not-quite-seven fishes

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And somehow, we are days away from another new year. 2014 has been a bit of a blur, with book stuff and work stuff and kid stuff all taking my attention away from cataloging meals, but this one, our Christmas Eve feast, was a meal I wanted to make note of.

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Though neither of us can claim Italian heritage, we love the tradition of “la vigila,” and we have had seafood dinner on 12/24 for many years now. This year, anticipating a full day at the office, I had to come up with something simple and relatively fast to ensure we’d have plenty of time to play Santa after dinner and getting the little ones to bed. So I made a healthy amount of herbed butter (chervil, though dill or tarragon or parsley would all work well), slathered it on the cut sides of two split lobster tails, and laid them on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Those went into the oven for a few minutes on their own, then I pulled the pan out and scattered some shaved fennel, thinly sliced Meyer lemon, blue shrimp and Nantucket bay scallops all around. A drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, and back into the oven briefly. I finished them under the broiler to get a little more color, then served our simple roasted seafood with garlicky toasts and a nice bottle of rosé. Proof that sometimes, the less you do to delicious ingredients, the better they taste.

LNDavocadotonnato

avocado tonnato

LNDavocadotonnato

I made something delicious yesterday, and I wanted to share it with you.

I call it avocado tonnato – a simple dish of avocado wedges napped with a creamy tonnato sauce, its richness punctuated with briny capers, the freshness of celery leaves, and the brightness of lime juice and zest. It’s as tasty as it is easy – just the thing for a simple summer (no cook!) meal. You can find my recipe over at food52.

stovetopmac

outside the box

stovetopmac

One of the best decisions I’ve made recently is to use some unexpected vacation time to ease our transition from my maternity leave into our new routine. I was able to arrange for my first four weeks back on the job to be short weeks, scheduling a month of Thursdays off to spend at home with the kids. It has helped to break up the week for me as I get back in the swing of things at the office, and it allows Mike a bit more freedom to get the things done for his book and other writing projects that he needs to, as well.

Last week, Julian –out of the blue – asked me for mac and cheese, and since it was Thursday, and I was home, I figured why not? But with naptime approaching, I didn’t want to keep him waiting an hour or more for my regular skillet mac and cheese. Instead, I used that tried-and-true recipe as a jumping-off point, stripping down and changing up the proportions of my cheese sauce, and using a smaller (and quicker-cooking) pasta shape to produce a simple, super-creamy stove-top version for him.

julianmac

Three servings later, I was pretty sure I had a winner on my hands, and when Julian asked for it again yesterday, I figured I’d better write my recipe down for posterity. I hope Julian and his baby sister always push me to think outside the box, in the kitchen and elsewhere.

Simple Stove-top Mac & Cheese

1/2 lb. small pasta (we like Garofalo’s Lumachine, but any little tube or shell is fine)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoon flour
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. grated extra-sharp cheddar
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan or pecorino romano
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1-2 dashes Tabasco or other hot sauce (optional)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook it until tender. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat and whisk in the flour until combined. Whisk in the milk and cream until smooth. Add the cheeses a little at a time, stirring until they are well incorporated, and let cook over medium heat until the sauce is thickened and a bit reduced. Whisk in the Dijon, Worcestershire, and Tabasco (if using), then season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the cheese mixture and stir gently until the pasta is thoroughly enveloped, and the cheese sauce gets into all of its little nooks and crannies. Serve immediately.

kielbasa and pierogi sheet pan dinner

the swing

sheetpandinner

I returned to work this week, just one day after Mira turned 10 weeks old. Mike is home with both kids now, trying to balance his writing projects with wrangling a newborn and an energetic toddler. Monday was rough all around, but each day has gotten a little bit better, and I’m pretty sure that we’ll soon be right back in the swing of things.

We have been helped immensely by parent-friends in our neighborhood, who have dropped off a series of delicious dinners, and also by a bit of planning ahead. I made sure that our fridge and freezer would be stocked with heat-and-eat options to help ease us through this first week post-maternity leave – a chicken and black bean chili I put together a couple of weeks ago, a couple of par-baked frozen pizzas, and the ingredients for this ingenious and really tasty sheet pan supper, which I spotted on Pinterest some recent sleepless night. Right now, easy is essential.

Our kielbasa came from Flying Pigs Farm, and instead of using bell peppers (as in Foodie With Family’s original dish), I added some well-drained sauerkraut to the mix. I also ended up baking it for closer to an hour, cranking the heat up to 500 for the last half of the cooking time to get everything nice and browned and crisp (our crappy apartment oven is likely to blame for that). Since I had started early, timing wasn’t a problem, and I’m never going to complain about the smell of garlicky sausage and onions wafting through the air as they cook. We all loved this dish, and it could not have been easier to assemble, or more fun to eat. This one is definitely going into the rotation.

braised escarole white beans olives

bouncing back

toasts

We are finally… finally beginning to emerge from nearly two weeks of fierce battle against The Crud. Despite our best efforts at staying healthy, trying to strengthen our immunity by frequent hand-washing, liberal doses of homemade chicken stock, and, for two of the three of us anyway, getting flu shots, we were stricken, and hit hard. I suspect our recent trip to DC had something to do with it – it seems whenever we’ve traveled anywhere in the winter months, we always come down with something afterward.

cousins at play

As sick as we’ve been since, that trip was so worth it. We got to spend some long-overdue time with my parents, as well as my brother, his lovely wife, and their two adorable little ones. This was the first time Julian got to meet his cousins, and they got along famously.

escarole, wilted

On our first night in town, the entire clan ate dinner at a little Italian restaurant near our hotel, a mostly unremarkable place with checkered vinyl tablecloths and an encyclopedic menu. But one dish we ordered stood out in my memory – a side of white beans and escarole which we actually ordered for Julian, but which we adults ended up polishing off.

Dinner: January 23, 2013

White beans and escarole is a pretty classic combination, probably most familiar served in soup form, but this take was different: the escarole was braised with a bit of tomato, and the whole thing was studded with plump little black olives. They were an unexpected addition, and we loved how their brininess mellowed in the cooking, rendering them lush and fruity, a wonderful complement to the bitter greens and creamy beans.

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As soon as my appetite started coming back post-Crud, I began to crave this dish, and last night, I tried my hand at recreating it at home. With some toasted, crusty bread and a hearty red wine, this was a simple but satisfying meal I suspect we’ll come back to again and again.

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Braised Escarole with White Beans and Olives

one large head of escarole
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving
Kosher or sea salt
one cup basic tomato sauce
two large cloves garlic
1.5 cups of cooked white beans
1/2 cup pitted black olives
a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Trim the escarole, removing the stem end and any wilted outer leaves. Rinse it well and set aside. Add a glug of olive oil to a wide, shallow pan, and warm it over medium heat. Add the escarole and a big pinch of salt (it’s fine if a bit of water is still clinging to its leaves), and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the pan and let cook over medium heat until the escarole is mostly wilted and a bit browned in spots, about 15 minutes. Add the tomato and garlic, stir through, lower the heat, and continue cooking partially covered for another 10-15 minutes, until the liquid in the pan has reduced and thickened and the escarole is very soft. Stir in the beans and olives, add the red pepper flakes if using, and cook an additional 10 minutes or so, until everything is warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon into shallow bowls, with a generous drizzle of olive oil on top, and toasted bread alongside.

Better With Butter

I am unable to resist.

I feel like this summer has all but passed us by. Between our move, getting settled in our new home, keeping up with an increasingly mobile and ever-changing soon-to-be-one-year-old, and last weekend’s trip to see Mike’s family in Indiana, I feel like we have had very few of those “lazy days” people talk about. No trips to the beach, not a single lobster roll, no barbecue or bluefish.

But we do have tomatoes. Every chance we get.

baby heirloom tomatoes in brown butter

Some of the best tomatoes we’ve had recently were these brown butter tomatoes. I saw the post on food52, and I couldn’t not try it. But tomatoes and butter do not a complete meal make, so I spooned them over some herbed farro, and topped each serving with a ball of creamy burrata.

Dinner: August 29, 2012

I may never eat another caprese salad again. (Julian was also a fan.)

How To Eat Your Vegetables

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Since I read Tamar Adler‘s book a month or so back (yes, I’m late to the party as usual), Sundays will find me, at a minimum, roasting a couple of big platters of vegetables to tuck away for the week ahead.

weekly ritual

This sort of cooking ahead is more important than ever now that Julian’s diet has shifted mostly to solids, and we want to provide him with an abundance of tasty, seasonal vegetables in a format that’s easy for him to eat – and that’s easy for both his work-at-home Daddy and office-working Mommy to prepare and eat as well.

It’s also nice to have something easy to throw together for dinner after, say, a long weekend away, when you return home to a near-empty fridge and the thought of another meal out makes you want to stab yourself with a fork.

marinated roast vegetables

Enter our trusty jar of slow-roasted vegetables, a mix of yellow and green zucchini, young eggplant, and candy-sweet golden tomatoes, caramelized and bathed in a soft marinade of cider and champagne vinegars and plenty of fruity olive oil. I’ve tossed these with pasta, layered them in a warmed pita with our favorite local hummus, served them on a bed of wheatberries, or with salty French feta alongside, and on this night, I scattered them over a base of prepared whole wheat dough spread with creme fraiche and dotted with soft goat cheese – a rustic tart, of sorts.

Dinner: August 27, 2012

Julian ate his straight, once it had cooled enough to touch, and devoured room-temperature leftovers the next day, eating crust and cheese first, then gathering up any vegetables that had dropped off and popping them into his mouth one by one. I topped the grown-ups’ portions with big handfuls of raw arugula, a drizzle of red wine vinegar, and lots of cracked black pepper.

the grown-ups' part

A meal that took a minimum of time and effort to put together, packed with vegetables and loaded with flavor, that all three of us loved? You can’t get much better than that.