PHOTO: Penny De Los Santos/Running Press
Laura Brehaut/Postmedia News
Originally published on June 19, 2013;
Montreal Gazette: June 26, 2013; page B4
Author and food blogger Jennifer Perillo shares well-tested scratch cooking strategies in her cookbook Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie’s Kitchen (Running Press, 2013). As a single mother of two, Perillo understands the pressures of busy families wanting to cook for themselves but feeling stretched for time.
Perillo includes everyday basics in Homemade with Love, with recipes for “cooking-from-scratch shortcuts” like baking mixes, 20-minute marinara sauce, homemade nut butters and ricotta. “I put two different mixes in the book. There’s an all-purpose, white flour and there’s a whole grain. Of course from a health perspective we should be eating more whole grains, but if I want to get someone back in the kitchen, I’m not going to tell them you can’t have your white flour,” she says in an interview in Toronto. “For me, it’s an upgrade if you’re moving from Bisquick to making your own all-purpose baking mix at home.”
Fans of Perillo’s blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen, will be familiar with her accessible attitude toward scratch cooking; Perillo is quick to emphasize that in budgets and lifestyle in general, one size does not fit all. Buying ingredients locally, seasonally and organically works for her family’s budget, but she realizes that it might not work for everyone. Brooklyn-based Perillo says what motivated her to cook from scratch was learning more about the food system in the U.S., and how meat is produced and processed. With that increased knowledge, it became important for her to start sourcing food locally and ethically from farmers that she trusts.
“It gets expensive to eat in that way and that really started making me think about how I would allocate my dollars differently. It’s what really compelled me to develop a recipe like the Lentil Ricotta ‘Meatballs,'” Perillo says. “I’m an Italian gal; I have fond memories of my nana frying up meatballs and she’s been gone for over 30 years now. I didn’t want to deny myself that connection to my past but I had to figure out a way to make it fit in with the present and lentils are a lot less expensive than buying ground beef at $10 a pound from the farmers’ market.”
The belief that food should be accessible extends to the way Perillo presents techniques, the clarity of her recipes, and the tools called for in the book. Realizing that not everyone has the counter space or budget for a food processor or stand mixer, she developed the recipes so that they can be made without. Giving the example of the three muffin recipes – Zucchini Walnut, Clementine & Pistachio Crumb, and Lemon Blueberry – Perillo says you could easily adapt the technique and use a food processor to cut the butter into the flour in order to expedite the process, as many experienced home cooks know.
“For someone who is just starting out, if I write a recipe that says blend the flour and the butter with a food processor, well right there they’re going to think, ‘Of course I can’t cook from scratch because I don’t have this piece of equipment.’  And then it’s a big up-front investment,” Perillo says. “When you write a recipe that says just use your fingers to rub it in, boom! You’ve made it accessible. You’ve taken away a little bit of the excuse and made it less intimidating for someone to approach cooking from scratch.”
In fact, the tools that Perillo sees as essential are definitely within reach: kitchen tongs, knives (paring, bread and chef’s), thermometers and the humble fork.  “I always say that tongs are like Inspector Gadget – it increases my arm length and you can use it for so many different things,” she says. “And again, knives are not one size fits all. You really need to hold a knife; the best place to really go buy knives I think are at a kitchen supply store. They may cost you a little bit more but any kitchen supply store will actually have a carrot or onion that you can chop.”
As for the importance of having thermometers, which Perillo refers to as a baker and cook’s best friend, many people don’t know that their ovens aren’t calibrated properly. She sees making sure your oven is the correct temperature as mandatory for setting yourself up for success in the kitchen. And the fork? “As crazy as it sounds, we all have them in our kitchens, but a fork is so universal. A lot of my recipes will say stir with a fork. I’ll use it say to mix a muffin batter and then I’ll use it to maybe flip a slice of bacon,” she says. “It’s so funny how something so simple is such a universal tool, and again, it’s a low-cost investment. You already have it in your drawer because you need it to eat your meals anyway.”
For those new to scratch cooking, Perillo offers tips on how to stock the “perfect pantry,” and the joys of being able to cook on the fly. “That’s the beauty of cooking from scratch: combining the ingredients you have available with a few simple techniques to create a satisfying and comforting meal,” she writes in the Getting Started chapter. In addition to the basics section mentioned earlier, there are chapters devoted to: breakfast (on the go and hot); soups, sandwiches and salads; pasta, beans and grains; meat mains; seafood; pizzas, savoury tarts and breads; sides and vegetables; snacks; sweets; drinks; and jams, salsas and condiments.
Perillo hopes that readers take away the sense that being in the kitchen isn’t a chore. Rather an opportunity to create something, and gain the sense of accomplishment that comes with cooking a beautiful meal. “I’ve had a lot of [readers] say, ‘I don’t know how to roast a chicken.’ And then they go and do the Simple Roast Chicken recipe in [the book] and they either send me a tweet or message, or leave me a comment on the blog to say, ‘I had no idea how easy it was to roast a chicken!’” she says. That makes me so happy because a lot of people buy the store-bought rotisserie chicken and not to say that they’re not delicious but you know what? You could do that at home and that’s a really great sense of accomplishment to be able to give people.”
Recipes excerpted from Homemade with Love (Running Press, March 2013) by Jennifer Perillo.
1 scant cup (130 grams) whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated natural cane sugar
1 tsp (5 grams) baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp (2 grams) sea salt
freshly squeezed juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
scant 1/2 cup (110 ml) buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tbsp (14 grams) unsalted butter, melted
confectioners’ sugar (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Grease a 6-count doughnut pan, and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest.
3. In a measuring cup, use a fork to beat the lemon juice, buttermilk, egg, and melted butter until well blended. Pour over the flour mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir together until just combined. Evenly spoon into the prepared doughnut pan and bake for 8 to 9 minutes until the doughnuts are lightly golden and spring back when touched.
4. Let the doughnuts cool in the pan for 2 minutes. Unmold the doughnuts and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Use a small strainer to sift confectioners’ sugar over the tops before serving, if desired.
makes 6 doughnuts
Need a chocolate fix?
Omit the lemon juice and lemon zest. Reduce the whole wheat pastry flour to 3/4 cup (97 grams) and add 1/4 cup (27 grams) dark cocoa powder to the flour mixture. Stir 3 tablespoons (45 ml) brewed coffee into the milk mixture, and proceed with the directions as listed in the recipe. For an extra tasty treat, dip the cooled doughnuts in chocolate ganache.
1 tbsp (15 ml) apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 bulb of fennel, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups (420 grams) cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup (4 grams) fresh flat-leaf parsley, torn into pieces
1/2 cup (40 grams) shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup (36 grams) Marcona almonds, coarsely chopped
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, and lemon juice until well mixed. Season the dressing with salt and pepper to taste. Add the fennel, chickpeas, parsley, and cheese to the bowl. Toss together to combine.
2. To serve, spoon the salad onto a large platter, and sprinkle almonds on top.
serves 4
Time saver
You can prepare the salad up to an hour in advance, and let it sit at room temperature. The flavours have time to marinate this way, making it taste even better. Just wait to add the almonds until you’re ready to serve it so they stay crunchy.
for Whole Wheat Pastry Crust:
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) whole wheat pastry flour; plus more for sprinkling
3/4 tsp (4 grams) fine sea salt
1/4 tsp (1 gram) baking powder
1 tsp (4 grams) granulated natural cane sugar
1 stick (112 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
3 tbsp (45 ml) ice cold water
for Tart Filling:
5 oz (140 grams) ricotta
freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large summer squash, sliced into 1/8-inch coins
extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
4 sprigs fresh lemon thyme
pinch of smoked paprika
3 tbsp (6 grams) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
2. To make the whole wheat pastry crust: Add the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar to a deep bowl and whisk to combine. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and rub together quickly with your fingertips until it forms a sandy-looking texture with some pebble-sized pieces. Sprinkle the cold water over the mixture and stir with a fork until the dough forms a rough ball. Press the dough into a 10-inch (25-cm) tart pan with a removable bottom.
3. For the tart filling: Stir the ricotta and lemon zest together in a small bowl. Spread the mixture into a thin layer on top of the dough. Arrange the squash slices on top of the ricotta in a circular pattern, overlapping the edges a bit. Drizzle a little olive oil over the squash.
4. Strip the leaves off the stems of lemon thyme (imagine the motion of a firefighter sliding down a pole). Sprinkle the leaves over the squash, along with the paprika. Scatter the cheese on top of the tart and bake for 20 minutes until the edges and top are golden.
makes 6 to 8 servings
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