June 2009


I tend to cook big.  Feeding a family of four — even when two of the four are very little — is no small undertaking.  In our case, work-from-home jobs and food allergies team up to ensure that we eat the vast majority of our meals at the kitchen table (or out of a brown bag).  So I like to cook things that last a while, that are as good for lunch as they are for dinner (the number of bean and veggie chili burritos we’ve eaten in the past few months could feed a small army for a year at least), and that please everyone at the table (always a challenge with the “I don’t like my spaghetti ‘dirty’ ” crowd).

Our kids like grains.  Rice, couscous, barley — you name it, they’ll eat it.  They like vegetables, too, often enough, but never, NEVER, when they’re touching other parts of the meal (though our four-year-old is slowly growing out of this — the first time he took a bite of a burrito and without thinking said, “mmm!” I nearly fell out of my chair.).  I don’t understand it, but I accept it, for now.  It’s easy enough to indulge.  Cook a grain, cook some vegetables (maybe leave some raw).  For the more adventurous eaters, combine them.  Keep them separate for the faint-at-heart.

This recipe doesn’t sound like something kids would like, but it’s really very accommodating.  If you can’t find farro, try pearl barley or Israeli couscous.  Don’t love zucchini?  How about asparagus, eggplant, or portobello mushrooms instead?  Maybe add some peas, corn, or cherry tomatoes.  Don’t have a grill?  Roast your veg instead.  Can’t fathom a meal without protein?  Toss in a few grilled shrimp or some cheese (anything from fontina to feta would be good).  The only requisite ingredients are fresh herbs, a big, fat lemon, and some good oil and vinegar to dress things up.

Farro and grilled vegetable salad

Yield:  About 12 cups.

2 1/2 c. farro

4 red peppers, cored and quartered

3 zucchini, cut lengthwise into 3/4″ slices

3 summer squash, cut lengthwise into3/4″ slices

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 small red onion, chopped fine

Two handfuls fresh herbs (I like a combination of basil, mint, and parsley), finely chopped

Juice of one large lemon

White wine vinegar, to taste

Soak farro in cold water for 30 minutes (while you prep the vegetables).  Drain.  Transfer to a medium saucepan, add fresh water to cover by about 2 inches, and season with a generous pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until farro is tender, about 20 minutes.  Pour into a colander, then run farro under cold water to stop the cooking.  Set aside to drain.

While farro cooks, heat the grill.  Toss vegetables with just enough olive oil to coat, season with salt, and arrange on the grill rack, placing the peppers skin-side down over the hottest part and the squash over the cooler parts.  Cook peppers until skins are black and blistered, then transfer to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic (this steams the peppers, making the skins easier to remove).  Cook squash until browned and softened but not mushy or falling apart.

When peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off and discard blackened skins and cut peppers crosswise into strips.  Cut squash into bite-sized pieces.  Combine farro, peppers, squash, red onion, herbs, and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Salad keeps nicely for a few days in the fridge.  Serve at room temperature.

Make it wheat-free: Barley is a good substitute for farro in this recipe.  There’s no need to soak it first.

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A little bit like tabbouleh, but with a lot less chopping, this pared-down recipe is everything a summer salad should be.  A light, herbal vinaigrette and generous pinch of chili pepper complement the cool cukes and nutty quinoa perfectly.  The high-protein grain makes a substantial salad — I like it for lunch with a nectarine or bowl of sweet strawberries.

Quinoa and cucumber salad

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Yield:  Serves 6.

2 c. water

1 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained

Kosher salt

1 small shallot, minced

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

3 tbsp. champagne vinegar

1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil

1 English cucumber, peeled (leave thin strips of peel in between peeled sections for added color), halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced crosswise

3/4 c. finely chopped, fresh parsley

Combine quinoa, water, and 1 tsp. salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender (it should be nearly translucent and pleasantly chewy), about 15 minutes.  Drain off any excess water, then spread quinoa onto a sheet pan (this helps it cool quickly and not overcook) and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine shallot, pepper flakes, and vinegar.  Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly until emulsified.  Stir in quinoa, cucumber, and parsley.  Season with salt to taste.

This salad keeps in the fridge for a few days and travels well, making it perfect for a picnic lunch.

We went to a strawberry festival this weekend.  There was a muddy hayride around the farm, a pen of lovable baby barnyard animals, and — to our four year old’s utter delight — a hands-behind-the-back strawberry shortcake eating contest.  His milk allergy precludes him from diving face-first into a bowl of whipped cream and buttery biscuits, but this quintessential early summer dessert is easy enough to adapt for his dairy-free diet.  I made it that night at home, with a lightly sweetened version of our usual baking powder biscuits, berries from the farm, and vanilla frozen soy yogurt.  The whole family gobbled it up (George most enthusiastically, as he was permitted to reenact the messy contest to his heart’s content).

Strawberry shortcake

Yield:  Serves 8.

For berries:

2 lb. strawberries, quartered

A spoonful or two of granulated sugar, depending on sweetness of strawberries

For biscuits:

2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp. fine sea salt

6 tbsp. cold butter, cut into pieces

3/4 c. whole milk

For serving:

Lightly sweetened, whipped cream (or vanilla ice cream)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, toss strawberries with sugar and let macerate while you make the biscuits.  (Seasonal, local strawberries will be plenty sweet on their own, but you need at least a pinch or two of sugar to draw out their juice.)

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl.  Using a pastry blender (or whatever method you like best), cut butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Pour in milk and stir until just combined.  Dough will be sticky.

Turn dough out on a floured counter and knead gently a few times until smooth.  Press into a roughly 6×12-inch rectangle.  Using a pizza wheel or paring knife, cut dough in half lengthwise, then in quarters crosswise to form eight 3-inch squares.  Transfer squares to a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake until puffed and starting to brown, about 12 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.

To serve, split biscuits and top with strawberries and whipped cream or ice cream.

Make it vegan: Use a non-hydrogenated, vegetable shortening (Earth Balance’s  vegan buttery sticks are my favorite) instead of butter, and soy milk instead of whole milk.  We loved the shortcakes with vanilla frozen soy yogurt, but a vegan whipped topping or even vanilla soy yogurt would do the trick.

My kids love pureed sweet potatoes, so when I make them, I make a lot.  They’re great to have on hand for stirring into soup or chili, or making quesadillas (Spread some puree on a tortilla, top with blue cheese and red onion, fold in half, and toast in a dry skillet.  Voila:  lunch!), or as a sweet and nutritious addition to waffles, cornbread, or — when I run out of overripe bananas — muffins.

Tender, moist, and not too sweet, these muffins are an adaptation of my go-to banana bread.  I omitted the chopped chocolate from the original recipe and added a sprinkling of crunchy, cinnamon streusel.  Because they are egg-free, the muffins are light and delicate  — watery sweet potatoes may make them a little soggy.  If your potato puree seems loose or wet, you might want to strain some liquid out of it before baking.  To do this, line a fine mesh strainer with two paper towels and set it over a bowl.  Spoon in the puree, and let it sit for 10-20 minutes.

Sweet potato streusel muffins

Yield:  12 muffins

For muffins:

1 1/3 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

2/3 c. white whole wheat flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1 1/2 c. pureed, roasted sweet potatoes

1/2 c. light brown sugar

1/2 c. safflower or canola oil

1/2 c. chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)

For streusel:

1/4 c. granulated sugar

1/4 c. light brown sugar

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tbsp. cold butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with paper cups.  Lightly grease areas of pan between cups (so muffin tops and streusel won’t stick).

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together pureed sweet potato, sugar, and oil.  Using a rubber spatula, fold sweet potato mixture into dry ingredients until just combined.  If using, fold in nuts.  Spoon batter into prepared cups.

To make streusel, work the cold butter into the sugars and cinnamon with your fingers until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand.  Crumble streusel evenly over batter.

Bake in center of oven, 22-24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean.  Let cool briefly in pan, then remove to a wire rack.  Muffins will keep at room temperature for a few days.  I like to reheat leftovers  in the toaster oven, at 350 degrees for 5 minutes or so, until the tops are lightly browned.

Make it vegan: Substitute your favorite non-hydrogenated, vegetable shortening for the butter in the streusel.

The vegetable garden is growing and growing!  Where the radishes had been, I planted four English pea and four sugar snap pea plants.  They’re climbing and flowering, and the kids have counted about half a dozen tiny pods so far:

The leaf lettuce I planted from seed (“Salad Bowl”) in two, two-foot-long rows, is yielding a salad or two every day.  Leaf lettuces, like indeterminate tomatoes, produce continuously; pluck off the largest, outer leaves and the inner ones keep growing.  June has been unusually cool so far, so I’m hoping to stretch the lettuce crop for another few weeks.

The onion stalks — I planted yellow and red sets — are about two feet tall.  It’s hard to tell how big the bulbs are, but I might try pulling one up this week to see how they’re progressing.

I planted one cherry pepper plant among some marigolds that are about to bloom.

The beets will be ready for harvest this week.  I’ve already bought one black cherry and two small red cherry tomato plants to replace the beets.  One sugar plum and two golden nugget tomato plants are already planted, staked, and covered with tiny yellow flowers.

I’ve tucked some parsley around the marigolds and plan to replace the last of the lettuce with basil in a few weeks.

Oh, and there are carrots and cucumbers, too!

You can smell it, squeeze it, tap it, and shake it, but you can’t really know for sure if you have a great cantaloupe until you taste it.  When you luck into a perfect one, treat yourself to a block of the best feta cheese you can find and try this easy, elegant salad.  You could add a pinch of basil chiffonade and a slice of prosciutto or sopressata, if you like.  Just make sure your melon is at room temperature — chilled fruit tastes less sweet.

Cantaloupe and feta cheese

Yield:  Serves 6 as a first course

1 ripe cantaloupe, at room temperature

5 oz. best-quality feta cheese, crumbled

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Halve and seed cantaloupe, then cut each half into 6 wedges.  Remove rind from each wedge.  Arrange 2 wedges on each salad plate.  Divide cheese among plates, then drizzle each with a tiny bit of olive oil and a grinding of pepper.

The best thing about growing leaf lettuces (as opposed to head lettuces) in your garden is that you can pick the outer leaves as you need them, leaving the rest of plant intact.  The small leaves in the center will continue to grow, providing you with a steady supply of salad for weeks and weeks.

My garden is full of leaf lettuce, and my favorite way to dress the soft, tender leaves is with a crisp, citrusy vinaigrette.  Use good mustard (I like Maille) and olive oil for this dressing because you’ll taste them both.

Lemon vinaigrette

Yield: About 3/4 c.

3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (from about 1 good-sized lemon)

1 tbsp. minced shallot

1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. granulated sugar

1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine lemon juice, shallot, mustard, and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk well to dissolve sugar.  Whisking constantly (if the bowl slides, coil a dishtowel under the bowl to steady it), slowly drizzle in olive oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Or just combine all ingredients in a jar with a tightly fitting lid and shake to emulsify.)

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