I have several hobbies, knitting, running, and writing but of all my hobbies, I enjoy cooking the most. I began cooking as a young girl both at home and with my mom’s mother who taught me to enjoy making pies from scratch and chicken divan, my favorite dinner as a kid. From the time I was about 8 I was allowed to use the oven and would make brownies and cookies and cakes. In some ways it was my first love affair with science. I loved baking because the ingredients in the batter transformed into something completely different the oven. What amazed me most was that almost all baking recipes used the same several ingredients, in differing amounts, or added to the mixture at different times and the results were amazingly varied. The fact that flour, sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla could make a simple sugar cookie or an elaborate cake still mystifies me.
For years I subscribed to Bon Appetit and now I get Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine delivered to my door every month. It is like a little gift each time it arrives. I savor it. I bring the little magazine into the den and go through it quickly first, looking at all of the recipes waiting to see the two or three (or ten) that I will make that very week. After seeing the big picture I go back through each page and read the articles, the recipe ingredients and most of the recipe instructions. I like to imagine that someday I will be living with someone who would actually eat roasted eggplant with goat cheese medallions or perhaps a roasted beet salad with walnuts and feta. Sigh. The reality is that I live with three children who are relatively adventurous as kids go but still would not embrace goat cheese anything. Another challenge is that two of my three kids are vegetarian and finding meals that can be either adapted to fit my herbivores or where the meat part can be put in half but not all makes cooking a real uphill battle sometimes. Even with these limitations I find the desire to pour over this little gem of a magazine each month compelling.
A little over a year ago, Mairen and I spent a few days taking all of the torn out pages I have collected over the years from the various cooking magazines and organized them into a cookbook of sorts. It is amazing. This weekend when the desire to cook was overwhelming, I looked through every one of the recipes I collected (many have yet to even be made) and chose some new ones to try. So with apron on and helpers all around me I cooked like crazy. I made three soups (white bean with ham, split pea with ham, and vegetarian tuscan white bean), almond sugar cookies, a triple berry crisp, and tonight we had ‘make your own calzone’ dinner with pizza dough and various fillings (Mexican beans and salsa with cheese or a traditional Italian cheese calzone). The kids loved it. We had fresh pineapple on the side and the berry crisp for dessert.
Even though I enjoy cooking all the time, I get a huge sense of pleasure and pride when I make a meal my family loves. When the meal is spent just chatting and not negotiating how much more of this or that needs to be eaten and when the family time together isn’t riddled with ‘Yuck’ and grim faces I feel that somehow I have done a better job as a mom. Silly I know. What determines whether or not I am a good mom has nothing to do with the meals I make and whether or not they are popular (in our house, there are no alternatives…whatever is on the plate is what you get) and yet when the meal is healthy, homemade and loved by everyone I can’t help but sit a little taller at the head of the table and smile.
So here are the recipes from the weekend. All winners!
Tuscan White Bean Soup (Vegetarian)
- 1 1/2 cups dried white beans
- 4-5 cups water
- 1 medium onion chopped
- about 15 mini carrots
- 1 tsp of Italian Seasoning
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper to taste
Take all of the ingredients and put them in a big pot with a lid. Bring to a boil and then simmer with a lid on for about 90 minutes until the beans are very soft. Remove bay leaf. Use an immersion blender or food mill to puree to a chunky consistency adding water if needed to adjust.
White Bean Soup with Ham
- 3 cups dried white beans
- 8 cups water
- 1 small bag of mini carrots chopped
- 2 onions chopped
- bone from spiral cut ham with meat still on the bone
- pepper to taste
Put all of the ingredients in a large stock pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 2 hours until beans are very soft and meat is falling off the bone. Remove ham bone and most of meat from soup and serve.
Split Pea Soup with Ham
- 1 small bag of split peas
- 6 cups water
- 1 onion chopped
- 1/2 bag of mini carrots chopped
- ham bone with reserved meat from previous recipe
- 1/2 cup uncooked white rice or 1 potato diced small
- pepper to taste
Take all of the ingredients and put in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and then cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for an hour or so until peas are falling apart. Remove ham bone, leaving some meat in the soup. Serve.
Almond Sugar Cookies (inspired by Melanie Dills)
- 1 1/2 cups butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp almond extract
- 3 1/2 cups flour
Beat butter and sugar and baking powder together until creamy. Add egg, vanilla and almond extracts until well combined. Add flour (the dough will be dry). Pour dough onto lightly floured counter and knead to incorporate all of the flour. Divide the dough into thirds and add different food colorings to two of the three sections, kneading it in with your hands. Shape each third into a long rectangle about 2 inches wide and stack the three doughs with the plain one in the middle. Cut off pieces about 1/4-1/2 inch thick and place so that the stripes are showing flat on a cookie sheet lined with silpat or parchment paper. Bake at 375 for 8 minutes. Don’t let them brown. Cool on tray for 5 minutes and then finish cooling on a rack. Enjoy!
Triple Berry Crisp
- 2 bags of frozen mixed berries (16 ounces each)
- 1/2 cup of dried cranberries
- 3 tbs of fresh lemon juice
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- pinch salt
For crisp topping
- 2 tbs plus 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup nuts (walnuts or pecans or even oats)
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 cup butter
- 3/4 tsp vanilla
For the filling: Take all of the ingredients and put them in a pot stirring them to get the sugar and corn starch everywhere. Let it sit for 30 minutes then cook on the stove over medium heat until gentle boil and sauce thickens (about 5 minutes after it comes to a boil) stirring constantly. Let cool while you make the crisp topping.
For the crisp: Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend.
Put filling in a sprayed deep ceramic pie dish and sprinkle topping on. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes. Cool. Enjoy!
Make Your Own Calzone (huge hit!)
Dough: You can either buy frozen pizza dough at the supermarket or make your own. To make your own:
- 1 tbs rapid rise yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 cups warm water
- 5- 5 1/2 cups flour
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 2 tsp salt
Combine yeast and sugar in a big bowl. Add warm water (just warmer than body temperature but not over 110) and let it sit for 5 minutes. When the yeast is foaming, add 2 cups of flour, the olive oil and salt and stir. Start adding as much flour as you can and then pour out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover until it has doubled (about 30-40 minutes). Punch dough down, divide in half and freeze one half. With the other half, divide it into 5 pieces, rolling and pulling the dough to form 7 inch rounds and fill.
Fillings for Make Your Own Calzones
- Pizza sauce, shredded 4 cheese Mexican cheese
- Refried beans, medium salsa and shredded 4 cheese Mexican cheese
Put filling on half of the round, fold over the dough to make a half circle with the filling inside. Pinch the sides closed and then brush lightly with olive oil. Put in a 400 degree oven for about 12-15 minutes. Yummy!
Eat like crazy, try new recipes, and make lots of food and each day will be your best.
Molly O’Shea, MD Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center