Tag Archives: Vegetables

No-fault Pasta

Painted in Waterlogue

A friend of ours got married on Sunday.

Another friend didn’t.

You get the idea, I think: those two friends once expected to be married to each other, and that marriage did not come to pass. Their relationship is not the point of this story; what is the point is that the friend who wasn’t putting on a tux this weekend wanted to have other things to think about than the friend who was putting on a pretty dress. We picked him up near relatives we were visiting and brought him home with us.

It was a perfect Sunday for a road trip: not too hot, not too humid, and lots of traffic. That might not seem like a good thing, but it gave my navigator an excuse to show her skills. We spent most of the day on back roads and small state routes that avoided the blockages and gave us much prettier scenery.

We stopped for lunch at a terrific—and uncrowded—place in a town I didn’t know anything about, and enjoyed grinders, salads, fish and chips and clam chowder, with a little Food Network in the background on the bar TV. We stopped at an outlet mall and did a little shopping, amusing ourselves greatly at the gender-stereotype-busting of the girl buying far less than the guys. Unfortunately, the stereo speakers I’d been looking for were out of stock. (Side note: Honey, I just ordered them from Amazon.)

By the time we got home and met the hungry cats, we were hungry, too, but not for anything big and heavy. And, remember, it was Sunday night—a veg box will arrive Tuesday morning, and there were still plenty of things in the crisper. While she made up the guest room, I chatted with our guest and made dinner. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but there was no question that it would contain plenty of vegetables. Sometimes you just have to start cooking and figure it out along the way.

No-Fault Pasta

Clearing out the crisper, discover:
1/2 lb. green beans
1/3 lb. asparagus
4 small cucumbers
half a bag of baby carrots brought home from someone’s lunch
4 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms
half a bunch of celery
1 celtuce
1 or 2 garlic scapes (Note that there are more, but that common decency suggests their judicious use–and that they still look plenty sturdy. Plan to regret this decision if next week’s box contains more.)

Elsewhere in the fridge, find:
A jar of chive vinegar
4 oz. chive-and-spinach pesto
a big hunk of parmesan cheese
a container of bite-sized mozzarella balls.

From the freezer, retrieve
4 oz. bulk Italian sausage

On the counter, catch sight of:
half a tub of week-old grape tomatoes, their skin just starting to wrinkle
the bottle of rosemary simple syrup used to sweeten the iced tea you took upstairs to the room-straightener.

From the pantry, retrieve:
A box of fettuccini

Note also the bounty of dill and oregano in the herb-garden-basket hung by the kitchen window.

Set a pot of salted water to boil.

Slice the cucumbers into a bowl, tossing with a couple teaspoons of the vinegar, a splash of rosemary simple syrup, and a couple of sprigs of dill from the kitchen garden.

Open a bottle of red wine; pour each of you a glass. Toast to friends, and to happiness. 

Rinse and trim the asparagus and green beans; cut them into bite-size pieces and toss in a big bowl. Don’t bother to dry them; instead, put a paper towel over the bowl; microwave 90 seconds to just-barely-steam the vegetables. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage; drain and remove.

Peel the celtuce as you would a broccoli stem; slice into coins about 1/4 inch thick. Taste raw, noting that it really does have a little celery flavor, but is much denser–almost like a water chestnut. Set aside.

When the water boils, add the fettuccini, stirring occasionally. (The clock is now ticking: finish everything else by the time the pasta cooks).

Dice an onion, which you’ve dispatched your guest to retrieve from the pantry-in-the-garage. Sauté it and a couple stalks of celery in a little olive oil until the onion is barely translucent. Finely slice the garlic scape and add it, along with the beans and asparagus; since they’re mostly cooked, the point is just to get everything combined without browning too much. Slice the baby carrots and add them; they’ll still be mostly crunchy when you’re done. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the wine. Clean and slice the mushrooms, but if your guest isn’t a fan of them, sauté them alone in a small skillet. (This is why stoves have several heating elements.)

Hand a hunk of cheese, the grater, and a collecting bowl to your guest.

Halve the grape tomatoes. When the sautéed vegetables are almost tender, add them to the skillet, along with the celtuce coins and the sausage. Toss to combine, then reduce the heat to low. Add 3 or 4 tbsp of the pesto to the center of the pan, but just let it sit on top to warm gently.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and divide into serving bowls.

Add a splash of the pasta water to the skillet; give everything a gentle toss to combine; taste and adjust seasoning, then spoon the seriously veggie sauce over the pasta. Add mushrooms or not. Sprinkle some fresh oregano on top, then let each diner add cheese to taste. Serve with the quick-pickled cucumbers.

Serves 3, who will be happy enough that everyone will forget about dessert.

If you’ve read more than one Dinner at the Country House post, you know perfectly well that this is not so much a recipe as a story about an adventure shared with others. If there had been chicken instead of sausage, I would have happily used that; if there had been no pesto, I might have used soy sauce and made rice instead of noodles. If any of a great many things had been different, I might have written about a wedding feast a couple years ago, rather than a not-wedding dinner last night, or served four instead of three, or gone to the movies by myself. It’s nobody’s fault. This is what happened. This is how we made the best of it. This is how we spent the day. This is how life goes on.

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The Veg Box Chronicles, Week 2

There was more kohlrabi this week.

I probably don’t despise this poor, water-chestnut-type tuber thing as much as I think I do, but I have been filled with commuter rage all week and whatever patience I once held to, tenuously, has long since been squeezed to nothingness in my clenched fists.

I chucked the kohlrabi into the compost bin, hard enough to knock it over.

And of course, the kitten went to town in her new playground of coffee grounds, broken eggshells, and disgusting vegetables that look like toy cat balls with legs.

Neither of those things happened, but imagining them made me laugh, so that’s something. And this week’s CSA share was something else:

  • 1 bok choi
  • 1 celtuce
  • 4 small cucumbers
  • 1 handful of garlic scapes
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 bunch of white radishes
  • 4 small zucchini
  • and, ugh, 2 kohlrabi

Tuesday night, he made a veggie-licious dinner. He grated all four of the zucchini into long, wide noodles, along with a pair of carrots from the crisper drawer, and tossed them with a spicy-sweet peanut sauce and white sesame seeds, then arranged them on a plate with a little quick-pickled cucumber along the side. For the protein, he laid a gorgeous piece of salmon on top, and topped it with another of the spring onions from last week’s share, which he split lengthwise; both were basted with Hoisin sauce.

After the dishes were washed, dried, and put away, we finished the last steps of a batch of particularly awesome Strawberry Rhubarb Jam. It’s a remarkably easy recipe for people who can stick to a schedule, which we can do very occasionally:

  1. Quarter 4 cups of strawberries. In a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl, combine them with 1 cup of finely chopped rhubarb and 2 cups of sugar, stirring well to distribute the sugar evenly. Cover the bowl and let sit, stirring occasionally.
  2. 8 hours later…
    Pour the mixed fruit into a pot and place it over medium-high heat until the liquid released by the fruit begins to boil. Stir in 1/4 cup of lemon juice and let the mixture return to a boil. At that point, set a timer for 5 minutes and stir continuously, adjusting the heat to keep the temperature high without allowing it to boil over. When the timer beeps, cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and let it sit.
  3. 24 hours later…
    Set the pot back on the stove over medium-high heat and bring it to a rolling boil. Set a timer for five minutes and stir continuously. When the timer beeps, ladle the jam into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

    Yield: 5 scant half-pint jars, if your husband sneaks some of the fruit out of the pot between boils, to make a dessert sauce.

Tonight’s dinner will be burritos (scratch that: burrito bowls, since the tortillas are past edible), made with last week’s lettuce; pulled-chicken and -pork leftovers from last night’s BBQ dinner out, combined with a few bites of skirt steak from earlier in the week; fresh avocado; and a salsa that’s about to be put together from two ears of roasted corn (nearly forgotten in the crisper), a roasted bell pepper, a roasted jalapeno pepper, the last spring onion, a small handful of chopped cherry tomatoes, and a small lime.

We haven’t figured out what to do with the rest of our haul yet, but I’ll share it when we do. In the meantime, our cost breakdown:

  • Amortized weekly cost of CSA = $53
  • Additional produce purchased = $7.14
    • Avocado (1, $1.49)
    • Green Bell Pepper (0.58 lbs, $1.15)
    • Jalapeno (0.10 lbs, $0.35)
    • Lime (1, $0.15)
    • Strawberries (2 pounds, $4.00)

By the way, it turns out he likes the bok choi after all–at least when it’s been sauteed with a little olive oil and a bit more of the Hoisin sauce, and tossed with a little leftover rice, and maybe a little leftover turkey. We still haven’t figured out what to do with kohlrabi, but bok choi definitely gets a star at lunchtime.

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The Veg Box Chronicles, Week 1

In September 2014, two months after I first moved from the City House to the Country House, we passed our pick-up-in-Manhattan-every-Thursday CSA share to friends who lived uptown, rather than cope with the steeplechase of office-in-midtown to pick-up-spot-on-the-UWS to train-station-in-East-Harlem to Country-House-in-Connecticut. I’ve been looking for a replacement ever since, but suburban CT assumes that tasks like Farmer’s Market shopping and CSA collection happen Monday through Friday during the workday. Not so much for us commuter-types, alas.

Luckily for us, an enterprising little business realized that the gap was an opportunity, and we discovered a CSA program with a weekly home delivery of fruits and vegetables, with a significant advantage over the other: no obligation to volunteer at the pick-up point. (I like community, and I like volunteering, but I prefer to be able to control the scheduling of mandatory hours.)

Anyway, back to our CSA. This past Tuesday was our first delivery day, and wow, am I loving having such a fabulous early haul to celebrate. In the first box, we received:

  • A bunch of spring onions
  • A bunch of green garlic (with scapes!)
  • A bunch of French radishes
  • A bunch of kale
  • An enormous pile of greens that he thought were maple leaves; they are, it turns out, a variety of spinach
  • Two gorgeous heads of green leaf lettuce
  • Two small bok choi
  • A big fistful of chives
  • Two small kohlrabi

That’s a lot of green for two non-vegetarian people to eat in a week, but we’re making the best of every delicious bite.

The chives were finely chopped into a rich creamy bowl of butter, which was whipped until all of the herb was incorporated, then wrapped in cling film and rolled into a tight cylinder, and chilled through in the fridge. Amazing on fresh bread, but even better when used to butter-baste a steak.

Garlic scapes and spinach were combined with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and herb- infused olive oil to make a smooth, fragrant, and super fresh-tasting pesto. It will keep for a couple weeks in the fridge, and we’ll use it as a thickener and flavor agent in sauces and dressings, as well as a sandwich spread.

The green garlic and kale went into pasta dishes – separately.

Much of the garlic’s stem was too woody to be used, but we sliced the bulb very finely, and sauteed it with some tiny, tender asparagus tips in olive oil, salt, and fresh pepper. The mess was then covered in petite-diced tomato and a fistful of fresh oregano cut from the garden, and the flavors melded over low heat while the pasta cooked. We tossed the sauce with fettuccine and parmesan, and ate it by the forkful (on Thursday) while watching an episode of Guy’s Grocery Games on Hulu.

On Saturday, we cooked the remainder of that fettuccine, and served it with the Kale, which was tossed with a chicken breast that had been marinated in Italian dressing before a quick stir-fry, and halved cherry tomatoes, then stirred into the pasta with Ciliegine mozzarella and a heaping spoonful of our freshly-made Pesto. Our bowls were empty before the Signature Bake of Cake Week had been judged on S4E1 of The Great British Baking Show.

We passed both kohlrabi to our neighbor, since she expressed interest in a vegetable I can’t stand, and it’s likely that the bok choi will be composted since neither of us enjoy eating it. But the rest of our take is currently spread across the kitchen counters as he works on dinner: a Frittata with onion, asparagus, tomato, mushroom, and Wisconsin cheddar, served with  Hasselback potatoes, a green salad made of some of the lettuces, and pan roasted radishes (olive oil, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce).

The lettuce that remains will be tossed into a salad (tomato, cucumber, olives, and crumbled cheese left over from a party platter we made last weekend, dressed with some balsamic vinegar and a hint of the pesto). I have no idea what we’re doing with the rest of the onions, but they’ll have to be the star of Monday’s supper.

And since I’m a data nerd, I’m tracking what we spend on produce during CSA season, to be sure that we’re being careful stewards of our bounty. This week’s costs are:

  • Amortized weekly cost of CSA = $53
  • Additional produce purchased = $12.60
    • Red Seedless Grapes (2.74 pounds, $2.66)
    • Asparagus (0.77 lbs, $3.07)
    • Cherry Tomato (1 pint, $3.29)
    • Cucumber (1, $0.59)
    • Blueberries (1 pint, $2.99)

The Luck of the Not-Quite-Irish

Painted in Waterlogue

Aside from Thanksgiving turkey, holiday celebrations at the Country House don’t call for a specific food. Christmas is Christmas, whether there’s boeuf bourguignon or leftover spaghetti on the table. Memorial Day might be the unofficial start of summer’s grilling season, but what goes on the grill varies from year to year. There might be pork on New Year’s Day, but whether it’s smoked sausage or spare ribs doesn’t matter to us.

Then there’s St. Patrick’s Day. That’s not a big deal. Neither of us claims significant Irish heritage. The thing to celebrate, really, was the successful opening of my show that meant A Weeknight at Home—the first in ages. We certainly weren’t going to celebrate with green beer. (Ew. Whether it’s green or not.)

Fried chicken would have been appropriately festive, but I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. A slow-braised pot of corned beef and cabbage would be a nice change, but I don’t have a time machine that would have let start the braise before we left for work. If I wanted to be even remotely Irish-themed, improvisation would be required. Or, at least, a trip to the deli.

I picked up a pound of sliced corned beef. A bag of sauerkraut. Carrots were in the fridge at home. I considered letting the prepared-foods counter do the work of mashed potatoes, but a two-serving tray seemed awfully dear at $12.99, and a 5-pound bag of spuds was on sale for under a dollar.

We nibbled a little aged cheddar-flavored-with-Irish-whiskey as a starter.  That was as close to drunken debauchery as our St. Patrick’s Day would get.

I scrubbed and diced the potatoes, skin-on: the mash wouldn’t be as creamy, but it’d be healthier. Besides, I like potato skin. In the time it took the potatoes to cook, I rinsed the kraut and grated a couple of carrots into it to temper the tang, and added a little caraway seed and a grating of black pepper. This went to warm in a saucepan. (Sauerkraut is, of course, not part of an authentically Irish corned beef supper. So what? We like kraut.)  The corned beef was tossed in a hot skillet until slightly crisped.

The kraut-and-beef was piled on toasted home-baked bread. It wasn’t rye, but home-baked seemed more authentic–or at least better than store-bought. A semi-fluffy mound of mash said “Potato famine? What potato famine?”  There were green beans, just because. It was not in the least what Paddy O’Whomever’s ma would have served, but we enjoyed it.

As for luck? Well, sometimes you make your own.

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Not So Casual Day

Painted in Waterlogue

She wore jeans to the office on Friday. No big surprise there; she often does that, and sometimes on mid-week days when she doesn’t have meetings planned. Even in jeans, she looks professional, put-together, and not a bit sloppy: she looked, as she always does, classy.

I was wearing running clothes, as I usually do for breakfast-and-lunch prep and ferrying her to the train; I usually run or exercise or do whatever semi-messy chores the day-start requires after she’s on her way. I didn’t have time to run on Friday, though; I had to get to church for a funeral service.

I’d never met the deceased, a woman in her 80s who’d been in a nursing facility for the past few years; I’d only spoken with her husband a couple of times. He’s a trim, well-spoken fellow, who was holding himself together, just. During the service, his brother-in-law told the story of they met, how his sister had plenty of suitors but this skinny guy somehow won her heart, and as they dated and even long into their marriage he looked at her as if he couldn’t believe his luck. Others told stories of their entertaining, her gardening, her love for books; how classy she was.

At the reception after the service, I saw some photographs of the two of them in younger days, including the wedding portrait that had been displayed at the front of the church. I’ve seen plenty of old photographs, and lots of wedding portraits that make me think, “Well, that was how people looked then.” Not this time: this lady was beautiful for any generation. And classy. And he had that same, “Me? Really? With her?” look. (I suspect you’ll recognize that same look on my face in photos of us.)

I hadn’t planned it this way, but was glad for the lunch I’d packed us both: plenty of crunch, a little salt, and a little sweetness.

Roasted Beet and Clementine Salad

2 roasted beets, peeled and sliced or chopped into bite-sized wedges.
1 small package of soft goat cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons pecans, toasted in a dry sauté pan until fragrant.
2 cups of assorted salad greens
1 clementine, peeled, sliced in half, and segmented (but not squeezed)
1/2 tsp each balsamic vinegar and olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Toss all in a large bowl, then plate or package into to-go containers.

Serves 2, who would rather be dining together.

I didn’t loosen my tie as I finished my day. I wanted to look good when I picked her up from the train. I was careful not to spill salad on my shirt.

 

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Not Giving Up

IMG_0091My grandmother did not teach me how to cook brisket. But if she had, I wouldn’t be making it today.

This is the first Friday in Lent, the season leading to Easter that many Christians traditionally observe by fasting and abstaining from certain foods. “What are you giving up for Lent?” is a common refrain. The church in which I grew up focuses a lot on such food-based observance: meat is not eaten on Fridays in Lent.

Which means that, according to the letter of the law, one may not eat a three-day-old pastrami sandwich—but going out for lobster would be perfectly appropriate. That doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice to me, unless one had a shellfish allergy.

I’m not here to argue theology or the rationale for food-based religious traditions. I just wanted to have lunch. I was running a little behind this morning, so I opened the fridge to grab something left over to take with me. But I couldn’t see anything meatless.

I honestly don’t think the creator of the universe cares if I have chicken salad on Friday. And for the first time, I’m working in a church that doesn’t have the same sort of restrictive traditions regarding Lent that I grew up with. Nobody would care if I brought a bacon-triple-cheeseburger for lunch. But it would feel strange to me.

I guess I could run out at lunchtime and buy a tuna sub.

And yet going out for lunch—even a modest one—seemed against the Lenten spirit. I looked in the fridge again.

There were couple of hard-boiled eggs. And the leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner. And some brown rice. Heat the rice and veg, slice the eggs overtop, maybe a splash of soy sauce…

Give up chocolate but have the apple pie? No coffee but twice as much soda? No video games but unlimited TV? Not much gain on those plays. But modest discipline seems appropriate. It’s how I was raised. It’s what I was taught. I won’t feel a need to confess if I have a bite of turkey some Friday, but I’m not quite ready to give up all “giving up” yet.

As I ate my not-quite-bibimbap—which was so much better than than any tuna sub—I thought of my mom and my grandma. I hope they’d be pleased that I kept tradition.

Like a grandmother’s brisket.

Sprouts and Spies

She worked late, with a plan to pick up dinner for herself to eat on the train. I hoped that meant she hadn’t skipped lunch, but she’s a grown-up; sometimes that happens.

I wasn’t called for either of the rehearsals I’d been expecting, so I worked a while longer on a church-music project, and then headed for the market. There wasn’t much we needed, but if she wasn’t going to be home for dinner, there would be Brussels Sprouts. Or broccoli, if the sprouts didn’t look good.

They looked fine; they came pre-shredded. I would have been happy with whole ones, which I would have halved, steamed lightly, and then sautéed with some olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. But the shredded ones would be good, too; I could skip the steaming and make a sort of hot slaw.

I heated two pans–one cast-iron, the other non-stick–fed the cats, and put away the rest of the groceries. Our market makes great burgers studded with cheddar and bacon, but they’re too big; I bought a pair and reformed them into three. Two went into the freezer; one went into the now blazing cast-iron pan. My prep also included opening two windows and cranking the exhaust fan to its “jet engine” setting. I was determined to properly cook a burger without setting off the smoke detector.

When the burger was seared, I stuck it in the oven and turned my attention to the sprouts. Their skillet had a little oil in it; as they started to brown, I added a few drops each of soy sauce and lemon juice, tossed them a bit. I drizzled on a little maple syrup, a teaspoon of water, turned off the heat and lidded the pan. The market suggested sautéing onions and bacon with the sprouts, but my burger had bacon and I didn’t feel like onion.

By the time two slices of crusty bread were toasted, tomato was sliced, and our next-door neighbor had debriefed me of her kitchen-tile purchase, everything was ready–even a lovely cocktail of grapefruit juice, seltzer, a splash of gin, and a few drops of bitters.

She would be better company than an old TV show, but when I’m alone I’ve been making my way through the Jennifer Garner series Aliaswhich I haven’t seen in years. She watched the first couple of episodes with me, but the show didn’t really catch her interest–it’s too suspense-filled for her taste. She tries sprouts now and again, but they’re not her style either. That’s okay; we don’t have to like the same things, and we certainly aren’t going to impose our tastes on each other. The idea of giving her nightmares and indigestion–well, that’s what it gives me. 

So I’ll wait ’til she works late. Sprouts and spies, a burger and a beverage. It could be worse, but I’m ready for her to come home.