Amidst the turkey, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, stuffing, and rolls, the color green is often lost on the Thanksgiving table. I love this casserole as a hearty alternative to turkey for vegetarian guests, cut into small squares to serve as an appetizer, or simply served alongside a nice slice of savory bird. The fried shitake mushrooms are a wonderful touch, lending a nice kick of flavor to the mild greens. I appreciate that this dish comes together very quickly, and could even be made the day before and reheated in the oven as the turkey is finishing. Or it would be really easy to transport to another house if you've been tasked with bringing a side dish to a family gathering. Quick, simple, easily transported, filling, and delicious...what more could you ask for out of one recipe?
I have mixed feelings about swiss chard. Its fine, really, but that's about it. However, in this recipe it provides a nice earthy base from which the shitake mushrooms really shine. I think this casserole would also be lovely with lacinato kale, my favorite hearty green.
½ pound shitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps sliced
½ cup panko
¾ cup parmesan cheese
10 large eggs
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2-½ pounds swiss chard, stems discarded and leaves thinly sliced (I like to stack the leaves and roll them tightly, then slice the roll crosswise to make quick work of this task)
Preheat the oven to 350℉ and butter a shallow 9x13 ceramic baking dish. (I altered quantities some and used a 9x9 square dish…it is very easy to divide or double).
In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and cook over high heat, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and transfer the mushrooms to a paper towel-lined plate.
In a small bowl, toss the panko with ¼ cup of the cheese.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the cayenne, 1 tsp of salt, and ½ cup of cheese. Stir in the swiss chard and mushrooms. Scrape the mixture into the prepared dish and bake for about 20 minutes, until the eggs are just set around the edges.
Sprinkle the panko on top of the casserole and bake for about 10-15 more minutes, until the casserole is fully set and the topping is lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
I have big, big plans for picnics in 2011. Last summer, I think, Brian and I were cheated...busy lives kept us from really taking the time to relax on weekends and enjoy each other's company on weekday evenings. Life is still moving quickly, but this year we've adjusted our priorities. And picnics are close to the top of my new list. Nothing quite says summer like packing a basket of simple foods, folding up your favorite quilt, and driving out to the country. Or, if you really want to get your picnic quota up, simply walking out to the backyard and plopping down on a patch of shady grass. That can happen any old day, and this year I plan to make it happen quite often.
A few weeks ago I started a list. My 'foods fit for a picnic' list, as I call it. On this piece of gridded paper I placed edibles such as 'not-too-crumbly biscuits' and 'pulled pork' and 'spicy coleslaw'. Also, there were 'buttermilk cookies' and 'dill pickles' and 'egg salad'. These were all recipes that I wished to research and experiment with, to really nail down so that I would be prepared for outdoor eating at any point between April and October. As of this week, I've crossed one off.
For some reason I've always had a thing for egg salad. Most versions I've ever had have been very bland, and I am never fully satisfied after choosing it for a sandwich over deli meat or roasted veggies. Regardless, for all these years, I've told myself and others "I really love egg salad!" And so when it made an appearance on my 'foods fit for a picnic' list (because of course, egg salad belongs at a picnic) I immediately started thinking about creating a fantastic herbed pesto that I could drizzle over top. You know, to make the egg salad more interesting.
Armed with this Alice Waters recipe recommended by a friend, I set about preparing what was to be the ultimate picnic sandwich...egg salad drizzled with chive pesto served on artisan bread. I smeared one slice of bread with the pesto, piled a heap of egg salad on another slice, and debated how to photograph my creation. While debating, I sampled the salad...and kept eating. This salad is so delicious, the exact opposite of bland, that the beautiful, emerald-toned pesto was immediately packed up and stashed away. Chopped eggs tossed with mayonnaise mixed with fresh chives, dijon mustard, and capers requires no accompaniment aside from a thick slice of good bread. Its the capers that make the salad, truly. I'll never eat egg salad without capers again. That would be like having a whole summer go by without a picnic, and that just won't do.
As Spring quickly approaches, I’m finding that the evening meal has become a very relaxed affair. With daylight extending itself to an hour that allows for chatting with a glass of wine on the back deck after work, thoughts of dinner don’t start to cross the mind until the sun dips behind the trees and the temperature drops to a point that requires either a move inside or the addition of a lightweight sweater. It is only then that we notice the clock (and our bellies!) telling us that it is past 7pm, and time to pull something together in the kitchen.
I haven’t been planning our meals very far in advance, something that is unusual to my character. Typically our weekly menu is fully laid out by Saturday afternoon, neatly written in bright-white across our pantry doors coated with black chalkboard paint. I consider the menu carefully before finalizing my grocery list, receiving feedback from Brian and swapping days according to the longevity of ingredients to be purchased. The planned meals may vary slightly after Sunday’s trip to the store, when I discover that there are perfect golden beets that I hadn’t counted on calling my name, or that red cabbage has been particularly popular lately, and therefore its typical spot in the produce department is empty save for one sad, wilted purple leaf.
Lately our trips to the grocery have been more rushed than usual, the product of two very busy schedules finding only slivers of overlap in which to make the drive to and wander the aisles of the market. Oftentimes we wind up stopping in on our way to or from other errands, on days not typically designated as ‘grocery days’, leaving me standing in the middle of the produce department, overwhelmed and without a list. And so we rely on stand-by ingredients, items we purchase most weeks religiously, and add in whatever else looks or sounds good at that moment. I quickly assemble meals in my head, substituting ingredients in and out of pastas and soups, making sure that we’ll be able to use whatever we purchase and not be left with a bag full of yellow brussels sprouts at the end of the week. It still happens occasionally, but at least I try.
Which brings me back to the weeknight, post-7pm. Brian and I stand in our kitchen, him ravenous and me a little chilly, peering into the pantry and refrigerator, pulling out ingredients to assemble a spontaneous meal together. Our preferences are changing with the season, moving from heavy and hearty to light and bright. 'Quick' is a new requirement now that we’re getting started on preparation later in the evening, and 'warm' still plays a role for me after having been outside, barefoot and sweater-less, after the sun has set. The results have been fantastic; pasta tossed with leftover chicken, local ham and a light parmesan broth; a mélange of roasted chickpeas, potatoes and brussels sprouts; an on-a-whim creamy soup of potatoes, parsnips and asparagus.
The best part has been creating these recipes, together, according to our own at-that-moment preferences rather than the recommendations of a book, magazine or blog. It is easy, when I have a plan, to lose myself in the kitchen to the preparation of dinner, excusing Brian to take care of one of the many items on his ever-growing ‘to do’ list. But when there is no plan, and the task is to create quickly, we come at it from both sides, each tossing in our own suggestions to make a dish that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
I’ll admit that this egg drop soup is a recipe that has been in our repertoire for years, but it is so simple and satisfying, and we nearly always have its ingredients in our kitchen, that it is perfect for a spontaneous lunch or dinner. It is not enough on its own, which lead to the creation of the vegetable fried rice variation below, on a whim.
Egg Drop Soup
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
chunk of fresh ginger root, 1/4-inch thick by 1-inch diameter
2 tbsp chopped fresh scallions
¼ tsp salt
4 tsp cornstarch
1 egg yolk
Reserve 3/4 cup of the broth, and pour the rest into a large saucepan. Add the salt, ginger and scallions, and bring to a rolling boil.
In a cup or small bowl, stir together the remaining broth and the cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk together using a fork. Drizzle the egg a little at a time from the fork into the boiling broth mixture. The egg should cook immediately.
Once all of the egg has been dropped, stir in the cornstarch mixture gradually until the soup is the desired consistency.
This dish was nearly spontaneous, the only forethought being that I made extra brown rice a few days prior, so that it would be ready and waiting in the fridge for some version of fried rice that had yet to be determined. It just so happened that the night we decided to make egg drop soup was also the night that the leeks were starting to look a little haggard, and I wanted to use the brussels sprouts before they reached that same state. Thus, a new star was born.
Fried Rice with Leeks and Brussels Sprouts
2 tbsp peanut oil, divided
2 medium leeks, sliced thinly
1 pound brussels sprouts, ragged outer leaves removed, sliced thinly (a food processor is a wonderful tool for this task)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups steamed brown rice, cold (ideally, leftover from the night before)
sea salt and pepper to taste
Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced leeks and brussels sprouts, and saute' until tender and bright green, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
Wipe skillet clean, then heat over high heat, until a drop of water vaporizes upon impact. Add the remaining 1 tbsp peanut oil, swirling to coat pan evenly, and heat until just starting to smoke. Add eggs, tilting pan and swirling eggs to form a thin, even layer, and cook for 30 seconds. Add rice and stir-fry, breaking up eggs and letting rice rest several seconds between stirs, until rice is hot, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the brussels sprouts and leeks, stir-frying to combine and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste.