Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in Charlottesville & beyond

Savory Oatmeal with Soy Sauce & Scallions, Topped with a Fried Egg

Fried egg on oatmeal

I’ve come around to oatmeal again this winter, this blustery, late-bloomer of a winter that’s been littering feathery snow every other week, closing down school and work, painting the trees outside my window an elegant gray-white. Another snow flurry fest is supposedly on the radar, despite the official arrival of spring days ago. Jack Frost did not get the memo.

Winter snow, Charlottesville

So oatmeal. Oatmeal feels cozy, safe, consoling, like Goldilock’s porridge but with better marketing. I’d put it in the same family of comfort as rice and polenta, the same trend bucket as pomegrante and avocado. It’s both quick and forgiving: five minutes flat of simmering with water or milk, and an extra minute or two won’t hurt, a necessary buffer in the chaos of morning preparations.

I like oatmeal sweet: a tiny downpour of maple syrup, a dusting of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, a stir of fresh or frozen berries. If I have time, cooked apples or pears with cinnamon forms a sort of deconstructed breakfast pie.

But even better: savory oatmeal. A bit salty, with a fried egg on top, the golden yolk streaming into the oatmeal like a godly sauce. (I was skeptical, as you might be, but it meets the logic test. And, well, does not rice worth both ways? Rice pudding and rice with savory curry, say?) And, as with rice, a squirt or two or three of fish sauce adds an excellent umami punch, if you are fish-sauce inclined. (We are.)

Savory Oatmeal with Soy Sauce and Scallions

Oatmeal with scallions

Serves 1
Inspired by Mark Bittman & seriouseats.com

(doubles nicely, but you may need to simmer longer than 5 minutes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal (quick cooking — not instant or steel cut)
  • 1-3 teaspoons soy sauce, to taste
  • 1 scallion, chopped (green parts, white parts if you like)
  • 1 egg
  • Bit of bacon grease, pat of butter, or drizzle of olive oil

Fried eggs in bacon grease

Add the oatmeal to boiling water, reduce heat to a simmer. Add scallions.

Simmer 5 minutes or until it reaches the consistency you like

Meanwhile, slick a frying pan with a bit of bacon grease (or butter or olive oil) on medium-high. (Yes, we’ve started saving our bacon grease; it’s delicious and thrifty! Once it cools just slightly, pour it into a jar and store in the fridge.) Crack in the egg and fry to your liking.

Stir soy sauce into the oatmeal. Scoop into bowl. Top with fried egg and dot with extra soy sauce, if you like. Stare out the window, sink your spoon in, and count the snowflakes drifting down.

Pecan Pie Muffins

Pecan Pie Muffins

This recipe is a little ode to Thanksgiving, to rectify my error of eating baked goods with pecans only once every 365 days, and a nod to a cake I can’t stop thinking about.

The cake arrived at the end of a long and lovely dinner at  Tastings, a Charlottesville wine shop-restaurant hybrid. Picture rows upon rows of wine in a small ground-floor shop. Then, nestled modestly in the back, a handful of tables. Buy any wine bottle in the shop and have it with dinner for a $7 (yes, s-e-v-e-n) corking fee. We were smitten.

The wine was marvelous, but it was the food that impressed us, not a small feat in restaurant-crazed Charlottesville. The menu is tight and well done. I started with a wild mushroom soup that reminded me of Julia Child’s recipe for a deeply flavored classic French onion soup. The oysters were lightly fried with that luscious umami  center, and my husband’s French cassoulet redeemed us from failing to try it in France.

Still, the cake. Oh, the cake. It seemed like a basic, even boring selection. But I am a devotee of the sugary rich pecan pie that appears every November. And I was attempting to honor my chocolate-loving husband’s rare desire to skip dessert. Well. So much for that. The cake was just too good to resist—sweet, pillowy, luxurious, and brown-buttery. The pecans shone through like gems, dense and deep and rich in the way that I know only them to be. (Peanuts: sweet, salty, fun, party hats. Walnuts: all grown-up and ready for oatmeal. Pecans: holidays and tuxedos.)

half-cup of pecans

So, yes, a pecan cake. The first time I had ever heard of it. The first time I had ever tasted it. And all I kept thinking was: Why isn’t this up there as a classic American dessert, along with, say, the less decadent and more hum-drum apple pie?

Once home, I dug into cookbooks and recipe sites, but I haven’t yet found anything that seems close to replicating that glorious pecan cake.

What I did find was this short set of instructions for the quickest baked goodies I’ve ever made. These pecan pie muffins are Thanksgiving on any given Thursday. Dense and moist, they are drenched in a thick, super-duper sweetness balanced by thick chunks of pecan. (I used pecan halves.)

Pecan Pie Muffin batter

I cut the original recipe in half and used a six-muffin tin, enough to quench a couple’s hefty sweet-tooth cravings without allowing us to go overboard, as an entire pecan pie might. (Might.)

Pecan Pie Muffins

One bowl, five ingredients, and less than half an hour later:

Pecan Pie Muffins

Pecan Pie Muffins
from Food.com

(These were originally titled cupcakes, but they looked like muffins to me; no icing required. Rather, if you don’t have a big sweet tooth, you may want to dial back the sugar.)

Makes 6 small muffins

1/2 cup pecans, halved or chopped
1/4 flour
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 and butter the muffin tin, if it isn’t nonstick.

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. (Optional: reserve 6 pecan pieces for decoration.) The concoction will resemble uncooked pecan pie batter, gooey and light brown.

Pour batter into the muffin tins, half-way or so. They won’t be filled to the top.

Place one pecan nicely on the top of each muffin, in the middle as a decorative note.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the muffins are brown on the edges.

Pop them out immediately from the tin. Let cool.

Now: I am not fooling here. These little guys are good warm. They are fantastic cooled. I know, that’s never the case, but this time, it is!

Discovering turnips

Oh, turnips. I’m sorry. I clumped you, a humble toot vegetable, into a throw-away category with radishes, bok choy, celery, watercress, and other forgotten produce: vegetables I do not yet understand. I realize that these real foods, born of the earth and sun, must be divine in their own way. Plucked straight from the soil raw or paired with precisely the right spice in precisely the right cooking method, each would be a revelation, I’m certain. But so far, I haven’t come across them in such a setting.

Until, for turnips, today.

Bundle of turnips

Turnips, trimmed of their spicy leaves, ready for their fate

I found these at the Charlottesville farmers market on a chilly December Saturday, hanging out with the other less glamorous winter produce. Cabbage. Carrots. Sweet potatoes. Onions. Oh, and kale, which has recently become oddly popular. The other vegetables try not to be jealous, I imagine, but it would be hard not to wonder about the sudden mania. “What did kale ever do to deserve the gushing frenzy? Why not me?” thinks the sad kohlrabi.

I had no idea what to do with these turnips, which is often as good a reason to buy something at the market as any: I’m guaranteed to embark on a kitchen adventure, like it or not. And so I bought them, a bargain $3, including the leaves, which I hacked off immediately. Think mustard greens, a jolt of spiciness.

(Side note: I think these turnips might actually be white Japanese turnips, according to a non-scientific Google search. They certainly didn’t bear the tell-tale purple marks of a typical grocery turnip, and their sweetness and lack of heat seems to be a hallmark of white turnips, too. Being a complete turnip novice, I can’t say for certain, but this is my hunch. If you know, please do confirm or refute this suspicion!)

I tried the turnips first raw, this bundle of pretty bulb-like spheres. Crisp and vaguely sweet, they reminded me of white carrots, the alien-like kohlrabi of our German days, or perhaps the mysterious salad-frequenter radish. Fine, but nothing I would seek out on a quest at the farmers market.

Then I peeled them and chopped them up, and followed a simple recipe for braising in “How to Cook Everything” by the infallible Mark Bittman.

I didn’t quite get braising until today. Why braise when you can sauté?

How naive I have been. Braising takes a bit longer, true, but it melds the flavors and melts the dish in a luscious way that the quick flash of sautéing cannot do.

How to braise? The short of it is: You let the turnips simmer in stock and fat, until softened and imbued with flavor.

turnips-pan

What surprised me – shocked me, even – was how luscious these previously crisply stalwart vegetables became. They melted into a silky, nearly buttery consistency, a magical state of matter between liquid and solid. On the plate, they masqueraded as mashed potatoes. The turnips themselves seemed to eek out sweetness, even producing a hint of cinnamon or nutmeg in the background. I so wish I had bought two bundles.

Next time. Lovely white turnips, I won’t make the mistake of underestimating you again.

Braised turnips
Adapted from “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman

- 4-6 smallish white (Japanese) turnips, peeled and chopped
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1/2 cup of vegetable stock
– pepper

Add the turnips, olive oil, and stock to a pan. Bring to a simmer and let simmer with a lid on for 5 minutes or until softened. This is a forgiving recipe, and one you can cook longer or shorter depending on the needs of the rest of the dinner’s dishes. Remove the lid and let the liquid boil off. Mark suggest the requisite pepper and salt to taste, which for me means a few cranks of the pepper grinder and no salt. Eat at once, and marvel at what a turnip can be.

Caldo Verde Soup

Caldo Verde Soup

Caldo Verde Soup

Caldo Verde, what a nice name you have. Mysterious, exotic, European, warm.

Rather charming for a soup, I’d say.

(It might be too opaque for some, I grant you. We could flip-flop to English and adopt “Green broth.” Yes, go ahead, make a face. Or we could go literal: Portuguese Sausage Soup with Kale and Potatoes. But please, let’s not.)

In its mysterious linguistic cloak, Caldo Verde alludes to a party, a celebration like that of feasts of various saints honored in Portugal in June, when this soup is a requisite menu item. (As are sardines. A party with sardines is my kind of party.)

But forgive me, Saint John, for I can’t wait till June. My dear friend Judy told me about Caldo Verde this weekend, and October is prime soup season.

At first, when I read your recipe, I thought you might be too dull.

But soups are stovetop alchemy.

Think of French onion soup or chicken noodle soup or miso soup. Unfussy ingredients somehow meld together to create a tastebud quilt. Even the limp vegetables become savory pillows. Broth transforms into a magical foundation for dinner.

Stone soup isn’t just for kids.

Caldo Verde has its own entry in the alchemic textbook. Sausage. Potatoes. Kale. Onions. Garlic. Broth. Salt. Pepper.

Done.

I resisted the lure of the paprika, the cayenne, the tumeric, all eyeing me from the cabinet.

This simple sausage soup, filling and delicious, sent my sweetheart back for thirds.

Caldo Verde Soup

adapted from the Joy of Cooking

  • 1 pound chorizo sausage (Tip for Charlottesvillians: We were happy with Timbercreek Organics chorizo from Relay Foods.)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves (or more!), minced
  • 4 medium potatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 big bunch kale, washed and torn up into pieces
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced, deseeded, and ready to squeeze

Cook the sausage, sliced or broken up into chunks, in a Dutch oven or other big soup pan on medium heat until browned and cooked through.

Remove the sausage onto a plate or bowl. Leave the luscious fat drippings in the pot, unless the quantity is bordering on obscene, in which case, you may want to drain a little until you get a tablespoon or two covering the bottom of the pot.

Now sauté the chopped onions and minced garlic on medium heat in the sausage drippings for 5 minutes or so, unless softened but not browned.

Add the 3 cups of chicken broth and 3 cups of water, plus the potatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Joy of Cooking advises 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, but I only did a half-dozen cranks each of the black pepper grinder and salt grinder. We’re not in the excessive salt fan club here.)

Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

If you have a potato masher, mash up the potatoes. If you don’t, as I didn’t, you could use the back of a metal spatula to mush them up a bit. Don’t worry if the potatoes don’t crumble into bits. Potatoes are potatoes are potatoes, and the soup will still be delicious.

Add back in the sausages and the torn chunks of kale.

Simmer for another 5 minutes.

Squirt in lemon, to taste.