‘My Kitchen Chalkboard: Seasonal Menus for Modern New England Families.’ By Leigh Belanger. Union Park Press. $35.

Pulling off wholesome, homecooked meals for a big family midweek can be a challenge. There’s always an unexpected work project, some last-minute homework for the kids or just a sense of “can we order in tonight or just scramble some eggs” that creeps into all our good intentions.

Leigh Belanger faced the same dilemma in her house and came up with a cookbook that can be easily adapted for other families – “My Kitchen Chalkboard: Seasonal Menus for Modern New England Families.”

The cookbook is organized into 16 seasonal weekly menus, with recipes that speak to not just seasonal ingredients, but to the way families eat at different times of the year. There is plenty of outdoor grilling recipes in warmer months and lots of soups and stews in the colder months.

Each month has up to a half-dozen recipes, with instructions on how to buy and cook the “building block” recipes that can be used in the next day’s dinner.

The leftovers from January’s roast chicken, for example, becomes the basis for the stock used in the Tortilla Soup recipe; a roast salmon in the early June section is used a second day for a soba noodle dish.

To help harried cooks, she begins each section with “the big cook” and “other ways to get ahead” – recommendations for how to use a multi-hour cooking session on the weekend to set up the recipes for the next week. It’s something I hear a lot of common-sense talk about, but this is the first cookbook to spell it out: how to prep a half-dozen items so that I can grab them midweek and shave a half-hour off the cooking time that night.

The meal planning isn’t rigid, however. Belanger emphasizes that flexibility is key and that the recipes are easily adapted to the tastes and habits of any family. It’s more about approaching cooking in a certain way, rather than following her exact plan.

The cookbook is very accessible, with a narrative style and lots of short side stories – how to prep for a camping trip, packing lunchboxes, batch cooking and how to start a basic garden.

I found myself drawn into her stories as much as the recipes.

The recipes cover a range of tastes, with international flavors and themes – like banh mi and homemade falafel – comfortably aside simple pasta with pesto and sheet-pan chicken dinners.

The recipes are not elaborate, and the cookbook is more concerned with what happens before the cooking – the planning – and what happens after – having a high-quality home-cooked meal that can be pulled together quickly for the family on the go.

I tested the lamb turnovers recipe, easy to make and fun for kids to help out by filling and sealing the puff pastry.

Like many of the recipes, the lamb turnovers are flagged as a “make ahead” dish, with Belanger dubbing them “the ultimate freezer stash” because they are simple to freeze and reheat in just minutes. I used the lamb, but the recipe notes it works just as well with various combinations of ground meat and seasoned vegetables.

The turnovers were a big hit, and although they were tasty by themselves, they really needed the yogurt dipping sauce to be fully appreciated.

Noel Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

LAMB TURNOVERS

Makes 16 turnovers. Serve with Herby Yogurt Sauce.

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound ground lamb

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

¼ cup packed parsley leaves, chopped

¼ cup mint leaves, chopped

1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 eggs, divided

1-pound sheet puff pastry, thawed

1. Make the filling. Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s warm, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for two to three minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cook for another one to two minutes, add the salt and spices, and cook until the spices are fully combined, about another minute. Add the lamb and cook, stirring, until it is fully browned, about five minutes. Stir in the molasses and cook for about two more minutes. Remove pan from heat and add the parsley, mint and lemon juice. Add an egg and stir until combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Set aside.

2. Prepare the dough. Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Dust a work surface with flour and unfold the puff pastry onto it. Roll into a 16-inch square and cut into quarters. Transfer three of the quarters to one of the baking sheets and refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

3. Fill and form the turnovers. Lightly beat the second egg in a small bowl and set aside. Working one dough section at a time, cut each square into four smaller squares. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling onto the center of each square, then brush all of the edges of the pastry with the beaten egg. Fold one corner over to meet the opposite corner to form a triangle, then press down along the edges to seal. Use the tines of a fork or your fingers to crimp the edges. Transfer to the remaining rimmed baking sheet. Repeat until you have 16 turnovers.

4. Finish. With the third egg, make the egg wash. Arrange eight turnovers on one of the parchment-line baking sheets, brush with the egg wash, and bake until deep golden and puffed, about 20 minutes. Assemble the remaining turnovers on the baking sheet and place in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, transfer to a freezer bag until ready to serve.

HERBY YOGURT SAUCE

Makes about 1 cup

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt

½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped dill

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl, then taste and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.