really believe that I've turned into one of those once-a-month bloggers, but here it is, almost a whole 4 weeks since I wrote about anything.  Life is a maze of homemade breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; at the end of the day I have no idea how food appears in a finished form and is completely cleaned up after.  As I slink into bed, I'm fast asleep before I can make it 2 pages into a book.

For the past several years, the first day of school coincided with my birthday.  I am actually never full of birthday dread, but I kind of started feeling a sense of dread that first year I had to drop my oldest son (now 8) off for school.  I hated the idea of him leaving home, but also knew it was time.  After the first pre-K and kindergarten years, I actually started looking forward to the first day of school and more free time to myself.  The time to make laborious Daring Baker challenges.  The time to make whatever struck me as I drank my morning joe and caught up on the Internet.  The time to take myself out for coffee once in awhile and actually read in peace and quiet.

This year on my birthday, instead of extra free time, I became his teacher.  I sat with him at the kitchen table after his first homeschool lesson at my counter, one on how to make ice cream base (and other egg based custards)... because when I am intrepid of starting something, I start by doing something I know.  And you know what?  I realized that I know more than I think I do, and that he wants to learn as eagerly I always have and had always hoped he would.


He learned that eggs are really amazing things, that they can thicken things like ice cream when heated.  He learned the meaning of the word tempering, and got to see that happen.  It felt nice to see him barefooted and excited for the impending ice cream later that day as he took the first steps into learning at home.  Later, we spent the morning in the field nearby discovering insects and admiring the weather.  Something happened that I wasn't expecting: I went from that person happy to have all the time in the world to myself to the one who actually enjoyed spending time with her kid again.  It is so easy to drop him off somewhere and not take an active part in his life other than to be occasionally annoyed when he doesn't listen or doesn't pick up his Legos after the millionth time I've stepped on one.  It is a true pleasure to consider all of my actions as they affect him (and his little brother), to improve on my patience, and turn my daily life into a learning experience for him.  It's only been a week, but so far it's the best week I can remember in a long time.

079 :: 09.03.14
Hybrid sourdough, made with starter and a pinch of commercial yeast...

Maybe this doesn't leave the free time to myself as I've had in the past.  I got behind on using milk kefir and popped my culture in the fridge for the week to rest.  My sourdough starter took on a perplexing ailment about a week and half ago and I patiently nursed it back, wondering all the while if I'd have to begin again from scratch.  I thought it had been infected by a wandering mold spore, or cross contaminated by the kefir.  It didn't look or act like itself until I decided to bake anyway using the insurance of a bit of commercial yeast.  The very next day, the starter looked better: active and bubbly, sweet smelling.  Like it just knew that I was going to get serious if it didn't behave.  Just like a real boy.

More than a week ago, I decided to make my new favorite granola - a gift to myself for my birthday.  Ever since I first had it, the Bojon Gourmet's Gingersnap Granola has been my absolute favorite indulgence.  I actually didn't make it for quite a long time because I can't stop eating it.  Some time ago, I saw America's Test Kitchen make an almond granola that had similar clumping power and I figured I could combine the two recipes and come out with a bigger batch of similarly addictive gingery granola.  It's been on my mental list of things to write about for a while now, and I guess this Saturday off inspires me to get it down before it is lost to time once again.

ginger granola.

Don't forget to line the sheet pan with parchment or you will not have attractive clumps after you chisel your way to the bottom of the pan.  I only forgot once, as you can imagine.  Ordinarily, I don't like to have sugar in granola, but this I consider dessert so the small amount doesn't bother me.  In fact, if you have some of this on fresh, homemade ice cream (maybe even this new buttermilk version that Alanna made?) it's about the best dessert ever. 

Ginger Granola (adapted from the Bojon Gourmet and America's Test Kitchen)
  • 5 c. rolled oats  
  • 4 t. ground ginger
  • ½ t. allspice
  • ¼ t. cloves
  • 1 c. almonds, chopped
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 1/3 c. packed (2 1/3 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 4 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • As much chopped crystallized ginger as you like
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, toss the oats with the spices and chopped almonds.  In a 2-cup measure or equivalent, whisk maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until well blended, then whisk in oil. Pour the liquid mixture over the oats until thoroughly coated.

Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across sheet into thin, even layer (this amount makes one standard 18x13 or 17x12 sheet pan). Using a makeshift tamper (I like to use the Scottish potato masher my parents gave me, but a meat mallet or even a heavy glass would also work), compress oat mixture until very compact by tapping it into place on the pan. Bake until lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. 

You can stir in chopped, crystallized ginger, or like me, store the broken chunks of granola separately and then add them when you are ready to eat it. (Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks they say, but I think it lasts longer – if you can keep your hands out of it.)

ginger granola.

It's maybe a little less decadent by using almonds instead of  pecans, but the more utilitarian nut makes it something I can make on a whim instead of only on occasion since I always have almonds in the pantry but not always pecans.

My kitchen life seems to be changing again for now.  Things get done in a more utilitarian way, with plenty of attention to detail (since there is no removing that from my being) but maybe with less flourish.  Most mornings I seem to prep my dinner before the breakfast dishes are even cleared which is a dramatic change for me.  I find myself thinking like my great-grandmother, Gram and no doubt my Mom did, planning the next meal (or even the next several) when the current one is still on my lips.  But that's what you do when you do it from scratch. I'm imagining when I have the time to write again, I'll probably have some helpful tips for quick scratch cooking