Lest you should think that all of my culinary headspace is now filled with visions of sliced apples in peanut dip, fruit salad, fruit smoothies (this week's classroom adventure; I'm bringing in the blender, lord help me), and whatever else I and my hungering students can manage to cook with no kitchen, no budget and no time, let me hasten to assure that it is not so. I have been cooking at home.
Cooking quite a lot, as a matter of fact. I wouldn't exactly say cooking with a vengeance, but there's just something about nascent fall weather, even when it's by turns humid and strange and rainy and brilliant. It makes me want to cook. Recently our kitchen has been graced with goodies such as chili-lime chicken, baked ziti, apple cobbler, buttermilk-brined pork chops, chicken with forty cloves of garlic (more like 60, really), orzo with peppers and cheese, chili-cheese meatloaf and fresh cornbread, apricot-almond coffee cake, braised lamb shanks with mashed potatoes, Coca-Cola ham and fresh corn pudding, chicken enchiladas, brownies, and cheesecake squares -- and lots of sliced tomatoes, vegetables and salads, too. That's about the last three weeks' worth, since most cooking happens on weekends, while during the week we eat the pickings of our weekend meals. And baked goods mainly get taken in to staff meetings or students. Just so you shouldn't think we're big as houses, 'cause we're not. Not yet, anyway.
I forewent making a Rosh Hashanah dinner for extended family this year, since the holiday didn't afford us a three-day weekend, and I generally need the extra lead time to shop, cook, and lug it all up to my dad's house. But I did make plum cake today, just so that we'd have a sweet new year. I often make the famous and much-published Marian Burros' plum torte, but I usually create variations. Sometimes I add sour cream and lemon zest; a year or so ago I made something quite like it with nectarines and beurre noisette. Today I wanted to add almond to the plum, so this year's variation has almond paste along with the beurre noisette. Quite nice -- the marzipan flavor is perfect with the tangy plums. Just follow the linked recipe above, but brown the butter first, and let it cool before blending with the other ingredients, and whiz 2 ounces of almond paste in the food processor to blend it with the sugar before creaming it with the butter and eggs. Oh, and I added some Fiori di Sicilia along with the vanilla. Lovely.
This weekend has also inspired me to make some other usual autumnal suspects: a huge vat of my mom's minestrone and two loaves of rice bread. New to our dinner plates, inspired by a lovely crop of party-colored peppers, was a batch of stuffed peppers. They were made with ground lamb, basmati rice, fresh herbs and lots of cumin and garlic and tomato. G's comment when he saw the tomato-drenched meat-filled heart-shaped peppers inspired the title of this post. But they did taste mighty good, and will provide us with a few more meals during what promises to be a very hectic week.
The cooking itself isn't new to me, of course. I almost always cook on the weekend, making meals for the week to come. What's different now is that somehow the kids in my cooking elective are always on my mind. "Would they like this?" I think to myself. "Would they even try it?" And I wish for a kitchen at school, and a class more than half an hour long and with sufficient prep time to make something more complex than fruit salad. What I find is that everything we make proves a revelation in some way, no matter how simple. Take the fruit salad. We made and ate it on Wednesday and had a little chat on Thursday about making appetizing-looking food. It had never occured to me that if four different groups cut up fruit, all the pieces would be different sizes and it would all look, well, kind of unappetizing. The mangoes were in tiny dice and the nectarines were big ol' chunks. It was all good enough and was eaten down to the last scrap. But for me, the best part of the experience was the raspberries. None of them had ever tasted a fresh raspberry, so instead of putting them in the salad we ate them, one by one. "They're fuzzy," Rodney said. "Tart!" exclaimed Rashida, sucking in her cheeks. "But I like it." I can't describe to you the sheer pleasure of providing kids with experiences they've never had -- even something as tiny as a raspberry.
Tomorrow we'll devise our own smoothie recipes, given a list of ingredients (based on the fruit, juice and yogurt I already purchased this weekend). Tuesday I'll bring in the blender, and let's just hope the walls are not Jackson Pollacked with smoothie ingredients by the time we're finished. The smoothies, like everything we've made so far, will come with their very own hidden agenda. Our students are always complaining that they're hungry in the morning and that they didn't have time to eat breakfast. If even a few of them decide that this is a worthwhile effort, they'll have one more quick breakfast option. They all like fruit, and several of them are pretty fond of yogurt too, so I'm hoping this will be a keeper -- despite the fact that when I said "smoothie" last week, several of them asked if we could make "chocolate smoothies". They also commented that the fruit salad would have been REALLY good with whipped cream and chocolate sauce(!) I've been visited with the teachers'/mothers' sacred curse: "You should grow up to have children just like you." They want chocolate on everything; they couldn't be more my children if I'd given birth to them. Of course, I've promised myself that this wouldn't become a blog about my cooking class at school. Hmmm. I'm wishing myself good luck with that promise. Be still my beating heart.
Later this week I'm off to Missoula, Montana for a work task sponsored by the national office of my organization. I have a great opportunity to work with a brilliant Native American activist to frame a workshop for a national conference in November. What's especially good to eat in Montana this time of year?