What I’m Cooking: April/May

What I’m cooking:

It was so chilly and wet for most of March and April that it was still a good time for lazy roasting and hearty stews. I had a pair of frozen tilapia filets, which I literally dropped into a stewpot full of carrots, potatoes, every green herb in my pantry, and a pint of my homemade tomato sauce slightly thinned with veggie broth. Brought to a boil, then simmered on low for awhile, the fish flaked apart and made an extremely delicious high-protein low-calorie fisherman’s stew. It was really tasty! But it also was really healthy, and thus not at all what I wanted to eat when arriving home after a cold and stressful day. Another time, a friend came over for dinner after I’d just nabbed a bunch of discount veggies at the Reading Terminal: I chopped up eggplant (and salted and drained it) and zucchini, and stirred these up with the aforementioned homemade tomato sauce and a package of premade whole wheat gnocchi. We stuck it in the oven to bake while catching up on Jessica Jones. Compared to the fish stew, gnocchi is more in line with what the heart wants when the winter drags on. However, I don’t recommend eating anything red and pulpy while watching Jessica Jones.

Have I explained my homemade tomato sauce yet? Like granola and kimchi, it’s one of those things I make in bulk once a month or so. I like tomato-based stews and currys, but am suspicious of added sugars in store-bought sauce. “Recipe” as follows:

Acquire a couple dozen overripe tomatoes (this is usually 4 or 5 $1 bags at the Reading Terminal), 1 big onion or 2 small onions, maybe a couple shallots or half a dozen garlic cloves. Very rough chop (I usually halve or quarter the tomatoes, quarter the onions, leave smaller alliums whole). Spread evenly in a single layer across my two biggest baking dishes. Salt, pepper, and coat with olive oil (no herbs and spices, which will vary according to recipe). Cover dishes with foil and roast at 425-450 degrees for 30 minutes; uncover and roast for another 15 minutes. Blend: I find my food processor more effective than the immersion blender for pulverizing tomato peels, which I can’t be bothered to remove.

Another easy watch-TV-and-make-dinner prep I’ve done several times this spring, even when it got warm and I shouldn’t have turned on my oven: broccoli, sweet potato, and turkey sausage roasted all in one pan, served on top of my leek “risotto.” I can’t believe I’m including two “recipes” in one roundup, but I also can’t believe I haven’t shared this one yet. “Risotto” is in quotation marks because there’s no parmesan and no stirring; however, the buttery leeks make the rice creamy and luxurious. This dish was a mainstay of my at-home entertaining when I was broke and finishing my dissertation.

Acquire a nice big leek or two skinny ones. Trim leek(s) to your specifications. Slice in half lengthwise, and rinse carefully between leaves (leeks are often muddy). Slice each leek half thinly into lots of little green half-moons. Sautee in about two tablespoons of butter until leeks get nice and brown, even crispy. If you have a rice cooker, you can simply plop these in with a cup of arborio rice and two cups of water. If you fancy, you can add the cup of rice directly to the buttery pan and lightly toast the grains, deglaze with a glug of white wine or sherry, and then transfer to your rice-cooking vessel of choice.

I got really hyped about spring and joined a grocery CSA, which offers semimonthly parcels of fruits and vegetables plus some miscellaneous stuff from the store. But the long winter meant that most veggies aren’t ready, so pickup has been underwhelming. We did get some rhubarb, which promptly became jam with the addition of Reading Terminal Market strawberries. We got sunchokes, which I decided to pickle–I’ll have to tell you later how that goes. And we got asparagus, which joined fava beans, chicken, and pasta in the most vernal dish I’ve been able to make so far this season.

The CSA miscellany varies widely from fresh pasta and marinara to hummus and coldpress coffee. One week we got local cream cheese (with flecks of orange marmalade) and local cherry jam, which I used to make these very simple but very delicious cookies.

What I’m looking forward to cooking:

I’m dying for fresh fruit. The strawberry rhubarb jam is nice, but the farmer’s market near my work is still mostly last fall’s apples.

Bring me the tender green herbs. I didn’t do a farmshare last spring and thus do not have my usual freezer full of parsley, fennel leaf, and basil pestos.

Spring usually brings some vegetable oddities from still-maturing plants: garlic scapes, tender pea shoots, fresh green chickpeas still in the pod. If the weather didn’t shorten or eliminate this window, I look forward to devouring baby plants.

What I’m writing:

In mid-April, I started a new writing-intensive job–although admittedly it’s not very intensive as the academic year winds down. The writing ranges from copy for ads and promo emails to longer profiles featuring students and alumni of the higher ed program that employs me. I enjoy the work, and my hope is that it will motivate rather than deplete my energy and imagination; if nothing else, I hope to have more free time for my writing now that working nights and weekends isn’t on the table.

At the end of March, I went on a writing retreat with my BFF. We spent a short weekend in a gorgeous remodeled carriage house on a farm, looking out over a pond while we sipped rye, refueling with pasta bolognese and fresh eggs from the farm’s chickens. Let me focus on the richness of the environment and not the moments I spent at my laptop, confronting the fact that I have no idea what kind of writer I am or want to be now that I am not a graduate student nor affiliated academic nor overworked content producer for a museum. I’m free range, like the chickens. And I’m pecking at some projects, but I’d rather hear about what you’re writing.

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