Everything Good in Life—Bread, Cheese and Japanese Food: February 6-March 2

Surprise. January felt long for once. Now February has been a blur. I blame these guys:

Composite of Allen and Alma

Alma (left) wondering how I could have forgotten her lunch again. Allen (right) considering whether to bite me. And no, it’s not an optical illusion. These two really are the same size.

Fine, I only had them for a week. But pet sitting when you haven’t had pets in a while (and never a dog) takes adjustment. In any case, any routine out of the norm (for you) means quick and easy meals are a nice bonus. Good thing I had a well-stocked fridge and freezer.

But to start, February means happy birthday to me:

Matcha Cream Cake

A slice of Green Tea Biscuit Roulade filled with Green Tea Mousse Cream. Cake draped with pieces of Green Tea Marzipan. All recipes for this cake and its components from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Extra birthday gift (besides this amazing tuna): leftovers. Here’s the meals I made with leftovers from my birthday dinner.

Baked Eggs in Sautéed Chard with Garlic Bread

Egg baked in sautéed rainbow chard and served with toasted garlic bread. A simple breakfast to put together when both the vegetables and bread are leftover.

Homemade Vegetable Soup With Beans, Sautéed Chard and Garlic Bread

Reheated homemade vegetable soup from the freezer. Served with leftovers: cooked beans, sautéed chard with pine nuts and raisins, and garlic bread. Garnished with parmesan cheese.

As reliable (albeit slower to cook) as hot cereal: dried beans. Endless tasty and healthy meals await.

Mayocoba Bean Soup With Cabbage and Kalamata Olive Focaccia Bread

Homemade bean soup is easy and delicious, even when made with only three ingredients. The essentials? Dried beans, salt and water. I used mayocoba beans—beautiful yellow beans similar in taste to pintos—and frozen chopped celery. Garnished with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Served with cabbage and kalamata olive focaccia bread.

Mixed Bean Tacos With Cheese, Cabbage, Avocado and Lime

A pot of beans leads to tacos with homemade tortillas. I added cooked onion to leftover mayocoba beans. Tacos topped with grated cheese and chopped raw cabbage. Served with avocado and lime slices.

Homemade bread, dried beans, and from-scratch tortillas don’t sound like weeknight cooking. But it all comes down to timing. Most of the “work” with yeast breads is the rise time. So make it on the weekend, or let it rise while you fix a simple dinner (like pasta). Bake it to eat some for breakfast the next day, or refrigerate it after the final rise and bake it the next night. Then eat leftover focaccia with a basic pot of beans—often, I only add water and salt. Fancy it up with garnishes. The following night, those same garnishes become toppings for tacos using reheated beans. All I have to do is make fresh tortillas (which is easy once you learn the technique).

In this way, each of these meals looks complex and time-consuming. But in reality, I make one piece each night and roll the leftovers into the next meal. Each dinner consists of something cooked fresh, supplemented with something leftover. Finish with shredded, chopped, or otherwise prepped, garnishes for interest.

One large sheet pan of focaccia makes accompaniments for many meals. It also freezes well if you can’t quite finish it all.

And speaking of eggs, this is what good eggs look like:

Two Cracked Farm Eggs

Even in cities, many are lucky to have a friend or relative with chickens. Look forward to the most fantastic eggs you can get. If not, farmers markets sell incredible eggs too. But if you’re relegated to eggs from the grocery store, make sure you know what you’re paying for.

If you’re new to bread baking, focaccia is an easy place to start. Since it’s baked in a sheet pan, you can get by without specialty equipment. As with all baking (or cooking, for that matter), you always need a bigger bowl than you think. Why can’t I seem to remember that?

Focaccia Bread First Rise

First rise. Pro tip: Use a bigger bowl! Doh.

Leftover focaccia is also good for snacking.

Focaccia, Salami, Cheese and Wine

Leftover cabbage focaccia with olives. Served with fennel salami (finocchiona) from Salumi Artisan Cured Meats and Chive Ladysmith cheese from Samish Bay Cheese. Bread recipe adapted from Fresh Pantry by Amy Pennington to replace bread flour with a combination of hard red wheat flour from Bluebird Grain Farms and all-purpose flour.

So are homemade crackers—although I’d recommend being comfortable rolling out doughs. Crackers are easy to make but they turn out best if rolled as thin as possible.

Wheat Crackers With Salami, Cheese, Olives and Apples

Homemade wheat thins served with fennel salami, castelvetrano olives, Dinah’s soft-ripened cheese from Kurtwood Farms and sliced Pink Lady apples. Cracker recipe from Whole Grain Baking. Tip: Don’t make crackers when you’re starved. I guarantee you will eat them all.

An easier bread to try is pizza dough. Because who doesn’t love pizza? Correction: Who doesn’t love good pizza? Which is the reason to make it yourself. Most pizza is mediocre (and I’m being generous here). Not only does homemade pizza taste better, but you’re in control. So you want a more nutritious crust, or more or less toppings? No problem.

I used my new Hard Red Wheat Flour from Bluebird Grain Farms to make a flavorful crust. (If you’ve never tried freshly milled flour, do it now.) I had recently shared a disappointing pizza at a acclaimed local pizza place. While I was not impressed by the execution, the flavor combo inspired me to make my own version.

Composite of Whole Wheat Pizzas With Salami, Meyer Lemon, Roasted Squash and Red Onions

Whole wheat pizza topped with fennel salami and Meyer lemon (left) and roasted Acorn squash (right). Both pizzas also used Beecher’s Smoked Flagship cheese and sliced red onion. The “sauce” was a thin spread of garlic, olive oil, and dried oregano. I adapted this pizza crust recipe to use 100% whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose.

Still, well-executed restaurant dishes can provide inspiration too. Don’t think that you can’t recreate a simple version of a dish you enjoyed at a good restaurant. Like this yogurt, inspired by Sitka & Spruce:

Yogurt with Roasted Beets, Blood Oranges, Hazelnuts, Cocoa Nibs and Parsley

Plain, whole-milk yogurt from Samish Bay Cheese topped with roasted Golden beets (from the freezer), blood oranges, roasted hazelnuts, cocoa nibs and fresh parsley. Sitka & Spruce used fresh mint and dill (which I recommend if you have it), but I settled for parsley (still good!).

By February, do you still remember meals you froze in August? Okay, I wouldn’t have remembered either … that’s why I have kitchenlister 🙂

Black Bean, Cauliflower and Corn Tamales With Scrambled Eggs

Black bean, cauliflower and sweet corn tamales, assembled and frozen in August. After thawing the tamales in February, I steamed them for dinner. Here, I reheated the leftovers to serve with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Other breakfasts continued the theme from last week’s protein-packed meals:

Old World Hot Cereal With Bananas, Peanut Butter, Cocoa Nibs and Bee Pollen

A protein-packed hot cereal for breakfast. The Old World blend, from Bluebird Grain Farms, is made with rye, emmer and flax. A topping of peanut butter, bananas, cinnamon, cocoa nibs and bee pollen makes a filling meal.

By late February, the once-long list of local fruits has dwindled to … apples. Often soft ones at that, since they’re from storage at this point. But the winter citrus selection remains strong. It’s also the start of as-local-as-you’re-going-to-get avocados (i.e. from California, not Mexico). So now is the time of year when I indulge in tropical fruits.

Composite of Avocado Toast, Tropical Fruits and Banana Chia Pudding

Late-winter indulgence in tropical fruits. Chia pudding topped with bananas and pink peppercorns. Served with toasted crumpets spread with cream cheese and rose apricot jam (top left). Pan-fried potatoes and a poached egg, served with banana, kiwi, mango and avocado (top right). Avocado toast with Meyer lemon (bottom left). Toast trio of peanut butter and bananas with cinnamon or cocoa nibs, and cream cheese with dried figs (bottom right).

Sure, I enjoyed exotic fruits this month. But there’s still a place for canned local fruits too. And more hot cereal!

Scottish Oatmeal With Almonds and Boiled Apple Cider, and Home-Canned Pears

Scottish oatmeal with almonds and boiled apple cider. Served with home-canned pears and coffee.

The closure of my favorite cheese shop lead to a dearth of fresh mozzarella last summer. So I grabbed some when I saw it for sale at my neighborhood farmers market. It’s not tomato season yet. That didn’t stop me from enjoying two seasonal pasta dishes:

Composite of Pasta Dishes With Fresh Mozzarella Cheese

Two late-winter penne pasta dishes with fresh mozzarella. In an olive oil, butter and garlic sauce with red pepper flakes and fresh parsley (top). In a “summer” tomato sauce made with frozen peak-of-the-season tomato seconds (bottom). Both pastas garnished with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Another great farmers market find: wild mushrooms. I stick with basic preparations like sautéing for special ingredients. So simple with one trick: high heat.

Sautéing Wild Mushrooms Over High Heat

Winter chanterelle mushrooms sautéed in olive oil with garlic, red pepper flakes and fresh rosemary.

Cook with good ingredients and tasty meals are simple:

Mayocoba Beans Topped with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms Served with Pomelo

With only three main ingredients, quality is a must. Mayocoba beans cooked from scratch and topped with sautéed chanterelles. Served with pomelo segments. I sourced both the dried beans and wild mushrooms from local farmers markets.

Okay, you’ve made it to the final section. I’m going to brag just a little. I love Japanese food. Perhaps not that interesting, or a surprise, except that this is a recent discovery. Oh sure, I eat my fair share of sushi. My husband is obsessed with udon noodles so I get a few bites on occasion. But I didn’t know how much I loved Japanese food until my one and only (so far!) trip to Japan.

Yes, of course, the sushi and udon noodles are amazing. But fish for breakfast? Yes, please! Rice balls stuffed with umeboshi and wrapped in seaweed? Wait, why are we stuck with McDonald’s? And needless to say, green tea, red bean and black sesame anything! (See birthday cake above).

I returned home and checked out countless library books on Japanese cooking. Then I made nothing. That was almost two years ago. All those little bites in little dishes—it sounds so intimidating and time consuming. And I’m sure some of it is. But seriously, some of it’s not. Including my very favorite thing of all: tamagoyaki.

So on to the bragging … take a look at these beauties:

Composite of Tuna Onigiri, Umeboshi Onigiri and Tuna Tamagoyaki

Onigiri (rice balls) stuffed with canned Albacore tuna. Wrapped with roasted seaweed and sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds (top). Onigiri “cigars” served with green tea and umeboshi-flavored mini rice balls (center). Tuna tamagoyaki (rolled omelet) served with a mix of soy sauce and rice vinegar for dipping (bottom).

Now I’m not saying they were perfect—for one, I don’t have a special tamagoyaki pan. But all these little dishes were tasty, easy and perfect for make-ahead lunches or snacks. I didn’t have any dashi broth either, which thins out the egg mixture. Stopping myself before draining the can of tuna, I hesitated. I wanted to use every last bit of this amazing product. So now I’ve learned that “natural juices”—what I’m calling tuna water—are a perfect substitute for dashi. (At least in small quantities.) I shared this story of frugality with my mom. Her comment: “I think you are now more thrifty than your Grandmother. It is official. She would be proud.”

Delicious Japanese-inspired food and grandma’s approval. I’m calling this month a success.


If you’d like more information about any of these late winter meals, leave me a comment.

Read more about my “Week in Review” posts.

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