Friday, May 30, 2008

Roasted Summer Vegetables with Tomato-Herb Pesto

Apparently, the Kiddo’s lunch box is a bit of a curiosity at school. Not just because it is one of these cool, environmentally-friendly “bento” versions, but because of what is in it.

“You, uh, don’t exactly serve you kid the same thing as most parents,” explains her teacher. In a good way, though, she even commented that she often wants to add a note to pack the teacher lunch, too. Teachers from other classrooms even come to see daily, “what’s in the box.”

I didn’t think it was all that crazy. Sure, there is an occasional serving of roasted asparagus, which the kiddo loves as long as it is soaked in balsamic vinaigrette. And I am guilty of sending in things like Carrot Souffle and Tortellini with Pesto and Roasted Tomatoes over Mac-n-cheese. But nothing too out there. Unless you ask my brother-in-law.

It seems he has not yet recovered from the last meal I served them when they came over. So, when I volunteered to make everyone dinner after my grandfather’s funeral, the suggestion was met with silence. And looks of fear.

“As long as you don’t make anything weird,” came the response from my brother-in-law, the most likely of the group to speak up on the topic. Okay.

I took it a bit personal. Like a challenge. I’m really not used to having someone NOT want to eat a meal I cook. I've gotten a bit spoiled by many previous grateful dinner guests, it seems. And, we didn't just get them all drunk, either. Sure, it helps, but not a given.

I was also driven by the need to just “do something” in the context of gathering after a funeral. Cooking for others is my way of showing I care. I have a bit of an Italian grandmother’s soul, it seems. I set to work to create a menu that all twelve of us would enjoy.

To do this, I fixed salad with greens just bought from the farmers market that morning, roasted asparagus also fresh cut, and the one vegetable dish that I have ever cooked that my sister will eat.

The menu included:
Roasted Asparagus
Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Grilled Salmon with Herb Crust
Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken
Brats (can’t go wrong here)
Rosemary Olive Oil Bread
Tortellini with Sundried Tomato Pesto (below)
Roasted Summer Vegetables with Sundried Tomato Pesto (below)
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble with Ice Cream

I didn’t have any leftovers, not even enough for the Kiddo’s lunchbox.
Here is the vegetable dish with the pesto recipe. This one is a keeper to use for now with local asparagus and later in summer when tomatoes and peppers are more abundant.

Roasted Summer Vegetables

Sundried Tomato Pesto
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ricotta Gnocchi with Asparagus, Peas and Green Onions

It's asparagus season. This means that for just one month a year, I can get this vegetable pretty much fresh cut that morning. There is nothing like it for flavor. We eat about 4 pounds of the stuff each week until the season ends and, this time of year, something else amazing shows up at the market. I forget how good it is, then remember again each spring.

I got the idea for this one dish from two different recipes in Gourmet that both sound good. The ricotta gnocchi was appealing, but what about adding some fresh herbs? And then using the fresh green veggies to counter the richness?

I did just that, and the end result was really nice. The ricotta gnocchi are lighter and fluffier in texture than the normal potato version. It doesn't take that long to make them, either. The herbs and veggies are all in season at the same time, so the dish is very much seasonal and fresh.

Herbed Ricotta Gnocchi with Asparagus, Peas and Green Onions

Friday, May 23, 2008

Market Bounty: Spring Greens

Flowering Baby Bok Choy, Pak Choy, and Baby Romaine Lettuce and young Broccoli from the Farmers Market.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Holiday Weekend Brunch Ideas

panini.jpgI like a good breakfast on Sunday mornings. Perhaps its just to offset the cold cereal guilt for the rest of the week's morning meal, or just because it's a relaxing way to start a Sunday morning.

Orange Brioche French Toast with Bananas and Coconut
For the Toast
3 eggs
1/3 cup cream
1 tbs. Orange flavor (real stuff)
zest of one orange
3 tbs. juice of orange
1/2 tsp Ceylon cinnamon
1 loaf Orange Brioche, sliced
1 recipe bananas Foster (follows)
flaked coconut
powdered sugar

Heat butter in skillet. Mix the first six ingredients with a whisk. Dip both sides of the bread slices in the egg mixture. Cook the bread slices in the skillet until golden brown on both sides. Keep warm.

Prepare the Bananas Foster. Heat 4 tbs. butter in skillet, add 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 1 tbs. of dark rum. Heat until sugar dissolved. Saute 3 sliced bananas in this.

Top toast with the Bananas Foster, a sprinkle of coconut and powdered sugar. Something like a Blueberry Compote would also make a fine topping.

Shirred Eggs
4 very thin slices of Canadian bacon or ham (or prosciutto)
4 eggs
2 tbs. cream
2 tbs. Gruyere or other cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray four ramekins with cooking spray. Line each with a slice of ham, pushing it into the cup to make a pocket. Crack and egg into each ramekin on top of the ham.

Place the ramekins on a baking sheet (for easy removal from oven) and bake for about nine minutes just until eggs are set. Remove from oven and top each ramekin with 1/2 tbs. of cream and 1/2 tbs. of cheese. Return to oven and bake for another 5-7 minutes.

To get the tops brown and bubbly, broil for just a minute at the end. You can also add spinach to this dish, which is a great variation. Just clean a bunch of spinach and heat in a skillet while it is damp just until it begins to wilt. Divide the cooked spinach among the ramekins, placing it in second after the ham and before you crack the egg in.

Breakfast Panini
4 large slices of rustic Italian bread (I like Olive Oil Rosemary)
4 sundried tomatoes, chopped
2 roasted red peppers, chopped
4 eggs, scrambled
1 tbs. butter
4 oz. semi-soft cheese such as Fontina, Gouda, or Provolone, shredded
2 slices ham, optional
1/2 cup arugula leaves, torn
1 tbs. fresh basil leaves

Prepare all the ingredients and scramble the eggs. Add 1/2 tbs. butter to the skillet. Lay two slices of bread in. Using half of the sandwich ingredients, lay cheese, sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers evenly on each slice. Add the arugula and basil to one slice and the ham, if using, to the other. Add the eggs.

When the bread is golden brown on the bottom, carefully flip one fully loaded slice on top of the other. Now, using the spatula (because who really needs that expensive panini press?) or a grill press, press down on that sandwich to flatten it a bit. Turn it over and press again.

Repeat with the other two slices of bread and remaining half of ingredients. Cut each sandwich in half. Serves four if you have fresh fruit or sides.

Food Snob Challenge

A good friend sent me Daniel Gross' post on, "The Agony of the Food Snob." The article is a bit self-deprecating, a bit of humor, and a bit of a poke to food snobs' plight as food prices rise for all of us. At times the article points out the more stupid purchases that defy reason, and at others, it shows that none of us — save the very wealthy — is immune to the price increase.

The last line of the piece is truly a challenge to all food snobs, "We're spending obscene amounts on food we don't need at a time when so many others are genuinely struggling to pay for enough basic sustenance to get them through the day."

I am not a food snob. I am also on a budget these days. Even so, I certainly enjoy the best foods of every season, and the relative abundance and the fact that I can afford to eat when so many can't has been weighing on me. I needed to do something to help.
So, here's how I answered the challenge.More...

I decided to make a few small sacrifices on my weekly grocery bill so that others can eat. There are many organizations that could use your donation as food aid is in critically low supply right now.

At my area Whole Foods, the store offers these "Feed Bags" for $29.95. Each bag is a reusable grocery bag, but best of all, 100 percent of the purchase price will be used to provide 100 meals for school children in the poorest countries through the World Food Program.

For a food snob, this donation may only require one less item purchased. For the rest of us, it seems like a lot, but it can only take a few simple cut corners to make it a reality.

For example, asparagus costs $5.99 per pound at Whole Foods. Because it is in season right now and at its best, I am able to buy better, fresher asparagus locally. I definitely lowered the carbon footprint, and I also saved $3.00 on two bunches. Spinach is also in season. I paid $2.00 for two pounds at the farmers market, and saved another $3.00 on the grocery bill. By shopping my own pantry first, I found I could make my own salad dressing with items I have on hand, and save another $2.99 plus packaging and processing.

I bought bulk, dried beans for 69 cents per pound in the bulk aisle, saving $1.00 over the canned organic variety. A few modest changes in cheese selections saved another $3.00. I did not buy any meat at the store. Instead, I purchased chicken direct from the farmer. I saved about $6.00 over the premium for all-natural chicken. We'll save even more by making that one roast chicken last for several meals.

I made some simple choices, and the end of the week's shopping at the farmers market and grocery store, I found I was able to easily save the $29.95 — feeding us well and 100 or so kids, too. I never knew that much could fit in a single grocery cart.

Here's a summary of how I saved enough to donate this week:

  • I bought less meat and prepared recipes with grain, pasta, vegetables or beans to "stretch" the meal.
  • I learned what is in season, and bought from the farmers market first.
  • Sought out local and sustainable sources for expensive staples like meats. These I buy in bulk to save costs, and will even split this kind of purchase with another family to make the up front costs affordable.
  • Shopped my pantry and freezer before I shopped the store. By using what I have on hand, I find I can save substantially each week.
  • Shop the bulk bins for basics like cereals, pasta, dried beans and other ingredients.
For more great tips on saving money, check out Kelli's post, "Nine Money-Saving Tips to Eat Greener." For ways that cost savings can help others, check out the World Food Program site.

Post part of Carnival of the Green for this week hosted by Blogfish.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What's Wrong With What We Eat

Mark Bittman presents on Ted Talks with a good summary of how our food habits have changed for the worse over the last century, how we got here, and how these changes impact our health and the health of our planet.

If you've never been to, it's worth a visit. Some of the greatest minds of our times have given presentations. All are available in the videos, free. There are so many amazing topics, climate change, the "cure" for aging, solving global poverty, how to be happy, arts, music, science. Incredible. is one of those places that makes me stop and wonder at the power of the Internet and the amazing information it can bring right to my desktop. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Rocky Mother's Day

My grandfather's birthday was Mother's Day. We were all going to gather to celebrate this last birthday with him. He surprised us by not showing up for the event himself. The phone rang at 11 the night before the party with the news.

We all decided to gather anyway. I needed that time, I think we all did. Part of the time was spent looking at old photographs and laughing at the memories that go with each. One image was of a trip to Colorado on which my grandmother filled the trunk of the car up with rocks for her garden. Apparently, this is a hereditary trait. When I was little, I would collect rocks and fill up my dresser drawer with the "collection."

So, after a long weekend, and a trying drive back, I took the Kiddo to the park for some time to run and play. We came home with about 10 pebbles that she had to collect. I saved them. On the dresser.

My mother's day present is in the photo here. My spouse bought it for me before the weekend. What a strange life it is, that, even in the rockiest moments, there is humor and continuity. There is the realization that all things are connected; be it life and death, the generations of our families that continue throughout, or just a weird thing for rocks.

It seems so tiny, this life. Just like one of the Kiddo's pebbles. And yet, what is a pebble but rock? Small, yes, but the very same as the greatest of mountains. We are all One.

I struggle with this. I have faith in that One, but I'm human. Resting in my shade garden, evening sun on his peaceful countenance, the Buddha Rock smiles at me and waits for me to understand.

Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mother's Day Breakfast

If I were to get breakfast made just for me on Mother's Day ... oh, the possibilities. Just one more reason to teach your kids to cook young.

Orange Brioche French Toast with Bananas and Coconut

Shirred Eggs

Breakfast Panini
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Or perhaps, Bryant Terry's Soul Food Brunch?

Hell, I'll settle for scrambled eggs and an extra half hour of sleep.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Long Goodbye, A Lot of Questions, A Bit of Laughter

Posts have been light lately. I've been missing this, the sites I visit, all of you. I've just hit a lull in my energy. Maybe, a wall.

Definitely, it's been a struggle to write about food amidst the global crisis. I feel a bit of guilt putting recipes out there, posting on the many choices I have. There is that.

There is some personal stuff, too.

My grandfather has been fighting to come back from a broken hip at age 90. On my last visit, I was pretty sure that was it. He was barely conscious. I fed him thickened water with a spoon to try and get something in. He tried to talk, but couldn't. At one point, he grabbed my hand and pulled hard. I was not sure if he needed to move himself, or if he was pulling me to him. I just held his hand and touched his forehead. I shouted, "I love you" a couple times while he was awake. Then, the next pain pill came, and he was drifting off.

A lot goes through my mind at this point. There is the little girl in me who loved climbing on his lap, this loving grandfather. The time he took me on my first fishing trip. The way we used to sneak the last sip of his warm beer when we thought he wasn't looking. How he taught us to "cheat" our grandmother at cards.

One night, when staying over at their house, I heard my grandmother exclaim, "Dammit, Paul!" and heard a huge thump, then laughter. Grandpa had, uh, "pooted" as our Kiddo says, in bed, then pulled the covers over her head. She kicked him out, literally.

I thought about him being my last tie to the past, to my father and grandmother who are both gone. Two people who loved unconditionally and with their entire souls. About how small my family is becoming. How much I regret the times I did not call, did not visit. The better days that we did not share. The difficult days we did.

I also stared hard at the reality of 90. My grandfather was not much older than I am now when I was born. If genetics were kind, and I am lucky, I have still have less than 50 years ahead. What have I done with my life? Have I been of value? Have I made a difference?

I think I just need a few more evenings running and laughing in the yard with the Kiddo. Nights like tonight. Each minute I fall deeper in love with my child. The questions I can't answer fade away. All I can hear is her giggling.

Maybe that's answer enough.

Honey and Vinegar

We had a play date over a couple weeks ago. Let's just say, the other kid was having a rough night. As I went to serve dinner, he screamed "No! I don't want that!" at me, and growled. The rest of the evening went about the same. I felt really bad for his mom. Having a run through the Terrible Threes is no picnic, much less a peaceful weeknight dinner.

When it was inevitably time for time out, the kid would not go. To up the ante, the mom's tactic was to put a bit of vinegar on her finger and give him a taste. I guess like soap, but without all the chemicals? I dunno. This is the point where I had a quiet chuckle, "Ah, that would so not work around here." I thought.

Around here, the Kiddo will darn near drink any kind of vinegar. I blame it on that whole theory that kids like what they get exposed to in utero. I ate salad with balsamic vinaigrette nearly every day.

When I put this recipe together, my helper was in the kitchen with me. She likes to use the whisk to emulsify the dressing. Once she stuck a finger in and found out it was lemon, vinegar, and honey, it was all I could to keep her from drinking the stuff.

The rest of the ingredients are a great way to use the arugula, herbs and spring onions that are fresh right now. In late summer, the cukes and tomatoes will be available locally as well.

Lemony Couscous Salad
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Well, At Least He Managed to Unite the Parties

Nothing like a Bushism to bring together disagreeing political parties in India.

"At a time when millions of people in India are unable to get enough food to eat and suffer from malnutrition, Bush’s insensible remarks about India’s prosperity affecting global food prices are adding insult to injury," CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said.

Ouch. Somebody get W. out of the kitchen, huh? The remark blamed India and China partially for the increase in food prices since these countries have gained a bit of prosperity and now have diets that include a bit more meat, meat that requires the same grain to produce as ethanol. The biggest culprit in the crisis is likely fuel costs, but I doubt our president will want to bring up that issue.

So, imagine if you were poor, and worked your way up a bit. What's the first thing you would upgrade in your life? Food? Nutrition? Absolutely. Is there an issue with providing a "Western" diet for the whole world? Absolutely. We eat way too much, and way too much of the wrong things. But to deny a nation's right to improved food (when your whole country is in an obesity crisis), well, them's fighting words.

No big shock, the online Indian newspaper had "Americans Eat Five Times More Than India Per Capita" as a related headline. Good point, guys.

It would have been far better to acknowledge the need for us all, on this shared planet, to figure out how to solve the food issue together. But then, it was just another Bushism, after all.