My sourdough starter is nine months old. During the week, it lives in the fridge, but on Thursday nights I move the jar to the counter so I can feed the goo twice to revitalize it so that the natural yeast can leaven the crust on our Friday night pizza.
I won’t bore you with the details of what it takes to take care of a starter (go read this if you think it sounds intimidating), but I will tell you that to keep your starter healthy, you have to discard half of its quantity at each feeding. But by discard, I don’t mean put in the trash. Most sourdough owners find a way to use up the excess starter, and one of the post popular receptacles is pancakes. That’s why you see recipes for sourdough pancakes and sourdough waffles so often: sourdough starter plus egg and milk makes wonderful, slightly tangy pancakes. These pancakes are also easier to digest than your typical batch, because one of the features of a sourdough starter is that it works on the grains, sort of pre-digesting them, and making it easier for your body to absorb its nutrients. According to Sarah Owens, author of Sourdough, that’s why many of her customers can eat her loaves but can’t tolerate gluten in other forms.
In spring and summer, I don’t always want to weigh down my weekend mornings with huge pours of maple syrup, though, and I’ve recently started using my starter in savory pancakes. The form is easily adaptable, and I’ve found myself adding all sorts of green and root vegetables to the simple batter, then frying them up. Here, sliced spring onions add a dose of green, and cubes of cheddar melt and crisp up when you cook the cakes. Instead of butter, as I’d put in sweet cakes, I pour in a quarter cup of Pompeian Organic Olive Oil. After they’re cooked and piled up high, a dollop of yogurt on top completes the dish, making these elegant enough to serve as an appetizer when you have friends over one early evening this weekend – maybe an unexpected moment for breakfast for dinner, but why not?
To avoid the pre-spring dinner rut, I’ve put our meals on a rotation. It’s not the most creative I’ve ever been in the kitchen. But sometimes it’s more useful to have two weeks’ worth of regulars than to improvise and invent every single night, particularly when winter meals are past their prime but spring produce hasn’t yet arrived.
Here’s what’s keeping us fed and happy on a nightly basis this month:
- Linguine with Broccoli (pictured)
The best way to get your serving of green veggies: slowly cooked in olive oil, with garlic, pasta, and parm.
- Smitten Kitchen Meatballs
You cook these easy meatballs right in the sauce, and not only is the end result delicious, but the pacing of the recipe is just right (you make meatballs, chill them while sauce simmers, do something else while meatballs and sauce cook in unison). I sometimes double the recipe and freeze two-thirds.
- Aziz Ansari’s Mom’s Chicken Korma
Sounds complicated, but it isn’t. Again, the pacing really works: marinate the chicken in the morning. Later, just fry onions and hot peppers and simmer the marinated chicken. I use a hand coffee grinder to grind the spices. Best of all, this yields enough for at least two nights and gets better the next day.
Do you know what happens when you put a frozen banana in a high-powered blender with cocoa powder, peanut butter, a little sweetener, and some milk?
You make a smoothie that’s as creamy and rich as a chocolate milkshake, satisfying and filling but not indulgent.
In general, I abhor fake-y substitutions. If you want a chocolate milkshake, have a chocolate milkshake. I just have no patience for the endless list of unsatisfying trade-offs. The point of this smoothie is that it’s a solid, nutritious, and filling snack. So much the better if it’s thick, creamy, and delicious, yet won’t send you off onto a sugar high and then low.
For the last year or so I have made this smoothie so many times that I couldn’t post about it because each smoothie was different from the previous day’s. I never measured, and I used what I had, whether that was a dash of cream leftover from a dinner party’s whipped cream dessert, or a pour of oozy blackstrap molasses which boosted my calcium and iron intake when I was pregnant.
I finally tested and measured my favorite variation so that you, too, could know the filling wonder of a frozen banana-peanut butter-chocolate smoothie. I’m sharing the absolute simplest version, but I’ve made a list of possible add-ins in case you want to try the bulked-up super-nutritious one.
- If you want to make it richer, add a tablespoon or two of cream.
- If you want to make it dairy free, use homemade cashew or coconut milk.
- If you want sweeter, add another date. Or some turbinado sugar. Or some honey. Or some blackstrap molasses (see below).
- If you don’t have a frozen banana, use a ripe banana and a handful of ice cubes (but it won’t be as thick).
- If you want iron, calcium, and deep brown sugar flavor, add a little blackstrap molasses.
- If you want a taste that reminds you of candy, substitute toasted almond butter for the peanut butter.
- If you want a little tang, add a spoonful of yogurt.
- If you like chia seeds, add 1 teaspoon.
Whatever path you take, taste your smoothie directly from the blender before you pour into your glass. Depending on the ripeness and size of the banana, the sweetness and softness of your dates, and your ability to measure rather than eyeball, the smoothie will taste a little different each time. But if you’re like me, you’ll never get sick of it.
At the end of winter, food seems to need extra flavor. I’ve got lots of tricks for adding that flavor: plenty of aromatics, spoonfuls of spices, intense dried fruit, salty olives, or rich olive oil. In this chicken tagine, a hearty end-of-winter stew, I use them all. The best part is that the ingredients are all healthful, even while the standalone dish they create is hearty and satisfying. With sweet potatoes and chickpeas right in the pot, the tagine doesn’t need rice or couscous on the side.
I had the most idiotic moment in the kitchen a few months ago, when I tried to make the chickpea portion of the puréed Chickpea and Kale Soup from the Franny’s cookbook in my InstantPot.
The InstantPot is an electric pressure cooker that’s taken over the nation’s kitchens. Like any pressure cooker, it speeds up time by increasing the pressure inside the cooking environment. Everyone has her InstantPot obsession – the one dish that makes the appliance worth it. For me, it’s beans. Soaked dried beans become evenly soft in 22 minutes, a consistent outcome I have found with no other bean-cooking method.
I work from home, and one way I’ve found to make weeknight dinners part of the routine is to take five minutes here and there throughout the day to do a little prep. That might mean picking up an onion on my way back from a meeting or measuring out the soy sauce and sugar for gyudon in between calls. By the time I’m ready to really make dinner, dinner seems half made.
I know not everyone has the luxury of typing three feet from her fridge, but I thought I’d share the list of the little tasks I often do to divvy up the dinner cooking between my tired evening self and my peppier morning version. Many can be done while the coffee drips or on Sunday evenings, or even in the 10-minute layover between the office and the yoga studio. I’ve always loved food shopping (#15) during my lunch break, especially when I’ve worked near markets with speciality ingredients.
- Remove kale leaves from the stem
- Wash and dry greens (here’s how to store them if you do this more than a few hours in advance)
- Measure out ingredients
- Make sauces (like green sauce or peanut sauce)
- Pick herbs off their stems
- Marinate meat
- Air dry your chicken
- Take ingredients like butter, meat, or leftovers out of the fridge to temper
- Soak grains (or beans)
- Wash all the dishes
- Make pizza dough (it takes less than 5 minutes to stir together a batch of no-knead, and you can adjust the amount of yeast for how long you’ll be letting the dough rise as per this post on Smitten Kitchen; once you have dough, homemade pizza is basically like making grilled cheese)
- Parboil potatoes (pre-cooked potatoes roast up quicker)
- Whisk together a salad dressing
- Put sliced shallots in a bowl with vinegar (it’s the start of many a good veggie dish)
- Plunk ingredients in the slow-cooker (try onions, tomatoes, a sweet potato, olive oil, and chicken thighs)
- Go shopping
- Toast nuts (since they’re good on top of salads and quinoa bowls and wherever you need some protein)
- Roast vegetables (since they’re just as good room temp as hot)
- Grind bread crumbs and toast them
- Caramelize onions
- Chop vegetables (except onions and garlic) and store in a bowl beneath a damp paper towel