Things have been crazy around here. All in the past two weeks, I got a new part-time consulting gig, hired a part-time nanny and launched myself back into the working world. Oh, and Amelia got two teeth. So that’s been fun!
The point is, we have all been feeling the changes. So, instead of sitting down for leftovers or something frozen for lunch yet again, I took my first “real” weekend seriously and slowed it down a bit. I made a delightfully simple summer farro salad using tomatoes and cucumbers from our garden.
We all enjoyed it — even Nora, once she settled down enough to sit down and actually try it. And she’s professing to like both tomatoes and cucumbers these days — music to my ears, and a darn good reason to have your own garden, if you ask me! She’s much more into food she gets to help harvest.
This salad is so easy to make, and it really showcases the flavor of the tomatoes and cucumbers — so use the freshest ones you can get! If you don’t grow your own, get thee to the farmer’s market.
1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
½ large cucumber, peeled and diced
¼ cup red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
crumbled feta or goat cheese to finish
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until fragrant, about a minute.
Add the farro and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the farro is softened but still retains a bite, about 10 minutes.
Drain out any leftover stock and transfer the farro to a large bowl to cool to room temperature. Add the tomatoes, cucumber and red wine vinegar and toss to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper (along with more vinegar if needed). Serve topped with crumbled feta or goat cheese.
Scrolling through this page over the last few weeks, you’d be excused for thinking it was just a cocktail blog. I mean, I have my reasons (two little ones, actually), and the sleep deprivation inherent in parenting a small baby does make it much easier (and more enticing) to come up with a cocktail recipe on the fly, after the littles are in bed, than it is to come up with a recipe for a delicious and nutritious meal — something beyond, let’s say, ordering pizza or thawing something from Trader Joe’s.
So, mea culpa. I have been cooking on occasion, and we do not subsist on pizza and frozen food alone around here. Occasionally our meals are even well-balanced and somewhat original. Sure, cooking them tends to be a team effort (see: two kids), but that’s alright. It is what it is for right now, and I’m good with that. Parenting small children is all about ebb and flow, I’m learning. There will be another season soon, not too far off, in which more involved gourmet cooking is possible. Let’s all hang on for that season. For now, I’ve got a recipe for a tasty and healthy weeknight meal you can whip up on the fly with pantry staples.
How’s that for working with what you’ve got?
One of the things I love about Nora’s preschool is that they really pay attention to feeding a healthy, varied menu to the kids, and somehow they get them to try (and like!) all kinds of things they just won’t at home. Nora came home from school one day recently talking about the black bean tacos they’d had for lunch, and I was intrigued, so I pumped her for details.* She said they had black beans and avocado, and they were really, really good.
* As it turns out, she was actually talking about black bean nachos, but no matter. Tacos are just as good an idea.
Of course, the wheels in my head started turning, since I am ever on the lookout for a quick and easy meal that my picky princess will actually enjoy. I scraped together a few things we already had in the pantry and fridge, ordered a couple of avocados through Greenling (no one actually goes to the grocery store nowadays, do they?), and got cookin’ — well, barely. Honestly, this meal involves little more than grating up some cheese, rinsing and heating canned black beans and warming tortillas. And, let me tell you — it’s good. Even Nora, who has come to surprising me by declaring a new food she doesn’t like every day,** approved.
** Today it was cheese. What?! Who doesn’t like cheese? Especially this child, who until recently was mainly sustained on cheese, yogurt and Cheddar Bunnies (also cheese-related, no?).
So, if you want lazy, tasty, healthy food, this one’s for you. Enjoy!
1-2 avocados (depending on size), peeled and cubed
grated cheese, sour cream and salsa for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened and translucent. Stir in the garlic and cumin, and then add the black beans along with a splash of water or veggie broth. Stir until heated through.****
Heat the flour tortillas one by one on a hot, dry griddle, flipping each once to ensure even heating, and transfer to a tortilla warmer (or a plate with another inverted plate on top, as a "lid") to keep warm until you're ready to eat.
Fill each tortilla with a spoonful or two of the bean mixture, soft taco-style. Garnish with cubed avocado, cheese, sour cream and salsa, as desired. Chow down!
*** Get them freshly made, if you're lucky enough to live near someplace that offers that option. Otherwise if you're feeling ambitious, you can make your own using a recipe from my very own hubby. **** If you are really in a hurry, you can just rinse the black beans, cover them and microwave them until warm with a little sprinkle of cumin and garlic powder. No one has to know.
Here’s the deal with dinner lately: I don’t really cook it. It’s not that we don’t eat dinner at home… it’s just that the way our family life works right now sort of preludes me from being the primary chef at dinnertime.
Amelia has an early bedtime, so I have to start her bath at 5:45, do her bedtime routine (which includes nursing, so it’s my job) and then she’s down by 6:30 most nights. Nora, however, doesn’t go to bed until around 8 pm. We used to eat dinner at 6 and then play outside for a little while afterward, but since we like to eat together as a family,* we had to switch it up a bit. At first, we tried eating before I started Amelia’s bath, but it ended up being too early for everyone but her… and she was always on the verge of meltdown that close to bedtime, so it wasn’t working out. Our current solution is to eat at about 6:45, so I have time to put Amelia to bed and everyone can sit down together without throwing off Nora’s bath-and-bedtime routine.
*Well, minus the not-yet-eating-solids member of our crew.
Of course, if you do the math, that usually means someone other than me has to cook dinner, or at the very least do the final steps and get dinner ready to go on the table. And that means that the hubby has been primarily in charge of dinner lately. Sometimes I make the meal plan for the week, and other times we just wing it. Truth be told, I am still a little sleep deprived and unmotivated, so winging it wins out more often than it probably should. Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s freezer meals!
Anyhow, blah, blah, blah, get to the good stuff. I made a delicious dinner the other night (on one of my more motivated days) — and I accomplished it by prepping everything ahead of time (while the babe was napping), and then having the hubby finish it off right before we sat down to eat. This recipe for parmesan and spinach orzo has been floating around Pinterest, and I decided it sounded like a perfect weeknight meal — with some slight modifications, of course. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t be me.
I had high hopes for this one, and it did not disappoint. My only regret is that I really thought Nora would love it — and she did, for a few minutes. She chowed down until she realized that there was green stuff in it, and then proceeded to tell me she didn’t like “the kale.” Everything green is kale nowadays, and despite the fact that I have photographic evidence of her former love of actual kale, nothing can convince her that it isn’t gross. Plus, there were onions. Although basically undetectable to the adult palate (except for the lovely flavor they add), there were in fact onions in this dish, and that was apparently unacceptable. Sigh.
Regardless, the hubby and I scarfed ours down, and finished off her leftovers, too. Her loss, our gain!
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and add the orzo. Cook until al dente, according to package directions (around 8 minutes).
Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in another saucepan.* Saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the flour to the onion and garlic mixture, and stir to coat. Gradually add the milk, whisking to eliminate any lumps. Heat, stirring, until bubbly and thickened, 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.**
Stir in the parmesan and spinach and heat until the cheese is incorporated into the sauce and the spinach is wilted.
Add the orzo to the sauce and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
* Or, if you're like me and prefer to minimize the mess, cook the pasta first, drain it in a colander, and then wipe out the same pan to use for the sauce.
** If you're making this ahead, you can stop at this step, and refrigerate the pasta and sauce separately (keeping the sauce in the saucepan for simplicity's sake). When you're ready for dinner, gently reheat the sauce on the stovetop, and then proceed with the recipe.
Not long ago, I made a meal (this fantastic baked ziti) for a friend who just had a baby. Several people did this for me when Amelia was born, and I like to pay it forward. Having a newborn is a hard gig! However, I am still a little sleep deprived myself, so while I was making the ricotta cheese for two batches of baked ziti, I had a math fail. Long story short, I ended up with twice as much ricotta as I actually needed.
But, hey, that’s definitely not a bad problem to have. I pondered what to do with the extra, and landed on a quick and easy meal of spinach and artichoke pasta. Since we have plenty of spinach growing in our garden these days, it was easy to pop outside and pick some, sauté it, combine it with some chopped marinated artichoke hearts, the ricotta and a little cream, and toss it with pasta. Voila! Dinner is served.
I do like my pasta pretty saucy, and this is no exception — so if you like yours with more pasta than other stuff, well, just make more pasta.
Fold a length of cheesecloth so that it's four sheets thick, and set it in a colander in the sink.
Bring the milk, buttermilk and cream to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Keep watch over the mixture, stirring occasionally, until you see the curds start to separate. When this happens, turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Keep scooping under all you've got left is a light-yellowish liquid (whey).
Sprinkle the cheese with a little kosher salt and let it drain for about 5 minutes. Use immediately, or store in the fridge in an airtight container.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Naptime Chef is back. I thought, after a couple of years of being limited to meal prep during naptime, that I was past all that. With a child in preschool and plenty of time around the house by myself, I thought I could start to prepare meals like a normal person. Then along came Amelia.
Babies certainly have their own ideas about meal prep — namely that it’s not their favorite thing, and that there are a number of other endeavors on which their waking hours should be spent. So, I am, once again, limited to prepping dinner during naptime, however sporadic and undependable that may be.
And here I am, the Naptime Chef again. I guess that’s how it’s going to be for a while, at least. But, that’s okay, because I do have a few of my old tricks memorized, and I’m sure to discover some new ones along the way.
The difference is, this time, we’re starting out with a young palate to please as well — and yes, Nora has turned out to be quite the picky 3-year-old, despite my best efforts.* But, one thing she does like is rice. The kid will shovel handful after handful of the stuff into her mouth. And peas are one of her favorite veggies, too.
* I guess it happens to most kids eventually, at least to some degree. I just try not to cater to it too much, and hope it’ll pass sooner rather than later!
So, imagine my delight when I ran across this Slate article about the best thing to make with arborio rice that isn’t risotto, complete with a recipe for Risi e Bisi — an Italian rice and pea dish.
Of course, I wouldn’t be touting it if it weren’t also pleasing to adult palates as well. It has many of the same ingredients as risotto — arborio rice, broth, butter, parmesan — but it’s far less time consuming. Even better, it’s something I can easily make ahead (during naptime, naturally) and finish quickly at dinnertime. Now that’s something I can get behind — particularly as our freezer stash is running low and I have to start cooking real food again on a regular basis.
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated, plus additional for serving
salt to taste
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until light golden brown and beginning to caramelize.
Add 4 cups of the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Stir in the rice and peas.
Add a generous pinch of salt, cover and cook at a low boil until the rice is just tender, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.** Thin with additional stock if needed. The consistency should be thick, but not quite as thick as risotto.
Stir in the parmesan and taste and adjust seasoning. Serve topped with additional parmesan cheese.
** If you are making the rice ahead, simply stop a couple of minutes before the rice is done to your liking and refrigerate; reheat later, adding some of the reserved broth and finishing with the parmesan.
With a baby due this month (!), we’ve been working on stocking our freezer with delicious, healthy meals for those hazy newborn days when cooking just isn’t a priority… or sometimes even a possibility. Since Nora made her appearance a little early, we didn’t do as much freezer stocking last time around, but we made it through just fine with a mixture of family and friends cooking and bringing meals for us, prepared foods, and takeout. This time around, we are pretty well prepared, I think. We’ll see soon!
For a couple of months, I’ve been making larger batches of some freezer-friendly meals and putting the extra in the freezer. I’ve actually done very little cooking exclusively for the freezer, but we’ve been building up our stock bit by bit.*
* Yes, there are some prepared meals in there, too. Michael Angelo’s is good stuff, yo. And don’t knock Amy’s either.
There are tons of resources out there for stocking the freezer for omnivores, but, I found, relatively few for vegetarians. A lot of freezer meals tend to be crockpot-ready meals, and those tend to be pretty meat-centric. However, that doesn’t mean that vegetarian meals can’t be freezer-friendly, too! So, I thought I’d share some of the recipes we’ve used to stock the freezer, as well as a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
In general, soups freeze really well, as do non-cream-based pasta sauces (just make fresh pasta to go with it), lasagna and enchiladas (freeze the sauce separately, or use good-quality packaged sauce). Beans are also good freezer candidates, and you can either freeze them cooked plain (so you can throw them into other dishes) or prepared, as in a soup or chili. Don’t forget bread (it’s nice to have a homemade loaf to go with that soup) and a few treats you can bake at a moment’s notice, like chocolate chip cookies. Yep, I think we will eat just fine for those few weeks after the baby arrives.
C’mon Baby Girl! We’re ready to meet you!
Tips for Freezing:
Use disposable baking dishes. Normally I’m not a fan, but not having dishes to clean up when you are dealing with a newborn (or recovering from surgery, or what have you) is priceless. Foil baking pans with lids are the bomb for things like enchiladas, pasta or lasagna.
Use freezer bags, and lay them flat to freeze. This saves a lot of space, and they’ll thaw a lot faster when you’re ready to use them, too.
Be sure to print meal names, dates and reheating instructions on every container. Make it idiot-proof so you don’t have to think too much about it. Some of us are pretty dumb when sleep-deprived.
Make sure to leave plenty of time to thaw your meal before you’re ready to eat it! This seems like a no-brainer, but some things take longer than just a day in the fridge to completely unfreeze, and you don’t want your dinner plans upset when you realize your mac and cheese is still a mac-and-cheese-sicle after an hour in the oven. Not that that has ever happened to me. *ahem*
Start early. If you freeze a few meals here and there, it won’t seem like such a huge undertaking, and before you know it — voila, you have a freezer stash!
You know what’s good? Brussels sprouts. I know, I know — they’re all the rage right now, but I have to say, I’m so glad they’ve been re-discovered and that people are actually doing them right!
Roasting is the way to go, hands-down. You’re not still cutting those little Xs in the bottom of your Brussels sprouts and boiling them are you? Roasting is so much easier, and so much tastier, too.
The hubby and I went out to dinner at Uchiko a little while ago, and, among the many dishes they wowed us with was a side of crispy roasted Brussels sprouts with sweet chili sauce. Since I love Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving and wanted to include them in our feast, I decided to try my hand at a similar recipe. Although ours didn’t come out as crispy (or, truth be told, as greasy*) as Uchiko’s, they were still awesome.
* Not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing — they were utterly delicious.
I love the combination of soy sauce and sweet chili sauce on these, for a slightly Asian spin that was still perfectly at home with more traditional Thanksgiving foods. We had the rest of the sprouts (recipe testing, round 2) with a dinner of caramelized tofu with ramen noodles a couple nights ago, and it went great with that, too. Definitely a must-try!
A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Jen and Alex Jackson for a profile in Edible Austin. The couple has since moved on to San Francisco (Bay Area friends, our loss is your gain!), but they were delightful to meet and chat with. I hope you’ll check out the profile here.
I was also privileged to recipe-test the flatbread that Jen and Alex shared with us for the magazine. That was the best part!
I did this when eggplant, peppers and tomatoes were still bounteous, as was that peppery summer arugula, but luckily Jen and Alex provided us with a few seasonal variations that would be perfect for right about now (butternut squash, with sage and caramelized leeks, plus a great sheep’s milk cheese, anyone?).
This version, though, with summer veggies, creamy goat cheese and eggs cracked right over the pizza, is to die for, and will definitely be back on our table next summertime!
I will tell you that, although the dough is a little time-consuming to make, it is hands-down the best I’ve made in my own kitchen (and I’ve tried quite a few!). Head over to Edible Austin to read the profile and grab the recipe, and I do hope you’ll try it out yourself!
I’ve been experimenting a lot with pizza lately. Although there is a special place in my heart for grilled pizzas, with the weather turning cooler (at least in theory), and with my pregnancy-fueled love of all things carb-y, I am turning more toward a thicker crust and an oven preparation. I’ve tried several recipes recently — Chicago-style deep dish pizza (recipe to come, once I’ve perfected it), a flatbread recipe that’s to die for (more on that soon) — but this one just may be my favorite.
I was so excited when I saw Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for “lazy pizza dough” — it’s a no-knead dough that you basically mix and forget about until it’s time to stretch, top and bake. She gives options for an overnight, all-day or part-day rise, but I’m going to give you the part-day rise here, since it’s the only one I’ve tried (and it worked beautifully). We also seem to have lost our pizza stone and peel somewhere in the cross-country move (18 months or so ago… which goes to show you how often it got used), so, with some trepidation, I baked this pizza on a well-oiled baking sheet. Guess what? It still tuned out crispy and delicious. So, no special equipment required!
In a large non-reactive bowl, mix the flour, yeast, salt and water. The dough will be craggy, but should come together pretty well. If necessary, you can add another tablespoon or so of water.
Once all ingredients are incorporated, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 6 hours, until more than doubled in size. (See the original recipe for overnight and all-day rise options, if that timing works better for you.)
For the pizza:
When the dough is almost ready, make the sauce and prepare your toppings. Preheat the oven to 500°. Oil a rimmed baking sheet generously with olive oil.
Combine the crushed tomatoes, garlic cloves, salt and crushed red pepper in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and shape it into a ball.
Flour the top of the dough ball and, using well-floured hands, grab one side of the dough and let it stretch down, repeating several times.
Place the stretched dough onto the prepared baking sheet and stretch and spread it with your hands until it is roughly 9 x 13 inches in size (stretching almost to the edges of the pan).
Top with approximately ½ cup of the sauce, spreading evenly (reserve the rest for another use). Sprinkle the mozzarella over the sauce, and top with the parmesan.
Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is puffed and the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown, turning once to ensure even cooking.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the basil leaves. Cool slightly, then slide onto a cutting board and cut into pieces. Serve warm with a salad, and enjoy!
Looking for a way to spice up your veggie repertoire without going totally overboard? Is steaming your broccoli just not doing it for you anymore? Well, I’ve got an idea for you — and it’s one that our family has been loving for the last couple of weeks. Yes, including Nora — broccoli is one of the relatively few foods she will eat (raw or cooked) with gusto these days.*
* Although, preschoolers being what they are, I’m sure that will change soon enough.
Roasting broccoli takes a little longer than steaming it, but not by much, and it’s worth it. It imparts a great, almost caramelized flavor, and you can just toss it in the oven with whatever else you’ve got on, so it’s not exactly time-consuming. Plus, adding a little fat to your veggies (here in the form of olive oil) helps your body absorb all those nutrients, and makes them tastier to boot. It’s a win-win!
We had roasted broccoli the other night with ultimate baked potatoes, and it made for the perfect, simple weeknight meal.
This preparation is so simple it almost seems silly to make it into a recipe… but it’s too good not to share!
Preheat the oven to 400. Cut the broccoli into bite-sized florets, and toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
Spread the broccoli in a single layer in a baking dish. Roast for 15-20 minutes, tossing at least once to ensure even browning. Remove when bright green and starting to brown in spots, but still crisp.
I’m a recovering lawyer-turned-freelance writer, aspiring domestic goddess, and mom to a spunky and demanding preschooler and a tiny and demanding baby girl. I love all things food and drink, and I’ve rediscovered a love for cooking now that I’m not spending most of my days locked in the office, but I often have to improvise, since having ankle-biters around makes it more challenging!