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.
Many weeks ago, around the time of our last snowfall, I made a batch of bright, happy lemon curd. It was a chilly evening, but the sky was a lovely shade of blue dappled with streaky silver clouds, and the setting sun shone through the windows of our house at just the right angle. On our table sat a bowl full of Meyer lemons, so vibrant in color that they were closer to the shade of a tangerine than the typical pale, lemony yellow. Snow was forecast for the coming days, but it didn’t seem possible when you looked across the room at those orange globes streaked with the sun’s last rays.
The lemon curd was an effort to preserve some of that sunshine, to bottle it up and stash it away on a shelf in our fridge, ready and waiting for the gloomiest of days. 36 hours later, the snow started to fall...and fall and fall. Plump, wet flakes spiraling quickly and quietly from an endlessly gray sky, eventually coating the ground with a heavy, 15-inch blanket of white. After a quick run to the store for groceries and some DVDs, Brian and I settled in for the storm. Out came the lemon curd, with all of its promise of warmer days, ready to spread over almond scones just pulled from the oven. It continued to make appearances over the next week, on all manner of baked goods and even swirled into a bit of Greek yogurt, topped with thawed blackberries leftover from last Summer’s harvest.
Recently, we've had a few rainy, gray days here in Charlottesville. I haven't minded so much, really. The constant thrum of tiny drops hitting metal gutters has been quite soothing, and the misty air feels nice on skin dried from over-usage of our heater these last few months. The temperature has been fairly warm with highs in the 50's, leaving me thankful that it's been rain falling from the sky rather than sleet or snow. I can handle slipping on boots and a light waterproof jacket to dash outside to the car, rather than boots and coat and scarf and hat and gloves. That gets a little old.
I did find myself craving sunshine yesterday afternoon though, and for some reason convinced myself that there must be some of this lemon curd still stashed away at the back of the refrigerator. After much rummaging and removing and rearranging I disappointedly concluded that, in fact, there was no remaining curd to be found. It was a silly thought, anyway, because any that was left would surely have been spoiled after weeks in a forgotten corner of the fridge. But still, I really, really wanted this curd.
And so I jumped onto Bella Eats to track down the recipe, going back through the last few weeks of posts to find the one where I’d shared it with you. And I realized, I never did! How silly of me, when Meyer lemons have been at their peak, when their deep golden flesh calls to you from across the produce department, begging you to take them home so that they can grace your fruit bowl with their beauty. Not that you need an excuse to purchase them, but if you’re looking for one, this is it.
Now go, hurry to the store, buy a bag of plump Meyer lemons before they disappear until next Winter, and make a pot of this lemon curd. We’ve got rainy Spring days ahead, and everybody can use a little sunshine in their fridge.
from Gourmet, December 2003
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp finely grated fresh lemon zest
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into bits
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
4 large egg yolks
Simmer lemon juice, zest, sugar, butter, cornstarch and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, whisking constantly for 1 minute.
Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl, then add 1/4 cup of lemon mixture, whisking constantly. Add yolk mixture to remaining lemon mixture on stovetop, then reduce heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk, about 2 minutes.
Transfer to a bowl and cover surface with plastic wrap. Chill.
The almond scones weren't quite right yet, so I'll share the recipe once I've tweaked it a bit more. In the meantime, if you're craving scones, these citrus scones with cranberries and ginger are quite delicious this time of year...
I have a confession to make. I’ve been keeping this utterly delicious dish from you for, oh, 2 months or so. What happened you ask? Bella Eats Pie Month, that’s what. Just as I was about to share this recipe for fresh, egg-laden pasta tossed with a homemade tomato sauce and spicy chunks of Italian sausage, I had this crazy idea to bake a different kind of pie each week for 5 weeks. And then, I needed a break. So I apologize, dear readers, for the delay, knowing full well that I’ve kept you from enjoying this warm and comforting meal as Winter starts elbowing its way into the last half of Autumn.
Last week we had an especially dreary few days with rain and winds sweeping through Charlottesville, dropping our temperatures into the 30’s and 40’s. It was the kind of weather that had me wearing my scarf while sitting behind my computer at the office, drinking hot tea every hour while thinking about thick stews and hearty casseroles. This dish popped into my head several times, the memory of silky pasta laced with tomato sauce prepared and frozen at the peak of summer causing my mouth to salivate and my belly to warm.
It is the hearty, homey, comfortable meals that I crave when the air temperature transitions from brisk to downright cold. Unlike the summer months, when we'd rather be lazily sipping vino verde on the back deck while munching on a quickly assembled salad, Brian and I spend a significant portion of Winter in our kitchen, not minding the extra heat the stovetop produces in order to simmer a pot of soup for hours or the labor required to roll out thin sheets of freshly made pasta for a pan of bubbly lasagna. With chilled darkness falling well before we leave the office, our kitchen is a welcome source of warmth waiting for us at the end of each day, providing a space for us to pour energy into meals that will warm our bodies from the inside out.
Fresh pasta is one of those luxurious-sounding meals that seems as if it should be impossible to make at home, in the amount of time allotted for dinner preparation in busy lives. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. Requiring only 30 minutes of rest in the refrigerator before being passed through a pasta machine, the dough can be made in a mere 10 minutes' time. Your sauce can be simmering with whatever additions you've chosen to enhance it with as you turn the crank and catch the golden sheets of floured dough, fold them carefully and cut them into your desired shapes. After a quick dunk in a pot full of boiling water you are ready to garnish the silky strands with whatever mixture has been simmering on your stove, filling the air with the pungent aroma of tomatoes, garlic and herbs, or perhaps the sweet smell of browned butter and sage.
I assure you that, although fresh pasta requires more time and attention than opening a box of dried linguine to dump into boiling water, it is completely, totally, undeniably worth the effort. We'll be making it often these next few months, so I'll be referring back to this recipe in future posts, I'm sure. It can be used for any shape of pasta desired.
1-2/3 cups semolina flour (if unavailable, bread flour will do)
3 large eggs
8 egg yolks
Because this recipe is so egg-y, I recommend using eggs as high in quality as you can find. Ours came from Double H Farm outside of Charlottesville.
Place both flours on a clean work surface. Make a well in the center of the flours and add the eggs and egg yolks. Break up the eggs with a fork and slowly bring the flour into the well, incorporating the flour and the eggs until a dough starts to form. [I am AWFUL at this part, and always get egg all over my counter. Jamie says you can make the dough with an electric mixer or food processor, which I will try next time]. Knead with your hands until a smooth, silky and elastic dough forms. ** Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Remove your dough from the fridge and divide into 4 pieces, putting three of the four back in the fridge. Flatten the smaller dough ball into a disk and dust with flour on both sides. If you have a pasta machine (they are only about $40, I have one made by Atlas) run the dough through on the widest setting possible. (you can also roll out by hand with a rolling pin, but I've never tried it.) Fold the dough in half and run through the machine again, repeating this process several times on the widest setting to get an evenly textured sheet. Flour each side of the dough. Step your machine down to the next smallest setting and run the dough through. Repeat, flouring the dough each time you step down the setting on your machine until you get the pasta to 1-2 mm thick (#6 on my machine...).
Cut pasta into desired shapes.
**NOTE: The dough will be very wet at first, when all of the flour is incorporated with the egg. Start to knead, coating your hands with flour every minute or so to prevent the dough sticking too terribly. if after several minutes the dough is still very wet, add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, kneading well after each addition until the dough achieves a smooth, elastic consistency. It should take about 10 minutes of solid kneading, total.
Pappardelle with Spicy Sausage Ragù
one batch of Fresh Pasta (recipe above)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, removed from cases and cut into bite-size pieces (ours is fro Double H Farm, outside of Charlottesville)
3 cups of homemade tomato sauce (recipe below) or your favorite jarred sauce
parmesan for shaving over top
Cut your sheets of pasta to 12" lengths. Dust with flour on both sides and fold in half. Cut into thirds, so that you wind up with strips of pasta about 12" long by 1-1/2" wide. Set aside.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in nonstick skillet. Add sausage and brown for 2-3 minutes. Add onions, garlic and red bell pepper. Saute' for 8-10 minutes, until onions are translucent and sausage is cooked through.
Add tomato sauce to pan and heat through. While sauce heats, boil pasta until al dente, 5-6 minutes. Drain.
Serve pasta with a heap of ragù and shaved parmesan on top.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
I realize that tomatoes are out of season nearly everywhere at this time, and that most of us are left with pink, grainy globes that only resemble Summer's favorite fruit. This sauce can also be made with high-quality, canned, whole tomatoes.
Also, this recipe is approximate. No tomato sauce is ever exactly the same and should always be tweaked according to your tastes.
Yay Wednesday! Whew, I'm tired tonight bloggies! I'm going to try to keep my writing short and sweet tonight...but I apologize in advance if its not. You know me, I love talkin' about my food! :)
Breakfast: Ezekiel plain english muffin (so good!), 1 tsp whipped Earth Balance, 2 egg whites scrambled with spinach and a small slice of pepper jack cheese. Also, 1/2 an apple. Yum! The pepper jack cheese was the perfect spicy touch on my egg sandwich...loved it!
Lunch: a salmon spinach salad. I had about 2.5oz of salmon leftover from last night, 1/2 cup of TJ's Harvest Blends and 2 cups of fresh spinach. I also crumbled 4 walnut halves on top and squeezed blood orange juice all over it. SO TASTY!!! I'm usually a little weary of leftover fish, but I actually really loved the salmon icy cold on top of a salad. Also, a blood orange.
Snacks: I forgot to take pictures! :( I had a single-serve Oikos, blueberry flavor, at 3:30 and a Quaker True Delights granola bar at 5:00. Both were delicious and kept me fueled for yoga.
Exercise: YOGA!!! Oh how I love going to classes. Tonight I tried out a new studio that several friends have recommended numerous times. They are running a special right now that all new students can sign up for unlimited classes for one month for only $50!!! I jumped on that, so you'll be seeing lots of yoga workouts popping up on the blog for the next 4 weeks. WooHoo! :) I'm excited to improve my balancing and upper body strength...I am majorly lacking in that area of yoga. Tonight's class was a 90 minute Intro to Ashtanga. I've always gone to Vinyasa classes, which are very similar to Ashtanga, but I think Ashtanga has the potential to be more strenuous. Both are considered to be power yoga, and both leave me dripping with sweat. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to trying out more classes at the studio! :)
I wasn't sure how to count my calories...myfooddiary isn't too specific. They just break up yoga into "power" and "stretching". So I counted 60 minutes of "power" and 30 minutes of "stretching", figuring I was REALLY working for at least 2/3's the class, and the other 1/3 was warm-up and cool-down. Anybody have any other suggestions?
My hubb and I cooked dinner together tonight. I love that! We made a healthier version of lasagna, inspired by the Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites Cookbook, one of my faves.
Dinner: "healthified" veggie lasagna and a small glass of cabernet
[about 550 cal]
This lasagna was SO good, and while we couldn't eat it every night, it is so much healthier than my old meaty, cheesy, creamy versions from the past.
Healthified Veggie Lasagna [inspired by the Moosewood Cafe Low-Fat Favorites Cookbook]
8 servings443 calories, 11.9g fat, 4.9g sat fat, 59.6g carbs, 6.3g fiber, 21.5g proteinIngredients:
16oz brown rice lasagna noodles, cooked until al dente'
one jar of marinara sauce, about 3 cups
2 cups low-fat cottage cheese
1-1/2 cups part-skim shredded mozzarella, divided
1/4 cup parmesan
4 cups fresh spinach
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, sliced
3 portobello mushroom caps, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 small jar of sliced olives
salt + pepper
Boil lasagna noodles until al dente, set aside. Preheat oven to 350*.
Heat oil in saute pan over medium heat. Saute garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms for 2-3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of wine and stir well. Add tomatoes and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and cover pan. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
Rinse spinach and drain. Place in sauce pan and cover, turning heat to medium high. Stir occasionally, until spinach is wilted. (Should cook with just water clinging to leaves after rinsing). Chop spinach and mix together with cottage cheese, 1 cup of mozzarella and parmesan.
Spoon 1/2 cup of marinara sauce into bottom of 9x13 glass pan. Add one layer of noodles. Spoon 1/3 of veggies (use slotted spoon) on top of noodles. Add 1/3 of cheese/spinach mixture. Sprinkle 1/3 of olives on top. Add another layer of noodles. Spoon 1/2 cup of sauce on top of noodles, then veggies, cheese mixture and olives. Repeat. Add one final layer of noodles and last of sauce on top. Sprinkle last 1/2 cup of mozzarella across top.
Bake at 350* for 20 minutes.
Must. Go. To. Bed. G'night! :)
Edited to AddDaily Total:
calories consumed = 1492
calories expelled = 400
net calories = 1092
Light again! I'm really not meaning too...I'll grab a date before bed. Promise. :)