Friday, July 23, 2010

Cooker's Block

I feel as though I should start with an apology to all my single friends.  I get it now.  I really do get it.  I've been a quasi-bachelorette for the last five weeks and in that time my desire to cook has been... non-existent.  My husband and I love cooking together, and for each other.  I'm not sure about you, but it's been my experience that it's significantly less fun to flit about the kitchen wearing my signature (and frankly adorable) pink apron, sipping on a little Pinot, and creating exciting meals when the only person to enjoy them is moi. Instead, I've sustained myself on cold, impersonal dinners, consisting of mostly veggies, fruit and the occasional hummus (oooh... bold!).  Zero creativity. Ultimately, while I did truly enjoy a few fantastic meals while I've been here, it's been almost exclusively when my friends or family have cooked it for me.  Shame on me!

So I went on the hunt for some inspiration.  A little rain must fall on this drought!  ...and as luck would have it, it was closer than I thought.

The students in my summer class are always surprising me with little treats: books, charms, pictures they've drawn, and even most recently, fresh lettuce from their garden.  Ding ding ding!  When they gave me the lettuce, my first thought was that it was picture perfect!  I knew I had to eat every last bit of it.  In fact,within minutes I was inspired to turn the dial on the stove and get to cooking something.  Something good!

Ok, well, maybe the word cook is a bit of a stretch.  I did hard boil some eggs, though.  With those eggs I whipped up a delicious egg salad, happily wrapped in the vibrant green leaves of the head of lettuce I received, grown but a few miles from where I currently sat.  But this called for just a little extra effort. Instead of the usual mayo and egg, I envisioned something less traditional and more flavorful.  I also nixed the mayo since it doesn't offer any nutritional value.  Instead, I swapped in cottage cheese and tossed in a handful of fresh veggies, making this meal both healthy and satisfying.  The crunch of the fresh lettuce and the added fun of making egg salad into a finger food was the answer.  Cooker's block be gone!

The countdown is on until I can get back in my kitchen with my apron, wine and husband. Yet, I'm grateful to have fallen upon a more fun and exciting twist on the otherwise traditional egg salad... so I guess it's not all bad, right?  Being single ain't so bad.

Finger Food Egg Salad
serves: 1

  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • About 1/4-1/3 cup cottage cheese
  • 3 sweet-hot red peppers, chopped*
  • 5-6 kalamata or black olives, quartered*
  • handful of shredded carrots
  • 1/8 cup roughly chopped chive
  • 4-5 large lettuce leaves
  • salt and pepper
*These can usually be found in the olive bar at your local grocery store, and you only have to get the exact amount you need.  

Directions: Using a fork, mash up the hard boiled egg into small pieces.  Add the cottage cheese through the chive, gently mixing together the ingredients.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.  Add a spoonful to the lettuce leaves, wrap and enjoy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Lovin'

Remember when you were younger and the summer months were like an entirely different world?  Those months were uniquely different than any other time of the year.  They were full of stories, some good, some bad... and almost always, some crazy.  I remember almost all of my summers, at least those from when I was old enough to truly enjoy the season.  Now that I'm well into adulthood, the summer isn't as distinct.  Sure it allows for more barbecues, beach days and road trip vacations.  But, overall, it isn't as memorable as it used to be.  Summers from childhood meant no school, homework and few responsibilities other than wiping the sand from your feet on the way in the house.  Summers from adulthood aren't quite as... liberating.

This year I find myself in the midst of my own nostalgic summer.  I've made new friends, had some good memories, some bad... and yes, even some crazy.  It's a stand out summer break that I won't soon let slip from my memory.  During these hot and hazy months, I've had the opportunity to befriend a fabulous couple, Steve and Joanna.  Recently, they welcomed me into their beautiful home on Cape Cod and delighted me with a delicious meal of swordfish, asparagus and couscous salad.  The conversation (and the wine) flowed as easily as if we'd been long time friends.  While the entire meal was fantastic, the couscous salad stood out as a favorite.  I requested the recipe after my first bite, knowing it would be a regular player on my future plates-- and soon!

Not having all the ingredients on hand to make the salad on my own, I did what I usually do and got a little creative.  However, this cold side dish easily lends itself to some adjustments without compromising taste.  It's a little sweet, a little a spicy and a lot tasty.   It paired nicely with swordfish but would nicely complement a chicken dish or a veggie burger.  I have fallen in love with Trader Joe's Harvest Grains blend as it has a variety of grains: Israeli couscous, red and green orzo, mini chic peas and red quinoa.  If you can't find it, you can easily substitute Israeli couscous or orzo... whatever you want!

Sadly the summer is approaching it's end and the responsibilities of work are inching their way back into my mind.  However, I plan on enjoying these last few weeks to the fullest.  Afterall, there's plenty of fun left to be had, including a vacation to the Northwest!

Summer Salad w/ fruits and grains

  • 1/2 bag Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup currants or raisins
  • 1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
  • bunch of chopped parsley or cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallion
  • salt and pepper to taste

Other tasty additions you may want to include or swap in: dried cherries, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, halved grapes

Mix together (measurements are a rough estimate):
  • 1/4 cup hot pepper jelly
  • 1/8 cup apricot preserves
  • 1/8-1/4 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • season with salt and pepper

Directions: Follow the package instructions for the grains, adding in the dried fruit at the same time as the grains.  This will plump them up.  Once they have finished cooking, stir in the dressing mixture.  Allow to cool for about an hour in the fridge.  Finally, mix in the toasted sunflower seeds, herbs and scallion.  Season with more salt and pepper if necessary.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Perfect Picnic Lunch

Being a teacher, I have a natural inclination to showcase the talent of others.  It brings me great joy to shine a spotlight on hard work, creativity or even good deeds.  Since I spend much of my life immersed in phonics, fractions and reading comprehension, I don't often have the opportunity to highlight a student's cooking talent.  I'm delighted to finally have that chance!

Last year I said good-bye to some of the greatest kids as my husband and I relocated just south of the Mason-Dixon line.  In that bunch of kids was one of my all-time favorite saucy little girls... Maddiy.  I realize we aren't supposed to have "favorites," but she makes it hard to keep that rule.  During the time I was her teacher I taught about the early 1900s and cited passages from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. I was simply trying to show the way food regulation came to be in America and ended up converting Maddiy to a vegetarian.  Oops.  Every time I passed her mother, who was also our school nurse, I shot an apologetic look her way, knowing that dinner time at her home was forever changed.

As I am spending my summer in New England, I have been lucky enough to reconnect with some of the kids I taught a couple years ago, Maddiy being one of them.  She decided to bring me a picnic lunch during my lunch break so that we could catch up and feast on some of her vegetarian fare.  Her picnic lunch was all- star good!  It included: vegetarian and chicken empanadas, corn and edamame salad, cantaloupe, home-made kettle corn and a sweet treat of coco-puff bars.  I was bowled over with how delicious everything was and glad that Maddiy agreed to let me post a couple of her recipes as I simply couldn't help but want to share them!

Thanks for a wonderful afternoon, Cupcake!

Maddiy's Quick and Easy Empandas

1 package square won ton wrappers
1 cup shredded cheddar
1/2 cup salsa + extra for dipping
2 cups cooked shredded chicken
tofu that's been pressed to release liquid, and cut into small cubes

Enough canola oil to cover the bottom of a frying pan for each batch of empanadas.

In a bowl, mix the cheese, salsa and chicken or tofu until combined.  Season with salt and pepper.  Lay out a won ton wrapper and add a spoonful of the mixture right in the middle.  Brush the top edges of the wrapper with water and bring the bottom edges up to seal, forming a triangle.  Lightly press the edges with a fork.  Then fold over the opposite corners, squeezing them together.  They will look like little pot stickers.  Pour enough canola oil to cover the bottom of a frying pan and heat up.  Add the empanadas and cook until golden brown.  Flip and continue cooking until the other side has browned as well.
Scoop up some extra salsa before popping them in your mouth!

Serve with....

Edamame and Corn Salad
(not sure of exact measurements so adjust as you like)

1 small package of thawed edamame
1 cup fresh sweet corn
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
1 can black beans
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 or 2 limes
few turns of olive oil
salt and pepper

And if you really want the whole package, serve these super simple sweet treats:

Coco Puff Krispies
Follow directions for Rice Krispie treats, except use Coco-Puff instead of Krispies and add butterscotch chips.