Friday, June 4, 2010


Over and over again, my kids bring me SMACK into the present and cause my heart to race. The save-Dash's-life-before-he-runs-into-the-street moment, the tackling-Dash-before-he-swallows-all-the-vitamins moment, the deep-breath-to-control-my-anger moment. The bummer is that when I'm not saving a life, tackling my son, or calming my anger,  I'm very spacey and tired. Except, for some reason, in the kitchen. 

Cooking with Dash and Bella, I am at my most alert and my most calm. I breathe deeply, I watch them like a hawk, and I let them play. I even take pictures. The kitchen is where I feel that my sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are working in tandem and are not at odds. Ask Bella and she will tell you that I'm NOT alert and calm when I'm trying to hustle them out the door in the morning to get to school.  
Dash seems to have found some of the same equilibrium that I've found in the kitchen. At least I see the potential. He holds his hands together to resist grabbing everything. He tries to work with me. If he holds my hand while I chop he feels like an equal participant.

But a few weeks ago he couldn't control himself anymore. He threw a peeler at my head AND dumped a huge bowl of stinky compost all over me and the floor. I've cooked with him almost every day during the past year and this was his first massive freak out in a long time. Usually he listens and asks the most amazing questions.

"Will my hands die if I touch the hot pan? Just like my pants died when I left them at school?"
"Yeah, Dashi. Something like that." 

Despite the peeler incident, we have made a batch of Roasted Sweet Red Pepper Purée every week for the past 2 months. I use it in something almost every day. 
We're trying to waste less food and make more versatile concoctions that work in numerous dishes. The first few times we made this recipe it was to clean out our fridge. A scrap of lemon, a months-old jar of sweet roasted red peppers, an extra shallot, two different kinds of capers, and a few anchovy fillets. But now we make this purée because we crave it. Dashi and I have started roasting our own red bell peppers. We throw them in a cast iron pan and under the broiler until they are soft, juicy, and partially  blackened. 

Then we cover the peppers with a lid for 10 minutes to let them steam. Dash finds it very satisfying to slide off the skins and plop the slices into the jar.
Get yourself a big jar and combine the roasted red peppers with any scraps from the citrus and onion families—my favorites for this being lemon, garlic, and shallots (a reader just warned me not to use fresh orange juice because it breaks down—thanks Meghan!). Add something briny like capers, some balsamic vinegar, and some pungent olive oil. And, of course, some anchovies. And then let it sit in the fridge all week. 
While the ingredients macerate, use the flavored oil for marinades and salad dressings. Stir it daily. And make sure to replace whatever flavored oil you've taken out with more olive oil so that everything is covered. Dash likes to taste and replenish the oil.
Remove the lemon halves before puréeing the mix and save them because they are infused with fabulous flavors. You can stuff the halves into a chicken cavity before roasting. Or slice them up and use them to infuse rice or couscous while cooking.

The flavor is slightly different each time. Thanks to Dash, this particular batch had a lot of lemon zest and diced shallots. And a bit too much balsamic vinegar.
Once puréed, it freezes really well. This is another way to prevent waste. It lasts for months in the freezer.
You can use the purée as the base for a tart. We did one on puff pastry with caramelized onions, pancetta, and dill.


1. Mix the purée into a meatloaf (recipe coming soon). Add additional purée as a glaze.
2. Add more balsamic vinegar and use it as a glaze for steak or salmon.
3. Turn it into pesto (of course!) by adding nuts and cheese.
4. Smear it on chicken pieces before baking.
5. Melt a frozen cube into couscous. Add pine nuts and currants.
6. Serve over pasta with a handful of peas, fresh goat cheese, and chopped parsley.
7. Add 1 teaspoon mustard to 1 tablespoon of the purée and whisk in 2-3 tablespoons olive oil for a vinaigrette.

printable recipe
These amounts and ingredients are somewhat arbitrary. Use what you have in the fridge. Leave out the anchovies if you want. Add some olives. 

You can use roasted red peppers from a jar. Or you can do do the peppers yourself: Char 3 red peppers over a flame or under a broiler. Keep turning them around until they are mostly black. Place hot peppers in a bowl covered with sarah wrap (or a pot covered with a lid). Let steam for at least 10 minutes. Peel off charred skin into a strainer over a bowl. Let the pepper juice drip down. Still over the strainer, break open the peppers, strip out the seeds, stem, and fibrous interior. Set the pepper strips into a separate bowl. Tear the pepper into any size strips. Pour strained juice over strips.

8 strips of roasted red peppers (about 3 peppers total)
5-10 anchovy plus fillets plus oil 
2 tablespoons capers plus brine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, grated or pressed or finely chopped
3 shallots, diced
1 lemon, juice + zest
pinch of salt
pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a jar, including the lemon halves that have been juiced and zested. Press everything down so that it's below the surface of the liquid. Add more olive oil if you need to. Keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Spoon off oil to make salad dressings and marinades. Add more olive oil to replace what you've taken. Take out lemon halves and save them (you can stuff them inside a chicken before roasting). Purée in a food processor or blender. It will keep for a few days in the fridge. Or you can freeze it in an ice cube tray and then store cubes in a ziploc bag up to 6 months.


  1. Ooh, that sounds delicious! I have half a jar of roasted red peppers in the fridge, and I suspect I know what they'll be used for now.

    Regarding your note about citrus, I'd suggest against using orange juice unless it's bottled orange juice, not fresh--something about the flavor something somethings in fresh juice break down after a day or two, leaving your formerly delicious food tasting...well, not delicious. I found out the hard way when a whole batch of noodle salad had to be tossed.

  2. Phyllis, I have been waiting for this recipe for months, and it was so worth the wait!!!! Yeah, I am so happy you are sharing with us.
    What a great post on so many levels: the honest glimpse into motherhood, the lush photos, and the drool-worthy recipe. I felt like I was there with your gang in the kitchen.
    Thank you.

  3. meghan: thanks for the tip about fresh orange juice. i noted it above. i'm so grateful for feedback and close readers like you. i learn so much.

    e: i feel like i should dedicate this post to you and my friend jen. you've both been so encouraging. i finally did it! in a few days (we'll see) i hope to post about my afternoon in jen's kitchen. she makes the red pepper puree. so it's official i dedicate this post to you and jen.

  4. I can't wait to make this! Think I could lose the anchovies though? Would it sacrifice the flavor?

    Love the honesty in your writing. So refreshing. And I think sharing the kitchen with your kids is something they will surely look back on with full hearts:)

  5. the french: you can definitely omit the anchovies. just make sure you add enough salt to make up for the loss of flavor. you could add olives instead. thanks for asking (and reading).

  6. Sounds like a great recipe/ideas. Looking forward to trying.

  7. phyllis - i want to honor YOU for helping to build my confidence in all kitchen endeavours. i'm ready to go full steam ahead on this leaqrning curve thanks in large part to you. i'm a dedicated fan.

  8. This is so fantastic! I'm delighted to have found this blog and really excited to try some of your recipes (especially this one). As someone who is getting married soon, and who will be having kids not too long after that, I'm really excited to teach those future kids how to cook; it looks like you're doing an amazing job of exposing your kids to the fantastic world of cooking. My parents did the same thing and as a result, I cook all the time and have come to really appreciate the fine art of a home-cooked meal.

    Your photos are really beautiful, too. Dash is one of the most adorable kids I know, and I know a lot of preschoolers!

    - Bret

  9. jen: it's an honor to be a part of your cooking adventures. can't wait to see what's next. just chose the photos i'm going to post of you and your beautiful cooking...

    bret: wow. you got to the blog really fast. how cool. thanks for all your encouraging words. sounds like you have a lot of exciting things coming up! let me know if you do any of the recipes. i always appreciate feedback as i build my list of recipes. see you next week!

  10. Have you posted the recipe for the delicious looking cupcakes you have in your header?!

  11. kate: i'm going to do a post about the frosting soon. it was maple with glazed pecans. yum. here's my post that mentions the cupcakes and has the link for the cupcake recipe at cook's illustrated. you do have to become a member but it's well worth it for all the recipes. i didn't want to print it without their permission.

  12. wow that sounds amazing.
    I bet it would be amazing on pizza...
    or as you said puff pastry.
    Yum.. now I am hungry!

  13. Thanks Phyllis! I love Cooks Illustrated, and don't see it very often as I live in Italy, so I will definitely become a member. Looking forward to the frosting recipe!

  14. You tell "Pepper to taste", the problem with pepper from supermarket is: pepper is not tasty! In my kitchen I adopted black Kampot pepper. Nothing to compare with others.

  15. How did you come to cook with your children? Do you use tools that are kid friendly? If so, which ones? How did you start having your children cook with you? These may seem simple.. but maybe my nervous system is not as connected as yours in the kitchen with my children. ;)

  16. I just threw this together with some red peppers I got this morning. I can't wait to be able to taste the oils on salad and, later on, the puree in all the ways you mentioned! As a young twenty-something living on her own, I'm starting to embrace the freezer to make prepared/half-prepared things last longer. I love the thought of freezing flavors like this to pop into a dish later on.

    Thanks for the recipe and the beautiful stories about your kids.

  17. what a fab idea to freeze it into icecubes, love this! great recipe.

  18. Hi Phyllis—

    It’s so great that you involve Dash and Bella in the kitchen. I bet they enjoy eating food that they helped make, and this Red Pepper Puree recipe is so versatile that it allows them to do that just about every day! By including them in the cooking process, you’re teaching them valuable skills that will last a life time, like math and teamwork. That is why I work with The Kids Cook Monday, a new campaign which encourages families to set aside the first day of every week to cook and eat together as a family. (For more info, check out:

    We’re looking for people who would like to submit kid-friendly recipes to be featured on the Kids Cook Monday recipe, launching in mid March. We would love to feature some of your recipes and tips for involving the kids. If you’re interested, please email me at