Monday
Sep012014

Back to School Baked Ziti

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I have been gone from here a long time. I've been hiking and swimming with my kids, making endless snacks, doing the barest minimum of work, and cooking only when I have to. (Not including roasting hatch chiles. When I see them piled up at the grocery store, I cancel all my plans.)

All of that is about to change, and I'm okay with that. Isn't it amazing how we pine for summer, and then we are so ready for it to end? 

To celebrate the last night of summer, I made something I knew the kids would scarf down. No chard or kale, no whole grains, no spicy chiles. Just soft tubular pasta, tomato sauce with sausage, and the most beautiful, bubbly cheesy top. 

After a dreamy summer, I am full of reflections about life, about parenthood, about how fast time goes. I've read some great books, re-established my meditation routine, slept in more than once, and fretted about my low client load, the inequality in this rich country, and how I ignore dirty laundry. What I've come to (no surprise--it's always the same) is that all I can do is love well every day--love my family, my dog, my neighbors, people that drive me *&$ing nuts, strangers, clients, and the people I have yet to meet. We are not on this earth long enough to do otherwise. We've got this one, slippery, fleeting chance.

Back to this casserole. America's Test Kitchen contacted me and asked if I'd cook a recipe out of their new cookbook The Make Ahead Cook. I ignore most promotional offers in my inbox unless I really believe in them. I listen to the ATK podcast every week (Christopher Kimball. Love.) and am a fan of anything that helps home cooks get in the kitchen and start cooking with confidence. I always joke that I'm a "measure-once-cut-twice" type of gal, and that's why I need people who are otherwise. ATK is a "measure-a-million-times-cut-once" kind of outfit. When you follow one of their recipes, you can be sure it will turn out perfectly and you'll feel like a million bucks. 

What I like about these recipes is that they are tested with the premise that they will be sitting in the fridge before they are eaten or cooked. This pasta, for instance, is cooked just 5 minutes before you drain it and assemble the casserole. I would have cooked it much longer (and got mushier results) without these meticulous test kitchen folks. And the best part? We were gone all day and just had to pop this in the oven when we got home.

Happy Fall, friends. May you be blessed in all your comings and goings.

Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage

1 lb. ziti or other short, tubular pasta
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4" pieces
2 Tb. chopped fresh basil
8 oz. (1 cup) whole milk or part-skim ricotta cheese

To finish and serve:
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
2 Tb. chopped fresh basil

To prep:
1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add pasta and 1 Tb. of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1 1/2 c. cooking water, then drain pasta. Rinse pasta with cold water and drain again, leaving pasta slightly wet in colander.
2. Dry now-empty pot, add 1 Tb. oil, and return to medim-high heat until shimmering. Add sausage and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, bring to simmer, and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, 30-45 minutes.
3. Stir reserved cooking water, pasta, mozzarella, and basil into cooled sauce; transfer to 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Combine ricotta, remaining 3 Tb. oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in bowl; cover.

To store:
4. Wrap dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate zit and ricotta separately for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.

To finish and serve:
5. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Unwrap dish and cover tightly with greased aluminum foil. Bake casserole until beginning to bubble around edges, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and dollop rounded tablespoons of ricotta mixture evenly over top. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan and bake, uncovered, until casserole is hot throughout and cheese is melted and begins to brown, 15-20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and serve.  

Sunday
Aug102014

Ross Lake 2014

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I have a confession to make.

Hearing the blow-by-blow of anyone's vacation (including my own) bores me. "We went there, and then we did this. Then we had that for dinner, then we did this." I don't like what this says about my own curiosity, attention span, or social skills, but there you have it. 

So I won't do that to you, but I'll throw out a few (possible) profoundities. Sigh. You know me too well.

Mostly what I have to say is that every day with the people I love is precious. There might be moments of boredom or drama. There might be miscommunications or dashed expectations. I might come off looking like a jerk and then have the next 4 days, stuck on a dock together, to wish I was kinder and gentler and more zen. 

But at the end of my life, I won't wish I had worked more. I won't wish I had said "no" to snuggling with my dog, swimming with my children, or dropping everything to see a movie with a friend. I won't wish I had been right more often. *&%$! That's always my problem. To hell with being right. I'll wish I had been more present. For the last 5 days, I have been. And I'm high off it. Lots of love to my Kangas/Walker family.

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 Dave and Kelly Ross Lake 2014

Yancey Ross Lake 2014

My BG Ross Lake 2014

Saturday
Aug022014

Salted Dark Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut

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Emily had a yoga circle for her 40th birthday last week. It was such a gift to be there in that room, celebrating her and the love that wound its way around the studio.

One of the things the teacher (from Seattle Yoga Arts) said was, "Think of a strength of yours that you have in spades--something you've got extra of! Put that into the circle, and freely take from the circle what it is that you lack or want. I think of it as a 'give-a-penny-take-a-penny bucket'."

This morning, my mom and her best friends had a vintage sale (beautiful and beautifully arranged treasures) and I wanted to bring something. What I have in spades is SPEED in the kitchen and a mind and heart that's always wondering, "What can I bring? What can I give?" So I made this dough last night (almost all cookies benefit from a long time in dough form), baked them this morning, and brought them warm on a cookie sheet. All of us have gifts to give. Mine often happen to be cookies.

We are leaving for our annual Ross Lake trip tomorrow. I am loaded up on novels, bags of pulled pork for the dinner I'm in charge of, and an almost desperate readiness to get out of town, away from email, and away from laundry. As I do, I'm putting some gives and gets out into the world.

I want to give:

  • My love and attention to whoever is in front of me
  • Hospitality, warmth, and food to friends, family, and strangers
  • Good questions and intent listening (instead of advice--I'm working on that) 
  • Beauty and fresh perspective
  • Humor

 I want to receive:

  • Healing for my dog, who was diagnosed with a probable neurological disorder today. I cried at the vet's office and I'm sure it won't be the last time.
  • Guidance and energy for my consulting practice so I can keep giving my gifts in the world
  • Wisdom for the groups I'm leading at church and at Loretta's school, that I can provide good leadership and a non-anxious presence
  • A heart that still breaks for violence in Gaza, ebola in Liberia, and refugee children on the border

Thank you for being here with me. xo

Salted Dark Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut
Many of you will recognize the base of these cookies as my mom's famous chocolate chip cookies. I make them so many different ways, and this is one of them. Plan ahead, as an hour or two in the fridge will give your cookies the right consistency and more depth of flavor.

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. (2 cubes) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 pkg. 60% cacao chocolate chips
1 c. unsweetened big flake coconut
1/4 c. coarsely chopped candied ginger
flaked salt for topping 

In a medium bowl, combine flours, sugars, salt, and soda. 

Add melted butter, egg and egg yolk, and stir until almost combined. Add chocolate chips, coconut, and ginger and stir until just combined. Cover with platsic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight. If overnight, let it sit out for awhile so it's easier to scoop.

Preheat oven to 350 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Form dough into balls, press a bit of flaked salt onto each one, and bake about 10 minutes until firmed up and slightly golden on top but still a little underdone. Let cool completely.

Tuesday
Jul292014

Make a Jar of Jam

Strawberry Jam with Thai Herbs

Hello friends!

I have been loving my summer. We haven't done anything fun yet (though my kids sure have--sheesh) but I'm just enjoying hiding out, taking a break from coordinating things, and the sound of the fan. We are having a real summer in the Pacific Northwest.

And I've been rescuing soft fruit from the counter, making one-jar batches of apricot, strawberry, and blueberry jam. No canning equipment, no all-day, sweat-soaked slog, no frantic rushing around. 

If there's anything I've earnestly wanted to learn in the last decade, it's this idea that "Good enough is good enough." Settling into myself, embracing what is instead of what could be. One quick jar of jam provides just as much flavor and pleasure as the 20 I could berate myself for not producing. A timely text to a friend is better than waiting around to send the perfect note. Getting to church two times a month feeds my soul more than not getting there at all, and my 4 vegetable pots, though I let them lurch from drought to drought, are precious if I don't look at them and say, "I wish I had a bigger garden." I remember Jack Kornfield, who says, "The unawakened mind makes war against what is." 

Making one jar of jam exemplifies perfectly this spirit of making do. I don't know if this happens in your house, but I'll pick up a flat of berries or a bag of apricots and leave them on the counter. They are perfection at first, but then 2 days later, we've been gone a lot or forgotten about them, and they start to lose their luster. That's the glory of jam. In the stewing, they become beautiful again, transformed and bright. Lots of metaphors there, I think.

Apricot Jam
You'll notice that I've pictured strawberry jam with Thai herbs. It's from Lianna Krissoff's "Canning for a New Generation," which is a favorite book. But it's the apricot jam that I'm really loving lately, and it gels up easier than strawberries, so I'm giving you that recipe in hopes you'll try this! 

The reason to sterilize jars and listen for the popping sound is if you're going to put your jam in the pantry for a year. If you're just making a small batch like this one, you'll just keep it in the fridge for a few weeks until it's gone, and the sugar and refrigeration preserve it just fine. 

You can easily double this, but any more than that gets you into tricky territory with ratios of fruit and sugar. If you cook mixture down in a fairly wide saucepan, the large surface area helps the liquid evaporate quickly and you'll have jam in less than 10 minutes!

For more inspiration, check out Marisa McClellean's blog Food in Jars.

1 lb. apricots, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. sugar 

Combine apricots and sugar in a bowl and let sit for a few minutes until sugar is dissolved.

Scrape mixture into a large, low, heavy skillet. Bring to a boil and stir constantly until jam thickens, about 8 minutes. You'll know it's done when you can pull your spatula through the mixture and the jam doesn't immediately rush in to fill the space--it "sticks" a little bit, making a pathway in the pan.

Scrape the finished jam into a small, heatproof jar and refrigerate. Or give away!

 

Thursday
Jul102014

Quinoa, Kale, and Corn Mexi Salad

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I ate this salad with 9 amazing women last week. Standing around with paper plates and maybe wiping a few tears from our eyes.

My colleague Janet Ott and I just finished leading a six-month leadership course for executive women, and we had lunch together after our last session. Some things I was reminded of as we learned together:

  • The world will always need good leaders. And specifically, good managers make an incalculable difference in the lives of their employees. 
  • All the little daily things we do or don't do, say or don't say, have an even greater impact when we're in decision-making roles. We can either embrace that influence and be intentional about it or not. 
  • When we're not leading from a deep place of "okayness" with ourselves, we can do damage. We focused together on the spirituality of leadership--leading from love instead of fear, choosing awe and wonder over urgency and people-pleasing. I can't help but smile when I think about these 9 women and how much more effective and aware they've become in our time together. And how that will translate to their relationships with employees.
  • How gifted all of us are and how listening to one another unearths those gifts.

As usual, I happily took on the challenge of bringing something simple, filling, portable, and gluten-free for lunch. And I promised the recipe.

Here's to you, leaders, and all the good you're unleashing in the world.

Quinoa and Corn Mexi Salad
This makes a huge bowl--enough for 10-12 people to have big portions. It will keep all week in the fridge, but you can also halve it. With cold grain salads like this, they are best served room temperature. If you put it in the fridge, you'll probably want to add a little more salt, lime juice, or olive oil when you pull it out as the grain will soak up everything up as it sits. If you want to add cheese to this, feta or queso fresco would be my choice. You could also serve it with diced avocado on top. Yum. You know how I feel about avocados.

For dressing:
Juice of two limes
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. canola oil
1 Tb. ground cumin
lots of salt and pepper
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced

For salad:
8 c. cooked and cooled quinoa (1 lb. uncooked). I cook mine in the rice cooker.
2-3 large bunches black kale, washed and coarsely chopped
2 c. frozen or fresh corn kernels, briefly sauteed in olive oil (I use the frozen roasted corn from Trader Joes)
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 large yellow bell pepper, diced
1 bunch cilantro, washed and coarsely chopped
Pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
handful of fresh herbs (oregano, mint, basil, or more cilantro)

For dressing, combine everything but onions in a large measuring cup or bowl. Whisk to combine, adding more of anything to taste. Add onions and let marinate while you make the rest of the salad.

With your hands, gently combine all salad ingredients (except for sunflower seeds and herbs) in your biggest bowl. Pour dressing over, reserving a few of the marinated onions for the top. Scatter sunflower seeds and chopped fresh herbs over the top with onions. Taste again for salt.