Guest blogger: Lisa Fulmer, an artist, crafter, teacher and writer, as well as a marketing consultant and president of the Concord Art Association in the San Francisco Bay Area tells us: “I love to cook, but I’m not so thrilled with my kitchen. It’s small with very little counter space and no dishwasher. So more…
I get the most enjoyment out of cooking when I have no idea what I am going to make until I look in the refrigerator at dinner time. This recipe was inspired after I had purchased some pre-marinated prawns, knew that I had a lot of veggies at home, and left it at that. It is one that can be modified in many ways depending on your preference and your own vegetables and protein on hand. What I had from my CSA baskets were fresh corn, orange cherry tomatoes, lots of zucchini, and a leek. I rummaged through the pantry and found some spicy nuts that I thought would add a nice crunch.
Zoodles are a fun and simple addition to a delicious stir fry, a healthy alternative to pasta, and a great way to use up all the zucchini in your crisper. You can buy an inexpensive spiralizer for around $15, or merely cut the vegetables into small sticks. I have spiralized zucchini and summer squash, but you could use carrots, or most any other vegetable for that matter.
Wash and dry the zucchini first, then cut off the ends. Cut into sticks or spriralize into a bowl.
When you are done, you will have a beautiful bowl of zoodles.
Sautee your corn kernels in some butter over the stove for approximately 6 – 7 minutes. Be careful not to give it too much heat, and keep an eye on it, stirring it on occasion. Cooking corn on the stove gives it a lovely sweet flavor. Add a pinch of salt, stir to mix and put into a separate bowl. You will want them to be cooked through, but not mushy.
Wash your tomatoes and have them at the ready:
Chop your nuts into small pieces, but big enough that they add some texture to the dish. I had jalapeno roasted almonds on hand, but walnuts or plain almonds would also work.
Slice the leek into slivers.
Now you’re ready to put it all together. Sautee the leeks in olive oil until they are soft.
Add the cherry tomatoes and sautee until the tomatoes start to pop. Alternatively, you could slice the tomatoes, but I enjoy them whole. Add a little salt and basil, and then put the mixture into a separate bowl. In the same pan, add some more oil and sautee the zoodles for 3 to 4 minutes until soft, but still a little crunchy. Add whatever spice you like. I added some salt, cayenne, and thyme. Stir to mix, and then add the leek and tomato mixture.
Sautee the prawns in a separate pan for two minutes per side. Be sure not to over cook. Prepare bowls filled with the zoodle mixture, top it with the buttered corn and nuts, and place the prawns on top. Enjoy! *BLP*
I love to cook – to source ingredients, to plan meals, and to eat freshly prepared delicious food. Good thing, or this blog writing wouldn’t be as fun!
I also have three young kids and a full-time job. So sometimes, even when we’ve planned something yummy for dinner, I just want to bail out and call for takeout. This may be why I often cook extra meals over the weekend: I have more energy for the process, and I’m hedging against my future behavior.
With the kitchen ripped out, relying on our basement utility sink to do dishes, and depending only on the grill and our ingenuity in using it to cook food, the meal decision balance has shifted significantly towards prepared foods. It’s so easy to justify the choice: Who really cooks when they’re kitchen-less? We have so much on our plate already. My new favorite, which I invented earlier this week: I think the thunderstorm watch is still in effect. It might start raining again. There’s no back-up plan if you start grilling and there’s a downpour. They sound reasonable, yet all are excuses.
More of us would cook more if it was easier. It can be; simply prepared foods, especially when made with fresh, seasonal ingredients, are often just as delicious and satisfying as more elaborate preparations. But even simple home cooking takes extra effort and commitment. The recipe might be more complicated than it first appeared. The kids may be (justifiably) screaming (to get attention) in the other room. You might just be sleeping on your feet, wiped out after a long day.
I’ve been there. I’m still there. But I’m determined not to let home renovation, or exhaustion, or a craving for French fries (well, that maybe one) get ahead of my better cooking instincts. As so many writers have eloquently expressed in recent days, home cooking is an act of love, one that can comfort closest family and bring together a broader circle of friends and acquantances. These days, I may be buying the pre-marinated meat to go with my fresh farm veggies. But I will keep cooking. I hope you do too.
Today is day seven of life without a kitchen. Last Friday they pulled down the cabinets, counters, stove, and sink. It was exciting as progress, but it is a difficult reality for any family, especially one that likes to cook – and has a full box of CSA veggies to enjoy weekly.
A few reflections from the beginning of this (thank goodness, temporary) adjustment to our culinary lifestyle:
- Not labeling the boxes I packed was an ill-advised decision. In the interest of time (or laziness, or simple lack of foresight), I sent each box to the basement without noting its contents. I figured everything would simply stay downstairs until the new kitchen was ready, at which point I would unpack it all at once. Unfortunately, I’m now stuck with that plan. Although I’ve already discovered a few items that I would’ve liked accessible – ice cube trays, oven mitts, can opener – I’m making do.
- Doing all your food prep work on the same table where your kids eat breakfast, unpack their lunchboxes after camp, and scavenge for unsupervised fruits and vegetables, makes for very tight quarters. I keep thinking there must be efficiencies in having the fridge mere inches from the prep station/dining table/breakfast nook, but I haven’t got that choreography right yet.
- Good weather is a tremendous blessing. Our food storage and preparation is consolidated into one crowded space, made smaller by the plastic sheeting that is constantly puffing like a wind-filled sail into the room. When the sun is out – or at least the clouds aren’t leaking – I really appreciate being able to eat in a different location, unhampered by clutter (so long as I sit with my back to the piles of lumber and other construction scraps).
- Creativity emerges from limitations. Some foods in our CSA box adapt easily to a kitchen-free lifestyle. My salad repertoire hasn’t been affected – lettuce, cucumbers, and herbs are all still excellent raw, especially with this week’s treat of fresh garlic. And the bumper crop of zucchini is easy and delicious split down the middle and thrown on the grill with nothing but olive oil, salt, and pepper. The first real challenge comes with foods I typically saute stovetop. I love rainbow chard, and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful bunch in this week’s share. Turns out, with the right pan, you can successfully use the grill as a very high heat burner. (In a moment of clarity counter to the poor packing decisions referenced above, I kept our cast-iron Le Creuset pan in the small stash of renovation kitchen items.) The result was excellent, and I felt like a pioneer woman with my pan over the fire 🙂
It is most definitely going to be a long slog, with a lot of takeout involved. But it’s nice to know that we can keep supplementing that with a wide variety of summer veggies. If you have favorite renovation recipes (or just awesome ways to use your grill), please share them in the comments!
Last weekend, Jonathan and I got away to Martha’s Vineyard. My parents generously watched the kids so we could get some down time together. And what weekend getaway would be complete without a trip to the farmer’s market? I was curious what we’d discover, and how much behind the mainland season it might be. We’d already been to the Vineyard a few times this spring, and with the extended cool weather, everything seemed slow to blossom.
Turns out, by late June nature had pretty much caught up. We stopped first at our favorite local farmstand, Morning Glory Farm, and scored baby lettuces, zucchini, and french breakfast radishes. The West Tisbury Farmer’s Market turned up garlic scapes (one of my top choices for truly seasonal treats), sugar snap peas, and locally-raised beef (from cows we can hear mooing from my parents’ house). A seasonal feast already, but we can’t resist buying locally-caught fish when we come on island. This weekend we brought home a beautiful piece of striped bass.
When the ingredients are this fresh, simplicity in preparation is always best. Lettuces, snap peas, and radishes into a bowl for salad. At home, racing around with the kids and trying to meet their varied needs, I always end up chopping off the radish tops. Here, with no such excuse, I gave the greens several vigorous washes to remove the earthy silt, then chopped them roughly. I heated olive oil in a small saucepan, added chopped garlic scapes, and just as they began to soften, added the radish greens. As soon as the greens wilted, I took the whole mixture off the heat. Once it cooled, I used it to top the salad, along with a pinch of sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and generous glugs of high-quality olive oil and vinegar. (Turns out olive oil and vinegar are excellent host gifts, so my parents had an abundance of options; I chose a fruity olive oil and tangerine balsamic.)
The zucchini, steak, and fish all got a coating of olive oil and herbs, freshly cut from my parent’s side garden. Then onto the grill, and off to the picnic table for a perfect al fresco meal.
It’s the final day of my (self-imposed) CSA greens challenge. Sauteed, salads, and soups; preparations were successfully varied this week. I felt healthy, satisfied eating seasonal meals, and reminded as always that delicious produce requires little dressing up.
In respect for Friday and the repose it should bring (plus my own general exhaustion by week’s end), I will share only a few brief reflections on cooking with mustard greens:
- Mustard greens cook WAY down. I started out with half of a nearly gallon-sized bag of greens. After I realized how much they shrank in cooking, I threw in the other half. In the end, it was enough to feed 3-4 people as a side.
- Garlic is always an excellent partner for greens, especially when cooked together in fat to temper the bite. I used green garlic and olive oil successfully here. A splash of soy sauce and a tablespoon of water to soften the greens while cooking also helped.
- Similarly, fatty fish complements mustard greens perfectly. One thing I’ve experienced with all the of the CSA greens is that their flavor is much more robust than anything store-bought. With these mustard greens, that translates into a pretty sharp bite. Paired with the salmon, the balance made both elements taste better. (Not sure it would work as well if you’re the kind of person who eats one type of food at a time from your plate; I’m definitely a mixer.)
Seven days done and my fridge is near cleared out of green, just in time for the new CSA box tomorrow!
Day 6 of the CSA challenge and we’re making an impressive dent in the share. We’ve eaten lots of salad – lettuce, mesclun, and arugula. The kids have been pretty cooperative, even eating my lettuce soup. So tonight I made a proven kid-approved dinner: pasta with greens and sausage. This is a super versatile meal that can be made with a wide-variety of greens. I have a similar recipe from a few weeks ago using arugula (which I added at the end, rather than cooking with the sausage).
Today’s version distinguished itself largely by accident. As is often true at this point in the week, several days removed from our big grocery shop, I realized there were a few gaps in my ingredient availability. Tucked into the front of the cheese drawer was barely more than the rind of Parmesan. Undefeated, I pulled out the goat cheese I had used earlier in the week. Mixed in after the pasta, greens, and sausage have cooked, with 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid, it made an awesome creamy sauce.
Accompany this with an arugula salad, dressed with the remainder of my strawberry vinaigrette; a glass of rose; warm early summer night; and a view of the newly-framed floorboards on the addition: recipe for satisfaction.
Today was Abby’s last day of school before summer vacation. The mom of a fellow classmate generously offered to host a picnic at her house. Pizza, fruit, drinks – all covered. What is a mom with a fridge full of greens to do? Bring a lettuce salad!
Since we became a farm share family, I have been in love with Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetable recipes. His 2010 cookbook, Plenty, includes an irresistible recipe for lettuce salad. It’s simple, relying on a full head of fresh butter lettuce and a generous portion of sliced radishes as its foundation.
A garlic and lemon juice vinaigrette adds a tangy layer of flavor, along with a scattering of capers and green onions. But as with many of Ottolenghi’s creations, this one has a twist that makes it truly memorable: semi-dried tomatoes.
I am smitten with this technique. Just last week, I endured protests from my children about traditional sun-dried tomatoes, the kind you find in the pasta aisle at the grocery store. Often, out of habit, I urge the kids to try new food, to eat everything that’s included in a meal. But in honesty, I can understand where they were coming from; store-bought sun-dried tomatoes really aren’t that tasty. So when I came across Ottolenghi’s technique for slow-roasting tomatoes at home, I was ready to try something new. You should try it too. All you need is 3-4 San Marzano or Roma tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, some fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, or sage), and 90 minutes for roasting in a 275 degree oven. I’m sure these tomatoes would also be phenomenal in pasta, risotto, or other grain salads.
Nicoise is one of my favorite salad-as-meal choices. Despite the multiple components, it’s relatively easy to pull together, and it tastes equally delicious eaten warm or room temperature. As a parent, eating hot food at a family meal is often challenging. I always serve up the grown-up portions last, but inevitably just as Jonathan and I pick up our forks, someone spills a glass of milk. (True story, happened today.) So meals that sustain their appeal, even as the time from plated to eaten lengthens, are always a win. Another bonus with Nicoise – even if the kids don’t eat the greens (which they usually don’t), the rest of the ingredients are still a healthy complete dinner.
With flavorful mesclun as a base, I pulled together the rest of the components. A single pot of water served to cook in sequence: hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, and asparagus (my nod to late springtime, as we don’t yet have local green beans). I added a can of sustainably farmed American tuna, flaked from the can, and a handful of kalamata olives. (I prefer the traditional Nicoise olives, but kalamata was what I had in the fridge, and part of the beauty of this salad is its adaptability.) I skipped the tomatoes, because they aren’t in season yet, so why bother?
Since we joined the CSA last summer, I’ve been experimenting with salad dressing. Just as good bread makes a sandwich (and mediocre can ruin an otherwise good one), having balanced, fresh, and tasty dressing is critical for a successful salad. For a while, I was on a creamy dressing kick, my favorite punched up by lemon juice, garlic, and plain yogurt. Then there was the dreamy strawberry vinaigrette from Ana Sortun that I made earlier this week. All delicious, but Nicoise salad, even one with the ingredients tweaked, needs a standard vinaigrette. My inspiration came from Yotam Ottolenghi: two oils, grapeseed and olive; lemon juice; minced garlic, and generous salt and pepper, freshly ground. It was the perfect topping.
On day 4 of the greens challenge, everyone left the table happy.
Do you have a favorite version of Nicoise salad? Share it with us.
With the vast and varied supply of greens delivered in my CSA box this week, I knew I couldn’t salad my way through this week. I was going to have to cross the line…and cook lettuce. Cabbage soup I’ve made and loved, despite Jonathan’s protestations that he felt like a peasant eating it. But lettuce, cooked? Lettuce is so light and green and crunchy. Transforming it into soup felt unnatural, just plain un-lettuce-y.
This NYTimes Cooking recipe for Lettuce and Green Garlic Soup was shared in my CSA newsletter at the end of the spring share. I was intrigued, but not ready to take the plunge. It reappeared this week, described by our CSA coordinator as unusual and worth sharing again. With the weather temporarily cooled down, and the bags of greens in my fridge not getting any fresher, I decided to take a chance on lettuce soup.
Once committed, I promptly realized that in my eagerness to get our kitchen ready for its demolition, I had packed away my soup pot. This orange Le Creuset has been my partner in making a lot of soup. Without it available, I nearly lost my nerve. Refocused, I made my first (but certainly not last) substitution approach of the kitchen renovation process. Instead of using the Le Creuset start to finish, I went with the double-pan method. (I’m not yet ready for the reality of having only a utility sink to clean dishes, and the dramatic clamp down on pot use it seems certain to provoke.) I cooked the onions soft in a heavy saucepan, added the green garlic for a quick fragrant warming, and then transferred that mixture to my pasta pot with the stock, rice, and aromatics. An imperfect solution, and the soup required more stirring to keep from sticking to the bottom, but it worked.
The verdict? Lettuce soup is pretty delicious. The rice thickens the soup, but takes nothing away from the lettuce flavor, which is rich, melting, and resonates with the addition of fresh herbs and green garlic (I added an extra head, for two total). The peppery chives and blossoms I added as garnish, along with a crumbled medallion of locally-made goat cheese, brought a welcome sharpness as balance to the mellow soup.
I guess when you’re swimming in greens, it never hurts to try something new.
Perhaps the ultimate highlight on my New England local produce calendar is the fleeting strawberry season. It doesn’t last more than a few weeks, and pick-your-own fields are always a swarm of people. In addition to hoarding sweet berries for eating and storing, many pickers are, like us, eager to impart to their children a love and appreciation for truly fresh fruit. Strawberries can be found in the grocery store year-round. And in honesty, often in my fridge far outside their season, as they are one of my son’s favorite foods. Yet those clamshell offerings are a completely different food than what we picked today: sweet, sun-warmed, red from seeds to core.
My West Coast-raised husband has taken some time to fully embrace the New England obsession with pick-your-own fruits. True, it’s a lot of work, especially when you’re collecting small berries. To me, the required effort before reward harkens back to some deep Puritan roots, if not actually in my family, then at least in the history of my community. And Jonathan has come around, largely because he agrees that there is no way to buy anything that rivals fruit you’ve harvested yourself at its absolute peak.
With 9(!!) quarts of strawberries in our possession by this afternoon, the choice for day two of the greens challenge was clear: salad with strawberry dressing.
Armed with a simple strawberry vinaigrette recipe from the farm share newsletter, I gathered two cups of berries and set to work. I washed and spun dry several lettuce leaves, then tore then into bite-sized pieces. A generous handful or two of mesclun, a quarter cup of toasted, slivered almonds, and the perfect early summer salad was ready to go.
My crisper drawers are still bursting with greens, so stay tuned as I continue my CSA challenge week.