Cooking For Two

There should be a single word for the anxiety you feel when you know your CSA or farmers’ market vegetables might go bad in their picturesque bowl on the counter before you get a chance to cook something delicious with them. There are two possible upshots of this feeling: one, that the vegetables do go bad, which stinks; and two, that you force yourself to cook everything up into some hodgepodge hash or curry that’s good but possibly not as off-the-charts good as that perfect eggplant/herbs/tomato would have been had you had the time to treat each vegetable like a star.

And then, when my sister’s neighbor dropped off so much fresh produce from his garden that she sent me a desperate text, and when my mother-in-law’s small garden yielded pounds of string beans just in the time we were visiting, from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon, I realized that our urban what-do-I-do-with-this-produce anxiety (see, we need a single word), is a faint facsimile of what people with gardens or farms must experience.

If you’re a pro at this, let us know what you make to prevent any veggies from going to waste!

In the city, we choose to live on the edge, with respect to potentially rotting vegetables, by joining a CSA or allowing ourselves to overspend at the market. In the country, on the other hand, you might be the innocent victim of  a neighbor’s overzealous springtime planting.So I don’t come from a place of total vegetable-overload expertise. My apologies. Still, I can’t help but think that this soup, which turns a half dozen ears of corn into a delicate cream that you can ladle into your mouth, is an awesome solution to the problem of too much corn. Besides corn, there are just two ingredients in the soup, potatoes and Unsweetened Original Almond Breeze Almond Milk, both of which complement the corn with their sweetness and their substance. Add bacon on top and a chunk of buttered baguette on the side, and you’ve got a dinner so delicious I can promise you one thing: that you will never learn not to over-buy or over-plant. If this silky substance represents the untold third upshot of the the too-much-vegetable anxiety, I think the whole dance is worth it.

Pizza Bianca with Anchovies & Kale

Posted by on Wednesday Aug 13th, 2014

If, as you go about becoming a better and better cook, you find yourself looking for ways to increase the satisfaction factor of salad dressings and sautéd greens, beef stews and olive tapenades, I bet you’ll become incrementally more obsessed with a tiny sliver that delivers unbelievable flavor: the anchovy. I am here to tell you that this is what has happened to me. Paired with this confession? A homemade pizza that appreciates anchovies as much as I do.

Please, don’t shirk away if the brilliance of the anchovy has yet to glare brightly at you, grabbing your culinary attention. By modifying the amount of anchovies here, you can use this recipe–a simple white pizza–as a gateway for wannabe anchovy lovers (like yourself), as a celebration of brine, salt, and umami for those who already adore the little fish, or as something in between.

It’s funny, because the first time I made a version of this pizza, I was desperate for lunch and had almost no ingredients around. With some pre-shredded mozzarella I had stowed in the freezer so long ago I actually couldn’t remember the occasion and a pre-made pizza crust, I whipped up a pizza just like this in almost no time at all. Long story short, that pizza–sad ingredients aside–tasted delicious. That meant that an intentional pizza, with a similarly minimalistic number of ingredients, would taste even better.

Recently, I was exploring the realm of at-home pizza-making for First We Feast. This is a fanatical world, a place where ovens are turned, through hacks, into pizza ovens, and the moisture content of dough is serious business. I came back from that brink only to discover that Deb of Smitten Kitchen had pretty much figured out homemade pizza crust, that is, how to make Jim Lahey’s no-knead recipe even more accessible than ever, and that’s where I landed on the homemade dough for this delectable shrine to anchovies, also known as Pizza Bianca with Anchovies & Kale.

Eggy Zucchini Bake

Posted by on Monday Jul 21st, 2014

Well, look what we have here. An old Pyrex pan. A brownish green square. The most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten (or so says Alex).

A few years ago, I got into the habit of turning leftover rice into this gratin, a recipe saved from an old Splendid Table newsletter. I wouldn’t say this was a frequent habit, but every six months, when there was leftover rice and not much else, I’d whip up a few eggs, shred some cheese, sauté whatever was green that I could find, and scrape the batter into a baking pan. Each time, I’d scoff: “Well, this is a humble one.” And each time, Alex would take his first bite and tell me: “You could make this every night.” He loves that dish.

By the third or fourth instance of our evenings playing out exactly like the above, I realized that the leftover had risen above leftover status. I’d have to figure out how to make the eggy, cheesy vegetable-laden (four whole zucchini go in!) dish intentionally.

Four odd years later, I got around to it, and I owe this welcome update to the the jar of fresh breadcrumbs caught my eye. I more or less collect heels and nubs and stale crusts of bread in the back of the fridge, and one day, fed up with all the separately wrapped and very hard pieces, I made a lifetime’s worth of breadcrumbs in my blender. Now I have a jar of fresh breadcrumbs that’s a lot less painful to behold–and the inspiration for this simple dinner.

With vegetable-rice gratin in mind and breadcrumbs in the jar, I updated that old gratin recipe into this easy, healthful bake. Besides making Alex a really happy guy, there are a lot of uses for this. You can cut small squares and pack them as protein-rich snacks. A bigger piece, cold, would be excellent between two slices of focaccia, like a frittata sandwich. And because this has eggs, bread, vegetables, and cheese, I think you could make the argument that it is viable as breakfast, lunch, or dinner–or all three.

Crazy Spring Veggie Cheesy Toasts

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 23rd, 2014

I miss a lot of things. Epic YouTube videos that everyone saw six years ago. Anchorman references. Jokes. Despite loving food more than videos, for the last several years, I’ve also missed favas, peas, and fiddleheads. Too busy eating ramps, I guess. Those I never miss.

This year is different. I ate all my spring produce at once, on these cheesy toasts. If there was a quota, I’ve filled it.

Around here, a lot of the produce is fleeting. We check the farmers’ market  bins for ramps week in and week out, only for them to appear once or twice, then disappear again. Do we like them more because they’re so transitory? Maybe. I do also like radishes and asparagus, though, both of which appear for longer stretches.

Anyway, I filled my quota by cheating. See, I wound up with this yield after a photoshoot for work. I don’t know if any of these have been sighted at local vendors yet, but at least I got a jump on the vegetables and am getting this chance to show you what I do when I cook with fleeting, tender, spring-like veggies: not much. My go-to prep is a flash in the pan with some sautéed onion (or shallot) and garlic. None of the vegetables need much cooking time, and a sauté allows you to monitor cooking so you don’t go overboard and turned the prized veggies into mush. 

Arroz Con Pollo with Tons of Vegetables

Posted by on Monday Mar 31st, 2014

Given that it’s all kale, all the time now, I hope you won’t chide me for bringing up the lovable green again here. Maybe part of kale’s longevity has to do with the fact that the veggie keeps on surprising: just the other day, I had a kale salad that surpassed every kale salad yet ingested or read about, by me, in New York City, circa 2012-2014.

Or, kale’s staying power has more to do with having become a mainstay in our fridges, rather than a complicated restaurant-only thing. Bunches keep well, meaning you can tear off a leaf here and there when dinners need more green.

Right now, one-pot dinners strike me as the only type of dinners. Two pots needed? No thanks. The thing about one pot dinners, though, is that you have to make an effort to vegetabalize your meal. That’s why there’s half a clamshell of baby spinach in Lentils & Sausage Braised in Red Wine and a whole zucchini plus three types of green pepper in Healthy Chicken Chili with Barley. When you choose one pot, you better fill it with a lot of different elements. Small pot, big promise–or something like that.

For a long time, I’d been wanting to put my own vegetable-rich spin on Arroz Con Pollo, perhaps the ultimate in one-pot meals. Protein: check. Carbs: check. Vegetables: sort of check. And that’s where the kale came back in.

Brisket Burrito Bowls for the Week

Posted by on Thursday Feb 20th, 2014

This season has brought me snow, ice, cold, and a giant food rut. After a few weeks of scrambling to a) figure out what I was craving, then b) find the motivation to feed that craving, I decided this food blogger could do better. I pulled up my favorite pinterest board and grabbed a notepad, and then I did something unusual. I planned out meals for the week.

Before you get any ideas about my organizational prowess, I want to be clear: this was not planning in the sense that full-blown menus were materializing out of thin air, then being shopped for and cooked as scheduled. No, I’d classify this as future-motivation reduction, meaning that if there were food in the fridge, we wouldn’t have to worry about mustering up the desire to cook. Also, we spent $20 on an awesome-quality brisket, $10 on avocados, cilantro, and rice at the supermarket, which divides into $3 per serving, which beats spending $10 on lunch at the deli each day!

The biggest problem for me is figuring out what I can eat for several meals straight without getting bored. There are not a lot of things. So far, I’ve come up with 1) grilled cheese, 2) fried rice or fried quinoa, and 3) Mexican food. So today, I’d like you to meet the brisket burrito bowl, which I officially ate for four lunches and one dinner without wanting to forsake rice, beans, meat, or avocados for the rest of my life.

Though I’ve written notes below focused on how to pack burrito bowls for lunch, they would also make a great casual buffet for friends, set up similar to the peanut noodle party.

I have the worst sense of time. I’m a dawdler. I think five-hour tasks will take five minutes. I’m great at caramelizing onions because I forget all about them, and in my absence their sugars get a chance to develop. In college, our 1 o’clock classes started at 1:07pm, and I blame that schedule for irrevocably messing with my sense of punctuality. If there were still seven minutes of official dawdling time at the beginning of every hour, the world would make more sense to me.

Besides caramelizing onions, my time blindness rarely affects dinner. But back in the autumn days of 2013, when 55°F felt nippy, and we all left our houses to hang out, I let an afternoon get away from me even though I had invited some friends to dinner. Earlier, Alex and I had planned and shopped for most of the menu and sketched out the prep we’d need to do. I had tomatillos and tomatoes from the CSA, and since I was in the middle of an obsession with Pati Jinich’s Pati’s Mexican Table, dinner would be chicken tinga, refried beans, and plenty of guac on tostadas. I’d prepped the tinga sauce, bought a rotisserie chicken, and chopped everything for the guac, which meant I could afford my kitchen truancy. I stretched out the the afternoon in the park, our  frisbee sailing back and forth until the sun set behind the trees and we couldn’t see the disc even when we squinted.

When I got home, we had about an hour on the clock to crisp tortillas and assemble. No big deal. Then another guest confirmed, then another. Then I started worrying about quantity. And then I decided we’d better supplement our main course. I opened up Jinich’s book and scanned her recipe for green rice. It looked good but a tad complicated. Time was passing too quickly. I picked out the essentials–cilantro, jalapeño, lime, rice–shut the book, and improvised.