Greens for Breakfast

One of my all-time favorite breakfasts is greens and eggs. Lucky for me, our garden is producing a lot of greens this winter! Lately, I’ve been really into the mizuna.

Mizuna is a mildly spicy Japanese green that you eat raw (like a lettuce). I like my mizuna topped with a simple homemade mustard vinaigrette, and I always cook my eggs the same way: over hard with a sprinkle of pepper and Old Bay seasoning. Today, I added a scoop of green olive tapanade from Trader Joe’s, which some friends gave us. So yummy!

Mustard Vinaigrette
(Adapted from my all-time favorite cookbook, Lorna Sass’s Complete Vegetarian Kitchen.)
1/3 c. oil
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. maple syrup
2 T. brown mustard
pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in a small jar and shake vigorously. Keeps about a week in the fridge.

Cherry Tomato Sauce (to Freeze)

Let me just start by saying that we’ve learned our lesson, and next year we will be planting fewer cherry tomatoes and more “regular” tomatoes (we have three cherry tomato plants this year). John and I both love cherry tomatoes when they’re fresh off the vine, because they are so sweet and don’t require any prep (besides rinsing) before you can use them in salads. But they’re more difficult to preserve because they are almost impossible to efficiently peel, even using my favorite lazy method. And like I’ve said before, I’m just not ready to tackle the tomato-canning process. The only solution I’ve come up with to preserve cherry tomatoes is to make – and then freeze – cherry tomato sauce. The good news is that sauce made from cherry tomatoes is incredibly sweet and flavorful, so it’s totally worth the effort. I make a very basic sauce, because we often add extra ingredients when we use it later on, so I want this sauce to be adaptable. Here’s my basic recipe:

Cherry Tomato Sauce (to Freeze)
Makes about 5 pints, depending on how much you reduce the sauce.
1 c. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
about 5 quarts cherry tomatoes, rinsed
2 bay leaves

1. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. I use a lot of olive oil in my tomato sauce because I think it helps maintain the flavor of the sauce when it freezes. It’s also really tasty!
2. Add the onions and carrot and saute briefly.
3. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir occasionally until they start to pop and form a very watery sauce. Add the bay leaves and salt to taste (remember it will cook down, so go easy on the salt to start with).
4. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce seems more “saucy” than “watery,” then gradually reduce the heat as needed to keep the sauce from sputtering. Simmer for a couple of hours, until the sauce is a little thinner than you want it to be. Taste and add more salt if needed.
5. Puree the sauce in a blender, being careful not to put too much in at once. Make sure to let the steam vent out of the blender as you go.
6. Strain the sauce to remove the peels and seeds. I just pour the sauce through a plastic strainer, and use a silicone spatula to stir it around until I’m left with just peels and seeds (see photo below).
7. Pour the sauce into clean pint-sized freezer-safe jars, making sure to leave a generous 1/2-inch head space to allow for expansion when the sauce freezes. If you decide to use quart-sized jars, I recommend leaving 1 inch of head space.
8. Let cool to about room temperature (30-45 minutes), then screw on the lids, label and freeze.

If the process sounds involved, let me assure you it’s really not. The prep work is minimal, and you basically just let it do its thing for a few hours. The only part that requires any real effort is the blending and straining, and you can avoid that if you have a food mill (I don’t). Unfortunately, there’s no way around picking all those dang cherry tomatoes. Next year…

Thoughts on Consumption

I think a lot about consumption. Not the disease, but the act of consuming stuff. I’m not an ascetic by any means; I’m not even a minimalist. I just try to avoid buying things that I don’t “need,” which also means that I try to avoid wanting things that I don’t need. That’s challenging for me. I feel like our culture is so driven by consumption, the idea that you need something newer and better (or even just different) from what you already have. I find this problematic because of the insane amount of crap that gets made to feed our insatiable appetites for new stuff, and the corollary insane amount of crap that gets discarded in favor of the “newer/better/different” thing (CRT’s anyone?). Also, I don’t want to spend my time thinking about stuff, acquiring stuff, and being surrounded by stuff. I want to spend my time doing things I enjoy, things that are generally not stuff-related, unless that “stuff” is wine, books, or my camping gear. Or my sewing stuff. Or my coral lipstick and my new belt. Come to think of it, some new shoes would look great with that belt. Or my…

Yeah, I’m definitely not perfect, but I am working on it. I don’t have any solutions, but I think that contemplating my own feelings about consumption has helped me change my spending habits for the better. Mainly, I try to:

1. Buy fewer new things, and not buy things that won’t last.
2. Make the things I have last longer.
3. Not treat shopping as entertainment.
4. Avoid things (some magazines/TV/internet) that make me want to consume.

Anyhoo, on the non-consumption tip, we had a great time hanging out with some friends who came up to stay with us this weekend. I don’t have any photos of the garden adventures, gold panning, or train ogling, but I did grab a glamour shot of the oatmeal pancakes I made for breakfast one day.

I use the recipe from The New Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook, which I totally recommend. The only changes I make are to omit the oil from the batter and to use white flour instead of whole wheat. I add oil to the pan before I pour each pancake – it gives them a little crispy finish that is extra good.

1 1/4 c. milk
1 c. rolled oats
2 eggs, beaten
1 T. brown sugar
1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

Mix the milk and the oats together and let them sit for a few minutes until the oats soften up. Mix in the eggs and the brown sugar. Pour in the flour in one spot, then add the baking powder and salt on top of the flour. Using a dry fork, mix the baking powder and salt into the flour pile, then mix the whole batter together. Preheat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add a nickel-sized puddle of oil, then pour 1/4 c. of batter right onto the oil. I do two pancakes at a time like this. Cook on the first side until the pancakes bubble up and the bubbles pop, and the edges start to look dry. Then flip them and cook until the second side is brown. I have to lower the heat a bit after the first few pancakes. You want to adjust the heat so the pancakes are simultaneously ready to flip and as brown as you like them. You’ll get it! I served these with maple syrup and some fresh nectarines. They were yummy.

I’m still thinking about consumption. 🙂

Marinated Summer Veggies (and Garden Developments)

I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s been a strange gardening year here in Northern California. Everything is ripening a lot later than normal because of the unusually cold, wet Spring. Well, we’re still in the midst of the zucchini onslaught, but some of our other veggies* are finally starting to ripen. We have our first ripe tomatoes!

In honor of this momentous occasion, I ate about half the cherry tomatoes off the plant. And ate the only bigger ripe tomato like an apple, right there in the garden. It was fantastic! Seriously, I felt like all of the work that went into our garden this year was worth it for just that moment.

I did manage to save the rest of the ripe tomatoes, and I decided to make some marinated veggies with zucchini, onions, and basil from our garden. I wanted the veggies to be raw and crunchy, but I decided that I’d sear the zucchini and onions to give them a little extra flavor and sweetness. I just cut them in half and grilled them like I described here, but just until they were seared, not until they were cooked through.

I diced everything up (chopped the basil) and tossed it all together with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. I stuck it in the fridge for a while until we were ready to eat dinner, but it doesn’t really need to marinade – it’s good to eat right after you make it.

In other garden news, we have some soybeans! John, who is obsessed with commodity crops, is very happy.

This is the first year we’ve planted pumpkins, and they are getting huuuuuuge! I hope they stick around until October so we can have homegrown Jack-O-Lanterns!

*Fruit, bulbs, herbs, whatever…it’s all “veggies” to me. 🙂

Zucchini Madness (How to Use All That Zucchini)

It seems like everyone I know is overrun with zucchini and summer squash right now. Just one plant in the garden seems to produce more than is possible for a single family to to consume. Every year, I try to think of new and different ways to use it all up, and every year I go back to the same old recipes I know and love. I like zucchini. I don’t want to cover up the flavor, I want to enjoy it! And I’m a lazy cook. I’ve tried my share of complicated recipes, and I generally find that they aren’t worth the time and effort. So, without further ado, here’s an exhaustive look at what we do with all that zucchini: tips, easy zucchini recipes, and how to freeze zucchini to use it later.

Picking Zucchini
Zucchini (and other summer squash) needs to be picked when it’s small and tender. Six to eight inches long is ideal. And make sure to check your plants daily and pick everything that’s ripe. Really get under and around the whole plant – those suckers like to hide, and they get huge before you know it.

You’re going to miss some. Go ahead and shred anything 8-12 inches long to use in baking (more on that later), but compost or trash anything larger. The ruler on the left in the photo below is a foot long…the big zuke on the left is a goner, but everything else can still be used.

Grilling Zucchini
My favorite way of preparing zucchini is to grill it on the barbeque. It’s so easy, so delicious, and it actually looks and tastes really gourmet. Here’s my method for grilling zucchini:

1. Cut your zucchini or summer squash lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Don’t cut them too thin, or they will fall apart when they cook.
2. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Grill over medium heat until you have nice grill marks. I do 45 degree angles on both sides, and spear them with a fork to move/flip.
4. Don’t freak out if they’re good and brown but still not tender! Just put them in a covered dish and let them steam…they will finish cooking.
5. If you’re feeling extra-fancy, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and toss on some fresh basil. Heaven.

Using Raw Zucchini (Pasta Salad Recipe)
You can absolutely eat zucchini raw. It’s mild and has a soft-but-crunchy texture. You can put it in any kind of salad, or eat it as a crudité, but my favorite way to use it raw is in pasta salad. I’m usually not very brand-conscious, but this recipe is very all-American and brand-loyal. The dressing is key, and it just doesn’t taste the same to me if I don’t use Kraft and Best Foods. Feel free to substitute your favorites at your own risk! Here’s my recipe for pasta salad with zucchini:

8 oz. short pasta (cooked, drained, and rinsed under cold water until cool)
1 zucchini (cut in quarters lengthwise and thinly sliced)
1 red bell pepper (diced)
3 scallions (thinly sliced)
1/2 can medium olives (I leave them whole because John doesn’t like them)
2 slices sharp cheddar (cut in matchsticks)
4 oz. ham (diced if you’re lazy, otherwise matchsticks)
~1/4 c. Best Foods Light Mayo
~1/4 c. Kraft Italian Salad Dressing
black pepper

Mix the dressing: it’s just half mayo, half Italian salad dressing. Mix all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Add the dressing slowly until you have enough for your taste (I hate too much dressing on my pasta salad). Grind a bunch of black pepper over the top.

Simple, right? And infinitely variable. I didn’t have many of the ingredients on hand last night, but I definitely wasn’t going to make a special trip to the store. I whipped up a batch with what I did have: zucchini, red onion, and sharp cheddar. Delish. I really encourage you to experiment with this recipe.

Sautéing Zucchini (Stove Top Method)
Nowadays, my mom grills zucchini (I love you Mom!), but when I was growing up, we only ate zucchini one way: cooked in tomato sauce. I did not like it. The first time I had it prepared any other way was on a trip to Wisconsin, when a distant relative we were staying with sautéed zucchini with butter and basil. It was so delicious, and the first time I realized zucchini could be good. I still enjoy it cooked this way on the stovetop. Here’s my method for sautéing zucchini:

1. In a pan over medium heat, melt enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan.
2. Slice zucchini crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick rounds.
3. Put the zucchini rounds in a single layer in the hot pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried basil or marjoram.
4. Cook them until they start to brown on the first side, flip them, lower the heat, and cook until they’re just soft (don’t overcook). I spear them with a fork to flip them.
5. Put the zukes on a plate and (important!) drizzle the remaining browned butter over them.

Zucchini cooked this way is seriously unbelievably rich and delicious. John and I ate the entire pan I cooked in about two minutes.

Shredding and Freezing Zucchini
The National Center for Home Food Preservation doesn’t recommend canning zucchini or summer squash, so the only way to preserve it at home is to freeze it. But freezing causes the texture of zucchini to deteriorate. My preferred way to deal with this problem is to freeze shredded zucchini and use it later in baking (where the change in texture won’t be noticeable). I like to freeze my zucchini in pre-measured blocks so I only have to defrost what I need for a recipe. Here’s my method for freezing shredded zucchini:

1. Shred the zucchini finely.
2. Put it in a strainer over a bowl.
3. Let it drain until it’s a little wetter than shredded carrots, then stir it to make sure it’s uniformly moist.
4. Put plastic wrap down on a cookie sheet.
5. Measure half-cups of zucchini, roll them into rough balls, and put them on the cookie sheet.
6. Freeze the shredded zucchini balls on the cookie sheet until they’re solid, then toss them in a freezer bag and keep them frozen until you’re ready to defrost and use them.

Baking with Zucchini (Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe)
Last year, my good friend J and her family came for a visit. J brought a batch of zucchini chocolate chip cookies that she baked using her version of Barbara Kingsolver’s recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. They were delicious. J’s a great cook, and she also seems to know how to keep every baked good as fresh as the day she baked it. She told me that she always keeps her zucchini cookies in the freezer. In fact, they taste even better right out of the freezer! I now freeze all my cookies, but that’s a tale for another day. I modified Kingsolver’s recipe to use more zucchini and to omit the honey, which I rarely have on hand. These cookies are soft and cakey, not crisp. Here’s my recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cookies:

1/2 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
2 c. loosely packed zucchini (finely shredded, drained like I discussed above)
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. white flour
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat the butter and the brown sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla. With the mixer running, sprinkle in the salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix thoroughly. From now on, be careful not to over-mix. Mix in the zucchini, then mix in the flours until barely mixed. Mix in the chocolate chips. Use 2T of dough per cookie, and make sure there are chocolate chips in every one. FYI, I use a cookie scooper, and I always bake my cookies on parchment on an air-insulated pan. Bake 15 minutes, or until set. After you take them out of the oven, let the cookies set for a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cool, put those puppies in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer! Makes a little less than 3 dozen.

Note: Okay, I know this could have been, like, six blog posts, but I just don’t work that way. I want all my zucchini madness to be in one (extremely long) post for easy reference. 🙂 I would love to hear how you use and store your abundance of zucchini – the easier, the better. Please share in the comments!

Making Muesli

I frequently make homemade granola using a recipe from Lorna Sass’s Complete Vegetarian Kitchen. It’s not a “clustery” granola – the oats stay separate, with a light glaze from the oil and maple syrup in the recipe. When I saw ECAB’s recent post on making homemade muesli, I knew I had to give it a try. Muesli’s a lot lighter than granola (because it doesn’t have any added sugar or fats), but also a lot easier to make. I’ve bought Kellogg’s Mueslix cereal from time to time for years, but it’s always struck me as pretty expensive, and I never really liked the corn flakes. I decided to make my own version of muesli minus the flakes – basically a raw granola.

I just used what I had on hand. Here’s my ad-hoc recipe:

2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon

I dumped everything into a skillet and toasted it on the stove over medium heat (stirring occasionally) until it smelled, um, toasty. I really think that helps bring out the flavors in the oats, nuts, and coconut. Once it was done, I sprinkled it over yogurt, drizzled it with maple syrup, and topped it with a few dried cranberries. It was great!

Now I’m thinking of all the other flavor combinations I can make. Rosemary-pecan-cranberry (like one of my favorite Trader Joe’s treats) or ginger-walnut. I think this is going to be a great way to use up all the random small bags of dried fruits and nuts that end up in my cupboard!

Lazy: Icebox Iced Tea

I pretty much stopped drinking coffee earlier this year (doesn’t agree with my tum), so I’ve turned to tea to meet my hot/cold caffeinated morning beverage needs. But – brutal honesty – I am lazy when it comes to making my own. I’m always in a rush out of the house, and it is just so easy to pop in and grab a cup of whatever to go. I can manage hot tea, but not in this weather. Now that it’s summer, I’ve fallen in love with iced tea. It’s not hard to make, and I’ve tried a few methods: hot brewed and cooled, hot over ice, and sun tea. Instant iced tea is deeply unsatisfying and not an option. Hot over ice is a total failure, but the other two work just fine if I plan in advance, which I never do (because I’m lazy). And I don’t really like putting hot liquids in the fridge – I always have to juggle stuff around so the hot stuff isn’t near milk or meat or anything like that, and it’s a pain (and a waste of electricity cooling it off).

I’ve finally hit on a method to make iced tea that I’m not too lazy for – Icebox Iced Tea.

It’s dead simple: a quart of cold tap water, two tea bags, stick it in the fridge, and let it brew overnight. I use a wide-mouth quart-sized canning jar, but any covered container would work. Apparently I’m able to overcome my laziness for the 30 seconds it takes to prepare it in advance – after all, that’s way less time than it takes to get takeout! It comes out pretty strong, which I like because I have it over ice with a generous amount of milk. Since 100 tea bags cost me less than $2, I get my fix for less than a nickel. Being lazy is always satisfying, but saving money at the same time is even more so!

Meal Planning Tip – Weeknight Chicken Soup

A couple of weeks into my adventures in meal planning, I’ve found something that really works for me, and I want to share it! It’s super easy, but I’m stoked about it! 🙂 Basically, you make soup and end up with leftover shredded chicken (or turkey) – two meals in one! Here’s how it works:

• Start with defrosted chicken and remove the skin and any visible fat.

• Toss the chicken in a pot and add some flavorings. Just rinse the flavorings and add them in. There’s no need to chop them up, as long as the fit in the pot. Here are some ideas: carrot (1-2), celery (1-2 stalks), onion (1/4-1/2), bay leaves (2), garlic (as much as you like), fresh herbs (1 small sprig), salt, and pepper.

• Cover with water. If you are using boneless cuts, they’ll pack in pretty tightly and you’ll need a few inches of water above the chicken to have enough for soup. If you’re using bone-in cuts, they have more open area, so you may be able to just cover them with water.

• Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Leave the lid ajar and turn the heat down to the lowest simmer you can get – you just barely want a few gentle bubbles.

• Cook the chicken until it’s done – the cooking time varies a lot, but it’s pretty quick (typically less than half an hour unless you’re using really thick cuts).

• Dump the pot (slowly!) into a strainer set over a clean bowl. You’ll have stock in the bowl and chicken/cooked veggies in the strainer.

• Pick out the chicken and discard the other stuff (which won’t have much flavor left after cooking). At this point, set aside the chicken you want to use for soup and freeze or refrigerate the rest for later use!

• Put the stock back in the pot, add all the rest of your soup ingredients, and cook until everything’s almost done. Add the chicken back in at the end to heat up. Here are a couple of good options: (1) sliced mushrooms, frozen corn, canned hominy; and (2) chopped collard greens, diced sweet potatoes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. I sometimes add unsweetened soy milk to the stock to make a creamy soup.

Creamy Chicken-Veggie Soup (with Frank's Red Hot)

I love this technique because it’s quick and easy, and makes a healthy dinner with leftover chicken, which I then use in curry, pasta, tacos…the possibilities are endless!

Taco! Chicken, spinach, onions, Cotija, sour cream, mustard, yum.

If you have any good tips for easy meals that make good leftovers, please let me know!

Foolproof Roast Chicken

One of my favorite things to cook is roast chicken. It’s super easy, pretty much foolproof, and everyone I’ve made it for raves about it. If you watch for sales, it’s also a really good deal – my bird was $0.77/pound, so this dish cost less than $5 (even including the extras). One five-pound chicken will easily serve four adults. In our case, it serves two hungry adults with lots of leftovers! And leftover roast chicken is the best, in my opinion!

A lot of roast chicken recipes are pretty complicated, but mine is pretty simple. I’m going to detail everything because I want your roast chicken to turn out great, but I bet it’ll take you longer to read this than to get the bird in the oven. Here’s what you’ll need (I’ll add in some options along the way):

– A whole chicken (about 5 pounds)
– Olive oil or other vegetable oil
– Salt and pepper
– A roasting pan OR aluminum foil

First, defrost the bird if it’s frozen. Just put the frozen bird in the fridge for a good 36-48 hours. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit while you get things ready. Remove all the giblets from the cavity of the bird (just look in there and pull everything out…it will be pretty obvious). Rinse the bird under cold tap water and pat it dry with a paper towel. You need it to be dry so you can oil it up and get a nice crispy skin.

Second, put your bird in the roasting pan, breast-side up, like in the photo.

If you don’t have a roasting pan, just make a little boat out of either two thicknesses of regular aluminum foil or one thickness of heavy-duty foil. This works great – just be extra careful when you’re taking it out of the oven (you may need to slide it onto a cutting board or piece of cardboard).

Rub the bird with olive oil and sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper. If you have something like onion, shallots, lemon, or herbs on hand, you can put them in the cavity. I recommend half an onion (two quarters) and one halved lemon. I didn’t have an onion, so I used some green onions. You don’t have to use any of this stuff, but it does add flavor. Then, you’ll want to tuck the wings under the bird so they don’t burn (check out the other photos for a better view). You have to kind of strong-arm them around and under the bird. If you can’t figure it out, just wrap the ends in a little piece of foil so they don’t burn. It’s traditional to tie the legs together with string, but this is totally optional. Just tie the string to one leg, then to the other. But seriously – it will taste exactly the same whether you do it or not, it’s up to you.

Third, put the bird in the oven. Cook it for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Check it after about half an hour, and then peek in every fifteen minutes or so to make sure it’s not getting too brown. If it gets as dark as you want it to be before the cooking time is up, just put a piece of foil on top of it. DON’T wrap the foil around the bird, just lay it on top to shield it. If things start to get smoky, pour some water into the pan/foil.

I didn’t need any foil this time, but I added water twice to keep the smoke down. It sort of varies, just keep an eye out for browning. You’ll know if it’s too smoky! After 1 hour 15 minutes, take the bird out of the oven and check to see if it’s done. You’ll know it’s done because when you poke a knife in, the juices will run clear (instead of pink). You can use a meat thermometer to check the temperature if you want. It should read at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Check the temperature by sticking the thermometer into the thigh, right between the body and the leg, pushing it in pretty far. You basically want the thermometer to be where my knife is in the photo below:

My bird temped at 175 degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh. It was still very moist and juicy. I think there’s a pretty good margin for error in roast chicken, but feel free to take it out a little early and check it if you are worried about it getting too done. Or, leave it in longer if you like! I have to say that the standard 1 hour, 15 minutes has worked great for me in three or four different ovens, so I think it’s pretty fail-safe unless your oven temperature is waaaaaay off.

Fourth, let the finished roast chicken rest for a good ten to fifteen minutes before cutting it. This helps keep the juices in the meat. Now you can carve the bird! You can really do it however you want. I start by cutting off the legs/thighs, which I’m doing in the photo above. Then I cut the breast meat like this:

Enjoy your roast chicken! And please share any ideas for roast chicken or good sides in the comments. I love a nice side of rice and a spinach salad, personally. And the leftovers are perfect for chicken tacos, yum!