A New Template for Farm Share Season: Pad Thai

(A quick note: Although I sometimes post recipes, I’m not interested in being a recipe blog. Instead, I want to talk about the mechanics of using up, making do, and doing without when it comes to meal planning.)

Glamorous food photography as per usual

In the past, I’ve talked about the general concept of meal templates and pointed out the ones I use for frittatas, cottage pie, chicken pot pie, etc. But during our quarantine summer, I’ve been making pad thai once a week to use up bits and pieces from our farm share.

It’s a strange feeling, making this dish, because it makes me feel like when I first started cooking, because again I’m suddenly right at the very edge of my ability to multitask, handle pressure, think creatively. As when I first started learning how to cook, I still can’t make this one and still be kind if someone is in the room trying to help. Nonetheless, it’s a worthy recipe, and I pass it on to you as a way to hide vegetables in plain sight and make something a bit fancy or different after months of extra cooking at home.

Here is the recipe I use. It’s written exactly the way I like a template recipe to work, with a mix-and-match approach of tried-and-true ingredients. A few notes: I’m cautious about buying exotic ingredients that might go to waste, but if you can get tamarind concentrate, it makes a noticeable difference (even for someone with an iffy sense of smell/taste!), though I just subbed sugar at first and that was still good. Also, you can definitely cram more than a cup of sautéing vegetables into your batch if you’re feeling desperate to use things up — the sauce stretches just fine. And finally, you can use whatever Asian noodles you have (I made a batch with a combination of Chinese, Thai and Japanese noodles and I had to stagger the cook times but it was still delicious.) Probably you could just be an ugly American and use angel hair, but I haven’t tried that. (Tell me if you go the ugly American route and it works. Or doesn’t!)

What new recipes or approaches to cooking have you adopted since all this coronavirus craziness started?

Adventures in Imperfect Sourdough

Our imperfect, reliable daily bread

Look, maybe your days are a wide vista and you welcome the complications, structure and challenge of the float test, careful ratios, and monitoring of bulk rises. That’s fine. Your sourdough will be better than mine.

But I’ve been baking sourdough for over two years, and I’ve pioneered a lean, mean Good Enough method. Care to join me for a walk through?

Here is my Good Enough recipe, Splendid Table’s Almost No-Knead Sourdough, which a friend gave me a year or so back. It makes a round, chewy loaf with enough crunch to please our grownups but not so crispy that the kids struggle to eat it. Mostly, though, I like it because its timeline is forgiving, so even when life gets in the way, you still end up with a tasty loaf.

Here are the absolute minimum supplies I need to make my loaf:

  1. a really big bowl — metal is ok, Katie of Hearts Content Farmhouse assures me; that rule about metal and sourdough is a myth, apparently.
  2. a big mixing spoon — I like wooden.
  3. liquid measuring cup, teaspoon, solid measuring cup — I feel stupid listing these things, but I learned how to cook in a very ill-equipped Ugandan kitchen, so I’m trying not to taken anything for granted here.
  4. parchment paper — I have not gotten silpat mats to work properly in a round dutch oven, please let me know if you figure something out.
  5. dutch oven — This seems to be nonnegotiable for this recipe; friends’ attempts to substitute or skip have failed. Remember, if you are also frugal, that you can probably borrow a dutch oven from someone to try out the recipe before buying one yourself for $30 or so.

If you are feeling fancy, I’ve incorporated these next-level items into my routine and appreciated the results. Notice I don’t link to where to buy them, because I’m trying to wean myself off Amazon and don’t need to hook you, too.

  • reusable shower cap for the proofing dough — I use this instead of cling film, which never sticks that well, or one of those disposable shower caps you can get from motels, which stays in place better, but still requires you throw it out.
  • bench scraper — this was a marriage saver for me, because it helps to get the counter really clean, especially after kneading or when you drip starter, which dries cement-hard. You can also use it for jobs like cutting buns.
  • grits, polenta or coarse-ground cornmeal — definitely not required, but sprinkled on the parchment paper just before you place your dough there to rise, it makes a loaf seem more artisanal — consider it just another example of one step up cooking.
  • scale — this is not even a little bit necessary, but I’ve had one for about six months now and it makes feeding your starter more precise and opens up more recipes for you, because many sourdough recipes are alarmingly fussy about measurements.
  • instant read thermometer — also not a must, but a much faster way to determine bread doneness than judging by time or color.

Beyond that, you just follow the straightforward recipe. It takes awhile to learn to plan so far in advance, but generally, I feed my starter the day before I want a new loaf of bread at dinner. I do not feed my starter except for when I’m planning a new loaf, because I bake frequently enough that this isn’t a problem.

That night of Day 1, I mix up my dough and let it sit. I do use the recommended King Arthur all-purpose flour whenever I can get it, and it’s often available in massive, inexpensive bags at my local closeout grocer. (Yes, even during a pandemic.) In the summer, when the house is warm, I need to mix the dough a bit later, say 9 or 10 pm, so it doesn’t overproof on the counter.

This lasted us about three months and cost around $20.

The next morning (Day 2, I guess), I aim to knead the dough and set it for its second rise by 8 am, but sometimes it’s later. (And honestly, even if it overproofs, it’s still going to be an edible loaf, just less pretty and harder to work with.)

So then sometime midday on Day 2, I’ll bake the bread. Sometimes I make a slice in the top but don’t find it to be all that necessary when shape is restricted by the sides of the dutch oven. Sometimes I’ll sprinkle everything bagel seasoning on top to shock and appall my kids. I usually determine doneness by temperature, and if it’s hot enough but still a bit pasty, sometimes I’ll set the loaf directly on the rack in the oven for a few minutes more.

That’s it, that’s all.

And I’d be remiss not to point you toward other guides to getting started in sourdough — Katie has a good one and has forgotten more than I’ll ever know about baking. But the important thing here is not to let all the demanding regimens and confusing terminology make this hard. In my experience, I can’t make myself care any more than I just do about the complications and challenges of a hobby; I just want to limp along and find my own way and not get fussy about any of it. So here’s one unfussy path forward, among many.

Baking with Little Kids

I have always let my kids help me in baking. Part of this is the oft-cited belief that picky eaters are more likely to try what they’ve helped to create (demonstrably false in my household); part of it is just that I love to bake, and I love to please my children with unhealthy things.

Along the way, I’ve found that some projects lend themselves more easily to tiny helpers. Here are some easy starting points for even the smallest kid to take real ownership:Read More »

Commonplace Book

I’m feeling hopeful these days because I read that when you plant bulbs, you can expect that sometimes the first year they sleep, the next year they creep, and finally they leap. We are pretty firmly in creeping territory, and I’m not sure any of my new ones from last fall will bloom this year round. But six of my peonies have returned, and that is a great source of satisfaction and hope.

Read More »

Commonplace Book, 51

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

Chocolate Rose Cake. I’m just getting around to posting this from Scout’s birthday mid-month. This recipe/tutorial was written by a lousy cake froster for a lousy cake froster like me — seriously, I try to enlist Pippin to frost cakes so I can pass the lousiness off as charming. And after all that reading and diagram studying, J ended up doing the fancy icing for me after I put on the crumb coat. But I’m not mad about the results!Read More »

Commonplace Book, 50

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

We celebrated Pippin’s feast day with the Feast of St Peregrine this week. He chose breaded fish, barbecue chips, cherry tomatoes, homemade ciabatta and cinnamon rolls he helped me make. He was over the moon. Kids are so easy sometimes.

Read More »

Commonplace Book, 48

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

grocery score / messy floor

  • Hit me with your favorite egg dishes, please. We’ve been lucky enough to be getting local eggs delivered to our house each Friday by a family at church, but this Easter week I supplemented with this incredible deal at our local closeout grocery and now we have eggs out our ears. It’s obvious if you think about it that around Easter there would be a slump in the sales of brown eggs, and I was pleased to get high quality eggs so affordably.

Read More »

Commonplace Book, 45

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

What I’m reading:

Read More »