Dinner, last night. In an attempt to get as many vegetables into us as possible, I threw together a tart, crunchy, juicy salad of shaved purple carrots, chioggia beets, cucumbers and radishes, with wedges of first-of-the-season heirloom tomato, tender baby lettuce, and lots of snipped scallions in a lemon and coriander vinaigrette. I added lots of shredded zucchini to my kofta-style meatballs, and served them on top of freekeh and lentils and crispy sweet onions, all of it drizzled with a goat yogurt tzatziki sauce. Bright flavors and colors for our dimly-lit late night meal, and a crappy camera phone photo for the record.
It seems like just yesterday that we were bleary-eyed parents of a newborn, struggling to figure out how to keep this tiny little dependent creature fed and clean and happy, while taking care of ourselves, too. We didn’t have family nearby, and we had a very limited amount of freezer space, so we ate a lot of sandwiches from the deli down the street, and a lot of what I call “stuff on toast” – sardines and avocado, ricotta and jam, pretty much anything we could prepare quickly and eat one-handed.
We’ll be in that situation again soon, this time with a hungry toddler to feed as well, and you’d better believe Mike and I are already talking strategy, testing out new one-dish meals, and planning a rotation of things we can have around to keep us all nourished and happy. Some local friends of ours, whose son is one of Julian’s buddies, are in the same boat, having just welcomed a new baby girl to the world. Some of the other neighborhood moms had the wonderful idea to organize a sort of “meal train”, with everyone signing up for a night and taking over a meal to the family, and of course we were happy to contribute.
My original thought was to send over a roast chicken dinner, which is great hot or cold and is so versatile – but with temperatures on our selected day still in the 90s, something a bit fresher and brighter seemed more appropriate. And since our friends said they were pretty much game for anything, I thought a taco dinner would be fun.
I picked up a 5 lb. slab of brisket and braised it low and slow in the oven for the better part of a day in a mix of mild chiles, smoky spices, and a splash of coffee, then I carved the super-tender meat into shreds and chunks. I reduced the braising liquid by about half on the stovetop, returning the meat to the sauce and finishing it with a good hit of fresh lime juice.
I made a big pot of Borrachos with some Cayuga Farm pinto beans and home-pickled jalapenos, and a big pot of Mexican rice as well. We had a ton of juicy, ping pong ball-sized tomatoes from the farmers’ market that made a terrific pico de gallo, and a wee head of red cabbage that I shredded for a cilantro and lime-spiked slaw.
I packaged everything up and packed it into a tote with some soft tortillas, fresh lime wedges, and some beer for the grown-ups.
I set aside a little of everything for us, too. Quality control is important.
Mike and Julian took our care package over early the next day, and Mike reports the food (and beer) were very much appreciated. I’m just happy we could make one of those early, bleary-eyed days with a new baby a little easier for our friends.
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.
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.
I may never eat another caprese salad again. (Julian was also a fan.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Things have been quiet in this little corner of the Internet, but there has been plenty of cooking happening in our kitchen. I’ve skewed pretty heavily toward comfort food dinners of late, despite, or perhaps because of, my long workdays and the fact that a stubborn bug I thought I’d conquered has come back with a vengeance. The dishes that appeal to me these days are the culinary equivalent of a big chunky sweater, a fleece blanket, a roaring fire sending forth the earthy aroma of woodsmoke, something to force the chill from my bones and warm me to my toes. Braises and stews, creamy starchy sides, our enameled cast iron cookware has gotten a workout.
I wrote up a spin on Mario Batali’s “cacciatore” ages ago, and with a Pat’s Pastured Poulet Rouge in our fridge, one of many goodies we brought home from Saturday’s Wintertime Farmers’ Market, I decided a do-over was in order. There’s a bit of prep involved at the start, breaking down the bird, browning it in batches, soaking dried mushrooms and sautéing fresh, building layers of flavor in your pot, but once everything is in the oven with its parchment cap in place, you can kick back with a Negroni and enjoy the aromas wafting your way. Served over a creamy parmesan polenta, this is comfort food of the highest order.
You can get my recipe at food52.
I’m incredibly grateful to put September behind us and move forward. Dietschtoberfest is nearly upon us after all – time to plan for happier days.
By the way, it’s National Pizza Month, too, and Mike is embarking on another round of tweaking recipes in the quest for his perfect pie. This one was pretty fabulous. Stay tuned for more.
Happy weekend, and I hope it’s full of delicious things.
I’m in commuter hell this week – I’ve had a succession of early or late buses in the morning, consistently late trains, and unplanned cab rides home from the train station which, in addition to being annoyingly expensive and sometimes terrifying, have put me in a big ole cranky mood in the evening, and craving exactly what we’ve been trying to get away from – comfort food.
I sat on the train in my work clothes drenched to the bone after a rain-soaked spin through the Boston Public Market on Tuesday, with tomatoes and fennel and green beans and squash globes and all sorts of other goodies in my totes, and decided a big veg-laden soup was in order. After I got home, I peeled off my damp clothes and changed into something warm and dry, and then I got to chopping: slender leeks, carrots, fresh celery, beautifully ripe plum tomatoes, sweet red peppers, globe zucchini, fresh thyme branches and green beans all went into my pot at various stages, sprinkled with salt and bathed in dribbles of olive oil and a judicious amount of red wine as they cooked down. I added a little bit of orzo to the mix, and when it was tender, added a good amount of freshly grated parm to the soup off the heat. I blitzed up a fresh parsley and fennel frond pistou in the mini chopper to spoon on top, and served up our soup with a few thick slices of Olga’s Pane Francese and some gooey, runny cheese from Farmstead.
As antidotes go, this was just about perfect.
It all started with these.
I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, and Mike’s even less so, but when I saw the big bags of tiny, shiny-skinned eggplant at the Arcadian Fields table at last Saturday’s farmers’ market, I couldn’t resist. With cold, rainy weather predicted for this week, I knew I wanted to do something similar to eggplant parmesan, though I didn’t want to fry the eggplant, and I also wanted to incorporate a bit more vegetable matter into the dish. Mostly, I wanted to come up with an eggplant dish we’d really love.
I ended up borrowing a technique from Nancy Jo’s winning Eggplant Parmesan recipe from food52, salting my eggplant slices, drying them, then tossing them with flour and oven-frying them on sheet pans. When my eggplant coins were crisp and browned, I layered them in a baking dish with a mixture of slow-roasted plum tomatoes, frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained, and the same blend of cheeses Mike’s been playing with for his pizzas.
What we ended up with was a very unpretty, but surprisingly tasty eggplant casserole, so good, in fact, that my eggplant-averse husband went back for seconds. As did I.
I’m on a mission now: Mike and I are both generally good about eating our favorite seasonal vegetables, but as we enter into the cooler months of the year, I want to work with as many of our lesser-loved vegetables as possible and try to find at least one way to cook them that leaves us wanting more. I think we’ve found our new favorite way to eat eggplant.
What do you cook when your heart hurts?
For us, for the last few weeks, it was a whole lot of comfort food. There was pasta, lots and lots of pasta, sauced with ragu, in skillet mac and cheese, and in Michael Ruhlman’s macaroni and beef with cheese (which is better than it has any right to be). There was chicken, pan fried and roasted, with one of those roasted birds serving to provide a very special last supper for our Kali.
If you fill in the blanks, the dinners I didn’t photograph over the last few weeks, the other meals that were part of those days, you’d see a whole bunch of crap. If we could get ourselves to eat at all, it was mostly junk food, fatty, poorly fried, the kind of stuff you grab and choke down because you realize it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and you’ve been up since 5:45 and you haven’t had it in you to eat anything yet, but your hands are shaking and you can’t focus on work, and you don’t have time to take a proper break to get something reasonably healthy or good, to sit for a moment and eat mindfully, or because you’re feeling rough around the edges in the morning and need something akin to a “hangover breakfast,” all caffeine and questionable meat on a grease-sodden breakfast pastry (don’t forget the cheese).
And your heart hurts.
Weeks of eating too much rich food, of too many “one more glass”-es of wine, of the stress and the heartache Mike and I have been feeling of late have left us both in a sad state, feeling as bad physically as we have been emotionally, and this weekend, we thought long and hard about how to pull ourselves out of this rut and get back our equilibrium.
And we made strides.
We broke out our new pressure canner and put up a total of 20 pints of crushed tomatoes, locally grown and perfectly ripe, to nourish us during the winter. I’d never canned anything before, and Mike hadn’t been part of the process since he was a kid helping his family do it, and it was an absolutely thrilling, terrifying, wonderful project to tackle with my husband, a productive activity we took on together and loved, and a very welcome distraction from our grief.
And we came up with a plan. Vegetables.
It’s harvest time, our farmers’ markets are teeming with produce, we just needed to plan, and buy, and cook. And eat. And we have, and we will continue to do so.
It was a wonderful start. And now we have juices and whole grains and oily fishies and crisp apples and our favorite locally made yogurt, and the vegetables, the glorious vegetables to look forward to, and we’ll be healing our bellies, hearts, and souls with them for many weeks to come while we get our lives back into balance. And I hope to share it all with you in the days ahead.
And once again, thank you.