Archive for the ‘Gluten-free’ Category

Every summer, I get a handful of questions about how I’m preserving the glut of local tomatoes that end up on my counter, so here’s the process I use. I love oven roasting as opposed to the more traditional water bath peeling for two reasons: no boiling pots of water steaming up my kitchen, & roasting concentrates the juices a little, unlike the watery results from the traditional method. I do about 25 pounds of tomatoes in a session, & while it takes a few hours in total, there’s not much fussy attention that needs to be paid, so I can do other stuff while the tomatoes are roasting & cooling.

I get my tomatoes in bulk from our local produce vendor; I wait until we are well into the season, then put in a request for a case of seconds, usually coming in at about a dollar a pound. These vary in quality from barely scuffed to on the verge of liquefying, depending on the year & the recent weather. Judicious trimming & oven roasting makes the most of sub-par fruit, another reason I love it so much.

We snagged a small chest freezer a few years ago, so that’s how I store my finished tomatoes, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t pack these in mason jars & can them in a water bath in the traditional manner. (Ball has a good basic methodology, but TL;DR: hot pack, add extra acid, get all the air bubbles out, water process for freaking EVER.)


Oven Processed Tomatoes

Preheat oven to 400F, & have ready one or two rimmed baking sheets.

Fresh tomatoes, any size or variety (I find traditional, high acid reds work best – low acid yellows & black/purple varieties lose some of their charm when cooked)

Halve or quarter your tomatoes, depending on the size, cutting out any woody stem bits & funky spots, & arrange them cut side up on the baking sheet (no oil or parchment needed). Roast for 20-40 minutes, until the juices are flowing & the tomatoes are softened. You’re not looking for browning or complete collapse, just an overall slumping & relaxing.


Transfer your tomatoes to a large heatproof bowl/pot, big enough to hold the full amount of tomatoes you’re processing. Continue cutting & roasting tomatoes (no need to wash the sheet pans between batches).

As each batch you’ve transferred to the bowl cools enough to handle, use your fingers to slip off the skins – they’ll pull off nicely in one big piece if you’ve cooked your tomatoes long enough. Under ripe tomatoes might need a bit longer in the oven to peel nicely. By the time you’ve peeled one sheet pan of tomatoes, the next will probably be ready to come out of the oven. It’s a nice, low-key rhythm of cutting, roasting, cooling, peeling, & cutting some more.

When all your tomatoes are peeled, you can:

  • Pack them into containers or freezer bags as they are, for big chunky tomatoes
  • Crush them by hand for rustic crushed tomatoes
  • Puree them with an immersion blender for finely crushed tomato sauce
  • Or run them through a food mill/Squeez-O Strainer for a super fine puree with no seeds



My goal every summer is to process enough tomatoes that I don’t have to buy any canned for the entire year; sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t, but it’s a nice challenge. I’m doing fifty pounds this year, so we’ll see how that holds up.

Happy roasting!


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I always feel guilty about not using broccoli stems, but in the middle of weeknight dinner prep, I don’t have the patience for dealing with them, & they inevitably end up on the compost pile. A week or two ago, I impulsively started saving them in a plastic container in the fridge, with a nebulous idea of making some kind of crunchy salad with them. When the container was full, I had to put up or shut up, so I went digging in the far recesses of the fridge & came up with this magical slaw. It tastes a lot like seaweed salad, but brighter & more crunchy & less likely to get wedged in your teeth for days.


Crunchy Asian Compost Slaw

Makes 4-6 servings

6-8 broccoli stems

2-3 carrots

2-3 scallions

1/2 c kimchi (I used Kimchee Pride brand, nothing fancy – this brand is not vegetarian & uses anchovies, but there are vegan brands available)

2 t rice vinegar

Peel the broccoli stems to remove any tough & woody bits, & scrape or wash your carrots. Using a mandoline, box grater, or sharp knife, shred the broccoli & carrots into fine julienne strips or as close as you have the patience for. Slice the scallions into 1/2 inch strips, & chop your kimchi into similarly sized strips. Combine everything in a non reactive (glass/ceramic) bowl with the rice vinegar, cover tightly, & let chill overnight or for several hours.

Furikake (a Japanese rice seasoning made with sesame seeds & seaweed flakes)

Toasted sesame oil

To serve, top with a hearty shower of furikake & a fine drizzle of sesame oil. Have as a light lunch on its own, or pair with seared tofu/tuna & steamed rice.

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I was dorking around on Youtube last week while I ate lunch & stumbled across the absolutely delightful Food Wishes, a cooking channel hosted by April-sunshine-voiced Chef John Mitzewich. It’s like listening to Bob Ross, but with food instead of paint. One of his recipes was for the Syrian roasted pepper spread known as muhammara, & tonight I threw together my own version to have with our dinner of leek bourek, salad, & warm flatbread. 

Traditionally, muhammara uses several ingredients that may be tough to find unless you’re in a metropolitan area or have a sizable Syrian/Lebanese/Middle Eastern population, so I’ve made sure to include easier-to-source options.



Makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 T olive oil

2/3 c bread crumbs/panko (you can totally use gluten-free)

In a medium saute pan over medium heat, warm the oil, then add the breadcrumbs & stir to fully incorporate the oil. Toast the breadcrumbs for about 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until evenly golden brown.

2-3 cloves garlic

1/2 t salt

While your breadcrumbs are toasting, grind the garlic & salt in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the breadcrumbs to the processor bowl as soon as they’re toasted.

1 c walnuts, halves or pieces

Add walnuts to your still-warm saute pan & toast over medium heat, stirring often for about 5-7 minutes, until your walnuts are lightly browned & glossy from the oil starting to emerge. Add the walnuts to the processor bowl as soon as they’re done.

2-3 large jarred roasted red peppers, drained

2-3 T lemon juice

1-2 t balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses

1/2 – 1 t red pepper flakes (Aleppo, if you can find it)

1-2 t za’atar (or use a blend of cumin, sesame seeds, & thyme)

1 t smoked or regular paprika

Add the remaining ingredients to the processor bowl, pulse to get everything moving, then puree for several minutes. Scrape down the bowl several times to make sure everything is combined evenly, & taste for salt, lemon, & seasonings. Traditional muhammara is pretty spicy, but you can adjust the heat to your liking.

Serve at room temperature or chilled, with warmed flatbread or pita for dipping. It would also make a spectacular sandwich filling with spicy greens & feta cheese spread, & I bet it would be amazing with grilled chicken in a warm pita…


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I started making baked olives a few years ago, and they’ve grown to be a hotly anticipated part of our holiday feasting. Plush & aromatic & salty & luxurious, they are a quick, easy contribution to pot lucks & parties that make you look like Someone With Their Shit Together.

First, buy a mess of your favorite olives: jarred or from the grocery store olive bar, whichever you like. For the batch pictured, I used all jarred olives, available on the shelf at our local supermarket: jumbo Spanish, kalamatas, unpitted oil cured, & super mild & buttery castelvetranos.

Preheat your oven to 350F, drain your olives, & dump them into an oven safe baking dish. Toss them with a big slosh of good olive oil, a smaller slosh of balsamic vinegar, lots of pepper, and your favorite aromatics. (I use a ton of fresh sliced garlic, orange or lemon zest, fennel seeds, rosemary, & a pinch of red pepper flakes.) Spread your olives out evenly in the dish, & slide it (uncovered) in the oven. Stir them once in a while as they bake, & pull them once all the olives look nice and relaxed & the garlic has softened, maybe 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your dish.

You can also totally cheat and do them in the microwave – cook in 2-minute intervals, stirring regularly, until soft and yummy.

Let your olives cool a little before serving, or cool completely, cover & refrigerate until needed – they’ll keep about a month before the garlic starts to go mushy. Reheat in a low oven, or just let them come to room temperature before serving.

Serve with fancy cheeses & salamis & crusty bread – use the bread to sop up the olivey juices left in the dish, because life is too short to waste that kind of deliciousness. Pack up the leftovers for work the next day & revel in your grown-up Lunchable.


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OK, you know what? I’m not even going to apologize for the months it’s been since an update, nor for the crappy phone pictures on this post. This hummus is THAT GOOD.

Hot damn!

I’ve had this idea for a sweet potato-based hummus rolling around in my head for a while, but nothing came of it til this afternoon. I’ve been making jam all day, the kitchen is destroyed, it’s hot as balls, & oh hey, what’s for dinner?

We do a lot of what I call pick-a-nibble dinners in the summer – sort of a poor man’s mezze, salad & steamed veggies & a bit of cheese & whatever else I can throw together with a minimum of cooking. Tonight, J’s making guacamole, because he is amazing. We’ll have greens, steamed cold potatoes with parsley, a tin of oil-packed sardines, & this gorgeous hummus.

If you have pre-cooked chickpeas & a microwave, this goes together in a snap, with virtually no heat. Winning!

Sweet & steamy

Ethiopian Style Hummus

Makes about 3 cups

1 large sweet potato

1-3 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 t salt

1 16-oz can/about 1 1/2 c cooked chick peas

1/2 c hummus (Soom brand is my absolute favorite)

3 T lemon juice

1 T Berbere seasoning (find it at The Spice House, along with lots of other amazing spices)

1 t ground ginger

1 roasted red pepper from a jar

Water as needed

Using a sharp knife, stab your sweet potato a few times, nice & deep, & microwave according to your machine’s instructions for a standard baked potato – mine cooked for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food processor, grind the garlic & salt until finely chopped. Add the rest of the ingredients save the water.

When your sweet potato is nice & soft, cut it in half & scoop out the flesh into your food processor, using a large spoon. Hold your potato in a dish towel so you don’t burn your fingers!

Process just to combine, then add about 1/4 c of water. Process continually for about 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides & add more water as needed so the mixture moves smoothly in the bowl. Look for a nice smooth, gently fluffy texture & a gorgeous orange color. Add a pinch more salt if you like, then serve warm, or chill until needed.

Serve with tortilla chips, pita chips, or warm naan.

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Confession time: I really, REALLY like putting stuff in jars. Specifically, I love making jam.

Arty jam shelf

Every year, I pack the cupboard with micro batches of local fruit jam, my way of hanging onto the best parts of summer. Peach is the house favorite, but I’m partial to plum & cherry, as well. Home canning isn’t nearly as intimidating as I’d once thought, & discovering low-sugar pectin kind of rocked my world.

But. We’re not here to talk jam. Not this day.

It’s fall in south central PA, which means apples, apples, & more apples!

Yellow Delicious

A few weeks ago, Small Bear was invited to go apple picking with a friend, & came home with half a bushel of lovely local Yellow Delicious apples. Yellow Delicious aren’t my first choice of cooking apples – I tend to prefer the more tart varieties – but when life gives you an abundance apples, you go with it. Applesauce is the usual method of preserving pick-your-own apples, which is a fantastic project for a Sunday afternoon. This year, I wanted something different. Something silky & luxurious & undeniably APPLE. This called for making apple butter.

Apple butter is an ubiquitous part of fall in our part of the US. Thick, deep brown, & traditionally packed with spices, it gets cooked down for hours in open iron vats at apple festivals, scenting the air with clove & cinnamon & smoke. Here in Pennsylvania Dutch country, apple butter’s put on cottage cheese as a side vegetable (no, really), but it’s more commonly used in baking or as a spread. Personally, I love it with peanut butter on whole grain toast, or slathered over my pancakes.

My main complaint with most apple butters, though, is that in the end, they don’t really taste like APPLES. Traditional recipes call for spiced cider, as well as a healthy measure of cinnamon & cloves. Tasty, but a bit of a sledgehammer of spices, if you ask me. I wanted something a little more sophisticated, so I started with Marisa’s basic fruit butter recipe & improvised from there.

Peeling like my grandma used to

Vanilla Bourbon Apple Butter

Yields about 6-8 8-ounce jars

16 medium/large apples, peeled & coarsely chopped

1/2 c water

1/2-1 c dark brown sugar (adjust the amount based on the variety of apples you’re using, & your personal taste)

3 T lemon juice

1 vanilla bean, split

Half a whole nutmeg, grated finely

1/2 t ground cinnamon

Pinch salt

1/4-1/2 c bourbon or whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pot (if you have a Lodge, this is the perfect project for it; you can also do this in a slow cooker). Cook over medium to low heat, stirring frequently over the course of an hour or two, until the apples have broken down and you can smash them easily against the side of the pan with your spoon.



Turn off the heat, pick out your vanilla beans & stick blend your apples into silky unctuousness. (If you don’t have a stick blender, a food mill or food processor will do the job just as well, if a bit messily.) Continue to cook over low heat for another half hour or so, stirring more frequently than before as your butter will be more inclined to scorch as it thickens. Taste as you go, adding more sugar, lemon or spices as you feel necessary. Keep in mind that warm apple butter will taste sweeter/stronger than when it has chilled, but that the spices will continue to bloom as it sits in the jars on the shelf.

Cook until you have a thick, cohesive sauce that leaves a pretty clear trail when you scrape the spoon across the bottom of the pot, & that stands up in peaks when dropped from the spoon back into the pot. Do a final taste for sweetness, & voila! Apple butter that smells – & tastes – like heaven, not a cinnamon stick billy club.

Vanilla Bourbon Apple Butter

Ladle your hot butter into clean jars & either cool with the lids off & refrigerate/freeze, or process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. (I’ll cover hot water processing at some point soon, I promise. For now, check out Marisa’s amazing blog, Food in Jars, for an introduction.)

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We’re silly huge Pixar fans, & I worked in the restaurant industry for years, so it’s a mystery to me why it took us so long to see Ratatouille. It was a fantastic film, with lots of food porn & industry jokes & a minimum of my usual shouting at the TV about horrible kitchen practices.

More importantly, it got me thinking about ratatouille.

Specifically, Mum’s ratatouille.

Summer bounty

My folks are from England, but moved to Montreal when they got married in the late 60s. Mum has a lovely library of her old cookbooks from that era, deliciously “modern” guides to entertaining with photos of impossibly glossy architectural feats of Spam & asparagus. One of my favorite things to do as a child (and even now) was to leaf through the flour-filmed pages & plot exorbitant menus…

Mum’s sense of adventure & our time in francocentric Montreal meant that a lot of our routine meals were well beyond the standard family fare. I grew up eating warm crepes with lemon & sugar, salmon en croute, chicken & apricot curries, all sorts of fabulous stuff. But Mum’s mainstay was ratatouille.

Served over brown rice, ratatouille was Mum’s go-to, the dish that popped up with such regularity that when I think of the kitchen in our old house, it smells like tomatoes & peppers & herbs. I assumed everyone ate ratatouille, or something like it. It was veggie stew, really, just with a little pizzazz. No big deal, right?

Then in 3rd grade, I got the bright idea to invite The Popular Girl over for dinner. She didn’t usually give me much more than the time of day, so I don’t know what possessed her to accept, but the evening came & there she was, sitting at our table & trying to figure out what to do with a cloth napkin. Mum understood the need to play it cool – or else she didn’t feel like slaving in the kitchen all day – so she went with the house favorite. Ratatouille, piping hot, over a pile of fluffy, chewy brown rice.

I don’t remember exactly how things played out after Popular Girl got her plate, but it amounted to her declaring that she ONLY ate “chicken, hot dogs, and BASGETTI”. I think Mum dug a few hot dogs out of the freezer & ran them under the broiler to try & salvage the evening, but Popular Girl went home hungry & huffy and I went to bed thoroughly baffled as to how someone so popular could insist on eating like a 3-year-old. It was a bit of a pivotal moment for me, figuring out that popularity had nothing to do with actually being cool…

Crappy phone picture is crappy

So, fast forward thirty-some years, & my 8-year-old is growing up eating all kinds of crazy food just like his mum. I honestly hadn’t made ratatouille for years, but seeing the film made me crave it again, & got C excited to try something new. Ratatouille is perfect for this time of year, late summer/early autumn, when tomatoes & peppers & eggplant are still coming in from the garden, but the weather’s turning cool & inviting. It’s not a difficult dish to make at all, taking little more than chopping & tending for an hour or two, but it hinges on good fresh vegetables. For the love of Pete, don’t make this in February with out-of-season produce – it’ll be… fine. But ratatouille shouldn’t be fine. It should be a late summer symphony in a bowl, rich & bright & so tasty, you want a chunk of bread to sop up the traces left on your plate.

(A word on eggplant: if you don’t like eggplant, I’d argue that you’re cooking it wrong. Done properly, eggplant is smoky & flavorful, not bitter & chewy. Pick small eggplants, with nice tight, glossy skins. Salting the eggplant draws out a lot of moisture & potential bitterness, so don’t skip that step. Finally, make sure you add it early enough in the process that it gets fully cooked & absorbs all the gorgeous flavors of the sauce.)



As usual, this is a total make-it-up-as-I-go recipe, so all amounts are approximate… Yield: about 2 1/2 quarts

1 small/medium traditional eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 t sea salt

1/4 c olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin (I like to cut mine end-to-end, instead of across the center, but it totally doesn’t matter)

6-8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

3-4 bell peppers, assorted colors, cut into rough 3/4-inch pieces

2 small/medium summer squash and/or zucchini, cut into 3/4 inch cubes

2 t dry thyme

1/2 c chopped fresh basil

1 t smoked paprika (yes, smoked, but regular will do in a pinch)

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed roughly by hand

1 c dry white wine (I use pinot grigio)

Salt & pepper to taste

Sprinkle the eggplant with 1 t of sea salt & pile it into a colander to drain for about 20 minutes while you start the rest of the veggies.

Warm the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot (if you don’t own a Lodge, get on that – best money you’ll ever spend) over medium heat & add onions. Saute gently with a pinch of salt until soft & translucent. Add chopped garlic & saute for a few more minutes, until fragrant.

Add peppers, stir & let cook while you tend to the eggplant.

Rinse the salted eggplant under cold water & give it a really good shake to get rid of excess moisture. Add it to the pot, along with the summer squash/zucchini. Stir everything well & let it cook until the squash starts to get bright. Add the herbs, paprika, tomatoes & wine & stir well. Add a bit of water if things look too dry, but not too much – this is stew, not soup. Bring the pot up to a lively simmer, stirring frequently, then lower the heat so you have a nice gentle bubbling. Leave your spoon in the pot & add the lid so the pot’s mostly covered but not sealed tight.

Let your ratatouille simmer away for at least an hour, stirring on occasion to make sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom of the pot. Your kitchen will smell REALLY FREAKING GOOD at this point. After an hour, take of the lid & let it simmer another 15 minutes or so to reduce the sauce a little. Taste for salt & pepper.

Warm up some crusty bread, pour yourself a glass of wine, and devour. A few shakes of hot sauce (we like the chipotle Tabasco) would not be amiss, nor would some good goat cheese to spread on your bread.

Bon appetit!

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(If you’re wondering What’s for Dinner lately, hell if I know. It’s been stupidly hot & muggy for the past week or two, & none of us have felt much like eating, let alone cooking. I have a pile of odds & ends to use up this week, & then we’ll be back on schedule, promise…)

Making yoghurt (Yes, yoghurt. You can take the girl out of England…) is a totally nostalgic thrill for me. When I was 6, we moved from the shady suburbs to a little 7-acre farm in the country. My folks dove headfirst into self-sufficiency with all the zealousness they could muster; we raised cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats, the lot. We have memories both heartbreaking & hilarious of those years, & while we’ve all moved on to other pursuits, some lessons still remain.

Our sole dairy cow was a long-lashed, caramel-flanked beauty named Guinevere, & she blessed us with gallon upon gallon of gorgeous, thick milk. Mum & I tried our hand at butter & cheese a few times, but making yoghurt in our little blue-topped incubator became a weekly ritual. Years later, when I found a set of jars & a warmer for $5 at a local yard sale, it seemed a sign that it was time for me to take up spoon & thermometer again.

You don’t need any special equipment to make good yoghurt, but a few key tools will give you a better chance of success: a stem thermometer (or a glass candy thermometer) & an incubator. Temperature is key when making yoghurt, & these two things will help you get your milk to the right temperature & ensure it stays there long enough to make the transformation. If you are feeling rogueish, you can skip the incubator & jars & use a heavy lidded casserole dish instead – use a pile of old towels to insulate the dish. I’m on the lookout for an old wide-mouthed Thermos, myself…

As for ingredients, you only need two things: milk & starter. Use the best, freshest milk you can get your hands on. This is the time to track down a local dairy & start getting your milk in glass, not cardboard. Yes, you can make perfectly good yoghurt with a national brand, but if you’re going to all this trouble, why not make it special? Whole milk makes a truly luxurious yoghurt; we’re watching our diets, so we use skim with excellent results.

You can buy packets of powdered starter, but I’ve never had much luck with them – my yoghurt would always get watery & broken. Get a small tub of plain, live cultured yoghurt from the grocery store & you should be fine. I’m finding Chobani the best option so far in terms of final texture.

To start, boil a kettle of water & use it to rinse everything you’ll be using: a 2-3 quart saucepan, a wooden spoon, a small cup & fork for mixing the starter, a stem thermometer, & your jars for incubating the yoghurt (including the lids). Let your equipment air dry. Cleanliness is the other important factor when making yoghurt – we want our milk to cultivate the good beasties, not the bad.

Measure out enough milk to nearly fill your jars – the actual amount will vary according to what brand of jars you’re using. Pour the milk into the saucepan & heat it gently over medium/low flame, stirring often, until it reaches about 190F. Keep an eye on it – milk will boil over horribly if left to its own devices. Once it reaches 190F, turn off the heat & move the pan to a trivet. Stir gently & allow the milk to cool to 110F (this can take 10-15 minutes).

Meanwhile, put your jars in the incubator & plug it in to pre-warm.

Once your milk has cooled to 110F, add your starter: for every 2.5 cups/600 ml of milk, use 1 tablespoon of your starter yoghurt. Put the starter in your small cup & add a slosh of cooled milk, whisking it with a fork until very, very smooth. Add this back to the saucepan & stir thoroughly to evenly distribute the starter. Carefully pour your milk into the prepared jars, add lids, & cover the incubator. Do this all fairly quickly so your mixure doesn’t lose too much heat.

Now, the waiting game. I find that my incubator needs a full 8 hours to get my yoghurt to the consistency I like, so I tend to make it in the morning & pull the plug around dinnertime. Check yours after 4-5 hours & see how it’s progressing – look for a nice, solid texture without too much wateriness. When in doubt, let it go a bit longer.

Once it’s ready, transfer your yoghurt to the fridge & let it chill overnight before assessing the final texture. It might take you a few tries to find the right combination of starter & incubation time – just be patient. It’ll be well worth the wait. Promise.

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Disclaimer: What I am about to show you flies in the face of thousands of years of rice-cooking tradition, as well as everything I learned in culinary school. It’s all Amy Karol‘s fault. Blame her. And read her blog. She is awesome.

I don’t know what it is about a bowl of fresh, hot, perfectly cooked rice that is so comforting, so soothing, such a panacea for frazzled nerves & empty stomachs. But I also know that cooking rice gives folks the absolute fits, myself included for many years. The precise ratio of water to rice, the iron clad rule of never ever lifting the lid under penalty of death, the inevitable mis-timing that leads to sad little piles of crunchy/soggy/scorched rice when the rest of dinner is ready to go.

A good rice cooker is a beautiful thing, but also a potentially expensive & bulky piece of equipment to have cluttering up your kitchen. And for my money, baked rice is only good if you’re firing up the oven anyway. You really don’t want to know what I think of boil-in-bag/instant/pre-cooked rice. Really.

Lucky for me, I read a variety of food & craft blogs, & one of my favorite writers started me on the road to a ridiculously simple but nearly foolproof method of cooking rice that yields perfect. fluffy, non-gummy grains every time. You can cook just about any kind of rice or whole grain this way – even the dreaded brown rice, which we really need to eat more of. There’s no delicate timing, no special equipment, and the finished rice will rest happily until the rest of the meal is ready. It’s an all around win.

The secret is two-fold – rinsing & pre-soaking the rice, then free-boiling it in a large amount of water, just like you would pasta. Rinsing & soaking the rice keeps the grains fluffy & separate instead of a gummy mess, & free-boiling allows you perfect control over when to pull your rice from the heat, without the risk of scorching or under cooking. It’s a really simple process, so let’s get cooking.


Perfectly Cooked Rice:

Raw rice (appx 1/2 c per serving)


1 t salt

Optional aromatics (a few black peppercorns, cardamom pods, or a bay leaf)

2-4 qt saucepan or pot, depending on how much rice you’re cooking, with a tight-fitting lid


Clean dish towel/cloth napkin

Trivet/hot pad

About 30-45 minutes before you want your rice to be ready, measure your raw rice into a medium-sized bowl & cover it with 1-2 inches of water. Swish the water & rice around with your hands a few times, then carefully drain out the water (use your sieve if you like, or just pour out as much water as you can). Repeat, drain, then cover the rinsed rice with 1-2 inches of room temperature water & set the bowl aside to soak. Allow your rice to soak for about 10 minutes (20 if you’re using brown rice).

Fill your saucepan or pot with fresh water & set it over high heat, adding the salt & optional aromatics. (I especially use cardamom for Indian dishes.) Cover the pot & bring your water to a rapid boil.

Drain off the soaking water & add your rice to the boiling water, stirring constantly for the first few minutes until the water comes back to a rolling boil. Lower the heat so you have a nice lively simmer & let your rice cook away. Resist the urge to cover the pot at this stage, as it’ll boil over & make a stupid mess. Not that I’d know from experience.

After 6 minutes or so, start checking your rice, using a fork to pull out a few grains for tasting. As a rule, white/basmati/jasmine rice should take less than 10 minutes to cook, so keep an eye on it. When your rice is tiny bit chewier than you’d like, turn off the heat.

Pour the rice out through the sieve, shaking out as much water as you can before returning the rice to the still-warm pot. Put the pot on a trivet or hot pad (not back on the burner). Cover the pot with a clean tea towel or cloth napkin, then fit the lid on tightly. The cloth will help seal the lid, & captures excess steam before it condenses & drips back into your rice.

Let your rice rest in the pot for about 5 minutes, the uncover, fluff with a fork & marvel at your rice-cooking prowess.

Note: If you want a stickier rice, better suited for eating with chopsticks, try using short-grain rice & cooking it for just a bit longer. Authentic technique? No. Easy & tasty & better for you than Chinese take-out? You betcha.

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Oh August, you are making July look like the dog’s breakfast… After weeks of temps in the high 90s, August has been deliciously kind to us – mid 80s during the day, mid-60s at night, & torrential downpours every few days to keep the garden happy.

And happy it is.

Thus begins the succulent & slightly overwhelming tomato season, when each night’s foray into the back forty yields yet another armful of ripe-to-bursting fruit, when the kitchen counter is overrun & we start to wonder what in blazes we were thinking putting in so many plants. And then my mum brings over a handful from her garden, too. It’s a delicious problem to have, I’ll admit.

I’ll be making a big batch of oven-roasted tomato sauce later in the week, but right now, we’re taking advantage of the bounty & eating as many garden-warm tomatoes as we can stand, usually dressed with basil & garlic paste, a slosh of olive oil & balsamic vinegar, & a scattering of salt & freshly-ground pepper. So this…

…plus this…









Becomes this:

I’ve been using my basil & garlic paste on all kinds of things this summer – it’s quick, easy, & encourages me to harvest the basil before it goes to flower. It stays green for a few days in the fridge, & encapsulates the simple decadence of the late-summer garden.


Basil & Garlic Paste

Appx 2 cups fresh basil leaves, stripped from their stems (we grow mainly sweet basil, but Genovese makes a nice spicy paste)

2-4 fresh garlic cloves, peeled & quartered (use more or less depending on your garlic tolerance – 2 is nice & savory, 4 will slay minor dragons)

Appx 1/2 – 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pulse basil, garlic & most of the olive oil in a food processor until finely ground, adding more oil as necessary to make a fairly loose, wet paste. Season with salt & pepper if you like (I don’t, as I prefer to season each dish individually). Transfer immediately to a small glass jar, cover tightly & refrigerate until needed.

The extra oil helps seal out the air, slowing oxidation & keeping the paste green. As there’s raw garlic involved, I’d use this within 4-5 days at most – uncooked garlic + anaerobic environment (i. e. stored in oil) = chance for botulism. Always keep any kind of raw garlic & oil preparation refrigerated.

(By now you’re probably wondering why on earth I didn’t just make pesto… don’t get me wrong, home-made pesto is a thing of beauty, & feel free to add 1/2 a cup of pine nuts & 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan to the mix if you’d like to make your own. In all honesty, I find the extra fat from the nuts & cheese too heavy for the delicate flavor of sweet basil – the basil becomes a background flavor, rather than the star of the show. But that’s just me – pesto your hearts out, if you so desire.)

To use, swirl a large spoonful of basil & garlic paste into a medium bowl of hot pasta, mashed/steamed potatoes, fresh chopped tomatoes, sauteed summer squash, scrambled eggs, bocconcini, roasted eggplant… you get the idea. Spread it on toasted sourdough, top with a few warm slices of tomato & have the best lunch summer can offer. Drizzle it over home-made pizza just as it comes out of the oven, like we did the other night…

Yes, I took pictures. And yes, I’ll post the recipe tomorrow.

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